PARENTS are being warned that Christmas puppy purchases could fund organised crime gang networks across the country.

It comes after the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) urged families to avoid being tempted into buying puppies online as gifts amid fears the cash may be used by criminal gangs to "prey on local communities throughout Scotland".

They claim that illegally bred dogs sold through a black-market trade on social media or small advert sites have been identified as a "significant" source of revenue for crime gangs.

Due to this, those at the forefront of investigating and prosecuting such gangs have issued a stark warning to locals in the run-up to Christmas over the dangers of buying puppies from unlicensed breeders.

COPFS say they are also concerned the money raised from unauthorised pooch dealers could be laundered to support drug traffickers and other criminal activity as part of a multi-million-pound enterprise.

A Scottish Multi-Agency Strategic Threat Assessment report published last year reported that the market for illegally traded puppies is estimated at £13million.

Meanwhile, the Scottish SPCA has received 336 calls in connection with puppy farms and puppy breading, while many animals later suffer severe health problems and either cost their new owners huge vets' bill or are to ill to survive.

As part of the warning, parents are being urged to double-check the legitimacy of sellers if they are buying their youngsters a dog for Christmas.

Kenny Donnelly, Deputy Crown Agent for Specialist Casework at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “We understand the popular appeal of buying a puppy for Christmas.

"But it is important that people are aware that unscrupulous breeders are operating online and targeting unsuspecting members of the public. 

“We are aware that organised crime gangs have infiltrated this activity and continue to use the huge profits they accrue from it to inflict widespread harm on communities throughout Scotland. 

“Illegal puppy farming has grown significantly among serious organised crime gangs as a way of raising finance. It plays a part in financing crime in Scotland.

"These gangs are involved in the distribution of illegal drugs and money laundering. 

“Therefore, it is critically important that anyone considering buying a puppy is aware of the pitfalls in respect of not buying from legitimate dog breeders and unintentionally supporting this cruel and illegal trade which exploits pets and causes them terrible suffering. 

“This trade is inevitably more focused at Christmas so we would seriously urge people to only buy puppies from properly licensed breeders.  

“By doing this, you are also helping to choke off a revenue supply to serious organised crime gangs and reducing the harm they inflict on Scottish communities.” 

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, Mike Flynn said: “Although the low-welfare trade in puppies has slowed due to the ending of lockdown and the cost-of-living crisis, we know that unscrupulous breeders are still out there targeting unsuspecting members of the public.  

“Trafficked pups often look fine when they are purchased, but problems will begin to show at a later stage. 

“Our message to the general public remains the same – do not buy online or from someone where it is impossible to verify where the dog is actually coming from.

"The only way this will disappear, and people stop profiteering at the expense of these dogs, is if public demand stops.” 

While Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Ferry, Police Scotland's Head of Organised Crime added: “We know organised criminals will take every opportunity to exploit people to make profit from illicit activities, and dog breeding is not immune.  

 “Anyone considering buying a puppy should research the potential breeder carefully, as unauthorised breeding can have a significant impact on the welfare of dogs.  

“Police Scotland continues to work closely with our colleagues in the Serious Organised Crime taskforce to target those involved and investigate any illegal trading.”