A blackmailer who falsely told distraught pet owners – including some in Wiltshire – that he had found their lost animals before demanding cash for their safe return has been jailed for three years and eight months.

Brandon Woolveridge, 24, previously of Melbourne Street, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria preyed on distressed people who had posted social media appeals after their dogs or cats went missing.

He lied and told them he had their animals.

He then demanded money be paid into various bank accounts in return for them getting the pets back, sometimes threatening he would kill the animals if he did not get what he wanted.

Some victims paid money, with Woolveridge even laughing at one pet owner after she had sent him £1,000, saying: “Now I can buy a new car.”

A spokesperson for Wiltshire and Somerset-based lost pets charity Search and Scan said: “In March of this year (2023), we alerted people to a scam phone caller in which this despicable individual was calling numbers on our posters.

“He callously informed owners of missing pets that he had their treasured family member and would return them only if they transferred money to him.

“Those who asked for more information were told he would kill their pet if money wasn’t forthcoming within a certain timeframe.

“This situation was not explicit to just Search and Scan. The vile man was trawling social media and calling numbers from any missing poster he came across.

“It got to the point where SAS would only print their own phone numbers in order to screen the calls. (oh we spoke to him often!)

Wiltshire Times contacted us and made an article to share the warning. People who had been approached by this man were encouraged to call the police and report him.

“Thank you to everyone who heeded our advice. Every person who reported the calls gave statements and helped the police are party to this outcome.”

Officers launched Operation Façade after it became apparent that many reports across the country featured strong similarities – and appeared to be linked to Cumbria.

It led to the arrest of Woolveridge, who admitted nine counts of blackmail after facing the case put together by detectives and prosecutors.

He also asked for 73 other similar offences to be taken into consideration.

He was sentenced on October 26 at Preston Crown Court.

Woolveridge was caught after analysis of phone evidence linked him to the cases.