Dog owners across the south west are being warned about a new ploy involving a white van with a RSPCA sticker on the side, writes John Baker.

The warning is being shared on local social media sites to warn as many dog owners as possible of the new ploy.

Police in east Kent have reports that dog thieves are pulling up alongside pets being walked and then telling the owner the dog matches the description of one that has been stolen and removing the animal.

Police said: “Never let your dog be taken by anyone.

"Insist they follow you to the vets to have the dog scanned to prove ownership by the chip.

"If they’re not real, they won’t go with you.

"The RSPCA will never take a dog like that.”

The spokesman added: “Phone the police at the first opportunity with as much detail as possible and, if at all possible, take photos of the offenders and the car registration.

“There are also reports of these thieves door knocking in residential areas.”