A family have been left heartbroken after sadistic hoaxers tricked them into believing they were about to be reunited with their 'stolen' dogs.
Georgie and Edward Bell have been without their beloved Border Terriers Ruby and Beetle for nearly a year, and believe dogknappers are to blame.
The pets, which are mother and daughter, vanished in late December last year from Jedburgh in the Borders.
A desperate online appeal - with a £10,000 reward - was launched in a bid to track down the family pets.
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Over the weekend, hopes were raised after the family received a promising call from a mystery man in Galway, Ireland.
The man claimed to have Ruby and Beetle and agreed to return them - and even put one of his children on the line, claiming they had bought the terriers in good faith.
When he heard that the family believe the dogs were stolen, he backtracked and claimed he no longer wanted the dogs and didn't want reward money.
Georgie and Edward, a self-employed gamekeeper, believe it was an attempt at extortion.
Mum-of-three Georgie, 47, said: "I have once again been in a position of utter heartbreak and desperation.
"I tried desperately to return the call but nothing.
"He kept saying he didn't want to get in trouble off the police for handling stolen dogs.
"I was sure he was telling me the truth and the fact he used his children to firm up his story, he sounded so sincere and honest to my cause.
"I tried to ring him back, text him and got no reply."
A sympathetic pal who helped publicise the missing dogs offered to speak to the man as a go-between.
Georgie said: "On Sunday morning I asked a group member with experience in this field to help, I sent her over all the details and asked if she could investigate this further.
"She had friends in places close to him, and they confirmed they knew of him and he was a genuine enough person."
After making further contact with the caller, an agreement was reached for the dogs to be dropped off at a vets.
But on Monday morning (November 4), the day of the meeting, the man decided he wanted some of the reward money.
It was agreed for £1,000 to be left at the same veterinary practice for collection once the dogs were identified as Ruby and Beetle from their microchips.
A friend of Georgie's waited at the vets with the reward money, but after receiving a call from the man saying he was in a nearby car park - but he vanished.
Georgie said: "My friend called the police and they said 'don't entertain him, it's a scam'.
"No dogs, no truth in the story and no money exchanged.
"Another savage, hard lesson learnt.
"To use someone's pain and grief to try and extort money from them is unfortunately another cruel act of dog theft.
"Once again we have been victims.
"When will this pain end?".
The family's appeal can be found here.