A PET detective told how dog owners are being stalked by crooks — after Scots homes were marked out as targets for thefts.

Tom Watkins, who runs Britain’s biggest animal search agency, claimed gangs are flagging up properties to hit by fixing cable ties to lamp posts.

His warning came after scores of suspicious signs were spotted across Lanarkshire and the Glasgow area. And we revealed a 65 per cent surge in dognapping during the pandemic.

Tom told The Scottish Sun on Sunday: “Markers are thought to be a way that thieves will signal a household with dogs.

“We are aware thefts increased since Covid. Puppy prices have soared as families in lockdown are craving pets to beat boredom.

“Thieves see stealing dogs as an easy way to cash in on this situation. Owners should think twice before posting pictures of a new pup or pet on social media.”

Retired cop Tom’s firm Animal Search UK takes on up to 100 cases every day. His high-profile clients include model Abbey Clancy, 34, and Scots singer Sandi Thom, 38.

Tom urged pet owners to be vigilant after dozens of cable ties were found outside homes in Bargeddie, Lanarkshire, plus nearby Airdrie and Cumbernauld in recent weeks.

And families say they’ve been visited by two women with Eastern European accents posing as energy firm reps who have been spotted taking pictures of their houses and pooches.

Glenbrae Veterinary Clinic in Bearsden, near Glasgow, has also warned clients about “two women and two men pretending to be working for gas and electricity companies”.

In a Facebook post, the vets said: “They then put cable ties on the lamp post beside the house so they know these people have dogs so they can go back and steal them.”

Debbie Matthews, head of the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance, said: “Nowhere is safe. It’s getting out of control.”

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Animals tend to be stolen for breeding purposes or because they can be sold on for profit.”

Police Scotland said they take all animal thefts seriously.

A spokesman added: “We know how distressing the loss of a dog is. We work closely with partners such as SSPCA and thoroughly investigate all suspected criminality.”

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