As employees around the world began working from home (opens in new tab) during the pandemic, many sought the companionship of a pet to make the transition a bit easier.
However, scammers were well aware of this and with searches for “Adopt a Dog” spiking on Google Search (opens in new tab) with more people stuck at home, they saw the opportunity to target people at their most vulnerable according to a new blog post (opens in new tab) from Google.
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To help set a legal precedent, protect victims, disrupt the infrastructure used in these kinds of schemes and raise public awareness, the search giant has sued a scammer accused of running an online “puppy fraud scheme”.
Based on a recently filed complaint, Nche Noel of Cameroon allegedly used a network of fake websites (opens in new tab), Google Voice (opens in new tab) phone numbers and Gmail (opens in new tab) accounts to set up and run a fake business selling purebred basset hound puppies online. Google’s legal fillings also revealed that the AARP alerted it about the scam last September before publishing a report (opens in new tab) detailing the various puppy fraud scams the elderly interest group observed during the pandemic.
Taking advantage of the vulnerable
In its complaint against Noel, Google cited the AARP’s report on the matter and highlighted an instance where a victim paid the scammer $700 in gift cards (opens in new tab) to purchase a puppy. However, after sending the gift cards, Noel took even more money from the victim by telling them that the delivery company that would bring the basset hound puppy to their house needed an additional $1,500.
Just as scammers do with fake websites, Noel used alluring photos and fake customer testimonials in an effort to dispel any concerns that victims had regarding the legitimacy of his online business. At the same time, this scam disproportionately targeted older Americans who are more vulnerable to cyberattacks (opens in new tab) which is why the AARP got involved in the first place.
In addition to using Google’s email service (opens in new tab) to communicate with victims, the search giant has also accused Noel of running a Google Ads (opens in new tab) campaign in an attempt to promote his fake websites.
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For those that don’t have a pet yet and are interested in getting one, Google has provided some helpful tips and steps to follow to avoid falling victim to a pet scam like this one.
First off, potential pet owners should see the animal in person or at least on a video call (opens in new tab) before handing over any money. If money will be exchanged, Google recommends using verified payment methods (opens in new tab) as opposed to wiring money or paying with either gift cards or prepaid debit cards. To ensure the pet you want to get is real, you should also run a reverse image search (opens in new tab) on any photos sent to you by the seller.
Finally, you should absolutely search online for the seller by asking for their company name, phone number and street address. By using Google Search, you can ensure that the company’s name and address aren’t fake and potentially read reviews by those who purchased pets from the seller.
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Via The Verge (opens in new tab)