In a first for the tech giant, Google filed a consumer protection lawsuit to protect vulnerable and unsuspecting people from a “nefarious” scheme: the sale of adorable, but fictional, puppies.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., claims that Neche Noel Ntse, a Cameroonian man, used a range of Google services, including Gmail accounts, Google Voice numbers and ads, for puppy buyers. cheated on
According to court documents, Mr Ntse lured his victims with “adorable” and “charming” photos of purebred puppies with “compelling testimonials from allegedly satisfied customers”, which fueled the high demand for puppies in the United States. took advantage of.
Google says it spent more than $75,000 to “investigate and remedy” Mr NTSE’s activities, and blame them for financial damages, citing damage to the company’s relationship with its users and damage to its reputation. suing.
“This appears to be a particularly serious abuse of our products,” Google attorney Michael Trinne said on the phone on Monday.
The company says it blocks 100 million harmful emails a day from reaching users, but Mr. Trinne said he expects the suit to go ahead, making Mr. NTSE an example. Google decided not to pursue criminal charges in the case because it believed civil litigation would be a faster remedy, Mr. Trinne said. “It’s an ongoing battle.”
The case is Google’s first consumer protection lawsuit, said company spokesman Jose Castaneda. He said that based on the vast network of sites operated by Mr NTSE, Google estimated that victims lost more than $1 million in total.
Google’s legal action comes after a surge in demand for pets due to the pandemic, as well as plans to satisfy that desire.
Last year, consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion from fraud, a more than 70 percent increase from 2020, according to Federal Trade Commission data. According to the Better Business Bureau, online shopping scams in particular have skyrocketed during the pandemic. The group estimates that in 2021, pet-related fraud accounted for 35 percent of such reports.
Google first became aware of Mr NTSE’s activities around September 2021 after receiving a report of abuse from AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.
According to the report, a person living in South Carolina contacted Mr NTSE via email in search of the dog. After corresponded with Mr. NTSE by email and text, the man later sent him $700 in electronic gift cards, with the report stating, “Victim 1 never received a puppy.”
According to the summons of the case, Mr NTSE is based in Douala, a port city of over two million people in Cameroon. The lawsuit states that he ran other websites, including one to sell marijuana and prescription opium cough syrup.
“When you go to buy a puppy, you don’t expect a criminal to be on the other end,” said Paul Brady, who runs Petscams.com, which tracks and tracks websites that falsely claim to sell animals. reports.
Scammers, often based outside the United States, post photos and videos of puppies at low prices and request upfront online payment and sometimes additional invention costs, such as animal quarantine or delivery fees.
Such plans have “exploded” over the past two years, Mr Brady said, as scammers capitalize on people’s loneliness and take advantage of lockdowns that have limited their ability to travel far from home to pick up a puppy. done.
“People are sitting alone, and they want the company of an animal,” he said, recalling one particularly shocking incident in which a woman spent $25,000 attempting to buy a Pomeranian puppy.
For 28-year-old Rael Raskovich, the experience of being duped by an online pet scheme was devastating.
About a year ago, Ms. Raskovich, who works in the mortgage industry, had just moved to South Carolina and was hoping to buy her first puppy: a golden retriever.
She explored her options, eventually filling out an online form, which is now defunct, which includes detailed questions about her plans to care for the animal, she said, which led her to believe the process was legitimate.
He deposited $700 to the seller, who sent him a video of what he thought was a soon-to-be puppy. He bought toys and a dog bed.
Then, she said, the seller claimed to need an additional $1,300 for coronavirus vaccinations for the dog and an air-conditioned shipping crate. Ms Raskovich said she was told to expect Calls from Delta Air Lines, which the seller claimed would take the animal—but when she called to confirm, the airline told her it didn’t ship the animals.
“Then I was like, ‘Well, that’s definitely not legit,'” she said, adding that she cut off communication. The identity of the seller was never determined.
“Get ready for this new addition to your life,” said Ms. Raskovich. “it’s useless.”
Kirsten Noyce contributed reporting.