First, Google goes after the puppy fraud in court

For the first time for the tech giant, Google has filed a consumer protection lawsuit to protect the vulnerable and unsuspecting from what it called a “nefarious” scheme: the sale of adorable but imaginary puppies.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, claims that Nche Noel Ntse, a Cameroonian man, defrauded potential puppy buyers through a number of Google services, including Gmail accounts, numbers Google Voice and Ads.

Mr Ntse lured his victims with “adorable” and “seductive” photographs of purebred puppies, along with “convincing testimonials from allegedly satisfied customers” who exploited the high demand for puppies in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. , according to court documents.

Google says it spent more than $ 75,000 to “investigate and correct” Mr. Ntse, and is suing him for financial damages, alleging damage to the company’s relationship with its users and damage to its reputation.

“There seems to be a particularly serious abuse of our products,” Michael Trinh, a Google attorney, said by telephone on Monday.

The company says it is preventing 100 million harmful emails from reaching users on a daily basis, but Mr. Trinh said he hoped the lawsuit would go further, citing an example from Mr. Ntse. Google decided not to file criminal charges in the case because it believed that civil litigation would be a quicker remedy, he added. Trinh. “It’s an ongoing struggle.”

The case is Google’s first consumer protection lawsuit, said José Castañeda, a spokesman for the company. He added that based on the extensive network of sites managed by Mr. Ntse, Google estimated that the victims lost more than $ 1 million in total.

Google’s legal action comes after the pandemic caused an increase in demand for pets, as well as an increase in schemes that capitalized on this desire.

Last year, consumers reported losing more than $ 5.8 billion in fraud, up more than 70 percent from 2020, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission. Online shopping scams, in particular, skyrocketed during the pandemic, according to the Better Business Bureau. The group estimates that by 2021, pet-related fraud accounted for 35 percent of those reports.

Google first learned about Mr. Ntse in September 2021 after receiving a report of abuse from the AARP, a large American advocacy group.

According to the report, a person living in South Carolina who was looking for a dog contacted Mr. Ntse by email after visiting a website that operated, now gone. After replying to Mr. Ntse by email and text message, the person later sent him $ 700 in electronic gift cards, the report said, adding, “Victim 1 never received the puppy.”

According to the citation of the case, Mr. Ntse is based in Douala, a port city of more than two million people in Cameroon. He ran other websites, including one intended to sell marijuana and prescription opiate cough syrup, the lawsuit says.

“When you’re going to buy a puppy, don’t expect a criminal to be on the other side,” said Paul Brady, who runs PetScams.com, which tracks and reports websites that claim to sell animals falsely.

Scammers, often located outside the United States, post photos and videos of puppies at low prices and ask for online payments in advance and sometimes additional invented costs, such as animal quarantine or shipping costs. .

These schemes have “exploded” over the past two years, Mr Brady said, as scammers took advantage of people’s loneliness and took advantage of blockages that limited their ability to travel far from home to pick up a puppy.

“People are sitting alone and want the company of an animal,” she added, recalling a particularly shocking incident in which a woman spent $ 25,000 trying to buy a Pomeranian puppy.

For Rael Raskovich, 28, the experience of being tricked by an online pet scheme was devastating.

About a year ago, Mrs. Raskovich, who works in the mortgage business, had just moved to South Carolina and was hoping to buy her first puppy: a Golden Retriever.

She explored her options and eventually filled out a now-defunct online form that included detailed questions about her plans to care for the animal, she said, which led her to believe the process was legitimate.

He sent a $ 700 deposit to the seller, who sent him a video of what he thought was his future puppy. He bought toys and a dog bed.

At the time, he said, the seller stated that he needed an additional $ 1,300 for a coronavirus vaccination for the dog and an air-conditioned mailbox. Mrs. Raskovitch said she was told she was waiting for Delta Air Lines call, which the seller claimed would transport the animal, but when he called to confirm, the airline told him he was not sending animals.

“Then I said,‘ Okay, that’s definitely not legitimate, ’” he said, adding that he cut off communication. The identity of the seller was never determined.

“You’re ready for this new addition to your life,” Ms. Raskovich said. “It sucks.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed to the report.

New Technology Era

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