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Google sues scammer for ‘puppy fraud’

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The scam targeted lonely elderly people

Crufts 2017 - Day One Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

On Monday, Google sued a scammer for allegedly running an online “puppy fraud scheme,” defrauding vulnerable people, including the elderly, out of thousands of dollars with false promises of purebred puppies.

The complaint, filed Monday, accuses Nche Noel of Cameroon of using a network of fake websites, Google Voice phone numbers, and Gmail accounts to pretend to sell purebred basset hound puppies to people online. In one instance, a victim paid Noel $700 in “electronic gift cards” to purchase a puppy. After sending the gift cards, Noel continued to string along the victim, telling them that the delivery company needed an additional $1,500. According to the complaint, the puppy never arrived.

“The actor used a network of fraudulent websites that claimed to sell basset hound puppies — with alluring photos and fake customer testimonials — in order to take advantage of people during the pandemic,” Mike Trinh, Google’s senior counsel, wrote in a Monday blog post. “Sadly, this scam disproportionately targeted older Americans, who can be more vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

Beyond using Google’s services to communicate with victims, Google accused Noel of running a Google Ads campaign to promote the fraudulent websites.

In the complaint, Google says that the AARP, an elderly issues group, alerted the company about the scam last September. Later, in November, the AARP published a report detailing the puppy fraud scams, writing that criminals were exploiting isolated consumers who were looking for companionship during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online scams skyrocketed during the pandemic as people spent more time on social media. Last April, the Federal Trade Commission reported that it had issued over 100 alerts and called for more than 350 companies to remove deceptive claims from the internet.

Google’s lawsuit claims that Noel violated the company’s terms of service in conducting the alleged scam. Google is seeking statutory relief for damages.