For the first time for the technology giant, Google has filed a consumer protection lawsuit to protect the vulnerable and untried from, as he said, the “evil” plan: the sale of cute but imaginary puppies.
A lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, alleges that Nche Noel Ntse, a male from Cameroon, deceived potential puppy buyers using a range of Google services, including Gmail accounts, Google Voice numbers and advertisements.
Mr Ntse lured his victims with “wonderful” and “enticing” photos of purebred puppies, along with “convincing testimonies from allegedly satisfied customers” who took advantage of the high demand for puppies in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic, according to court documents.
Google says it has spent more than $ 75,000 “investigating and rehabilitating” Mr. Ntse’s activities, and is suing him for financial damages, citing damages to the company’s relationship with its customers and damage to its reputation.
“It looks like a particularly huge misuse of our products,” Michael Trinh, a Google attorney, said by phone Monday.
The company says it prevents 100 million harmful emails from reaching users daily, but Mr Trinh said he hopes the lawsuit will go further, citing the example of Mr. Ntsea. Google decided not to file a criminal complaint in this case because it believed a civil lawsuit would be a faster remedy, Mr Trinh added. “It’s an ongoing fight.”
This case is Google’s first consumer lawsuit, said José Castañeda, a company spokesman. He added that based on a wide network of sites run by Mr. Ntse, Google estimated that the victims lost a total of more than a million dollars.
Google’s legal action comes after the pandemic caused an increase in demand for pets, as well as an increase in schemes that took advantage of that desire.
Last year, consumers reported losing more than $ 5.8 billion due to fraud, up more than 70 percent from 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Online shopping scams have risen particularly sharply during the pandemic, according to the Better Business Bureau. The group estimates that in 2021, pet fraud accounted for 35 percent of such reports.
Google first became aware of the activities of Mr. Ntsea around September 2021 after receiving a report of abuse from the AARP, a group representing older Americans.
According to the report, a person living in South Carolina looking for a dog contacted Mr Ntse via email after visiting a website he managed, which now does not exist. After corresponding with Mr. Ntse via email and SMS, the person later sent him $ 700 in electronic gift cards, the report said, adding: “Victim 1 never received a puppy.”
According to the summons to the case, Mr. Ntse is headquartered in Douala, a port city of more than two million people in Cameroon. He ran other websites, including one that allegedly sold marijuana and opiate cough syrup on prescription, the lawsuit said.
“When you go to buy a puppy, you don’t expect the criminal to be on the other side,” said Paul Brady, who runs PetScams.com, which tracks and reports websites that falsely claim to sell animals.
Fraudsters, who are often located outside the United States, publish photos and videos of puppies at low prices and demand advance online payments, and sometimes additional fictitious costs, such as animal quarantine or delivery fees.
Such schemes have “exploded” in the past two years, Mr Brady said, as fraudsters took advantage of people’s loneliness and took advantage of restrictions that limited their ability to travel far from home to pick up puppies.
“People sit alone and want the company of animals,” he added, recalling a particularly shocking incident in which a woman spent $ 25,000 trying to buy an orange puppy.
For Rael Raskovic, 28, the experience of pet fraud was devastating.
About a year ago, Ms. Raskovic, who works in the mortgage industry, had just moved to South Carolina and was hoping to buy her first puppy: a golden retriever.
She researched her options, eventually filling out an online form, which does not exist now, which included detailed questions about her plans to care for the animal, she said, leading her to believe the process was legitimate.
She sent a $ 700 deposit to the seller, who sent her a video of what she thought would be her puppy soon to become. She bought toys and a dog bed.
Then, she said, the seller claimed that he needed an additional $ 1,300 to vaccinate the dog against the coronavirus and an air-conditioned transport box. Ms. Raskovic said she was told she was expecting a a call from Delta Air Lines, which the seller claimed would transport the animal – but when she called to confirm, the airline told her not to send the animals.
“Then I said, ‘OK, this is definitely not legitimate,'” she said, adding that she had cut off communication. The identity of the seller has never been established.
“Get ready for this new addition in your life,” said Ms. Raskovic. “It’s awful.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed to the reporting.