Google lawsuit alleges fraud suspect used their platform for pandemic 'online puppy scam'

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Google is going after an alleged fraudster that the company claims is behind a number of online scams selling puppies.

The tech giant filed a lawsuit on Monday, saying the person responsible has been "perpetrating a puppy fraud scheme to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for personal gain."

The online posts come with the promise of purebred puppies, with sweet pictures to match. However, court documents list 20 sites, believed to be connected to the defendant.

The suit names a person who is said to live in Africa. The company claims the suspect used several Google services in online puppy scams.

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Court documents claim people were sending hundreds of dollars in exchange for puppies that never arrived. The suspected intent was to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and the demand for puppies that came along with it.

"The damage is actually two parts, the emotional and financial," San Jose State University (SJSU) tech expert Ahmed Banafa said.

He added, to any animal lover- especially one in search of canine companionship- one look at a cute face could be enough to let your guard down.

Court documents uncover Google was tipped off by AARP, which had been contacted by a victim.

ABC7 News asked, "How bad does the scamming have to be for Google to step in in this way?"

"The statistic is out, 35% of the online scam is actually, you know, a puppy scam," Banafa answered. "So that tells you how bad it is."

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The Google suit points to a study that found puppy scams increased by 165% in the U.S. from January to October 2021- compared to the same period in 2019, before COVID hit.

Such scams are a concern for the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA.

"It's disappointing that there are people out there taking advantage of individuals who want to add an animal to their home," Buffy Martin-Tarbox, Communications Manager for Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA said. "And that's really difficult for organizations such as ourselves, because we have animals available for adoption."

However, if you are browsing, experts encourage you to be aware. Banafa said most illegitimate websites will try to avoid any real-time contact. He warns fraudsters will talk about payment, before the pet. Additionally, when it comes to making a purchase, he said people should use a method that will ultimately protect themselves.

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Martin-Tarbox told ABC7 News, "We would encourage people to look at it as dating. You know, if you find someone online that looks attractive and seems like they're going to be a good fit for you, you don't marry them without meeting them."

"So, it's probably best to not add a family member until you actually meet that animal," she continued.

Court documents read, "Defendant will continue to perpetrate fraud and abuse Google's services unless stopped."

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"One, it's good that the tech companies are taking notice of it and understanding that people can abuse the excellence of their products and algorithms," he said. "Number two, now people know about it."

Most of the sites in the scam have been disabled, but we're listing the ones that remain active here, without linking to them, so you can be aware of them: emilypuppyfarm.com; barbarafarmhavanesepuppies.com; jerrysbassethoundhome.com; laurapuppyfarm.com; monicapuppyfarm.com; and myshibainupuppies.com

ABC7 News reached out to Google for comment, but did not hear back. AARP declined our request for comment.

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