A threat actor from Cameroon is found by Google operating malicious websites that sell basset hound puppies to defraud people looking for pet dogs amid the pandemic. Dubbed the ‘puppy fraud scheme’, the identified campaign had already been sued by Google.
The operator behind the malicious campaign was a Cameroon-based individual named Nche Noel Ntse, who ran fraudulent websites selling basset hound puppies for pet-seekers but would not deliver them to the buyers.
According to the lawsuit filed by Google, the legal measure represented an effective tool in disrupting the tools and operations performed by online scammers and showing them the consequences of the criminal intentions.
The ‘puppy fraud scheme’ operator leveraged Google and Google Voice to communicate with the victims and register the malicious sites to US-based hosting platforms.
Moreover, the criminal activities of Ntse resulted in financial damages against Google, including damaging its reputation among its users and compelling them to spend about $75,000 on legal investigations. The exploitative scam also abused Google products in preying on the victims amid the ongoing pandemic.
According to data, about 35% of all online shopping fraud campaigns are covered by pet scams. The operation targets vulnerable people, including those searching for pets like the basset hound puppies.
Based on the investigation conducted about the puppy scheme, a non-profit organisation called AARP warned Google about the malicious operation in September 2021, wherein the victims sent electronic gift cards to the operators to purchase the puppies but did not receive the expected order.
The fraudulent websites were eventually taken down; however, Google discovered that the same suspect had initiated Google Ads to promote the malicious domain and the likes. The tech giant had suspended the Ads account and sought legal costs and order on banning the suspect from using all of Google’s services.
Google recommends that pet buyers see the pet in person or through a video call before sending money to the seller since scammers often decline these requests. It is also important to avoid paying via gift cards and prepaid debit cards and instead use verified payment methods.
It is also a smart move to do a reverse image search to see if the item being sold is a stolen photo or a stock image. Researching the seller’s profile is also useful in determining their legitimacy.