Albert Shin, Manager, CyberCrime Investigation Group at Google, warns the public about the growing pet scams online. In a blog post, Shin noted that the said type of scam now constitutes 35% of all online shopping scams being reported to the Better Business Bureau. The manager also said that the company is taking legal steps to combat illegal activities, resulting in harsher punishments and consequences for bad actors.
Shin reported that Google is working on legal action against an individual who used to operate fraudulent websites and involved Google products in the scheme. “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 … This type of scheme follows a similar script to many online scams where malicious actors pretend to be someone they are not to convince victims to give them money for something they will never receive,” the post reads.
Actors found the most opportune time to execute the scam during this pandemic as the number of people wanting to own pets rises. Shin notes that in Google Search Trends, searches for “Adopt a Dog” saw an increase due to people finding themselves more and more at home during these times.
“Sadly, this scam disproportionately targeted older Americans, who can be more vulnerable to cyberattacks,” Shin adds. “The FTC and FBI report that older people are scammed out of an estimated $650 million per year.”
With this, Shin provides some important steps everyone can observe to walk away safely from scams, including asking for a meetup to see the pet (or through video calls), using verified payment methods, researching the ideal or suggested price of the products online, doing a reverse image search, and doing a background check about the seller.
Finally, Shin said that while Google is taking things legally to combat scams, it is also doing its part to eradicate the crime on the web using its system. “… We build our security into all of our products and use machine learning to filter new threats, and our CyberCrime Investigation Group investigates misconduct and sends referrals to various law enforcement agencies including the Department of Justice to combat nefarious actors engaging in a wide range of scams including pets, covid relief, romance, and tech support scams,” Shin says in the post.