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Google is waging a legal war against pet scams

Big tech organizations such as Google and Microsoft often use the power of the law in certain issues to protect its customers as well as set precedents to deter others. For example, Google filed a lawsuit against the operators of the Glupteba botnet while Microsoft opted for legal action against impostor domains last year. Today, Google has announced that it will be litigating against online scammers, especially those engaged in pet scams.

A hand petting a dog with a gavel and Google logo on the left
Original photo by Maksim Goncharenok (Pexels)

Google has noted that although it autonomously blocks over 100 million emails from reaching its customers every day, people still get embroiled in all kinds of scams while browsing the web. The most vulnerable demographic in romance, loan, and investment scams are often older people.

Pet scams in particular have grown quite a lot in the past couple of years due to the pandemic as people flocked to online marketplaces to purchase pets due to the hybrid working situation. The Better Business Bureau also noted that 35% of reported online shopping scams relate to pets.

If you're not aware of what a pet scam is, it's basically where a scammer posts adorable photos of pets with a sob story to advertise and sell pets that do not exist. This is usually at a very low cost and often, the scammer says that they will send the pet to you at no additional cost as long as you pay them for shipping beforehand.

Google says that older Americans are most susceptible to these types of cyberattacks. As such, it is initiating legal action against operators of pet scams, starting with an infamous scammer who used fraudulent websites to sell basset hound puppies, accompanied by fake photos and customer testimonials. The firm says:

That's why we're taking proactive action to set a legal precedent, protect victims, disrupt the scammer’s infrastructure, and raise public awareness. Of course, legal action is just one way we work to combat these types of scams. 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.

Google has also shared some tips on how you can spot pet scams, including asking the seller to see the pet in-person or in a video call, using verified payment methods, utilizing Google reverse image search (check out our guide here), and searching the seller's credentials and details online. In the meantime, Google will continue working with law enforcement agencies to protect people from online fraud.

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