Google sues website over alleged puppy scam

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The demand for puppies doubled down during the pandemic and so did pet scams.

This week Google decided to take a stand, suing a website it claims used Google's tools to rip people off.

The tech company says it's now trying to set a legal precedent and protect users from becoming victims.

Google filed a lawsuit earlier this week against a website accused of using Google's services in online puppy scams.

Nearly 20 sites are believed to be connected to the defendant, each with pictures promising purebred puppies.

In the lawsuit, Google claims the person responsible lives in Africa and was likely trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and the demand for dogs that came along with it.

"The damage is actually two-part, the emotional and financial," said San Jose State University Ahmed Banafa.

Banafa says it's easy for people to let their guard down when they see a cute picture of a puppy.

The lawsuit claims people sent hundreds of dollars in exchange for puppies that never showed up.

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

According to the Better Business Bureau, Pet Scam reports doubled from 2019 to 2020, and they continued to rise in 2021.

The BBB says scammers convinced buyers they couldn't meet in person because of COVID-19 restrictions.

These scams are a concern for the Fresno Humane Animal Services.

"We'd obviously prefer people to come in and adopt. There are so many animals that are already here that need homes that we don't really need to create more animals," said Human Animal Support Services Coordinator Kylie Ortega with the Fresno Humane Animal Services.

Ortega says adopting from your local shelter helps save the lives of animals and what you see is what you get.

Puppies often need a foster home and you can volunteer to do that if you're not ready to commit to adoption.

"We just hope that we can educate people that you can find that perfect dog at a shelter and that you don't have to go through all of that just to find a loving companion," Ortega said.

Google says they hope the lawsuit disrupts the scammer's infrastructure and helps raise public awareness.

"It's good that the tech companies are taking notice of it and understanding that people can abuse the excellence of their product and algorithm," Banafa said.

In order for users to protect themselves from pet scams, Google suggests people see the pet in person before paying any money.

They also suggest using Google's reverse image search to see if the advertised picture pops up somewhere else.

They suggest searching the company name, number and street address. If you can't find anything, they say the name and address are likely fake.
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