Google files suit against Cameroonian cybercriminal who used puppies as lures

A dog supposedly for sale on a website Google says belongs to a Cameroonian scammer. (CyberScoop)

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Google filed a lawsuit Monday against a Cameroonian man, accusing him of creating scam websites that promise to “sell adorable puppies,” only to take victims’ money as part of a sprawling network of non-delivery scams.

According to Google’s lawsuit, someone going by the name of Nche Noel Ntse registered dozens of “fraudulent” Google accounts to set up multiple Gmail and Google Voice accounts to “communicate false promises to victims” and set up fraudulent websites to facilitate the fraud.

Google is seeking to block the person from accessing or attempting to access any Google services, create any Google accounts or engage in any activity that violates Google’s Terms of Service agreements.

The fraud is part of a “dramatic increase” in online scams during the COVID-19 pandemic as people shop more online and less in person. A variety of studies have looked at “puppy scams” in particular, where perpetrators, typically abroad, pose as breeders with puppies for sale.

“These scammers tend to post photos and videos of adorable puppies with prices that are too good to be true and ask for payment upfront through wire payments, gift cards, or direct transfer apps,” Google’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. After the first round of payments, the scammers will add on additional payments such as animal quarantine and delivery fees.

According to the lawsuit, in August 2021, the AARP received a complaint from a South Carolina resident who reported that they were looking for a puppy online. They came across a site called “familyhomebassetthounds[.]com” and sought to purchase a specific puppy.

Someone with a Gmail email account and a Google Voice account told the victim to pay for the dog by sending $700 in gift cards to a specific place. The victim was then told the shipping company needed an additional $1,500 to deliver the puppy, which never came.

Google’s investigation of the matter revealed “a network” of Google services accounts being used in other non-delivery schemes linked together subscriber and recovery email addresses, phone numbers, and login IP addresses. One of the older Gmail accounts was created in September 2013 from an IP address in Cameroon and had a phone number with the with the country code for Cameroon, the complaint states.

The scam websites have been suspended in the past, but others pop up. By the time Google investigated, the website used to target the victim in South Carolina had been pulled down. But a Google Ads account that ran ads for that site was also running ads for “emilypuppyfarm[.]com,” a site registered on March 27, 2022 that was still accessible as of April 11:

A screenshot of what Google says is a fraudulent website offering puppies for sale. (CyberScoop)

“The recency of this site shows that Defendant will continue to perpetrate fraud and abuse Google’s services unless stopped,” the lawyers wrote in the complaint, noting that Google suspended the Google Ads account and requested to have the site pulled down through the company hosting the site.

Another site controlled by the suspect purported to sell marijuana and prescription opiate cough syrup. That site was accessible through April 7, Google’s lawyers wrote, when it was taken down at Google’s request. It never sold the items as it “was yet another non-delivery scheme.”

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drugs, fraud, Google, scammers, U.S. courts
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