Are you in search of a furry friend to add joy to your life? Did you know that Pet Scammers are using Google Ads to appear on the front page of every search? Be cautious when scouring the internet for your new pet, as the online world can be a breeding ground for scam websites, lurking amidst the legitimate ones. In this article, we’ll shed light on a concerning trend: the promotion of scam websites on Google search results.

The Deceptive Web of Advertisements:

Imagine you’re searching for a puppy online. You type in your query on Google and hit enter. What pops up on your screen? A mix of genuine results and paid advertisements. The trouble is, many consumers struggle to distinguish between the two. Those sneaky scammers exploit this confusion by paying Google to prominently display their deceitful websites at the top of search results.

Our research looked at the latest 1003 Pet Scam websites published on Petscams.com.
Of those 1003 websites 31.5% (316) of them are currently using Google Ads on search pages. Although 68% (687) are not being advertised on Google Search currently, we cannot tell if they have been promoted there in the past. Our sample data can be seen in full here.

Percentage of confirmed Pet Scammers using Google Ads currently.


The Danger of First Page Results:

It’s a common misconception that the first few search results are the most trustworthy. But here’s the truth: those top spots are often occupied by paid advertisements rather than organic search results. Unsuspecting buyers, eager to find their perfect pet quickly, may fall into the trap of clicking on these paid ads, unknowingly navigating towards scam websites.

Analysing the 316 scam websites promoted on Google we can see that:

  • 98% of them have been registered in the past 12 months.
  • 68% were registered within the past 6 months.
  • 29% of the websites being advertised are already shut down.
Registration Dates/Status of Scam websites being advertised on Google search

Who is advertising Pet Scam websites?

The vast majority of criminals using Google Ads are targeting consumers in the United States.
By using adstransparency.google.com we can check the name and location given by the 212 unique AdvertiserIDs advertising these websites. Our analysis shows that almost 41%(86) of all websites in our research are connected to advertisers claiming to be based in Cameroon, West Africa with over 23% claiming to be based in South Africa.

Fraudsters using Google Ads -  Country of Origin

To give you a visual representation of the issue here consider this.
The vast majority of these ads are for websites which give the impression that they are based in the US selling to American consumers.

Location of Criminals using Google Ads

A closer look at the advertisers

One advertiser with the unique ID AR12164820452975312897 claims to be “ETS Pavo Web Solutions” claims to be based in Cameroon. They are currently advertising 47 adverts and are advertising the following pet scam websites on Google search:

They are also advertising the following scam websites which we have published before or after the timeframe in our dataset:

As well advertising fake pet breeder websites this advertiser also appears to be advertising fake German, Swiss and Austrian driving licences führerscheinskaufen . com

So how long has this advertiser been advertising scams on Google Search?
We can tell that the oldest website being advertised, thehomeofcertifiedkittens . com, was registered just over a year ago. That means that you can assume that this scammer has had this account for over a year. What the data does not tell us is how many of the scammers websites have been shut down so it is possible that this advertiser has been advertising scams for much longer!

How do you report a fraudulent advert on Google Search?

If you take into account that these scams work because many consumers using Google Search do not differentiate between the most popular, well established link and a fraudulent, paid-for advert which appears before the genuine link.
You can report scam adverts on Google search by following the following steps:

Show information about Scammers using Google Ads

Next to each advert on a Google search there are three dots. Clicking on these three dots will open up a pop-up window which shows details of the advertiser.
report-google-search-ad-step-1

Review the Advertiser and click “Report Ad”

On the popup window you can see several things. The advertiser is verified by Google which means they have supplied legal documentation of their name and location. They use the name LIMUNGA MBENE JULIENNE and claim to be based in Cameroon, West Africa.
The “Report ad” link to report this advert is on the pop-up as shown in the image below.
report-google-search-ad-step-2

Choose why you believe the advert to be a scam.

Choose the description of the offending advert. In the case of Pet Scams, choose “It violates Google policies (e.g. scam/phishing, offensive, or dangerous content).”
report-google-search-ad-step-3

Complete and submit your report.

A new form will appear. You must choose “It’s misleading or a scam” to report a pet scam. and submit your report.
report-Google-search-ad-step-5

What happens after you report a fraudulent advert on Google Search?

As per Step #4 above, you will receive a generic email from google with a report number.

Hello,

We received your report about a concerning ad or shopping listing. Our team will review your report and take action if appropriate.

Thanks for taking the time to submit a report. We’re constantly working to improve your experience, and your input helps us get there.

Sincerely,

Google Trust & Safety Team

reply from [email protected]

This is the only email you will receive. There is no mention of the advert you reported so, unless you made a record of it, you cannot check if the advert has been taken down. Neither will you receive an email from Google if the advert has been shut down so you will never know if your good deed had any effect.
After a bit of searching I did find a link to “My Ad Center Help” which shows that my report is “In Progress”.

report-google-search-ad-step- Scammers using Google Ads

Within ten minutes, the report has disappeared. It was not marked as resolved, it just disappeared with no indication of the resolution. If I check the advertiser (AR06546414200812470273) the advert for jfpureminidachshundhome is still listed as an active advert. This is less than satisfying for anyone that has taken the time to figure out how to report these scams.

Stay Alert, Stay Safe:

In the wild jungle of online pet purchases, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against Scammers using Google Ads. Don’t let the allure of convenience blind you to the potential dangers lurking behind those flashy advertisements. Take your time to thoroughly research any website before making a purchase, look for reviews, check the website’s credibility, and consider adopting from reputable shelters or breeders instead.

In conclusion, while Google’s advertising platform may offer great opportunities for legitimate businesses to reach their audience but it’s also being exploited by unscrupulous individuals looking to make a quick buck off unsuspecting pet lovers. The system for reporting scam websites advertised on Google Search is hidden, convoluted and unsatisfactory. Let’s demand better safeguards from Google and educate ourselves to avoid falling victim to these scam websites. After all, the safety and well-being of our beloved pets and our wallets are at stake.

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