Google is fighting back against a group of fraudsters who allegedly created 65 Google accounts to submit phony copyright violation notices against thousands of third-party website URLs. The defendants could also be linked to other takedown requests “targeting more than half a million additional third-party URLs,” according to lawsuit Google filed on Monday.
The lawsuit accuses Nguyen Van Duc and Pham Van Thien of exploiting the tech giant’s copyright violation reporting system under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The scammers sought to remove competitor retail listings to rig Google search results in favor of its T-shirt business.
In addition to abusing takedown requests, the defendants also impersonated large companies like Amazon and Twitter, prominent individuals like Taylor Swift, sports teams and famous bands.
“Defendants falsely claimed to represent Amazon and alleged infringement of a t-shirt with the text ‘In 2006 Beyonce Said To The Left, To The Left And My Political Compass Was Born,’” the suit reads.
Google caught on to the nefarious activity, but for a time, the cybercriminals saw success. Google removed a “significant number” of URLs targeted by the defendants, according to the lawsuit.
The tech giant said one of the worst instances resulted in phony takedown requests for “more than 35,000 website URLs from a Google customer that spends tens of millions of dollars per year on search ads.” This resulted in the customer’s website traffic dropping during the 2022 holiday season, the customer and its sellers losing over $5 million in revenue as well as a $2 to $3 million loss for Google.
The falsely removed sites have since been reinstated.
In addition to the group including Van Duc and Van Thien, Halimah DeLaine Prado, Google’s general counsel, said the tech giant is also going after a scam group that “sought to exploit public enthusiasm for generative AI to spread malware.” This separate lawsuit alleges cybercriminals used Bard, Google’s free artificial intelligence tool, to trick users into downloading malware. Since April, Google said it’s filed about 300 takedowns related to the group of bad actors.
Scammers don’t discriminate with their targets — big companies, small businesses, and average people are all potential targets. Bad actors are quick to exploit new technology, like AI, natural disasters and emergency situations where people are likely to look for ways to donate money to provide aid, and the holiday shopping season when customers flock to online retailers with their credit cards ready.
As technology evolves, so do cybercriminal’s tactics and schemes. This makes it almost impossible for companies and government agencies to stay ahead of fraudsters.
Image credit: Google