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Google spotlights more suspected Oculus VR gadget-scam ads

BBC Technology 15 May 2020 03:06
By Leo Kelion Technology desk editor
Google montageImage copyright Getty Images

Fresh evidence that scam stores are exploiting Google's Shopping service to appear at the top of its search results has been discovered by the BBC.

Two sites offering hard-to-find gadgets at a discount were found to be using bogus checkout facilities that encourage customers to pay via a direct bank transfer.

This prevents users from recovering funds if they have second thoughts.

Police investigators have expressed frustration about Google's role.

One officer who spent years investigating online crime told the BBC that the tech firm could introduce checks to better deter fraudsters, if it made this a priority.

Image copyright Shopzeal

It said it would now make unspecified changes to its automated and human-based review processes.

"In 2019, our team took down approximately 2.7 billion bad ads."

Both Techziox.com and Shopzeal.co.uk went offline after the BBC contacted them. They did not respond to requests for comment.

The sites had earlier run ads for Oculus virtual-reality headsets, which are sold out or priced at a premium on most other sites.

In some cases, the ads took up most of the screen when viewed on a smartphone, increasing their chance of being clicked.

But while MyTechDomestic only presented shoppers a way to pay by bank transfer, Techziox and Shopzeal both appear to provide an option to use a credit card.

However, Stripe told the BBC that the box was not linked to its system and it did not handle payments for the sites.

An independent security researcher, who tracks scam sites, confirmed that the sites' code indicated the card details were instead sent to the stores' operators.

The only other choice was bank transfer, and both Techziox and Shopzeal presented details of the same account at a Swindon-based bank.

In previous cases, the police have said scammers use personal accounts belonging to individuals who are either complicit or have been coerced into sharing their bank details, and the money is typically withdrawn straight away over the counter or via cash machines.

Image copyright Google

They also provided different VAT numbers. In both cases, HM Revenue and Customs said the details were invalid.

Techziox appears to have been in operation for longer, and had been accused of being "straight-up scammers" by users of Trustpilot's review site.

"My daughter searched online and this company came up, so we purchased the item. I sent emails to the company and I had no emails back," she said.

A security blogger who anonymously tracks electronics goods scams said: "It's horrendous. This is the first time I've seen them use Google Shopping. Previously it was just Adwords."

Scam sites can be "difficult to identify," he added. "But maybe Google shouldn't allow a website that's been registered in the last two months to be one of its Shopping results, if it wants to provide a trustworthy customer experience."

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Tags

BBCTechzioxShopzealGoogleMyTechDomestic
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