Google cracks down on work-from-home scams

Google has filed a lawsuit in the US against a company alleged to have created scam work-at-home advertisements branded with the search giant’s logo, designed to fool jobseekers into giving away their money.

The company is also on the lookout for similar scams in Australia, saying users should be aware of operations designed to lure innocent people looking for jobs during the downturn.

A Google Australia spokesperson says the company is aware of local victims who have been exposed to similar types of scams.

Google is suing Pacific WebWorks, and has alleged the company told its applicants to pay for a free kit which shows how to make money through Google, but applicants’ credit cards are then charged with ongoing fees with no income to be seen.

The internet search giant has said because of the way its logo has been used on the Pacific WebWorks advertisements, which offer payments of over $900 per day, its reputation has been misused with many customers confused about the company’s involvement.

It said it had received complaints from Pacific WebWorks victims, with many demanding refunds after believing Google was behind the scam. As a result, a lawsuit for trademark infringements, unfair business practices and piracy has been lodged in Utah.

The scam has operated under a number of different names, including Google Adwork, Google ATM, Google Biz Kit, Google Cash, Earn Google Cash Kit, Google Fortune, Google Marketing Kit, Google Profits, The Home Business Kit for Google, Google StartUp Kit and Google Works.

“At the heart of the scheme is a false representation that consumers can participate in a Google-sponsored program that will allow them to make hundreds of dollars a day working at home performing a simple task that requires no particular experience or qualifications,” the lawsuit states.

“Although the program is often advertised as ‘free’, in fact consumers must pay an ‘instant access’ fee for online access to a members-only portal, or a ‘shipping and handling fee’ for a DVD, that, they are told, will explain how to make money through the program.”

The company said misleading ads try to take advantage of average consumers during difficult economic conditions, and “thousands of people have been tricked into sending payment information”.

The lawsuit comes after the US Federal Trade Commission began a crackdown on scammers using the economic downturn to profit.

“Thousands of people have been swindled out of millions of dollars by scammers who are exploiting the economic downturn. Their scams may promise job placement, access to free government grant money, or the chance to work at home. In fact, the scams have one thing in common – they raise people’s hopes and then drive them deeper into a hole,” FTC consumer protection bureau director David Vladeck said in a statement.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Peter Kell was unavailable for comment prior to publication, but the agency’s Scam Watch site warns consumers about trusting work-from-home guarantees.

“Work-from-home scams are often conducted through spam emails, or advertisements on noticeboards. Most of these ads are not real job offers. Many of them are actually fronts for a money-laundering scam, an upfront payment scam or a pyramid scheme.”

“You might receive an email offering a job where you use your bank account to receive and pass on payments for a foreign company. These ‘job offers’ promise that you will receive a percentage commission for each payment you pass on.”

The ACCC says consumers should be wary about giving bank details to any online-based operation without qualifying their reputation.

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