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Google sues app developer over fake cryptocurrency investment app scam

Google sues app developer over fake cryptocurrency investment app scam


April 8, 2024Newsroom Investment Scam / Mobile Security

Google has accused two app developers of being involved in an “international online consumer investment fraud scheme'' in which users were tricked into downloading fake Android apps from Google Play Store and other sites, and their funds were stolen under the guise of promises of higher returns. filed a lawsuit against.

The individuals in question are Yunfeng Sun (also known as Alphonse Sun) and Hong-Nam Chan (also known as Chan Hong-Nim or Stanford Fisher), who are believed to be based in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, respectively.

The defendants are said to have uploaded approximately 87 crypto apps to the Play Store since at least 2019 to carry out social engineering fraud, with over 100,000 users downloading the apps and causing significant financial losses. ing.

“The benefits generated by the app were illusory,” the tech giant said in its complaint. “And the planning didn't end there.”

“Instead, when individual victims attempt to withdraw their balances, the defendants and their co-conspirators charge victims with various fees and other payments required for them to recover their principal investments and profits. By making demands, we doubled down on this plan.”

This type of scam is typically referred to as pig butchering (also known as sh zh pn), but Google said it “has neither adopted nor endorsed the use of this terminology.” This stems from the idea that victims are bloated like pigs with the promise of huge profits before being “slaughtered” for wealth.

In September 2023, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) revealed that these scams are being carried out by criminal enterprises based in Southeast Asia and that they are being trafficked into the region with the promise of high-paying jobs. He said it employs 100,000 people.

In this fraud scheme, scammers use elaborate fictional characters to target unsuspecting individuals via social media or dating platforms, build trust with the prospect of a romantic relationship, and provide short-term convince you to invest in a cryptocurrency portfolio that claims to give you high returns. period intended to steal their funds.

To create an appearance of legitimacy, financially motivated attackers have been known to fabricate websites and mobile apps to display fake investment portfolios offering large profits.

According to Sun and Cheung, Google targeted victims in the U.S. and Canada, using Google Voice to lure investors into downloading fraudulent apps through text messages. Other distribution methods include affiliate marketing campaigns offering commissions for “registering additional users” and YouTube videos promoting fake investment platforms.

The company claims that the defendants' malicious activity “used a variety of computer network infrastructure and accounts to obscure their identities, and in the process made material misrepresentations to Google.” and that it is continuous.

The company was also charged with violating the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), committing wire fraud, and violating the Google Play App Signing Terms of Service, Developer Program Policies, YouTube's Community Guidelines, and the Google Voice Terms of Service. .

“Google Play can only continue to be the app distribution platform that users want to use if they have confidence in the integrity of their apps,” Google added. “Defendants threatened the integrity of Google Play and the user experience by using Google Play to carry out their fraudulent scheme.”

It's worth noting that this problem is not limited to the Android ecosystem, as previous reports have shown that such fake apps have repeatedly appeared on the Apple App Store as well.

The development is the latest in a series of legal actions taken by Google to prevent misuse of its products. In November 2023, the company sued multiple individuals in India and Vietnam for distributing fake versions of its Bard AI chatbot (now rebranded as Gemini) to spread malware via Facebook.

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