On Google Shopping, a fake site selling sofas claims many victims

Internet users have been hit by a particularly well-organized scam. It relied in particular on flaws in the systems of Google, Cdiscount and Trustpilot.

A scam, appearing in the first Google search results for weeks, has claimed hundreds of victims in France, according to a survey by the specialized site Numerama.

The ad was enticing: convertible sofas, resembling models from more expensive brands, available for around 360 euros.

But once the order was placed and the banking information filled in, the sofa never arrived at its destination. The buyers, debited from the sums committed, lost their investment.

Lack of verification

The Numerama survey, which evokes the figure of more than 700 victims, reveals that this scam was based on failures at several levels, starting with Google referencing.

Between November 2021 and March 2022, the fraudulent site, baptized Vehrnex, was thus very well valued by Google’s online commerce service, Google Shopping, but also by the Cdiscount online marketplace, according to the testimony of a customer.

In addition, a hundred fake reviews, particularly well written and distributed on the Trustpilot participatory site, reinforced the credibility of the ad.

If the Vehrnex site has been able to survive for so long, it is due to a lack of verification, pointed out by Numerama, on the part of these platforms. Advertisers are, for example, not required to identify themselves to promote on Google Shopping. The company simply indicates the need to “adhere to a number of rules”.

Finally, the site allowed payment by credit card, a sign that Vehrnex received a “distance selling payment contract”. These contracts, provided by the banks, involve the creation of a rigorous administrative file, a criterion that the scammers seem to have fulfilled.

False proof of trust

Numerama, who spoke with several victims, relates that they saw Vehrnex products appear from the first search results on Google. The story is the same for all people cheated. He mentions an accessible product and a (fake) customer service that quickly builds trust, in particular thanks to the sending of SMS and quick responses to emails.

The site is now inaccessible, but an archived version remains. It presents a company “specialized and expert in interior decoration in all its forms (sic)”.

The Vehrnex site in its archived version of February 23, 2022
The Vehrnex website in its archived version of February 23, 2022 © Vehrnex/ Screenshot

Since the first scams, reviews on Trustpilot are closer to reality: the site’s page accumulates dozens of testimonials from deceived customers, denouncing the deception. As of March 10, a post indicates the creation of a “Vehrnex scam” victim group on Facebook, which to date has more than 740 members.

With Numerama, Google claims to take “very seriously dishonest business practices” and to be in the process of extending “identity verification to all advertisers”. For its part, Trustpilot claims to have blocked reviews related to Vehrnex in March 2022.

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