(Reuters) – Alphabet’s Google (GOOGL.O) on Friday sued a Los Angeles man and his companies in San Jose, California federal court, claiming he created hundreds of fake business listings on its platforms and sold them to real businesses to lure in unsuspecting customers.
Fake reviews have been a recurring problem on internet commerce sites. Google said in a statement that it filed the lawsuit against Ethan QiQi Hu to “help put an end to these types of malicious schemes.”
Hu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Google’s lawsuit said Hu creates sham businesses that appear in its search engine and Google Maps, using an “elaborate set of props” to verify them on video calls with the tech giant’s agents.
The lawsuit said Hu keeps a tool bench as a prop to verify fraudulent listings for garage repair, tree cutting and plumbing, and essential oils for verifying fake aromatherapy and reiki therapy businesses.
Google said Hu buys thousands of fake positive reviews to make the businesses appear legitimate. He then allegedly sells the profiles as “leads” to real businesses in the same fields, which receive contacts from potential customers who reach out to the fake businesses.
Google said Hu created more than 350 false profiles bolstered by over 14,000 illegitimate reviews.
The lawsuit accused Hu of false advertising, unlawful business practices and violating Google’s terms of service. Google asked the court for an unspecified amount of money damages and an order to block Hu’s alleged misconduct.
The case is Google LLC v. Hu, U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, No. 5:23-cv-02964.
For Google: Whitty Somvichian of Cooley
For Hu: attorney information not available