300 euros for non-existent sofas: the scam that fooled Google Shopping

An impressive scam was among the top google shopping results for pull out sofas. during weeks. Numerama has already investigated an increasingly common method that resembles that of a scammer.

Sophie just wanted to buy a sofa bed. When the first result that appeared on Google showed her a page with very attractive prices and a model that was exactly what she had in mind, she didn’t hesitate. ” At the time, I simply had the feeling that I had gotten a very good deal with a sofa bed for just over 360 euros ‘ she remembers today. She decides very quickly and pays.

She immediately receives an SMS, similar to what some online sales sites send: ” Hello Sophie “Can she read the message?” Thank you for shopping at Vehrnex! We will inform you when it is shipped. Everything looks fine. But as Sophie will soon discover, the order tracking number that follows the message is fake — and she’ll never receive her couch.

Sophie isn’t the only one who fell for Vehrnex, the fake company that claimed to sell sofa beds and rugs. The scam worked extremely well and would have claimed at least 700 victims in just a few months, from late November 2021 to mid-March 2022. Because Vehrnex helped with an extremely good ranking on Google Shopping, a listing in the C Discount marketplace and hundreds of false testimonials on Trustpilot.

In fact, the sofas sold by Vehrnex did not exist. // Source: Nino Barbey for Numerama

A good ranking on Google Shopping

Numerama has already investigated a similar scam. Last October, we shared the story of Argamiel Distribution, a fake website that sells electric bikes and uses a similar technique. The scammer had impersonated Argamiel Distribution, a genuine company specializing in the sale of argan oil and honey. The company had been put on hold by its actual owner, but was still registered as active in the commercial register. The scammer had used this identity, which gave him real legitimacy, to create a new website that included Argamiel Distribution’s Siret number in order to reassure potential customers. Aside from a few typos on the website, the illusion was perfect — until the bikes ordered by the scam victims never arrived.

“For me, it’s because it’s reliable on Google. »

Sophia

The scammer behind Vehrnex used a similar technique – which is why a reader warned us about the existence of this site – but it’s not quite the same. Thus, Vehrnex is not a registered company in the Societe.com register, as was the case with Argamiel. We cannot currently say whether the same person is actually behind the two scams.

Numerama interviewed several people who bought a sofa on the Vehrnex website, who all told us the same story: as with the Argamiel Distribution victims, those of the fake sofa sales site were directed there thanks to Google Shopping. When typing” convertible sofa According to our witnesses, Vehrnex was one of the first results on Google. The site offered several sofa beds presented as quality products at an extremely competitive price.

fake customer service

The site is unavailable as of May 3, 2022 – but there is an archived version on the Way Back Machine site. What you can see there shows a site that is extremely well done, clean and presented as a shop” specialized and expert in interior decoration in all these (sic) forms “. And although Vehrnex says it specializes in rugs, that didn’t really shock Sophie. For me it’s reliable if it’s on Google ‘ she regrets today.

Source: web archive
Source: web archive

Like many other customers, she was reassured by her email exchanges with customer service a so-called Charlotte Pietri. Numerama tried to contact her several times but never managed to reach her. Charlotte Pietri, who is likely to be a false identity, would have communicated with many customers according to the testimonies we have collected. In particular, she would have reassured them about delivery times and confirmed their sofa would arrive – before blocking them and becoming unresponsive once the trick was discovered.

I’ve been to the site several times and was completely naive ‘ lamented Sophie. ” I tried to call Vehrnex customer service several times because I wanted information and I always got a message that with the Covid it was more convenient to go directly to the site. Numerama also tried several times unsuccessfully to call the phone number provided by Vehrnex.

Very good reviews on Trustpilot

Vehrnex would also have been registered as a reseller on the C Discount marketplace, a person interviewed by Numerama told us – C Discount had not yet answered our questions at the time our survey was published. But on top of these great deals and fake customer service, Vehrnex managed to fool many people with over a hundred overwhelmingly positive Trustpilot reviews. They were prominently displayed next to the products on the website.

appetizers « super comfys”, ” very responsive and professional customer service », « great site », « the quality is there » : The first opinions published about Vehrnex were all extremely positive and gave the curious immediately confidence. ” My purchase was motivated by these comments ‘ a witness told us.

One of the fake reviews on Vehrnex's Trustpilot page // Source: Numerama screenshot
One of the fake reviews on Vehrnex’s Trustpilot page // Source: Numerama screenshot

Only when the first victims of the scam became aware of the deception did the tenor of the Trustpilot ratings change. The company’s page is now full of insults and vindictive messages – but Vehrnex still enjoys a decent rating: the site has two stars out of five for just over 370 reviews. It is no longer possible to leave new comments today, as it is pointed out that ” The company’s website no longer exists » : It is never stated on Trustpilot that customers suspect Vehrnex of being a scam.

There are still not enough controls

If we have to recognize a certain finesse and attention to detail in scammers, Vehrnex’s story above all shows how poorly third-party platforms and sites do their verification job. It is these shortcomings on multiple levels that have allowed Vehrnex to exist for so long and ultimately extort several thousand euros from a large number of victims.

Among the first offending websites, Google Shopping. We were previously in contact with Google Shopping during our investigation of Argamiel Distribution and during another investigation that showed how many scammers used a free service provided by Google to promote their fraudulent websites. In both cases, the company assured us that it carries out proactive checks as well as human checks on reports. Google also requires some advertisers to verify their identity when paying to advertise their site on Google Shopping, but not all. And of course, this is still not enough to stop all scam attempts.

Contacted again by Numerama, a Google spokesperson told us that he ” very seriously dishonest business practices and [qu’il] that [considère] as a flagrant violation of [son] regulation “.” In 2020, we announced that we would begin expanding identity verification to all advertisers on our platforms, and that effort is ongoing. ‘ he also specified.

In fact, not all advertisers are yet required to identify themselves before airing ads. However, the ” Merchants must follow a number of rules in order to promote their products »says a Google spokesman. “When we discover ads that violate these rules, we remove them. Repeated non-compliance may prevent the merchant in question from advertising through us. »

A very good ranking on Google Shopping contributed to the success of the scam.  // Source: Nino Barbey for Numerama
A very good ranking on Google Shopping contributed to the success of the scam. // Source: Nino Barbey for Numerama

There are also serious shortcomings at the Trustpilot level. The company states on its website that it has implemented numerous tools to remove false reviews: a ” Fraud Detection Software “would recognize” automatically suspicious reviews ‘, and would remove them, it is explained. In reality, however, it’s a different story. Numerama was able to see a few identical reviews posted by different people one after the other on Vehrnex’s Trustpilot page. The accounts that left positive comments were also recent, and the majority had left no other reviews, suggesting accounts were created for the occasion. Finally by searching Buy Trustpilot reviews », we immediately come across many sites offering their services, which shows how often false comments are published.

When asked by Numerama, Trustpilot stated that it had blocked new comments on the Vehrnex site from March 2022. Because numerous reviews were identified as fake, we demanded that the company immediately cease its practices, stating that it had violated our Terms of Service. “. Furthermore, ” Our automated fake review detection tools and specialists had already identified fraudulent reviews and removed them from the Vehrnex profile “. However, Numerama was able to see some false reviews on the Trustpilot page, showing that not all of them were removed.

Fake reviews are an ever-evolving problemsays Trustpilot, and we continuously work to ensure that we take every possible action against manipulated comments on our site and also against the sale of reviews. The company also says it rolled out new technologies more than a year ago to better detect misleading reviews – unfortunately, as Vehrnex’s story shows, they aren’t quite up to speed yet.

Finally, and this is new compared to the Argamiel Distribution site, the Vehrnex site accepted payment by credit card. However, this is not a process that all sites can accept: you must have a distance electronic payment contract in order to receive payments online. To get such an agreement, you need to go through a bank and submit an important file to prove the validity of the project. The fact that Vehrnex received such a contract also shows a failure in the banks’ verification process.

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