When a Google executive found a high-end Bluetooth headset selling at a steep discount on the company's shopping site earlier this year, he didn't consider that the deal may have been too good to be true.
He ordered the product and waited. And waited. The expected delivery date passed. He tried calling the website's customer service number. It was disconnected.
The headset never arrived. The money was lost.
In reality, the merchant wasn't based in the U.S., as its website indicated. Google Shopping had sent the buyer about 8,000 miles away, to a bogus seller in Vietnam who took the Google employee's credit card information with no intention of ever sending out a headset.
The prospective buyer kicked the case over to his co-workers to start an investigation. But instead of simply banning the bad actor from listing new products, Google Shopping's trust and safety team initiated a global probe that ultimately tracked down 5,000 merchant accounts wrapped up in a sophisticated scheme to defraud users.
"I think we caught them right at the tip of when they were trying to scale up," Saikat Mitra, Google Shopping's director of trust and safety, told CNBC.