NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Google filed a lawsuit against Pacific WebWorks and other unnamed defendants for allegedly using the company's name and colorful logo to promote fraudulent work-at-home money-making schemes.
"Thousands of people have been tricked into sending payment information and being charged hidden fees by questionable operations," Google said in a blog post on Tuesday.
The search engine giant sued Salt Lake City-based Pacific WebWorks, an application service provider and software development firm, in a court in Utah.
Pacific WebWorks didn't respond to calls, but on Wednesday put out a statement indicating it was surprised by the lawsuit.
"We have always cooperated with Google," said Ken Bell, chief executive of Pacific WebWorks. "As we review this lawsuit with our counsel we find questionable claims that the company will vigorously and responsibly defend."
Google said it has not created or endorsed advertisements such as "Use Google to make 1000s of Dollars!" and "Easy Cash with Google: You could be Making up to $978 a Day Working from home!"
These spam advertisements appear in various places around the Web, appearing when people search for work-at-home job opportunities. The scams are also distributed through spam emails and can also be found on reputable Web sites, when the creators purchase advertisements.
Kate Lister, author of "Undress for Success - The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home," estimates that more than 95% of Google hits on the words "work at home" are scams, link to scams or other dead ends.
In 2008, the Better Business Bureau received 3,539 complaints against work-at home companies, and expects the number to rise in 2009, according to Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the bureau.
She said Google's name is often used in such schemes because of its recognizable branding and good reputation.
The Better Business Bureau has received 382 complaints about Pacific WebWorks in the last year, and 84% of them are related to billing or collection, refund or exchange, and sales practice issues.
The company, which rates an F on BBB's scale of A+ to F, negleted to respond to 107 complaints filed, and did not resolve 45 of them.
In addition to taking Pacific WebWorks (PWEB) to court, Google said it is continuing efforts to remove scam sites from its index.
The company also said it would permanently disable Google AdWords accounts that provide a "poor or harmful" user experience whether or not they use Google's trademark illegally. AdWords is an advertising platform where businesses can pay a fee for their information to be displayed adjacent to specific search results.
Because Google can't guarantee that similar schemes won't pop up on different networks or under different names, it also told users to "be skeptical and review any offers online before sending any information."
Legitimate work-at-home jobs are those in which a person is paid a regular wage for services performed or hours worked, such as computer data entry, remote tech support, or transcription services. The illegitimate jobs, or "scams" as Lister refers to them, can usually be identified because they ask job seekers to put up money with the expectation of earning money back.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based Google provided other names users should be wary of: Google Adwork, Google ATM, Google Biz Kit, Google Cash, Earn Google Cash Kit, Google Fortune, Google Marketing Kit, Google Profits, The Home Business Kit for Google, Google StartUp Kit, and Google Works.
Work-at-home mom Stacey Kannenberg, 45, signed up for one called Easy Google Profit, a site that says "you can start making money within hours of qualifying" with "no prior experience needed."
But by signing up and paying a few dollars in shipping charges for a start-up kit, users may be unaware they are authorizing the company to bill them hefty monthly fees, which get automatically charged to their credit card and are non-refundable.
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