Last month, the Wall Street Journal launched an investigation into Google Maps. Their report claims that millions of business listings are completely fake – and that the search engine giant profits from this deception through ad revenue.
In the digital age, Google is the first stop for just about everyone looking for home repairs or locksmithing services, especially if they’re emergent in nature. When a pipe has burst or a key is locked in the house, time is of the essence; homeowners don’t have time to wait for someone to drive across town. For this reason, they’ll probably select the closest repairman in the area. This is the point where fake listings can defraud consumers.
Why Create a Fake Google Listing?
Why would someone bother to create a fraudulent Google Maps listing? There are a few different explanations for these scams. Some businesses will attempt to sabotage competitors by creating poser profiles with the wrong NAP information (name, address, phone). They’ll then intercept customers trying to use the other company’s services or sell these leads to other organizations.
Other times, the motives are even more nefarious. The WSJ tells of one woman who attempted to hire a local repair service she had used before, only to have a scammer turn up in an unmarked van, shoddily repair her garage door, and demand twice the money for the work. “I’m in my house by myself with this guy,” she said. “He could have knocked me over dead.”
Google has responded to the WSJ report by removing more than 3 million fake listings. They’ve also added new safeguards for “high-risk” businesses – these include repair services and contractors, which customers in emergency situations don’t have the time to research. This isn’t the first time Google has had to cull fake business profiles. Last year, the search engine disabled over 150,000 accounts used to create millions of fake listings. According to Google, over 85% of these removals were flagged by its internal systems, while the remainder were reported by users.
In their blog post response, Google states that “these scammers use a wide range of deceptive techniques to try to game our system – as we shut them down, they change their techniques, and the cycle continues. Although it’s important that we make it easy for legitimate businesses to get their business profiles on Google, we’ve also implemented strict policies and created tools that enable people to flag these issues so we can take action… We can’t share too many details about these efforts without running the risk of actually helping scammers find new ways to beat our systems.”
How You Can Combat Fake Business Listings
Google offers a few different options for those looking to contribute to the fight against fraud. First, learn more about their policies for businesses representing themselves on Google – as well as their information on user-contributed content – to determine whether or not to report businesses for review. Next, you can use the new flagging system to notify the search engine of any suspicious content you see. If you notice multiple fraudulent business profiles or if you are personally affected by such a scam, submit the business redressal form to begin the review process.
Moving forward, be sure to check in on your business’s Google presence regularly. Make sure that there are no poser profiles attempting to redirect your customers and report them if you see them. Make sure that your company information – especially contact info – is current on all platforms, social media included. With awareness and dedication, scammers shouldn’t be a problem for your clients.
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