Many of the big technology firms such as Google and Facebook have been accused of misusing private data for their own benefit. A recent Wall Street Journal article described something that Google Maps is doing that benefits them financially, gives a platform to scammers and leaves users of Maps vulnerable to fraud and worse.
When a person uses Google Maps it can show businesses or other sites nearby. Searching for a type of business nearby always results in a list of them rated variously by review ratings, cost, relevance and your personal interests as Google knows them. Legitimate businesses want to appear high on that list since a high rating is good for business. Most customers will tend to contact one of the first ones listed rather than spend much time on the entire list.
Since appearing high on the list and having a close convenient location is important many scammers have found that manipulating Google Maps is also good for business. Essentially scammers use false listings of businesses that may not exist, false locations of existing businesses (to appear closer and more convenient) and hijacking existing businesses listings to include a different telephone number. To be on Google Maps companies are charged by the click. In addition they can pay additional amounts to appear higher on the list.
The Journal article said that according to experts Google Maps shows about 11 million falsely listed businesses each day. One test looked at a search for plumbers in one NYC location. The paper looked into the top 20 listings of that search and found 13 false addresses. The phone numbers for these listings were routed to a call center or to other plumbers. To be given the “pushpin” location on Google Maps the business has to accept customers at the stated location. Of these same 20 plumbers only 2 actually accepted customers at the listed location.
Google claims to disable accounts that manipulate and create false listings as well as remove them as soon as they are identified. Any business can register to appear on Maps for free but buying advertising from Google helps the placement of their business on the listing.
In some cases businesses with an expertise in manipulating Google business listings can blackmail legitimate businesses into paying for their expertise. The deal is to pay for their ability or risk being hidden from view under dozens or hundreds of new (false) listings.
To Google’s credit they seem to have a process to find and delete these false listings but the scammers tend to move faster and more frequently than Google can respond. The Journal article quoted a person whose company can place almost 4,000 fake Maps locations daily. His company of 11 people is supplemented by 25 more in the Phillippines filling orders for fake listings. He charges $99 per business or $8,599 for 100 at a time.
Finally, individuals who think they are contacting a legitimate business with a high rating may have someone come to the door without the knowledge and expertise needed to fix the problem or an interest in maintaining good customer service. Such customers are not only vulnerable to fraud but also to robbery and violent crime.
I recommend this article to anyone using Google Maps to find a business or who needs to be listed accurately on the site. It is:
If your company has been a victim of fraud let me know if you are willing to discuss it with me. It would be helpful to other entrepreneurs to hear about real life examples of fraud, loss and recovery.