Tech solutions have made many aspects of life easier, but sometimes that ease of use also leaves tech open to exploitation. Google Maps is facing a problem in which some companies showing up on its maps don’t exist at all, and other exist purely to perpetrate fraud. At The Wall Street Journal, Katherine Bindley discusses fake listings:
Some fake business listings might just be a popular search term or phrase. The address might be occupied by an entirely different company, or it might not exist at all. The phone number might route you to a marketing firm, known as a lead-generation business, that is paid to forward your call to a service provider. You might get an unlicensed contractor who delivers low-quality work, or a locksmith who charges three times the market rate to let you back into your place.
Tom Waddington works with local businesses as a search consultant and flags fake or misleading listings to Google on a volunteer basis as one of its product experts. He says he frequently comes across listings for urgent-care centers that don’t have a physical location.
“In a lot of situations I’ve seen, they’re telemedicine. They provide over-the-phone service,” says Mr. Waddington. They can call in a prescription, but they can’t necessarily help if you break your finger.
Google tells businesses to leave the address blank if you don’t see customers at your location.
Some businesses pay companies to create fake listings for them. This could give them a shot at more business. For example, a locksmith with a storefront in one town could pay for fake listings that make it appear that it has locations in other nearby towns.
Another problem is when people call fake listings thinking they are reaching a business when they are actually talking to a call center. Those centers screen incoming calls for, say, potential legal clients, which they then patch through to a law firm for a commission.
“It’s one thing to rely on the fake listing to get your tires changed,” says Gyi Tsakalakis, who runs a search marketing firm for attorneys in Chicago. “It’s another thing when you go online to do a search and you think you’re talking to a lawyer and you’re talking a lead generator.”
The nightmare scenario, he says, would be a client unwittingly talking to a call center about a serious criminal charge—or even an injury or divorce—and a recording of that call being subpoenaed: It wouldn’t be protected by attorney-client privilege.
After our article published Thursday, Google posted a response on its blog detailing its effort to combat fake business listings.
Read more here about how to detect fake businesses.
Jeremy Jones, CFA
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