Most people would assume that hiring a plumber from a Google Maps result would mean getting a plumber. However, The Wall Street Journal reports that it is becoming more and more common that this is not always the case. Con-men have started hijacking businesses and creating fake listings to run new scams.
For example, Nancy Carter hired a repairman, thinking little of calling a company that appeared on Google Maps. However, the man who came was clearly not from any contracted company. He not only did a shoddy job in repairing her problem, but he then demanded double the payment that was expected in a cash or a check.
“I’m at my house by myself with this guy,” she said.
“He could have knocked me over dead.”
Fraud researchers estimated that Google Maps suffers from 11 million fake businesses listed every day, and that most of the listings for contractors, electricians, towing and car repair services, movers and lawyers are not actually located where they are pinpointed according to Google.
Google Maps director Ethan Russell admitted that Google removed more than three million fake business listings last year. The accounts that uploaded the false listings, which numbered at around 150,000, were disabled as well. Though Google did not explain its security countermeasures, Russell did confess that the number of fake listings increased 50 percent from 2017.
But the fake listings aren’t just a threat for those seeking business services. They are also dangerous for business owners themselves.
Anas Abuhazim, who runs a cash-for-junk-cars operation in the Chicago suburbs, detailed a scam where extortionists targeted his business. The scammers, who pretended to be a marketing firm, first approached Abuhazim as a company that could help advertise his business. Once Abuhazim paid the company for their services, they quickly changed their tune, and demanded half his revenue. If Abuhazim refused, they would “bury” his company with fake competitors.
Abuhazim refused, and the con-men made enough fake businesses that his company was pushed off the first page of the Google results. The Chicago native said that his business halved as a result. When he contacted Google about the problem, the tech giant was unhelpful, earning Abuhazim’s justified ire.
“It’s less harmful to piss off the government than piss off Google.”
“The government will hit me with a fine. But if Google suspends my listings, I’m out of a job. Google could make me homeless,” Abuhazim elaborated.
Google is loathe to take the problem seriously — perhaps because of the benefits. Many of those people who operate fake businesses also take out Google ads so that they appear at the top of the search results. Purchasing these ads means more revenue for Google.
Nonetheless, Google has continued to emphasize that they are working on the issue.