When we Google search a map listing we expect the business or service to be where it says it is. Much to everyone’s surprise, there are irregularities in the search engine that have been hijacked by the bad actors, as they say.
Here is a Google posted response from its blog detailing its effort to combat fake business listings.
“It’s a constant balancing act and we’re continually working on new and better ways to fight these scams using a variety of ever-evolving manual and automated systems,” it reads. “We have an entire team dedicated to addressing these issues and taking constant action to remove profiles that violate our policies.”
There are ways for you to spot a fake. No one method is foolproof, so instead you’re looking for a combination of these signals that something is off:
- Confirm the business name
Be wary of business names with keywords like ““best” or “dependable” or “emergency.”
Spammers know that listings have a better chance of showing up high in the search results if they use popular search terms. That’s not to say legitimate businesses don’t sometimes have superlatives in their names; just give keyword-heavy listings some extra scrutiny.
Ben Fisher, another volunteer Google product expert, suggests doing a search on the Better Business Bureau’s website. Some businesses apply for BBB accreditation, but you might find other useful information there too, like customer reviews and confirmation of state licensing.
If you really want to sleuth out the company, you can look for records about it on your secretary of state’s website. Look for a link for the state’s business directory or search, then type in the business name to see if it’s listed. Mr. Fisher warns however that some businesses aren’t required to register.
The Google spokeswoman recommends checking to see if the listing has a website associated with it and if so, clicking through to make sure the link isn’t broken or giving you a malware warning.
- Google the address
If you set the listing aside and just search for the address itself, does the same business appear? If you tap the Street View icon, can you clearly see signage or other evidence of the company at that location? Or is it a residential street with no business in sight?
To make things more complicated, some of these spam listings appear on a map, but don’t have a visible address. A legitimate business might not list its address if it has a specific service area but doesn’t actually see customers at any office. But just because there’s a dot on the map doesn’t mean the business is located anywhere near there.
- Screen the phone number
Calling the number on a suspicious listing can lead to several scenarios: You might get an actual business that’s just not located where Google says it is, or you might get one of the lead-generation call centers.
Businesses that have nothing to hide won’t be cagey answering questions like whether or not they have a physical office and where it’s located. And if you are connected to a lead-generation firm who say they’ll connect you to someone who can help, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker.
The important thing is to get the name of the actual business that’s being represented—and whether or not its pricing and level of service are what you’re expecting. Before committing, verify the existence of the company in other ways, such as through its own independent website or, better yet, a listing on Yelp or some other competing search tool.
- Be careful with reviews
As helpful as customer reviews can be, they are often faked. Mr. Waddington suggests looking for clusters of reviews all posted around the same time. Another trick is to look out for repeated positive language and/or imprecise praise, accompanied by five-star ratings. (“Excellent service!” “Highly recommended!” “Definitely the best!”)
The Google spokeswoman suggests sorting the reviews by different star ratings to see if something is amiss.
If there’s a profile for the person who posted the review, click through to see what other businesses that person has reviewed and if anything looks suspicious. If Bob Smith has left short, vague reviews on service providers in multiple cities, odds are Bob is a spammer, not a jet-setter.