If you ever use Google to search for a nearby business, scammers may be targeting you. That’s because it’s easy to set up a fake company, address and telephone number on the Google Maps site using online tools.
How the scam works: Say that you get locked out of your home and look for a locksmith near you by searching in Google the word “locksmith” and the name of your town or your zip code. You pick one of the locksmiths from a list, call and get a very attractive quote. But the number you call actually may be forwarded to a boiler-room operation, possibly in some other state, that dispatches an unscrupulous and probably unlicensed person to help you. There is no legitimate local business. When the person arrives, he/she charges a huge premium over what a licensed locksmith would or he does expensive, unnecessary work. It is difficult for you to argue after the work is done.
By flooding Google Maps with hundreds of fraudulent listings in a city or town, scammers can swindle consumers with a variety of low-quality, overpriced emergency service providers, including supposed plumbers, electricians, tow services and taxis.
Self-defense: Go to a trusted source instead of Google for a recommendation. Ask a neighbor…try AAA…or check Angie’s List if you are a member. Google the information that you get from your initial Google search—for example, type in the name of the supposed locksmith company and the word “scam.” Call the phone number you find on Google Maps, but watch out for red flags, including individuals who answer the phone without mentioning the company’s name or who offer a quote that seems too low. When the person arrives, ask for a written estimate and state licensing number before any work begins.