Many consumers use Google as a digital Yellow Pages to search for nearby plumbers, locksmiths and the like. But it’s possible you could get scammed.
A recent Wall Street Journal investigation estimated that there are 11 million fake listings on Google’s online mapping service, with hundreds of thousands more appearing every month. These listings often are created by unlicensed or underqualified individuals who do shoddy work and/or charge grossly inflated rates.
How the scams work: When you type your search query in a regular Google search, the top results include a Google map with red pushpins indicating the businesses nearest to you. A shady business may flood a geographic area with dozens of fake listings that appear closer to you and more legitimate than they really are…and that show up at the top of your Google search. In some cases, when you call the phone number, it connects to a referral service in another part of the country or overseas. The service is impersonating a local business in order to secure leads and make money selling your inquiries to unvetted third parties in your area.
Google says that last year more than three million listings were removed for violating its verification and usage policies. However, the problem is likely to persist because it’s free to list a business and scammers have been able to stay ahead of Google’s attempts to improve verification safeguards. To protect yourself…
Be vigilant about “duress verticals.” These are types of businesses most prone to scams because consumers tend to need them during emergencies or on short notice. They include car-towing and car-repair services…electricians…furniture movers…locksmiths…personal-injury lawyers…plumbers…and water-damage contractors. If you do pick a business off a Google map, at least search for consumer reviews about it on a moderated site such as Yelp.com.
Watch for telltale signs of an illegitimate Google mapping business. There’s no other information in the listing other than the “NAP” (name, address and phone number)—no business hours or links to its website.