Cybersecurity Blog

How to spot fake businesses on Google Maps – 04/18/18


Cyber security expert Bryan Seely did some digging and discovered that large numbers of service businesses listed on search engines were fake businesses. They have no office location or business license. They simply answer calls and dispatch servicemen. However, when the service is provided customers are often charged much more than the quoted amount.  In addition, if the consumer has a complaint later the business listing has often disappeared.  Because these fake listings are so well marketed, they take customers away from legitimate businesses significantly affecting their viability.

When he brought this information to the search engines attention he was ignored. When he tried to engage media, he was ignored. However, when he wiretapped the Secret Service he finally got someone’s attention and Google Maps responded with a temporary fix. Unfortunately the bad publicity wasn’t enough to get them to do what needs to be done to fix the problem permanently.

So where do you turn if you are looking for a service business? Fortunately, the majority of service businesses in Yelp’s top listings  are legitimate. Yelp works a bit differently than Google Maps and others, they create the listing and the business owner claims it. This model greatly reduces the number of fake businesses on the site.  However, they still have their share. So how do you determine whether the business you are calling is legitimate or a fake?

  1. The business name is the name of the city followed by the name of the service. For example,  New York Locksmith.  Fake businesses select business names that will get the most search engine hits.
  2. Stock photography is used for the business photos or the photos are similar to those found on other sites. There is no real business so they have no photos of it to post.
  3. The have less than double digit reviews. A business that is legitimate will have been online for some time and have double digit reviews.
  4. The reviews are all 4 or 5 star. Most businesses will have a variety of reviews not just top rated ones.
  5. The reviews don’t span the life of the business. If they only have reviews listed for one year and they have been in business for 5, there is something wrong.
  6. If you click on the person who left the review and they have reviewed several businesses of the same type.  Someone who has left 7 reviews for locksmiths is either getting paid to write reviews or locks their keys in their car an awful lot.
  7. They don’t have a business license. Most legitimate businesses will be licensed.
  8. They are hiding their address. Scammers will hide their addresses so it is more difficult to report them to Google and the consumer cannot see that it is just a post office box.
  9. The website looks very similar to other websites. Scammers will often set up several fake businesses with websites that are identical except for the name and a few graphics.
  10. The price advertised is too good to be true. Fake businesses will list ridiculously low prices for a service and when they show up to perform it, suddenly change the price.

Unfortunately, some legitimate businesses will meet some of the criteria. However, only fake businesses will meet most of them. If you aren’t sure if a service business is legit, call them and ask them about their business license, if they are bonded or insured, where they are located, for a written service quote and how to identify their employees. If they balk on any of those questions, hang up and look for another one.

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