Picture this: you wake up to find your backyard flooded. You quickly realize your sprinkler system has sprung a leak - somewhere underground.
This sounds like a job for someone who's not you, so you pull out your smartphone and start searching for area sprinkler repair companies. You're in a hurry, so you pick the first one that comes up in your search.
And your haste is exactly what they were hoping for because a new report says millions of business listings on Google Maps are fake. That means a broken sprinkler line could only be the beginning of your troubles.
A business listing is not always what it seems
In the dark times, we had the trusty phone book for this sort of thing. Sure, listings in the massive book hogging space on your kitchen counter could be out of date, but you didn't necessarily have to worry about scammers, either. At least, not the way we have to now.
The biggest concern was whether or not you were going to end up with a company that charged you an outrageous amount for service. Back then, it's not like you could go online and read company reviews.
Now you've got search engines and social media to help in your search, but mixed in with legitimate business listings are bad actors looking to cash in. And it's all the same to Google because it's still getting paid.
Fake listings on Google Maps
According to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, Google Maps is filled with millions of fake business listings including bogus addresses and phone numbers. By their estimates, it's currently about 11 million with hundreds of thousands of fakes popping up every month.
That's according to online advertising experts who were surveyed by WSJ, and it wasn't difficult to verify. The Wall Street Journal ran a test where they searched for plumbers in New York City, and they found that 13 of the top 20 search results had listed false addresses.
That's the problem because it's not just your run-of-the-mill scammers who take your money without doing any real work; it's also shady businesses that post fake listings and numbers over wide geographic areas.
That way, they show up at the top of those Google searches and take business away from legit competitors. And it's typically in a field you would call in an emergency situation without the time to vet a company, for instance, a plumber or towing service.
Google cashes in either way
This isn't a brand-new problem. Google paid for its own study a couple of years ago that found only 0.5% of local searches were fake. Fast forward to today and Google says it's still just a small percentage that's fake, adding that it pulled 3 million profiles in 2018 while also disabling about 150,000 accounts that were used to make them.
Google has since removed the fakes WSJ found and says it's added new safeguards for "high-risk" business categories, which includes services like contractors and other repair services. It's also posted a full blog on the topic of fighting fake business profiles on Google Maps, which you can check out by tapping or clicking here.
Either way, Google is still able to monetize those listings regardless of whether they're on the up-and-up. So, as Google tries to fight abuse on Maps as well as its other properties like YouTube, it's still getting paid.
Don't get scammed by a fake business
Don't expect this problem to go away anytime soon because it's free for scammers to create these listings and has proven to be easy to get around Google safeguards. So again, it's good money for both scammers and Google.
Your best bet is to spend a few more minutes researching a company before making the call, even in urgent situations, because it'll still save you from the potential for an even bigger headache down the line.
If you use Google Maps, read the reviews, and check them against reviews on other sites. Check Google Street View to see if they really are where they say they are and if they have a true website of their own.
Just because Google is giving the ol' nothing to see here line doesn't mean there isn't a problem. If you do come across a sketchy listing, you can report it to Google through an online form you can find by clicking or tapping here.
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