We rely on Google Maps quite often these days especially when we try to locate a venue, a restaurant or a business we have never visited before and, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, hundreds of thousands of new listings appear on Google Maps every month.
While that is not at all a bad thing in itself, the problem with these listings is the fact that they are all fake. Altogether, these fake listings amount to a staggering 11 million false businesses.
However, according to Google, the numbers are different: back in 2017, the company self-funded a study which stated that only 0.5% of local searches recorded false listings.
In response to that, a Journal investigation revealed that actually 13 of the top results for plumbers listed false addresses, with only two of them being legitimate businesses.
The investigations showed that most of these fake businesses belong to the urgent business category like plumbers, electricians or car mechanics.
These businesses scam the customers and “do things like charge business owners for services that are actually free, defraud customers by posing as real businesses, and impersonate real businesses to secure leads and then sell them. Even though fake business profiles are a small percentage of the overall business profiles on Google, local business scammers have been a thorn in the internet’s side for over a decade. They even existed back when business listings were printed, bound and delivered to your doorstep. We take these issues very seriously and have been using a wide array of techniques and approaches to limit abuse on our platforms.”
The risks these businesses bring to the Google Maps users are not only financial but also physical – urgent services like plumbing allow complete strangers to enter a customer’s home, and from there on, the danger can have fatal consequences.
Google stated that it has been taking measures to counteract these fake businesses and, according to the company’s data they “took down more than 3 million fake business profiles––and more than 90 percent of those business profiles were removed before a user could even see the profile, and disabled more than 150,000 user accounts that were found to be abusive – a 50 percent increase from 2017.”
In a more recent blog post, Google has been detailing the company’s work against fake business profiles. The post also offers more information on how the users can report these suspicious profiles and directs them to report any suspected fraudulent activity via Google’s Business Redressal Complaint Form.
“[…] every month Maps is used by more than a billion people around the world.” Google says “We know that a small minority will continue trying to scam others, so there will always be work to do and we’re committed to doing better.”