What you need to know
- Google Maps could have up to 11 million fake business listings, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal.
- The main businesses affected include contractors, repairmen, and car towing services.
- Google is working on combating these false listings and you can help by reporting ones that you find.
Be careful of the next business you contact on Google Maps, because it may or may not really exist. In an investigation performed by the Wall Street Journal, it estimates there are currently 11 million falsely listed businesses with hundreds of thousands of fake listings appearing every month. Not only are scammers using fake addresses, but many also use fake phone numbers that will reroute you to competing businesses.
During the investigation, the WSJ found that 13 of the top 20 results for plumbers in New York City returned businesses with fake addresses. Out of the 20, only two of the businesses were real and followed Google's guidelines offering a physical location open to customers.
What makes this issue even more daunting is the fact that the majority of these false listings are for high-risk business categories, including, contractors, repairmen, and car towing services. These are business that are typically contacted in an emergency without time to verify if the business is legitimate or not.
Fraud has always existed, but with the prevalence of Google Maps these days and the ease of which scammers are able to manipulate the system, it makes it easier to take advantage of customers than before. While the problem causes a lot of frustration for users, it also harms local businesses who miss out on customers that are being taken advantage of by these scammers.
Businesses typically must be verified by Google using a code that is emailed, mailed, or given over a phone call. However, the system has apparently been easy enough to exploit by scammers using fake addresses and phone numbers.
Google has addressed the fake address issue in a blog post covering how it intends to combat false listings. Unfortunately, the new techniques cannot be shared because it would only help scammers who try to bypass them.
However, Google did share it has taken down 3 million fake business profiles, and more than 90 percent of those were removed before users could even view them. Of those businesses that were removed, 85 percent were done internally while 250,000 were removed after users reported them.
One of the best ways to verify a business doesn't exist is through users like you and I. That's why Google has a form to specifically address this problem, and you can even report multiple businesses at once.