Late last week, the widespread highjacking of business listings in the florist industry for the purpose of affiliate mapspam was reported, confirmed and documented. There had been rumors for several months in the groups of these hijackings but specifics had been difficult to come by.
According to the Real Florists Blog by FlowerChat Blog the hijackings affected some of the “most respected florists in the US – including Lehrer’s and Veldkamp’s of Denver,Podesta Baldocchi and Church Street Flowers of San Francisco, Starbright Floral Designof New York City, Phoenix Flower Shops and numerous other major city floral operations.”
The technique, apparently in widespread use in the Locksmith, PayDay Loan and other industries, exploited weaknesses in Google’s User Edit capability. I had previously reported on PayDay Loan user edit abuses. In this newly reported case in the floral industry, Affiliate Mapspamers would target high ranking florists in major markets that had NOT CLAIMED their business listings in the Local Business Center so as to be able to benefit from an existing business’ ranking and reviews.
The spammers, using the end user edit tools, would change the phone number to another local number, change the location of the business slightly and then proceed to add a category, the URL and ultimately the name of the business. Apparently the small move in location convinced Google’s system that all subsequent changes were legitimate. The listing would retain the ranking and reviews of the actual business but redirect to a Canadian Florist fulfillment house via the affiliate’s website.
Some florists have succeeded in cleaning and claiming their listings but not all. In conversations with folks in the Florist industry, the many independant florists were in tears over the incidents and the attendant loss of sales. All were totally unaware that it had been necessary for them to claim their listings.