Google Maps & Places has always been the playground of bad actors, whether the computer repair company that got carried away with bulk uploads, the non existent locksmith, the plastic surgeon with fake reviews or the less than savory payday loan folks masquerading as local businesses in an effort to get customers. In the legal scheme of things there were mostly deceptive and only occasionally criminal but heck they were “just trying to make a living”. But leave it to the SEO business to really lead the dive to the depths of depravity in the Maps world.
There have been several tales of extortion reported in the past few weeks that describe holding a businesses listing in Maps “hostage” until some form of payment is received.
From the Google Forums:
My business has a couple address that are both listed and claimed in google maps. However, if you do a search of my domain name, you will see three pages of results, all but two of which are wrong.
The wrong listings have a bad phone number, random business name, and random address, but it does list my company domain. These listings have already been “Claimed by owner” so we cannot go in and fix them.
This was brought to our attention today by a phone call from a “marketing expert” who pointed out this problem and how it could get us banned from google. When we refused to pay him to correct the problem, he threatened to flag our real listings and get them removed/penalized if we didn’t pay him. This person obviously created about 25 fake listings with my domain in another Google Places account before calling to point out this “problem” and is holding the ability to delete them hostage… There is no way for us to correct the listing.
This has happened to two companies that I work for in the past 6 months. Wondering if anyone else has seen the same…
A bunch of negative reviews are posted in Google Maps for a particular company. About a month after the posts, the company gets a call and is told that the negative reviews can be removed for a fee… typically $400. We have been flaging the reviews, tey it seems to take google forever to even take a look.
If nothing else, Maps never ceases to entertain but these reports indicate a new form of criminality. It seems that Google’s current reporting mechanism and customer support structure of the “report a problem” link and the forums is woefully inadequate to deal with this sort of problem. How would you handle this situation if one of your clients was being extorted? Should Google create some communication mechanism to deal with this?Google Places Gets Down and Very Dirty by Mike Blumenthal