Details of Google’s Robo Calling Lawsuit Against Local Lighthouse

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From the front page of the Lighthouse website

Earlier today Google announced an educational and legal attack on deceptive robo calling that has and continues to run rampant in the local space.

Google mentioned in their blog today that they had filed a lawsuit. I have just read through the filing and it reads like one of my rants against this sort of thing. Maybe Google is serious this time around.

The suit was filed in the US District Court for Northern District of California against Local Lighthouse, a Tustin, CA based local SEO. The filing is a 3 part complaint for Federal Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition and False Designation and False Advertising.

Here are some of the juiciest highlights from the filing detailing the tactics that we are all too familiar with:

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  1. Google is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendant makes extensive, unauthorized, and misleading use of the GOOGLE mark and other marks that include  or incorporate the GOOGLE mark
  2. That Defendant’s sales  agents have made and continue to make various false and misleading claims during Defendant’s  telemarketing calls to confuse consumers regarding the true source or nature of Defendant’s services and the relationship between Google and Defendant. These include: (i) claims that Defendant’s sales agents represent Google or are calling on behalf of Google; (ii) claims that  Defendant is affiliated with Google or has been contracted by Google to provide SEO services;  and (iii) other claims designed to obfuscate Defendant’s identity and foster the mistaken belief  that Defendant and its services are approved, sponsored, or endorsed by Google.
  3. That Defendant  exploits such confusion to induce consumers to enter into contracts costing hundreds of dollars in recurring monthly bills.
  4. Evidence of such confusion is reflected in online consumer complaints and  pending lawsuits by consumers against Defendant. In addition, some consumers have directed their complaints regarding Defendant’s sales practices at Google.
  5. On July 29, 2014, Google sent Defendant a letter after receiving several complaints regarding Defendant’s telemarketing calls. Google told Defendant that consumers had complained about incessant, unsolicited automated telephone calls, misrepresentations of Defendant’s relationship with Google, and false guarantees of first-page placement in GOOGLE search results.
  6. Google demanded that Defendant immediately cease all such actions and bring its  practices into compliance with Google’s Third Party Policy. Google also demanded a copy of Defendant’s sales script.
  7.  On August 12, 2014, Defendant responded to Google’s letter by denying that it  used “robocalls” to market its services or that it harassed consumers with unwanted phone calls. Defendant claimed that it would “take quite a thorough look through the Sales Force Compliance to further our employee training to make sure all policies are being adhered to.”
  8. Defendant also denied that it guaranteed certain placement in search engines. Despite these representations however, Google received additional complaints.
  9. On January 9, 2015, Google sent Defendant another letter informing Defendant that it had received further complaints regarding Defendant’s telemarketing calls, including reports that Defendant’s sales representatives were introducing themselves as “Google Local Listing representatives.”
  10. The letter demanded that Defendant stop such misrepresentations and  bring its practices into compliance with Google’s Third Party Policy.
  11. Google continued to receive complaints from consumers indicating that Defendant’s sales representatives harassed them with multiple, unwanted telemarketing calls, misrepresented Defendant’s relationship with Google, and made false and misleading statements
  12.  For example, Google is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendant’s sales agents have made statements such as: “We’re a Google subcontractor,” “we’re working for Google,” “the $100 fee [to initiate Defendant’s services] goes to Google,” and Defendant’s customers’ webpages “will show up multiple times on the front page and get what’s called ‘Front Page Domination.’”

Here is the filing if you would like to read it yourself: Google Complaint Against Lighthouse.

Not to pile on but their Yelp reviews make for good reading as well.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Details of Google's Robo Calling Lawsuit Against Local Lighthouse by

45 thoughts on “Details of Google’s Robo Calling Lawsuit Against Local Lighthouse”

  1. @Joy
    These guys have been at it at least since late 2011. It took almost 4 years for Google to take the first step against known “perps”. I hope that one and done isn’t their model.

  2. @Joe
    To get an A with the BBB all a company needs to do is 1)join and 2)respond to the complaints. Consumers don’t realize that the ratings is not of quality but of responsiveness to complaints.

  3. Thanks Mike, was dying to know what company it was.

    1st thing I did was search my forum to see if they are a member or were ever mentioned. Cuz I knew the name was familiar.

    Turns out I edited the post to remove the name, but the name is still in Google cache. Here is sort of a word for word report of a call Amber Robinson got from these guys. (She now works for LocalSEOGuide.)

    See post #28 here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:DU1u6MZmrg0J:www.localsearchforum.com/google-local-important/20893-google-places-scammer-caught-lies-tape-3.html+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    FYI that’s in the same thread as the scam call I recorded. And interestingly both companies used the term “reboost your listing” so I think they are connected. I know when I researched the scam company that called me, they had several other company names they used but I’m not sure if this is one of them. But “reboost” is too odd of a word to be mere coincidence.

  4. @Mike

    Exactly – it just cracks me up that Lighthouse can’t score more than 2 stars on any site other than Glassdoor, but consumers will still probably think their A range BBB rating means something. Lighthouse seems to agree, since they display the badge in the first content block on their home page.

    If this isn’t proof that BBB ratings mean jack squat, I don’t know what is.

  5. Thank you, Mike, for making the link to the robocaller’s website a Google search, and not even a nofollowed link (which I believe still counts for something in Google’s algo). SEL’s article gave them a followed link :-(. Bad deeds will never go unrewarded!

  6. I hope they finally do something about this. Its been going on for way to long and something needs to be done. They still get an A in BBB which means nothing lets see if Google really does something meaningful.

  7. @Miriam
    From a tactical viewpoint it makes sense to me as Google needs to send a very strong signal. They also need to cooperate with the government to be sure that there is on going enforcement.

  8. Mike, Tustin, is pretty close to Irvine and Newport Beach – the breeding ground of spammy SEO spinoffs – Orange County, CA. I hope these dudes get shut down permanently. Thanks for the update!

  9. Hey Thomas S. Moore don’t forget to check your spelling before you post something buddy. The rest of you should find better use for your time. #GETALIFE ?

  10. @MikeB

    You obviously don’t have anything better to do than to jump on the bandwagon of hate. I have been a client of theirs for a few years now and everything on my campaign has been working for me. You cant please everyone these days. I have generated over 98% new business since I started working with them.

    1. Hi John
      I perceive my job is to educate not jump on any bandwagon. I reported on the lawsuit and have been reporting on this issue for years.

      I did call and offer your boss an opportunity to be interviewed here but so far I have only received an email from him.

      As a note, astroturfing is bad form. As I noted above I welcome a conversation with Local Lighthouse.

      I looked up the IP Information that you posted your comment from- 173.196.13.123

      And found this:
      organization:Class-Name:organization
      organization:ID:NETBLK-ISRC-173.196.0.0-16
      organization:Auth-Area:173.196.13.120/29
      organization:Org-Name:LOCAL LIGHTHOUSE,*
      organization:Tech-Contact:
      organization:Street-Address:770 THE CITY DR S STE 3000
      organization:City:ORANGE
      organization:State:CA
      organization:Postal-Code:92868
      organization:Country-Code:US
      organization:Phone:949-861-1705
      organization:Updated:2015-09-18 10:42:33
      organization:Created:2015-09-18 10:42:33
      organization:Admin-Contact:IPADD-ARIN

  11. Gotta love the random spattering of positive “reviews” in their yelp listing. Good to see that there is finally some action being taken to clean up the junk floating around the industry.

    There are plenty of service that work similarly but don’t claim to be Google reps and that’s fine, that is sales. But have heard from many clients and gotten the calls ourselves hearing these same lines “We are Google Contractors, First Page Guaranteed” we just have a good laugh with our clients and educate them on what the scheme is.

    Woohoo

  12. @ Mike
    Well Played
    Many SMB’s succumb to the scam even when they’re already top 3. In the past year or so I’ve had multiple cases of former clients giving up control of Google assets and even websites to Orange County scammers. In two cases the scammers placed malicious code on the website after the SMB decided to cancel. This of course tanked the rank but in branded search the Google warning was plain as day.
    These were former clients so once they brought me back on the scene I was able to recover the Google page in minutes using Google’s terrific phone support. But nothing could be done about malicious websites until the domain expired.
    To Mike, Linda, and the TC’s here I have a question. Now that Google has discontinued phone support can I expect success recovering ownership of a Google page? The Anna from Google email thing always seemed like a wall after her first reply which is why I went to phone support.
    I have another one of these coming up this week for a Mom and Pop where Pop took the robocall. He signed right up for $300 payments actually believing it was Google.

    Thanks folks

    1. Google hasn’t discontinued phone support. They have stopped offering instant verification over the phone.

      You must follow their procedures to regain control of the listing. Attempt to reclaim it in a new account, wait the proscribed amount of time and then reach out to them for help.

      You should have readily observable proofs of ownership i.e. Same email on the website, analytics in the same account to smooth your request.

  13. Is there anything to do if you were scammed by the defendants? I was bad and didn’t do my research and they had called so many times. They caught me right after our daughter’s funeral and after we made a big move. I just needed help with our site and got scammed. I changed our debit information so they couldn’t charge me. I filed a complaint with the FTC after doing research. They put up a horrid website that is having a detrimental effect on our site and business. They wanted several hundred dollars to take it down and I said no. I don’t even care about the cruddy intimidating tactics of their collection agency. I am just an ill informed consumer that wants to make sure I complain everywhere I can.

  14. Brazen. Just received another robocall from this company – they’ve removed any reference to Google from their script and frontload calls now saying they are “your Yahoo! Local and Bing experts”.

  15. I used to work for this guys (LLH). I’m glad Google finally do something. This is the main reason I left them. Bad business practice.

  16. I just received another robocall today, Google was firston the list again. They probably scammed.less.people the weeks without Google’s name. Honestly I hope the suite really does something.

    I have setup quite a few large call centers and always strive to ensure the customer follows every guideline, including safe harbour and and every other requirement. Taking calls from call centers where people try as hard as possible to lie cheat and steal really pisses me off. The government needs to have bigger teeth and treat these people like the criminals they actually are.

  17. I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of working with Local Lighthouse and their deceptive sales tactics are just the tip of the iceberg…They have the worst customer service I have ever had. In the 3 months of dealing with them I was repeatedly lied to, argued with and refused service. They offered zero solutions and getting results from them was like pulling teeth. Also, they are not a real SEO company and the services they offer aren’t for your existing site, but for a crappy half assed 6 page template they try to pass off as a unique, custom designed website. I hope Google puts them out of business!

  18. This case looks fishy to me. Why did it take Google 4 years? I suspect they really were working for Google and Google was raking in the cash selling organic search rank. The profiles of the CEOs are fishy. Trisha Wohler was on Bridezilla! http://www.wetv.com/shows/bridezillas/cast/tricia and she is way too young and immature to have such a high position. And she lives in Pasadena nowhere near the office in Tustin and yes its the same girl.

    In other words this is theater. These folks are google stooges. They are being paid to be the fall guy. Its not believable that its taken 4 years for Google to act.

    Now Google “files a lawsuit” so they don’t look like they were part of it and they are abdicated of any responsibility.

    This is classic google. They always have small contractors do their bidding and then pretend they have nothing to do with it. Sort of like how all the people “helping” on the Google help forums are totally unpaid volunteers yet they work for SEO companies.

    I mean come on. Google always outsources their dirty biz to small shady SEO companies.

    Plus people know you have to pay Google for organic search rank especially for any local listings.

  19. I worked for this shady company for three months because my buddies brother is one of the owners. He seemed cool at first but once I worked for him I realized he was just an arrogant con man. Sounded like a great company to work for until I learned the shady business practices. They would offer different packages all of which were the same thing just higher or lower prices. Yes, they told us to say we were contracted by Google or an affiliate. They recycle the same numbers every week and if you’re on the dialing list you’ll never be off it. The owners are horrible people literally so it doesn’t surprise me they have another website to sell low quality websites. I was so happy when my friend told me they were getting sued by Google. Check out one of the owners enjoying himself on the conned money of people https://www.facebook.com/eric.oakley.37?fref=ts

  20. I cant believe these guys are still running the same scam under a new name ” town center ”

    They are blatantly and purposely defrauding consumers. This should be criminal ?

    FCC?
    FTC?

    Where are you?

  21. I used to work for this company for quite some time in a senior position. I can confirm they are now operating as towncenter.com but I wouldn’t worry, since it sounds like they are having troubles there too. I’m open to discuss anything with you @Mike

  22. As far as I’m concerned, this company extorted thousands of dollars from my small business. It’s amazing how around the sophisticated World, people who are responsible for criminal acts are prosecuted and made accountable. Here in the USA, they just reorganize.

  23. This is far from over.
    Just now I got a call from “Sharon, your Google Local specialist”. I pressed 1 and couldn’t wait to talk to their poor sales rep. I asked what the name of their company was.

    Zoek as in gozoek dot com.

    I figured they were from Orange County, CA and couldn’t find that on their website but on Facebook sure enough – they are from Aliso Viejo, CA

    Same dudes, same robo-call guarantee of first page placement – new company name. They’ve got almost 5,000 likes on Facebook. Ugh.

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