Locksmiths flock to Google Maps forum demanding solution

There have been a number of recent posts in the Google Maps forums from apparently legitimate locksmiths that have raised the issue of illegal locksmith activities to new levels.

One locksmith has apparently gone to the extent of hiring a private investigator to track down the locksmith scam artists and posted personal detail about the man he believes is responsible for the activity:

Below you will see some of this person’s information including websites, phone numbers, aliases, relatives, rip off reports, lawsuit information, and scam complaints. Hayim Bennamer’s current partner is Nir Sibsony. You can view Hayim Bennamer on Facebook under the name “Mike Ben Namer” Date of Birth Aug-30-1974

Hayim Bennamer is currently the owner/president/registered agent of Reliable Locksmith in Miami. A locksmith company that has many rip off reports associated with them. Reliable Locksmith has been know for scams, complaints, unfair competition with other locksmiths as well as many other fraudulent activities. Below you will find Reliable Locksmith’s incorporation information from the Florida Department of Corporations. If you put in google search reliable locksmith scams or reliable locksmith rip-off, or their associated phone numbers with scam and/or rip off in the end, you will immediately see some of the scams within the locksmith and moving company industries.

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS INFORMATION WAS GATHERED BY THE HIRING OF A PRIVATE INVESTIGATION COMPANY TO INVESTIGATE AND RESEARCH THE PERSON OR PERSONS INVOLVED SCAMS, FRAUD AND DECEPTIVE TRADE PRACTICES. THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT ONLY SCAMMING THE CUSTOMERS BUT THEY ARE A THREAT TO OTHER LOCKSMITHS, MOVERS AND CARPET CLEANERS, ETC.

Another has challenged the scammers to meet at his place of business and accused the Yellowpages.com of being complicit with them. He noted that the scammers were Cowards and that:

I state here and now that I have evidence to support that yellowpages.com in particular is sleeping with you in this whole affair as many legitimate locksmiths are actually being scammed by yellowpages.com into thinking they need to heighten their internet presence amidst all the laughable supply of locksmith listings. I agree with the earlier post that any legitimate locksmith deciding where to invest advertising dollars online to keep a tight hold on their wallet until these fools either get mudered, thrown in jail or buried under 20 feet or earth. Prove to me you are not cowards by meeting me. My address: 124 Price Station Rd. Church Hill MD 21623 My phone number 410-556-6250. I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which protect my country and guard our American way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

The post has been modified somewhat since last night and now includes this snippet as well:

I hereby offer $5000 CASH reward to ANY individual who can escort me to the mastermind of this criminal enterprise.They must be able to prove it by showing me their domain manager account and third party telco listings. You are dealing with a monster, any veteran of MLA knows it and I am anxious to die in my effort to defeat you.

Google seems to have begun to step into the breach as it appears that, at least in NYC, much of the spam that I noted on February 25th for the phrase Emergency Locksmiths NY NY has been replaced with legitimate looking listings. It remains to be seen if spam has been removed countrywide.

Here are before and after screenshots of the Local 10 Pack for the phrase Emergency Locksmiths NY NY.
Continue reading Locksmiths flock to Google Maps forum demanding solution

LBC Use Case: When NOT to delete an LBC listing

Updated by Joel 03/04/09 9:00 PM EST

The question of how to suspend/delete a duplicate listing in the Local Business Center has always been somewhat confusing. Several readers had reported, and I had experienced, the outcome that if not done properly EVERYTHING IS REMOVED from Maps. It leaves one a little gun shy.

Here is a recap of a recent interchange between myself and Joel, a Google Employee, that has been frequenting the Map’ support areas and providing incredibly useful answers.

My hat is off to Joel and if this is a trend, to Google, for actually putting someone in the Help forums that answers questions and increases our understanding of Maps and the LBC:
***

Question: How do I know which listings I can delete?

Stevenash   

Level 1 2/27/09
I have three listings all with the same name and address.  One has photos the other two don’t.  All three say they have each displayed the same number of times.  The only one I ever actually see displayed has is the one with the photos yet when I deactivate the other two, none show in the search results.  What’s going on? 

All answers

Joel H   

Google Employee 2/27/09
Hi Steve, I see three duplicate listings in your account. It appears as if you’ve suspended two of these listings. These listings are conflated on our maps, and when you choose to suspend one entry in your account, it will suppress the entire listing on Maps. I suggestion you do the following:
1. Click Resume display on Google Maps for each suspended listing. The listings now appear with two links: Edit Delete.
2. Select Delete. A confirmation window appears with two options: Remove this listing from Google Maps & Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account.
3. Select Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account
This way, the listing on Maps will continue to appear. Otherwise, we think you’re trying to remove it. Since all three listings are PIN verified, we accept the last action as the final action on the listing.  Hope that information helps. Cheers, Joel
***
mblumenthal   

Contributor 3/1/09
Joel   

When you remove the listing from the LBC account and it returns to the index as not claimed
1)Is this not a violation of the Guidelines?
and
2)Is the listing not eligible for community editing?
Mike
***
Joel H   

Google Employee 3/1/09
In this case, Steve just has a bunch of duplicates. Notice that he indicates that all three have the same display counts? That’s a clue that the multiple listings in his account are being combine into a single listing on Maps. Removing the extra listings, in my opinion, makes account management a bit simpler.
I’m not sure what part of the guidelines you refer to – I assume you mean having multiple listings for one business? In Steve’s case, it appears he added extra listings by mistake – not to keyword/location spam our system. These mistakes are tolerable and don’t violate the spirit of our quality guidelines.
If all listings are removed from the account, the listings must be re-added & verified in order to update the information, by Steve or anyone else. They aren’t community editable. That functionality may change in the future, but for now, it remains ‘locked.’
***
mblumenthal   

Contributor 3/1/09
OK but then there will be another listing floating around the index that    

1)may not have current information at some future point and 
2)may accrue reviews. 
That doesn’t seem optimal.
Will it ultimately be merged with the original or deleted from the index?
Mike
***
Joel H   

Google Employee 12:50 AM
I’m sorry if there’s confusion.
The listings are already merged. All the listings in Steve’s account are associated with a single location & listing appearing on maps.google.com. That one listing has the current information and accrues reviews.
Make sense?

 ***

mblumenthal   

Contributor 6:42 AM
Joel
I am a little slow on the uptake. The English language is all I have and it seems to be failing in this moment. 

I am going to repeat my understanding, you nod your head yes if I have actually understood…

We have 3 claimed, not suspended (?) listings in the LBC which are identical. They each show the same impressions and views which means that Google has in fact merged/conflated them to one visual record in Maps but has not done so in the LBC. 
The above directions are to:
1. Click Resume display on Google Maps for each suspended listing. The listings now appear with two links: Edit Delete.
2. Select Delete. A confirmation window appears with two options: Remove this listing from Google Maps & Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account.
3. Select Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account
So when I choose Resume display on Google Maps, they will not actually resume display in Maps independently of the conflated cluster and of the main record that I still have in my account? 
***
Joel H   

Google Employee 9:38 AM
Head nodding yes :-)
***
mblumenthal   

Contributor 10:04 AM
Never one to stop at 3 when my understanding could be improved with 4 questions…..   

Are there cases where the same listings do not yet have the same impressions/views and are thus not yet merged? Would the procedure in this case be the same?
Mike
***

Joel H   

Google Employee 10:09 AM
In the case of differing statistics (impressions/views), they are distinct listing on Maps, and Remove this listing from Google Maps is the right option. It’s likely you’ll want to choose the listing with less impressions or views.
***

Joel H

Google Employee
8:57 PM

UPDATE: I got this a bit wrong. I apologize.

The only time you want to remove the listing from Maps is when the business is permanently closed OR you never want it to appear on Maps. If there are duplicates in your account, keep them. When I initially posted, I didn’t think about the ongoing process we have to merge duplicate listings on Maps. Because we do our best to merge duplicate listings on Maps, it’s possible that selecting Remove this listing from Google Maps may actually suppress a preferred listing in the future (the process of conflating listing happens regularly). We’ll keep our eye out for duplicate, Local Business Center verified listings, and work to refine our systems to merge the right listings as soon as we can. Until then, keep the conversation going on this topic, and we’ll be happy to continue to help as best we can. 

————————————————————-

In the case of differing statistics (impressions/views), they are distinct listing on Maps, and Remove this listing from Google Maps is the right option. It’s likely you’ll want to choose the listing with less impressions or views.

Local Links of Interest

Maryland Ruling Supports Anonymous Postings – Wendy Davis, MediaPost

“On the one hand, posters have a First Amendment right to retain their anonymity and not to be subject to frivolous suits for defamation brought solely to unmask their identity,” the court wrote. “On the other, viable causes of actions for defamation should not be barred in the Internet context.”

With the decision, Maryland joins courts in Arizona, California, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Texas, as well as the District of Columbia, that have ruled that anonymous commenters are entitled to legal safeguards before being unmasked, said Sam Bayard, assistant director of the digital rights group Citizen Media Law Project.

In-Stat: Smartphones To Be Mainstream By 2013 – Mark Walsh

Technology research firm In-Stat projects that smartphone sales will grow strongly over the next five years, accounting for 20% of all handsets globally by 2013 compared to 10% today.
In North America, the number of smartphones will increase 15% annually over the next five years, more than doubling to 62.3 million units in 2013. With prices coming down as the choice of smartphones increases, more than one-third of U.S. wireless users in 2008 said they plan to get a smartphone the next time they upgrade their phone. Today, 36% of U.S. subscribers already own one.

The Review Site Yelp Draws Some Outcries of Its Own – Claire Cain Miller, NYTimes.com

But as with other big sites that rely heavily on user reviews, like TripAdvisor, Amazon.com and CNet, Yelp is struggling to serve the competing needs of the reviewed businesses, some of whom advertise, and the users, who can safely and anonymously say anything they want.

Yelp has made some recent changes to please business owners. Yet it still refuses to investigate reviews accused of being inaccurate or permit businesses to respond to reviews on the site. Instead, the company operates on the premise that reviewers tend to be truthful and that greater accuracy will emerge from more reviews.

Google Maps suffers huge infusion of Remote Call Forwarding Mapspam

rcf mapspam
Google has been working hard recently at limiting the ability of bulk uploaders to spam the Maps Index. Their efforts have significantly cut the frequency of reports of large scale abuse.

However it appears that the new Yellow Pages are out and more than fingers walked on over to Google. Massive amounts of Remote Call Forwarding numbers and associated businesses have made their way into the Maps index. If the counts at the bottom of Google Maps are to be trusted at all, the numbers are well into the tens of thousands and could be over a hundred thousand entries. Regardless it is a lot of spam.

Cathy Rulloda describes the process thusly: “While the ultimate blame lies with the businesses who willingly providing false information to deceive consumers about their actual locations, the cloaking behind RCF numbers – which are then picked up by data providers like the Yellow Pages publishers, assigned zip codes (if no street addressees are provided), and then treated as trusted local businesses by Google – makes their entre’ into Maps easy.”

These records initially are listed in Google without any street address and a round pin. They are much more frequently shown in rural environments where there is less competition and fewer highly authoritative listings. 
Florist Concierge by Wire – 20,175 listings
Flowers By Grower  – 2,325 listings
Florist Telesales Directory –  5,502 listings
Flower Shops Directory– 3919 listings

This one is impressive 
Florist Directory – 102,855 listings

This count likely has a large number of dupes and it may not be totally meaningful but as far as the eye could see they were all obviously the same company listed in the index. 

Initially this sort of spam has the most impact in rural searches as the listings, without address do not have high authority and do not rank well in competitive areas. For example, this rural search turned up 7 of 10 of these listings in the Ten Pack. If these listings are allowed to be claimed via phone verification, it is conceivable, that like the locksmith spam, it could impact more urban and competitive searches.
Continue reading Google Maps suffers huge infusion of Remote Call Forwarding Mapspam

Locksmith Industry Association Proposes Best Practice to Avoid MapSpam

Rob Reynolds works for Pop-A-Lock, a large multi location locksmith chain. He coordinates their SEO and SEM activities particularly the Google maps/local business listing efforts and is also a central figure in Pop-A-Locks efforts at combating the scammer/spammer issue. Here is a recent comment that he offered up in reply to my recent posts on Locksmith abuses in Maps:

This is a highly emotional issue for locksmith all over but one thing is correct: this has nothing to do with the fact that most of the players are Israeli. The fact that illegal aliens are being recruited to work here in a multi state fraud is very relevant because it will eventually allow Rico statutes to apply once this gets to a federal case level. What particular nationality is irrelevant and only distracts/detracts from the valid arguments.

The fix for Google is actually quite simple as is the fix for the Yellow Page publishing industry. In a joint meeting with our CEO, our Attorney, a former FBI official, the Attorney for Aloa and several key figures in the locksmithing industry involved in the investigation of scammers, we came up with a simple set of ‘best practices’ that if followed would kill this phenomenon within a year.

1. Do not allow any new entries into the Google local directory, any IYP or in the Yellow Page categories of Locksmith or Keymaker without a valid DBA certificate issued by the state that the ad (listing) will present in.

2. Do not allow the address to be submitted unless proof of address is presented for the address requested.

3. If the state requested or city requested is one of the current 9 states that require a locksmith license or New York City, Long Island or Washington DC, then require that license number be submitted and presented in the ad.

In the case of Google there is a very simple step that they could do that they are already set up to handle: Require Post Card validation of any listing in the categories related to locksmithing. However, do not require that the address be posted in the ad itself.

In other words: suspend every listing with no address listed, if an address is listed send the post card and reactivate upon receipt of the pin number. Allow a new listing but force an address to be inputted (but allow it to be hidden except for the city and state see below why) but force the post card pin validation for any new listing.

Why allow people to hide the address: Most locksmiths are mobile only service (as evidenced by the www.aloa.org, www.thenationalocksmith.com polls and the www.clearstar.com polls of their members) and listing the home address causes safety concerns as well as misleading the public to thinking they can just drive over and have service performed.

Why force the City and state. This will limit the out of state companies from concealing their whereabouts. They can still post their numbers and ads in Google, however if they have no true local precense the ‘New York, New York’ city and state will be associated with the ad an minimize the black hat efforts.

I am available to discuss these issues either through our corporate office, through our attorney or if Google feels more comfortable they can directly contact the representative of TMP who can then in turn discuss the issue with us. Since I do represent a private company with a large stake in this issue, Google is welcome to contact the rep from Aloa who is representing not only their membership but the locksmith industry at large.

Tim McMullen JD is available at legislative@aloa.org

I am available at pop@lock.com

Thanks and thanks to the efforts of Map Guide Jen and Map Guide Adam for helping with this problem but the outstanding issues that we have with other companies having our Authorotative One Box result for local “Pop a lock + city name” still exist. Please see mapspam complaint on the water cooler site related to “Pop a lock oakland” searches.

Local Links of Interest

MapQuest: A Symbol Of Everything That’s Gone Wrong – John McKinley, Silicon Valley Insider

John McKinley, a former AOL President of Digital Services, offers a concise and pointed critique of Mapquest’s loss of market dominance and what needs to be done about it.

Local Search Behavior by Industry Category – David Mihm, Mihmorandum

Do the IYPs offer any real value? David highlights a chart from a Comscore/TMP study that seems to indicate so, primarily in industries that have low web penetration. I am not buying but see what you think…

Windows Mobile 6.5 — Obsolete Already? Ian Paul, PC World

With Windows Mobile 7 coming out so soon, some people may just forget about Mobile 6.5 altogether and wait for the more advanced system. This is particularly problematic for Microsoft, since it’s already clear that Windows 6.0 and 6.1 device owners won’t be able to run Mobile 6.5. So if Mobile 7 is also going to require a new device, then why not wait a few more months for the newer system?

Hello?

Local Search Directories List emarketingmatador.com

Has put together a great reference list of US local, directories, IYP & upstream data provider sources that one should consider when planning a local campaign. Minor quibble: the only source missing was iBegin.com. While I like and use UBL, I think you should take control of Google (and a few others) as it is far too critical in the successful campaign mix.

Explore more with User Photos in Street View – Google Lat-Long

Google has been integrating Panoramio images into Maps and Maps Business Listings for a while. Now they are integrating them with Streetview. Greg Sterling has an interesting comparison of this new feature with Micorosoft Live’s Photosynth at SearchEngineLand.com

Google Maps: UGC Maps from Map Maker go Mainstream

Yesterday, Google announced that maps created via Google Map Maker have been formally migrated and integrated into Google Maps.

This is a significant moment for world mapping, Google’s move towards mapping independence and for the competition between Google and other Mapping sites.

Historically, the two primary mapping data suppliers, TeleAtlas & Navteq have focused on providing maps and navigation support in a limited number of profitable, developed markets. Google’s introduction of Map Maker, created an environment where populous but less developed areas could generate their own maps.

According to the LatLong blog the “following are the 16 countries that now have data available in Google Maps: Bhutan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guam, Iceland, Mauritius, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe”.

These maps provide a global reach that Mapquest can not duplicate due to its reliance on Navteq. When combined with the possibilities offered by Streetview, they point to a time when it is very likely that Google will control both the market for online maps and its underlying data within their products.

The problems confronting user generated content in gathering underlying maps data are significantly less than when generating business data. The user motivations are significantly different and the possibility, when matched against satellite imagery, for quality much greater. It would be interesting to examine, in some formal way, the relative quality of these maps against those provided by TeleAtlas.

Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning?

The Locksmith industry has always looked to me like an industry of self dealing and dishonest promotion that, when combined with Google Maps, created a mosh pit of sleaze. As a result I never examined it very closely in the context of Google Maps.

Locksmiths are a little hard to love. They aren’t Mom and Apple Pie, they aren’t florists who we can all identify with when things go wrong. The industry is hyper-competitive and they have been at the forefront of cracking all sorts of locks, unfortunately not always the ones that they should be cracking. They were early into blackhat reviews, one of the dominant sources of bulk upload spam and were first to the party in compromising the records claimed in the Local Business Center.

Google wasn’t their first target. The “blackhats” in the industry have used whatever marketing vehicle was “au courant“, whether it was the phone books, 411 or now Google and Yahoo.

Here is a BBB alert from 2007, BBB Warns Consumers of Nationwide Locksmith Swindle and a recent ABC news article and video. The Associated Locksmiths of America provides a list of over 110 news reports over the past several years from across the nation detailing the abuses*. As you can see, consumers have paid the price of these many scams with high prices, rip-off installs and even theft.

But the reality is that Locksmiths come in varying shades from white to black and consumers are not the only ones short changed when the blackhats are allowed to abuse the system. The legitimate locksmiths suffer as well. Folks like PureSheer feel it necessary to go “black” to compete but many are just left with the loss of business and no real understanding why.

Google is changing the playing field of local marketing and they are defining it in a whole new way. They are on the battle lines between doing it right and letting the “bad guys” have their way. If Verizon can pull a hundred thousand phone listings from the directory, is it too much to ask of Google to be vigilant and proactive?

Here is a search,”emergency locksmiths NY NY” on Google that shows how deeply the problem is embedded in Google and why they need to be more proactive in their mapspam battles. This search highlights not just the spam problems but the downsides of some of Google’s decisions around the Local 10 Pack. It illustrates why it might be a good idea to refine it in such a way as to prevent “branded” searches from dominating an obviously generic search and to minimize the impact of the business title on relevance and rank.

locksmith-spam

Every number here goes to the same call center, located who knows where, for dispatch of (at best) third party providers. A quick count in Maps of the domains showed over 5000 listings. Continue reading Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning?

Google Maps Business List View Tweaked

map-tweak4

Google has upgraded the wording and massaged the layout of the business listings in Map & Text Views.

The most obvious change is the larger and more prominent search title at the top of the listing, reinforcing the what and the where of the search for the searcher. While the category information is now presented in less bold relief, it is more visible in the cleaner top layout.

However the search modification wording has been slightly changed and the search count of results has been de-emphasized and moved to the bottom of the screen.

I am not the only human that noticed this change (although probably one of the few who cares). At least one other reader alerted me. Thanks to PureSheer for the heads up.

Here is a screen shot of the same search results from last week that reflected the K-Pac upgrade for reference:
Continue reading Google Maps Business List View Tweaked

Google Maps: “System Error”, Googlespeak for Banned?

There have been a growing number of public and private reports of the dreaded message upon attempting to enter the Local Business Center: 

System Error 
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time. Please try back in a few minutes. 

Typically these reports in the Maps forums are followed by a comment like: “I get this error. And my listings have been removed… Why?”

The message is cryptic like many messages in the LBC and it probably covers a range of error conditions. Perhaps Google should add a definition of errors states to their LBC new glossary. It is also the message received by those whose records have been removed and access to the LBC blocked.

It appears that Google is increasingly banning users of the Local Business Center that it thinks have violated its listing guidelines.

I support Google cleaning up the pollution in the Maps Index. However I am also a proponent of transparency and fairness. The cleanup should not be a little bit here and little bit there to instill fear in the masses, it should be done across the board.

In those cases where the “System Error” refers to being banned it should clearly state that is the case and provide a link back to the listing guidelines and reinclusion request.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search