Google Maps LBC: Claimed Business Listings Still Being Hijacked?

In June of last year, reports started flowing into Google support groups about hijackings of claimed listings. In December, I communicated to Google a method by which “blackhat” locksmiths were hijacking business records previously claimed via the Local Business Center and which Google had posited as secure. Towards the end of January, Google notified me that this particular vector had been closed and that I was free to talk about it.

It appears though, that claimed records are still able to be hijacked. It was recently reported in the Google Maps forum that a claimed listing has once again been hijacked.

I followed up with the poster. The above record, legitimately claimed in the client’s LBC, was compromised over this past weekend. In emails with other Locksmiths, it appears there are additional reports of hijackings of claimed listings as recently as the past 4 days.

It is unclear whether the same or different tactics are being used. It does seem quite certain that these supposedly secure records are being compromised.

In related news, “blackhat” locksmiths have been compromising unclaimed listings in the hotel and restaurant business. This is similar to the floral hijackings and brand name hijackings during this past year. The blackhats take control of popular restaurant and hotel listings to gain benefit of the many web citations and reviews.
Continue reading Google Maps LBC: Claimed Business Listings Still Being Hijacked?

Google PlusBox – Will Life Imitate Art(?)?

I have written often and critically of Google’s (mis)use of the PlusBox since it was introduced in December 2006:

Google and the PlusBox Blues
Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?
Change Your Address In The Google Plusbox In 5 Simple Steps
An Internet Change of Address Guide

Last April 1, I wrote a post: Local Business Center upgrade now allows Plus Box control that noted that Google was now allowing business owners to more directly control the use of the oft errant PlusBox. Even though the post was a total fabrication, a number of readers and SearchEngineLand gave a huge sigh of relief that this pesky problem generator had been finally fixed. 

Well in a strange twist, it seems that Google may be getting ready to fix the PlusBox in a fashion similar to the one I recommended last April Fools Day. Or at least they are thinking about it. Here is a recent posting at the Google Maps Help Forum:


Is the ability of the Local Business Center to feed correct info to the PlusBox new? Will it override strong signals from across the web? How long does it take for it to impact the PlusBox?

In the past, we have seen numerous cases of correct LBC, correct website but incorrect or outdated PlusBox information. 


  Joel H  
Google Employee
4:09 AM

It most circumstances, the Local Business Center’s ‘authority page’ will override the plus box. It can take a couple weeks or more before the change goes live on There are cases where the strong signals from across the web will override the LBC. 

However, we’ve been actively discussing what’s the right thing to do here. And, I’ll update this group when we make changes to this interaction.

(Note, I have added the bold)

Who knows, maybe this April 1st I will be writing an article titled: Local Business Center upgrade now allows Plus Box control

Google Maps Vs. Mapquest User Engagement

Google has been doing its darndest to catch Mapquest and become the most visited mapping site…seems that they have been succeeding in that, having caught up and possibly passing Mapquest.

If this Google Trends Chart is any indication, it also appears that users are actively looking for Google Maps and that their mind share in search is growing:

Google has been adding a number of features that should also increase user engagement. They have added expanded Streetview, Community Edits and more. So why then, does Hitwise show that Google Maps has significantly lower weekly average visit duration times than Mapquest and they are not increasing relative to Mapquest?


How to Fix “Place Closed” in Google Maps

A number of businesses in the Maps Help forums have reported Placed Closed labels being placed on their business listings. This issue was highlighted recently on SearchEngineLand and SEO Roundtable.

It appears that the increase in Place Closed labeling was due to a change on Google’s end and not nefarious community edits. The designation was showing up on both claimed and unclaimed listings. Google Employee Joel has, once again, been providing information and repair strategies in the Forums (Give this man a raise!)

Google Maps Guide Adam has posted an announcement with steps to resolve the dreaded message:

Removing a ‘Place Closed’ Label

Friday, March 6, 2009 | 5:24 PM


There was a recent change that displays the label ‘Place Closed’ on some businesses. If the label has been applied incorrectly, it can be corrected with just a few steps.

For listings that have been claimed and verified through the Google Local Business Center, please sign in to your account and select the Edit link. The editing wizard will appear. Click the Submit button.
For listings that aren’t claimed through the Local Business Center, they’re open to community edits. Please select the Edit link below the address and select Restore Place.
The listings will be updated within a few days. If you’re seeing something different, please let us know in our Help Forum, posting a link to the listing in question.
We’re currently evaluating our usage of the label and appreciate the feedback received in this forum regarding the change.

Maps Guide Adam

These types of events highlight the power and pain that is Google Maps. Google tweaks a bit of code, hundreds if not thousands of small business owners are impacted. Some notice and how many do not? I don’t doubt that the messages will continue to come into Maps Forum well into the future.

Google has, at least, put someone in the forums to answer the question and has offered up a fix. They have also highlighted the fix in the announcement area where it will have prominent display. Those are good things and demonstrate a positive direction in real customer support.

But Google’ solution puts the burden back onto the business to fix the error, an error that the business owner had no part in creating and one that affects their income. One can only hope that the overall general improvement in the index from this action was positive and that the number of affected open businesses was small.

Local Links of Interest

Yahoo CEO says she prefers Google Maps to Yahoo Maps – Shane McGlaun,

Bartz is looking at email as one of the anchors for Yahoo’s business and she says that she ordered ads to be stopped on the companies email service in countries with low bandwidth to provide a better user experience. She said that the ads were slowing down the service and frustrating users. Bartz also said that she prefers Google Maps to Yahoo Maps and thinks that Yahoo has paid little attention to the application.

Bartz’s future vision for Yahoo is to turn it into a portal that is continually visited by its users. She said, “I want the users to wake up in the morning, log into Yahoo, see what’s important, and I want them to do that before they go to bed at night. To do that, we owe them a fun experience, an easy experience, [and] a non-frustrating experience.”

Sheriff Impotent To Stop Craigslist Erotic Ads, Experts Say – Wendy Davis,

Chicago sheriff Thomas Dart has sued listings site Craigslist for allegedly creating a public nuisance by facilitating prostitution. But Internet law experts say the court will almost certainly dismiss the case because federal law immunizes sites like Craigslist from lawsuits based on material posted by users.

Legislator moves to limit Google Maps because of terrorists –

A California state legislator has submitted a bill that would limit the amount of detail allowed in images available from applications like Google Maps and Google Earth, contending that terrorists are using such online tools to plot attacks.

Speaking of impotence. This definitely falls into that category. If California legislators are looking to protect their citizens from Maps, they might start by looking at the locksmith scams or the floral hijackings.

Why I Sued Google (and Won) – Aaron Greenspan,

On January 15, 2009, I walked over to the Santa Clara County courthouse in Palo Alto, which conveniently fell within the same county lines as Google’s home of Mountain View, and filed a civil small claims lawsuit for $721.00–the amount Google owed Think when it disabled the account–using form SC-100. For a total of $40.00 in court fees, I arranged for Google, Inc. to be served by certified mail. The hearing was scheduled for March 2, 2009.

Since lawyers are not permitted in small claims court, Google instead sent Stephanie Milani, a Litigation Paralegal. During the short last-ditch-resolution period before the hearings on the afternoon schedule began, Ms. Milani argued that I must have done something wrong to deserve my fate. When I asked her what, she didn’t know. The AdSense engineers had not told her.

“Google can terminate your account for any reason,” she told me.

“Not any reason,” I said. “Not because I have blue eyes. Or brown eyes.” After being told to quiet down by the courtroom guard, we decided that we had reached an impasse, exchanged documents, and went back into the court room.

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.


Another has challenged the scammers to meet at his place of business and accused the 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 in particular is sleeping with you in this whole affair as many legitimate locksmiths are actually being scammed by 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?


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

Contributor 3/1/09

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?
2)Is the listing not eligible for community editing?
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.’

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?
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 That one listing has the current information and accrues reviews.
Make sense?



Contributor 6:42 AM
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 🙂

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?

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,

But as with other big sites that rely heavily on user reviews, like TripAdvisor, 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, polls and the 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

I am available at

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.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search