Google Cautions Against Local SEO Scams

Update 4/23/15: Google has updated their help file with additional information about these scams:

Local SEO telephone scams claiming to be Google and targeting local businesses continue unabated. The pitch, promising to help fix your listing or rank you number one, ring into small business phone lines with the regularity of Big Ben, hour after hour, year after year. And year after year, there are folks that are taken by this scam or post in the forums asking Google to stop calling them.

I suppose that these boiler room operations are like black flies in an Adirondack summer, but Google has done little to publicly stop them. Today, Google's newest My Business Community Forum manager Elizabeth Powers has just posted this piece in an effort to provide some education in the matter:

Privacy and safety are of utmost importance at Google. When you have your business information online, this can be even more of a concern.

First and foremost, when you receive your verification code or PIN by mail, please do not share this number with anyone.  It is a unique number generated just for you and your business to confirm that you are actually located at your stated address. Feel free to check out this page on how to get verified, and this page on what to do once you have received your code.

Please remember, Google will never make phone calls offering to improve your ranking or manage your business information. There are many companies out there which would love to manage your local presence, but do know that Google will not be making this type of call to you. Should Google call you, it will typically come from our local area code--a US number beginning in a 650 area code. Additionally, Google would never call asking you for private information like your password. Please find more information on avoiding phone scams here.

Finally, Google My Business offers a variety of privacy controls for your convenience. Some of the more helpful items here would be things like adjusting your notifications and information on post sharing.

Taking the right precautions with your online presence is incredibly important, and we hope that these tips will help you to do just that!  Should you have any questions about privacy (or anything else relating to your Google My Business page), don’t hesitate to contact us for support!

What is your best tip for businesses online with regard to safety and privacy? Feel free to contribute to the discussion and share your knowledge by commenting below!

Update 4/23/15

Google has updated their help file with additional information about these scams:

Phone calls from Google

Unfortunately, not all phone calls from people claiming to be associated with Google are legitimate.

You may receive a phone call from Google to verify your business or confirm business details for Google Maps, or a call from a Google account manager whom you’ve spoken with before.

Google does not:

  • ​charge for inclusion in Google My Business or in Google Search.
  • offer to improve your search ranking or manage your business’s online profile.
  • ask you for your password or verification code. You should never provide sensitive information about your account (like your password and verification code) to a caller.

If you receive a robocall—a call placed with a recorded voice—for any of the above reasons, it is not from Google. The Federal Trade Commission has established a Robocalls resources website with additional information about robocalls and steps you can take if you receive one.

14 Responses to “Google Cautions Against Local SEO Scams”

  1. I teach all over the state small business marketing and this is also a key item keeping business from setting up their free listing thinking it “cost too much” to be on Google. I hope someone at Google is exploring this! It is a major force in stopping business from getting on the maps.

  2. Good write up Mike.

    These calls happen all the time, to presumably, hundreds of thousands of small business owners. Most of these business owners dont have the time or expertise to understand the nuances of Local SEO and think this is legitimate assistance from Google. I can only imagine the time, effort and cost to clean up the mess these scam companies cause for small business owners.

    Google really should be doing more to stop the scammers and help the business owners. On the other hand, business owners need to be cautious with their personal information. Perform a bit of research on who is calling and what they are offering. As G states, they will never call anyone to improve rankings or manage listings. If business owners are truly serious about improving rankings, a simple G search should display a SERP filled with Local SEO’s who could help.

  3. I think that Google could do more than shrug about these scammers that use their name and then abuse their relationship with SMBs. Just suing one very publicly might help. Working with State AGs to stop the most predatory of them would be good as well.

    Unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  4. I’m with you Mike. As jealous as Google is regarding their brand and public persona, it blows me away knowing that G simply stands by while crooks use their name and brand to profit unjustly. 29 Prime, one of yours and my favorite (?) scammers continues unabated for years and reports annual revenues now of $25-50 MILLION! All of it at the expense of hard working small business owners.

    A sting would be SO easy for Google or an AG! Simply set up a bogus company on GMB and wait for the phone to ring, which wouldn’t take long.

  5. @Jim
    Not at all clear why they let it keep happening.

  6. Hello Mike,

    I have been following your posts for quite some time already, and wanted to tell you how much i appreciate your effort and how much i have learned!

    I do have one question that has been bothering me for quite some time!

    a client owns a company which does 90% of sales online. I have created a company google+ page with all the info, company is listed in google maps and my client was satisfied…until some time ago client asked me to create another page for entirely different type of work. Turned out he has a register company that does many different services (furniture, wholesale of bodybuilding supplements and office supplies wholesale ?! ) anyways client is insisting on separate google+ company page for each of his “activities” because he wants his page to appear in the search results. He owns 3 websites but only one phone number and one location 🙁
    I have tried creating him one google+ company profile page and 2 “brands” pages, but in Brand page there is no company info at all which is a problem.
    I hope i have explained a situation good enough so you can give me and advice!

    P.S. Why does google+ page has only one place for url? Many companies own great number of e-commerce websites.

    Thanks

    • @Branko
      Google allows one local page per location and as many as you want for brands. However only the Local pages are likely to show in search results so creating Brand pages, unless they do a great job on G+ content will have little value. Since the company is primarily online their main marketing effort should go towards organic search.

  7. I concur with you Mike re: Google doing more in the way of proactively stopping these scumbags – it’s gone on far too long, and it doesn’t look to be letting up.

  8. Thanks very much for this update.

    I agree that Google could do much more to shut these guys down. The call typically starts with a voice saying, “this is your Google listing provider” — sure sounds like Google is calling!

    If that’s not deceptive advertising I don’t know what is. Google is in the best position to defend its trademark, and with its lobbying cash, it could prod the FTC to crack down. The publicity associated with a lawsuit would help build awareness of the fraud.

    I doubt that Google’s help file update will reduce the numbers of new victims of this fraud.

    Paul Sherland
  9. Hi Mike, Thanks for letting us know about this.

    We experienced a similar issue with one of our PPC accounts where someone has called up pretending to be an account manager asking about accounts. They said they would email but they didn’t and then the tried to poach one of our clients. Fortunately we do an excellent job for them so they wouldn’t even think of going anywhere else.

    Since then we always ask all Google representatives to send us an email and include a full G+ profile (LinkedIn if possible).

  10. I have reported one of these companies already and the FTC is looking into it. To date, my office has received twelve of these robocalls and three from MatrixLocalSEO.com telling us to claim our google business listing or risk being removed from google. Apparently, if you add legitimate services around it, you can do whatever you want in advertising.

  11. I keep getting someone phoning telling me they are from Google and that I owe them money. I said I don’t and I am tired of getting these calls. She said I would keep getting these calls until I paid the account. I said that any advertising I do is paid in advance. She said this was not the case with them. The phone number was withheld.

    I assume I don’t actually owe anyone money. They claim it is because of my website. I know who I advertise with and everything is done upfront. Am I right in assuming this is a fraud? How should I deal with them? Do I really have to put up with this every week?

    Can you at least give me a line to use to make it clear that I know what I am talking about when they phone.

    Ken

    • Ken,

      I would ask that they send you any request for payment by mail, explain that, for account purposes, your unable to pay any bill without an itemized invoice.

      Don’t worry about seeming Google savvy, just be firm that your accounting department (or accountant if that feels more natural) won’t let you pay any bill without an invoice.

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