In search of a plumber or tow company? Don’t call just any business listing you come across on Google Maps.
A Wall Street Journal report found that about 11 million businesses shown on Google Maps are fake, with new listings and phones numbers cropping up each month. So that florist who never called you back? Maybe not a thing! Many of the listings are created for and by other companies that want to boost their own business info ahead of competitors in the search results, while others are simply scams.
In a blog post, Google responded to the WSJ report and shared that in the last year they had removed more than 3 million fake listings, with more than 90% of those removed before a user even saw them. The company noted its internal systems flagged "more than 85% of these removals" and more than 250,000 fake profiles were reported by users. So if you run across something that seems fraudulent, don’t hesitate to turn it in.
Google typically verifies if a business is legit by calling, mailing a postcard, or emailing a numerical code that is then entered on the website. It’s a pretty easy process for savvy scammers who likely use fake addresses and businesses for their listings anyway. Knowing this, the company says that they are constantly developing new ways to weed out fake listings, but can’t elaborate on what they are due to the sensitive nature.
"Every month Maps is used by more than a billion people around the world, and every day we and our users work as a community to improve the map for each other," Google Maps’ product director, Ethan Russell, wrote in the blog post. "We know that a small minority will continue trying to scam others, so there will always be work to do and we're committed to keep doing better."
In the meantime, the WSJ shared simple ways users could protect themselves from scams, including being wary of business names with keywords like “dependable” or “emergency,” screening phone numbers, and taking reviews with a grain of salt.