Hundreds of thousands of fake listings sprout on Google Maps every month, claims a report by Wall Street Journal.
The Journal further speculates that Google Maps currently hosts about 11 million fake businesses on its platform, which any storefront business can register on without buying an advertisement.
As part of its investigation, Journal found that of the 20 plumbers listed in New York City, 13 of them listed false addresses and only two businesses followed Google’s guidelines which states that pushpin listings must be open to customers.
The report states that the majority of businesses that aren’t actually located where they claim to be include repairmen, electricians, car towing and repair services, lawyers and contractors.
Referred internally by Google as “duress verticals”, these services are used by people during emergencies and who therefore don’t always verify the business’ credibility before calling.
Journal shares the experience of 67-year-old Nancy Carter in Virginia, who Googled for a local repair service to help fix her garage door. She reportedly found a service on the platform and called the number, only to have a man in an unmarked van appear before her doorstep, do shoddy repair work and charge her twice the amount than she had paid before for the same problem.
When Carter refused to pay the said amount, the repairman left, only to return to her home a few more times to demand for payment. The article claims that “the repairman had hijacked the name of a legitimate business on Google Maps and listed his own phone number”.
Journal believes that despite Google’s “powerful algorithms” it still is unable to protect its users from “chronic deceit on Google Maps”.
Google Maps director Ethan Russell was quoted in the article stating, “There is no single source of truth for all businesses in all categories”, adding that more than three million false business listings were removed from the platform last year.
Google had also reportedly disabled 150,000 accounts linked to the false listings in 2018, a 50% increase from the previous year.
The article states that before a business is listed on Maps, Google verifies its existence by mailing postcards, making phone calls, and emailing a numerical code that the business must enter into a Google website.
However, this system is reportedly easy for scammers to bypass with fake details. A Google spokesperson shared that the company has added new defences to protect high-risk business categories, including water-damage repair and home listings.
Google in a blogpost says that it has introduced a new way to report suspicious business profiles and has started to apply refined techniques to business categories prone to fraud attempts.