Tuesday, 18 Apr 2017
You can easily find an electrician now to come and install and repair the electrical wiring in your home, thanks in part to Google Maps. Unfortunately, there is also a high probability that you may also inadvertently contact scammers who have displayed fake listings with the popular online mapping service.
However, Google has responded to these fakers by announcing over the last week that they are planning to crack down on bogus business listings. This will help innocent online users avoid crooks, and it will make it easier to use services like The Email Finder to look for the email addresses of legitimate service providers.
Google, along with the University of California in San Diego, recently published a research paper. This paper was based on the analysis of over 100,000 fake listings to try to uncover some of the most popular ways crooks attempt to trick Google Maps users. The paper further stated that some of these findings could also be used to prevent the same type of scams on other online mapping services like Bing and Yelp.
The Journeyman Scam
The majority of fake listings were from people who pretended to be locksmiths, electricians, plumbers, and other types of home repair professionals. These are the professionals that homeowners and business owners quickly call when they are in need of immediate service.
These contractors were able to fool Google Maps by telling it their business was located at a certain address, but the suite number was fake. They were then able to register thousands of businesses simply by adding a fake suite number to an address that was already verified by the United States Postal Service.
How Were They Able to Scam Google Maps for So Long?
After creating the fake address, they would also set up a bogus phone number by using another online service like Twilio or Ring Central. If someone called the number, the fake contractor would give the caller a very cheap quote and the fake contractor would go to the job site.
The ‘contractor’ would then demand more money from the customer once they arrived at the location, and eventually manipulate them into complying.
Google automatically sends out postcards to the address along with a verification PIN to the business. However, the criminals were one step ahead. They would call the genuine business and convince the business to give them the PIN. They could then control the Google account remotely.
Ways to Reduce or Prevent the Scam
After studying the revelations in the research paper, Google debuted several innovative ways that were being implemented to reduce the scam listings from appearing. One way was that the postcard mailings would no longer be mailed out to one address with several suite numbers.
Anti-spam technology, which has not been detailed to the public, will also be installed on Google Maps to detect data discrepancies that could be used in fake listings.
While the thought of fake listings may sound scary to the public, Google has stated that less than half of a percent of local listings are fake. This number is reduced from the all-time high of 70% several years ago.