Problem of Google “Phone Spoofing” Increasing for SMB’s?

MIHMORANDUM NO. 1001 | June 23rd, 2011Reader Comments (20)

Awhile back, I passed along the news that Google was spot-checking business owner information telephonically. As I said at the time, I love the fact that Google is trying to improve the quality of business data, but over the phone remains a bad mechanism for accomplishing this goal, in my opinion.

Why?  It’s becoming impossible for a business to know whether someone is actually calling from Google or not.  Just in the last 48 hours, I received a comment on that earlier post from a gentleman who thought he was called by Google but the rep hung up on him after he felt them out a little bit.  He genuinely thought it was Google on the other end of the line, despite the fact a Google engineer would probably not behave in this manner.

Then, this afternoon, a client allowed me to transcribe this voice message left on her company’s message service:

Hi, this is Heather, a data service provider for Google.  I wanted to give you a call because we have a couple of positions open up in the front page of Google, Yahoo, and Bing, specifically in your marketplace and I wanted to talk to you about improving your position on these search engines.

Again, this is for Google, Yahoo, and Bing for your business.

Give me a call when you get a chance; my number is 800-219-5458.  That’s 800-219-5458.  I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

This is a really good opportunity if you’re looking to improve your ranking and get more business.

Again, call me at 800-219-5458.

The client/friend who sent this to me is reasonably internet-savvy: her company has a claimed Place Page, a Twitter account, and a Facebook Page.  From our perspective as SEOs, clearly, “Heather” is not actually from Google but even this client (whom I’d argue is in at least the 90th percentile of web-savviness for SMB’s) was about to call the person back when she asked me to listen to the message first.

I’m sure that this kind of identity confusion is against some sort of FCC or USPTO regulation, but “it is what it is” and I think will continue to plague our space.  With “legitimate” cold calls by Boost reps sure to be coming, it’s only going to get worse.  Google itself could help protect SMB’s from scammers and potential Place-Page-hijackers like “Heather” by a more transparent process of getting in touch with them.

(As an aside, Infogroup of course runs a highly-touted phone verification service for the businesses in its database, but it’s an area where Infogroup’s relative anonymity among business owners actually helps–no one tries to spoof them.)

20 Responses to “Problem of Google “Phone Spoofing” Increasing for SMB’s?”

  1. Mike Blumenthal says at

    I stopped in a new bakery in Allegany last Saturday and she complained to me that “Google will not stop calling me and trying to get me to spend $99 a month on a local listing!”. I explained to her then that it was not Google but a phone spoof… I stopped in again yesterday and she said: “Google will not stop calling me and trying to get me to spend $99 a month on a local listing!”

  2. Dave Oremland says at

    David:

    Did someone call that phone number and find out who is the source of the calls? If so, who was it?

  3. David Mihm says at

    Dave,

    I am preparing for Local U Grand Rapids & haven’t had a chance to call but wanted to get this post up regardless. I am sure the community would appreciate if you have time to sleuth :)

  4. Dave Oremland says at

    A little sleuthing David. I called the phone number above. On the other side of the phone was a live voice that said more or less (not taped) This is Local LightHouse we’re a data service provider for Google (wrote it down–same language as with your client.

    I checked the web a bit. There are two businesses with names/urls that might represent this caller:

    Lighthouse List Co. with a url of http://lighthouselist.com Their website has an 800 number on the first page which is very very visable …..and its not the one referenced in the story, nor the one I called. I doubt its these guys.

    There is an http://www.locallighthouse.com Hmmmm. That is the name of the business when I called.

    So I checked out their website. Ah…..SEO services/Local services.

    Now that seems like it might be the guys. :D In my book, its fine to advertise, market, and solicit business. But seriously guys…if you are one with the 800 # above; 800 219 5458….don’t give people the impression you are connected to Google, or in partnership with google, or any of that razz a ma tazz!!!

    In the past I received a totally unexpected call from a Googler. In that case it involved confirmation of a business, and reflected a long involved and somewhat complicated effort with regard to cleaning up the Places Record for a business wherein there were somewhat complicated issues regarding duplicate Maps records. And when the call came in I was quite skeptical that an employee of Google was actually using the phone and confirming address and contact information.

    There is a lot of specious marketing connected to the Web, web marketing, web services etc. Why be part of it???

  5. Keith says at

    I get a couple of these a week on my office vmail, and 5 or 6 a day via email. I always get a kick out of the emails guaranteeing to put my business on the top of page 1 on Google, and the reply email is a Gmail address (and the odd AOL). Really people? If you’re going to tempt me with empty promises, at least do it with a LITTLE credibility. ;)

  6. Luy says at

    Guys if this happens to you:

    Go along with it and then pretend something is pulling you from the call (make something up) then ask for an email or phone # to call them back on.

    Now you’ve got traceability and you could easily track down the company scamming people.

    There are many laws regarding what can and can’t be said in a telemarketing call and only thru a combined effort and continous reporting of offenses will we see a slow down on these types of calls.

  7. Joe says at

    This is another one of the companies operating out of that address. It has a BBB rating of F:

    http://www.la.bbb.org/Business-Report/Vision-4-Design-100095949

  8. Joe says at

    More of the companies operating out of that suite:
    http://www.corporationwiki.com/California/Tustin/15991-Red-Hill-Ave-Ste-202-Tustin-CA-92780-a20458440.aspx

    Some of the names, like “Small Business Assistance Corporation”, seem like they have been chosen to create confusion with governmental agencies.

    A company operating out of that same suite (15991 Red Hill Ave. Suite #202 Tustin, CA 92780) has a negative report from the state of Washington for making calls for credit repair:
    http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/alerts/desktop-loans.htm

    Here are complaints about “Direct Protect Warranty”, a telemarketer of aftermarket warranties that one poster said operated out of that same suite:
    http://www.scam.com/showthread.php?t=37456

  9. Yoni Kariv says at

    Guys
    Like last Year Google is calling business owner so they can verify their Place Page Information. Usually the calls are in regard to an unclaimed place page, which found its way to Gmaps throughout third parties. Google has a department in India that in charge on those calls. So as business owner, when receiving such calls, expect guys from India would ask you where you located? , what is your business name? and what is your website URL?.
    Make sure you’re giving them the right details; otherwise the wrong info will be showing up online.

  10. Chris Travers says at

    The phone verification method is even more problematic for multi-location companies which have a very difficult time passing the message to their branches when a legitimate call is going to be made. This often ends up leaving listings in a pending mode. Better bulk upload systems for the major sites will help here, but at UBL.org we find many companies not using the systems that are in place today for this. A better solution is needed – one verification that all sites could reference and feel comfortable with.

  11. MiriamEllis says at

    “a data service provider for Google”

    David, that’s the part that gets my goat (apart from the ridiculous idea that Google would have empty spaces open up in their SERPs, haha). But saying you’re a ‘data service provider FOR Google’ is such grey area language and could easily be misunderstood as signifying that the caller works FOR Google. Any one who does SEO is essentially a data provider…yes, we provide data for Google’s different indexes, but my gut feeling is that the wording of that message is meant to mislead. What a shame. Thanks for reporting on this, and Dave, thanks for phoning that number.

  12. Joe says at

    “saying you’re a ‘data service provider FOR Google’ is such grey area language”

    I don’t think it’s all that gray of an area. I think it’s enough over the line to get them charged if the Orange County DA or the FTC were interested enough.

    The folks in that suite have been doing edgy stuff in lots of areas for a long, long time. Someday they’ll get what’s coming to them.

  13. Harvey Vaughn says at

    It was definitely misleading wording used. Was the person who left the message a native english speaker? I have worked with many foreign outsourcers where this could easily have been said in error instead of the appropriate wording.

  14. David Mihm says at

    Harvey,

    Yes, the person was definitely a native (American) English speaker.

  15. Joshua says at

    I have has a few clients call me as well. To my knowledge there has been very little customer support from Google and now they want to call people!? The have a lot to work on in offline customer service (via real people).

  16. Kevin says at

    Local Lighthouse expresses our sincerest apologies for causing any confusion or inconvenience. Local Lighthouse does not represent ourselves as Google nor claim to be from Google. We would never approve, condone, or tolerate misrepresentation in any way. When answering a phone call coming into our office, our representatives clearly state that they are from Local Lighthouse, an SEO and Internet Marketing company. Any direct and deliberate misrepresentation of our company is unethical and is never tolerated. Local Lighthouse apologizes for any inconvenience or misunderstanding that has occurred between the employee and the consumer. Local Lighthouse is conducting an internal review of our employees to investigate the above accusations. Again, we apologize for any misunderstanding.

    If a consumer wishes to not receive any phone calls, simply ask to be placed on our Do Not Call List. Our representative will promptly remove the phone number and you will not receive any phone calls from our company in the future. You may receive phone calls from other companies. Please ask them to be placed on their Do Not Call list to stop all future calls from that particular company.

    To discuss any concerns further, please contact our customer service department directly at (714) 361 – 8439 or visit us at http://www.locallighthouse.com.

  17. David Mihm says at

    Kevin, thanks for stopping by. However, I have to say, your call was extremely unethical. Not only did you try to pass yourselves off as Google, you didn’t even include the name of your own company in the message.

    I can’t imagine that a scripted voicemail like this was attributable to any single rogue employee. Having an internal Do-Not-Call list does no good for the thousands of businesses you cold-call every day.

    You can apologize all you want but until you actually change your marketing tactics, you’re not going to be very effective at improving your reputation in the community.

  18. Patricia says at

    I think is great that Google is trying to verify the business owners information so that Google users can have the real information at their hands. The problem with the method they are using is that situations as the one mentioned above arises from time to time making people doubt whether they are receiving trustworthy calls from the Google Team or just prank calls.

  19. Will says at

    I think that we often blame SMB owners as “not being internet savvy” but if someone calls and claims to be from Google (before they do their sales pitch) the first instinct for most business owners isn’t “oh they’re lying.” People assume that companies play by the rules but that’s not the case especially with local listing scams.

    I’m from Austin and sadly it’s home to some of the worst companies in the nation when it comes to local listing services. The funny thing is they actually have sites dedicated to try and push down the official BBB result because they know how poor their service is.

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