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No. 1001
June 23rd, 2011

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

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.)