Is Google Trying to Trick You? (And Other Related Scams)

As any savvy business owner or SEO specialist already knows, there’s an overabundance of online scams and unfair Google policies taking over web-based marketing. You don’t need to hear it from Prospect Genius.  However, we’d like to dedicate this post to a few of the disturbing trends and scams that we’ve noticed recently in hopes that it will help some of you avoid potential dangers down the road. In particular, these cons and rip-offs are related to Google and Google+ Local.

Scam #1: Google Impostors Call Businesses, Seek Private Information

The first major scam that’s increasing in frequency involves anonymous third parties calling business owners under the guise of “Google,” “Google Inc.,” “Google Places,” or a similar name. While the idea of pretending to represent a company in order to trick unsuspecting victims into payment or divulging valuable information is nothing new, this poses a new problem unique to our current state of technology. Now, with resources like caller ID, it’s easier than ever for miscreants to deceive innocent business owners and lead them to believe that they’re speaking with a Google representative. Using these tactics, they’ll ask you for personal information and even convince you to sign up for a paid program that doesn’t exist. Of the scams that will be highlighted here, this one is by far the most dangerous. How to Protect Yourself As stated above, these swindlers have engineered a way for their telephone account names to display on caller IDs as different variations of “Google.” But don’t let that fool you. No matter what the caller ID says, there are only two phone numbers affiliated with Google that will actually make attempts to contact business owners: 650-253-2000 and 650-253-0000 (both these numbers show as GOOGLE INC on your caller ID). If you receive a call from any other number that claims to be Google, don’t answer. It’ll be an impostor, and the conversation won’t be pleasant. For your security, keep in mind that anyone asking for your password, PIN, and other sensitive information is not a legitimate Google representative. Remember: The real Google will never contact you for this kind of information.

Scam #2: If You Have a Suspended Listing, Google May Extort You Into Paying for AdWords

We’ve heard reports from several different clients suggesting that Google is getting greedy when it comes to AdWords. Allegedly, if a business has had their Google+ Local listing suspended (for any reason), Google will contact that business owner and offer to reinstate the listing if they simply pay $200 per month for AdWords. This has a couple of ominous implications. First, since Google has full control over whose listings are maintained or suspended, they could feasibly suspend a listing for the most minor infraction and then force that business to pay hundreds of dollars a month to have their listing put back up. We hate to be conspiracy theorists, but this sets a disturbing precedent, to say the least. Second, if Google is willing to reinstate any listing for the price of $200, then it’s likely that they’re assisting some very dubious business owners who had been spamming Google Maps listings, lying about their storefront location, and employing other very shady strategies. Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for the reliability or overall quality of Google+ Local content. How to Protect Yourself If your Google+ Local listing was previously suspended and you receive a phone call from a Google rep with this type of offer, don’t comply. You don’t have to. In time, if you make the appropriate adjustments and revisions, Google will restore your listing organically. All it takes is patience and a strong will on your end. In the meantime, utilize resources like Yelp, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local, Citysearch,, and Angie’s List. These directories rank highly with Google’s algorithms and will keep your web presence strong while you wait it out with Google.

Scam #3: Google Representatives Call Businesses, Pretend to Be Prospective Customers

Google has recently taken to contacting business owners directly and asking them about the accuracy of their Google+ Local listings. These phone conversations are usually very straightforward, with the Google representative asking simple questions about that particular business’s location, store hours, and other pertinent information. The ultimate goal of these inquiries is to determine the validity of a listing. If the representative suspects that the business isn’t being honest about its address or storefront, then the business’s listing will likely be suspended. Here’s how a typical conversation with a Google representative should go: Click to Listen Unfortunately, we’ve seen firsthand that some of Google’s representatives are resorting to more deceptive tactics—apparently in an attempt to catch dishonest business owners in their own lies. In these phone calls, a Google rep will actually pretend to be a prospective customer who’s interested in the products or services that this business provides. Here’s an example: Click to Listen We understand that Google wants to weed out companies that are spamming, lying, or otherwise gaming the system, but stooping to this kind of deception is plain wrong, no matter how you slice it. How to Protect Yourself This is the least threatening scam of the ones depicted here. If you’re an average business owner with nothing to hide, then there’s no need to worry in either scenario. Rather, just be aware that this tactic is employed randomly and stay on your toes for any questionable phone calls. Remember, only calls from 650-253-2000 and 650-253-0000 will be inquiring about official Google-related business. If you receive a phone call from any other number, even if your caller ID says “Google,” you should not give away any information that isn’t already public. If the call is coming from one of the two official Google phone numbers, you still may not want to answer questions right away. Instead, it’s not a bad idea to ask the rep to call you back in a few hours and take that extra time to study a Google Map of your surroundings. Pay attention to nearby intersections, prominent highways, shopping plazas, and other landmarks that the representative might ask you about. This will ensure that you answer all of the questions confidently and accurately, thus eliminating the risk of your listing being suspended from Google+ Local.

Conclusion: If Something Seems Shady, It Probably Is

Take a minute to write down those two official Google Inc. phone numbers so that you’ll recognize them. Be aware of the information about your business that’s available publicly. Most importantly, trust your instincts. If someone is calling you and asking for sensitive information, it’s probably a scam. If they’re trying to strong-arm you into a service that you simply do not need, it’s probably a scam. Even if you have a bad feeling about an interaction, it’s best not to comply at first and then do your research to be sure. When in doubt, call your SEO provider for advice. If you don’t have one, you can always get in touch with one of the specialists at Prospect Genius. After all, we’re here to help!