Posted On
July 2, 2017

How to Protect Your Google Map Listing from Hackers

How to Protect Your Google Map Listing from Hackers 1

At the 2017 International World Wide Web Conference, Google presented data from their report, Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps.

People and businesses are being scammed by Google Maps abusers who are trying to nefariously redirect web traffic for a variety of reasons.

This type of abuse is a relatively new form of blackhat search engine optimization primarily targeting service industries like locksmiths, restaurants, and hotels.

“Miscreants,” as the Google report calls them, “register abusive business listings in an attempt to siphon search traffic away from legitimate businesses and funnel it to deceptive service industries.”

Where Google Maps Abuse is Coming From

Most of this trickery is coming from on-call service industry businesses such as:

  • Locksmiths
  • Plumbers
  • Electricians

This issue is so prevalent that even legit businesses are affected:

My locksmith client got kicked off Google Maps for simply being a locksmith. I spent over 40+ hours on the phone, on chat and via email with Google before they finally turned his listing back on.

Top 10 Google Maps Abusers – Listed By Business Category

How to Protect Your Google Map Listing from Hackers 2

How to Circumvent the Google Verification Process

How to Protect Your Google Map Listing from Hackers 3

With machine learning and new verification techniques, Google has been able to drastically reduce the number of abusive listings from their peak in June 2015 (see chart below) however, it is a still a problem that you need to look out for.

Listings on Google Maps you can either be registered via mail or by phone. We’ll walk you through both processes and what to look out for.

Phony Google Map Listings via Phone Verification

In Table 3 below, Google has found that many abusive listings that publish phone numbers “rely on cheap, disposable VoIP numbers” with Contractors (locksmiths) leading the way at 90.6%, Contractors (others) at 67.4%, Healthcare at 59.8%, and so on.

The phone verification abuse method is explained in the report:

Customers dial what appears to be local phone numbers but are in fact VoIP numbers. The calls are subsequently routed to call centers, which refer the callers to actual local service providers. In contrast, legitimate on-premise business listings like hotels and restaurants rarely use VoIP phone numbers.

Percentage US Google Map Listings with Known Abusive Behavior – Listed By Business Category

How to Protect Your Google Map Listing from Hackers 4

Phony Google Map Listings via Mail Verification

Miscreants abusing Google Maps via mail verification attempt to fraudulently claim a business listing online by requesting that a postcard verification be mailed out.

The Google verification postcards can take several days or, up to a week to arrive.

The con artist then calls the business and convinces them to reveal the PIN number on the postcard which allows them to easily and cleanly take over their Google My Business account.

After that, the original listing is replaced and website links are changed directing would be customers away from the legitimate business and steered towards a potentially unaccredited one.

How You Can Protect Your Google Maps Listing

Never give out information like your Google verification PIN to someone that you don’t know or can’t verify.You should also claim all of your Google profiles now if you have not done so already.

Google is doing what it can with advanced verification for certain business categories that have known abusers (e.g. plumbers, locksmiths), they don’t allow bulk registrations, business “relocation” attempts are thoroughly scrutenized, and perhaps best of all Google is constantly updating their anti-spam machine learning systems to automatically recognize any deceptive patterns.

The new Google Guarantee Program is one way to both help protect consumers and give them the best search results, not ones that are stealing their money.

Your online reputation is like your credit score, you should check it often and correct any errors as soon as you see them.

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Garrett Smith
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