In a world where your placement on a search results page can make or break your business, many companies are quick to
capitalize on the fear of losing customers. While a good search engine optimization company can be well worth your marketing dollar, small businesses must be wary of fraudsters claiming to boost your Google rankings—or even claiming to be Google themselves.
Small Businesses Scammed by Robocallers Posing as Google Affiliates
Google has recently filed suit in the Northern District of California against Local Lighthouse Corp, a search engine optimization company that is accused of using Google’s name to deliberately mislead customers into paying for high-priced services. The suit alleges that Local Lighthouse Corp has used a number of illegal and unethical tactics to exploit businesses and their owners, including:
- Robocalling. Google first began receiving complaints about automated telephone calls, or robocallers, in 2014. The company sent a letter to Local Lighthouse on July 29, 2014, requesting that the unsolicited calls be stopped and to cease using the Google name as part of its sales pitch.
- Bogus listing requests. Many business owners were beset with phone calls requesting that they “update their Google listing” or learn more about Google search or AdWords tactics. The automated call stated that the customer could press a number to opt-out from future calls; however, this turned out to be a ruse. Pressing a number—any number—confirmed that there was someone reachable at the business, and the calls persisted rather than ceased as a result.
- Misrepresentation. According to consumer complaints, many business owners were led to believe that the calls were from Google headquarters, or at least from an authorized affiliate. The callers reportedly introduced themselves as “Google Local Listing representatives” and reinforcing the false relationship by claiming to be “Google subcontractors” and assuring customers that their $100 activation fee “goes to Google.”
- False promises. Local Lighthouse allegedly guaranteed first-page placement on Google search results to many of its customers, a service the company apparently called “Front Page Domination.” Reports indicated that this “domination” included listing the customers’ webpages multiple times on the front page.
- Exploitation. The purpose of these scams is not just to exploit victims financially, but also to gain protected login information to hack into business accounts or continue spamming efforts. Local Lighthouse’s false statements have cost many consumers hundreds or even thousands of dollars, mostly through monthly payments to fulfill contracts.
What Should You Do to Protect Your Practice?
In the wake of the phone scam, Google has advised consumers that any call initiated by Google will come from a live representative, not an automated service. The search engine giant has also compiled information on the scam and provides links to report robocalling activity to Google as well as the FTC.
You can avoid many of these scams by living by the old maxim: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The best thing to do if you receive a robocall is to hang up immediately—without pressing any buttons. These calls are illegal in the United States, so if you receive automated calls that persist without your consent, you should report the company to the Federal Trade Commission.
Lastly, you should never do business with someone before checking their credentials. Read our reviews from past clients to see why we are a trusted name in SEO services or call 866-460-3724 for a free evaluation of your website.