Bottom line: A recent finding by the Wall Street Journal claims that Google Maps has nearly 11 million fake business listings, an effort by scammers to boost their own profits by defrauding business owners and misleading customers through false addresses, phone numbers and impersonation of genuine businesses. Google has reaffirmed its commitment to deal with the issue and has outlined efforts it's taken behind the scenes as well as new ways to fight fraud by asking users to flag and report potential fake business profiles.
Google Maps is used by more than a billion people around the world every month. And since coming from Google, it's not only a simple navigator but a source of information fueled by a vast community of local guides, business owners and users who contribute to it with business profiles, reviews and star ratings. Tourists, commuters and customers rely on this information to make decisions and get things done.
Being the crowded place that it is, it's no surprise that businesses that come up on Google Maps would prefer to be a users' first choice as they try to one-up each other, through fair competition and, sometimes, cheating. A "thorn in the internet's side" as Google refers to these local business scammers, have abused the platform by providing fake business details and phone numbers to reroute potential customers to competing businesses.
This issue was recently highlighted in a report from the Wall Street Journal, that puts an estimate of around 11 million fake business listings on Google Maps. Contractors, repairmen and car towing services are the most common target in these scams, businesses that customers usually need in a rush but don't have enough time to check their credibility. This can result in customers being overcharged for a service that the original business would have demanded otherwise.
Google has responded to this development and stated measures that it has taken over the years to remove profiles that violate its policies. In 2018, it removed more than 3 million fake business profiles, 90 percent of which "were removed before a user could even see the profile." It also took down 250,000 fake business profiles reported by users and disabled more than 150,000 user accounts that the company found abusive, a 50 percent increase from 2017.
In this year, the Maps team has introduced new ways to report suspicious business profiles where "people can flag individual business profiles for removal" and "report multiple business profiles at once via the business redressal form to kick off the review process."
The company will also donate to organizations that educate businesses and consumers about fraud, with settlement funds that it will gain from litigation against scammers.