We bought a house in 2018 and have been renovating it pretty much constantly ever since: I've had to call out movers, emergency plumbers and electricians, find HVAC repairpeople, hire locksmiths, contract with a roofer, etc etc. Despite the longstanding and serious problems with fraud on Google Maps, I often start my search there, because I am an idiot, because 100% of the time, Google Maps sends me to a scammer. One hundred percent.
Sometimes, the scam is petty, where a company that claims to be a local business but is actually a referral service that sends out a contractor, often someone who has to come a long way, which is no fun when you're talking about waiting for a locksmith (thankfully, I live near a master lockpicker — which is fantastic (thanks, John!) but doesn't exactly scale).
Sometimes, it's just a scam. The number of people who've offered to move my house or fix my roof who were obviously con artists is astounding. We're talking naked advance-fee frauds and other dopey, corny cons here.
The Wall Street Journal goes deep on something that many of us had long suspected: not only is Google incapable of removing scams from Gmaps, it also profits handsomely from these scammers, who pay big to crowd out the real businesses (cons don't have the same overheads that actual businesses do, so they have more surplus capital to bring to the project of dominating Gmaps).
Thankfully, our renos are nearly at an end (a little landscaping and the solar on the roof and then we're all set!), but I'm still at a loss for the next time I need to hire a skilled tradesperson. Google Maps is obviously no good. Angie's List is a little better. Services like Thumbtack are pretty reliable, but really cumbersome. Asking for reccos on Twitter sometimes works, but that's not ideal either.
The ruse lures the unsuspecting to what appear to be Google-suggested local businesses, a costly and dangerous deception. A man arrived at Ms. Carter's home in an unmarked van and said he was a company contractor. He wasn't. After working on the garage door, he asked for $728, nearly twice the cost of previous repairs, Ms. Carter said. He demanded cash or a personal check, but she refused. "I'm at my house by myself with this guy," she said. "He could have knocked me over dead." The repairman had hijacked the name of a legitimate business on Google Maps and listed his own phone number. He returned to Ms. Carter's home again and again, hounding her for payment of a repair so shoddy it had to be redone. Three years later, Google still can't seem to stop the proliferation of fictional business listings and aggressive con artists on its search engine. The scams are profitable for nearly everyone involved, Google included. Consumers and legitimate businesses end up the losers.
Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake—and Google Profits [Rob Copeland and Katherine Bindley/WSJ]