The New York Times reports that sophisticated scams using thousands of fake Google listings, are conning thousands of customers and driving them away from legitimate local locksmiths. Called “lead gens” (lead generators), the con-artists use Google My Business to create listings that appear to be local locksmiths, but the “local” phone number is routed to a boiler-room call center—often out of state, sometimes in a different country. It is a classic bait-and-switch con that has quietly become an epidemic in America and is among the fastest-growing sources of consumer complaints, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
How the locksmith lead gen scam works
- The potential victim is locked out of their car or home.
- They search “locksmith” on Google.
- Up pops a list of names, the most promising of which appear beneath the paid ads, in space reserved for local service companies.
- The victim assumes Google’s algorithms have found the locksmiths who are local and have earned good customer reviews.
- But the list includes locksmiths that are not locksmiths at all.
- The victim calls what they think is a local locksmith, but the call is routed to a boiler-room call center in other city or even off-shore.
- The call center quotes an estimated price in the range of $35-$90.
- The scam operation keeps a group of poorly trained subcontractors on call.
- Details are forwarded, usually via text, to one of those subcontractors.
- Once the subcontractor is on site, they demand 3–4 times the estimate, claiming the work was more complicated than expected.
- Most consumers simply pay up, in part because they are eager to get into their homes or cars.
Lead gen scams are spreading to other services
According to the New York Times, similar scams are spreading to garage door repair, carpet cleaning, moving and home security. Basically, they surface in any business where consumers need someone in the vicinity to swing by and clean, fix, relocate or install something.
Google’s response to the scam is sub-par
“Google has been subpar on this,” Danny Sullivan, a founding editor of the website Search Engine Land, told the New York Times. “When problems arise, they kind of deal with them as they pop up, but they don’t correct systemic flaws that are out there.”
Addressing the problem is critical as Google is still an essential source of revenue for many different types of local business. According to local search expert Mike Blumenthal and frequent contributor to SmallBusiness.com, 85 percent of all local search traffic reaches local businesses through Google.
Continue reading more on this topic at NYTimes.com: Fake Online Locksmiths May be Out to Pick Your Pocket Too.