An anonymous reader shares a report: Out of habit, Nancy Carter, a retired federal employee, turned to Google for help one August evening. She ended the night wishing she hadn’t. Ms. Carter had pulled into her Falls Church, Va., driveway and saw the garage door was stuck. The 67-year-old searched Google and found the listing of a local repair service she had used before. She phoned in a house call. Google’s ubiquitous internet platform shapes what’s real and what isn’t for more than 2 billion monthly users. Yet Google Maps, triggered by such Google queries as the one Ms. Carter made, is overrun with millions of false business addresses and fake names, according to advertisers, search experts and current and former Google employees.
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.