Hot & Sticky Internet Scams in Southwest Florida
It’s come to our attention at Atilus, that there are an array of scams going on related to websites, adwords, and Google’s new “Business Photos.” In an effort to protect our clients and partners we’re outlining the scams below to keep you aware and help protect yourself. If you feel you were a victim – or if you’re just genuinely unsure of whether the person(s) or organizations you’re dealing with are truly from Google – or feel your web marketing may be at stake – feel free to contact us and we’ll help you get to the bottom of your particular situation.
First some definitions:
- Business Photos – Google’s new street-view initiative – they’re encouraging businesses with attractive, physical locations, to have their interiors photographed, by a specialized photographer for inclusion as a part of their Google + Page/Local account. We recently had a client go through this process – and the results were amazing and there is evidence to suggest (as Google often does) that participating in this pilot program – may help local SEO.
- Google Webmaster Tools – this is the tool we implement on every website – which provides direct communication from your website – to Google. This is very important to ensure your website is “seen,” shows in results and for protecting any ranking. It’s a tool we use to simply let google know “hey our website is here – here are all of the page” but is also a valuable tool for Google to communicate with website owners and web development companies on problems or issues that arise.
- Google AdWords – the tool used by business/advertisers to get in front of various search phrases for money. IE – you determine what keywords you think your audience is searching for – “bid” on those words – and then your ad appears in the search listing results on Google.com (and other places) when people search for the phrases you’ve selected.
Here’s a short video on Google Business Photos:
Local Google Business Photos Scam
There’s a local company pulling off quite a sophisticated scam involving supposed “Google Reps” as shills.
Atilus was even a slight victim of this scam after having these individuals highjack a Google event we were hosting some months ago. It’s only after months of digging that we’ve been able to uncover this sophisticated scam:
A new local company, who specializes in “mobile” websites – is going from business to business (most often in strip malls where a number of businesses are lined up in an array) soliciting owners and tenants to consider implementing Google’s new Business Photos initiative. They are indeed a rep for this product, however they are quiet about their true business (mobile website development) and initiate this scam under the guise of promoting a new Google initiative.
The Hook (Initial Scam)
The initial scam occurs the following day, week, etc. – when a “google rep” a person wearing a shirt with Google’s logo – comes into the same business as the above and talks to the business owner about the importance of implementing Google’s Business Photos as well as the need for a mobile website. We’ve heard reports about rankings being “hurt” if this isn’t done.
It’s important to realize that – after investigating these people and reports – this person in no way works for Google – they are a “plant”, a “shill”, a “stooge” (thanks dictionary.com).
They’re positioning themselves not only as impartial to the situation (untrue, they have a documented business relationship with the initial mobile website company), but also pretending (through clothing and words) to actually “work at Google.” We had two of these “reps” come into our own office to solicit our clients at a Google event we previously hosted. They are pretty convincing.
These people do not work at Google.
Business Photo Session (the Continued Scam)
If and when a Business Photos session is sold (and this is indeed a real service/product) both the initial mobile website company as well as the “Google Reps” show up for the day of the shoot. During the shoot the Google Reps will again, take the business owners aside and try to “up-sell” a web package – again pretending to be an outside 3rd party – not associated with the web development company orchestrating this whole event.
Note: the photographer is real, and actually “works for google” – I put this in quotes because it’s my understanding they’re contractors for Google. According to the Google Business Photos website for photographers they are professional photographers who have to apply, be accepted, then go through a rigorous training program related to this initiative (as they actually interface with Google’s local and mapping tools).
TLDR: People are pretending to work from Google in order to up-sell their businesses services. They don’t work for Google and have a financial stake in the products being sold.
Google AdWords & Webmaster Tools Scam
Although the above scam, feels much more insidious…
(it happened to us, our clients, and involved physical interaction/lying. Plus, WHO would think to print out “Google” shirts and lie about that!!!!)
…the following scam has the potential to be much more harmful.
Many of our clients (and partner clients/agencies) are getting phone calls from “Google”, saying they’ve been de-listed form Google Webmaster tools, Google.com, or are having trouble processing their payment on AdWords. Thank you to Bill Lees of Internet Marketing Logic – for initially bringing this to my attention – subsequently I’ve talked to two clients who have experienced this (just this week!).
The “Google rep” then simply ask for an amount – typically $50 – to “reinstate your google account.” At that time – you guessed it – they solicit you for a credit card over the phone. This is not Google, and you need to simply hang up on these people – they are trying to steal at least $50 – if not your entire credit card information.
Google Webmaster Tools is completely free, always has been (and I believe) always will be – it’s a tool that really mostly helps Google – and no one will EVER ask for payment related to this.
Google AdWords does have a payment component and we’ve had a number of adwords clients over the years experience billing issues. This is handled in one of two ways:
- a notification is sent out to the account owner (via email) and also to the agency on the account if there is one – and a popup appears on one’s dashboard or…
- a phone call is made by Google – as a courtesy – prompting the account owner to login to address their billing issue(s).
Please contact us if you have any questions relating to the above or need help sorting out an issue you’re currently dealing with.