Scamwatch: Google Maps fraud

Don’t be fooled by fake business listings

Scamwatch: bogus businesses on Google Maps

Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, how dodgy businesses are using Google Maps to trick people into paying over the odds for services such as emergency plumbing or electrical work.

How does it work?

Google runs checks on local businesses before adding them to its Google Maps service.

However, sneaky fraudsters are managing to break the rules by setting up business listings using legitimate locations, but fake contact numbers.

When consumers call the bogus numbers, they are put through to call centres where they are given a competitive quote - only for the work to turn out much more expensive when the "company representative" comes round to complete it.

As these companies are unaccredited, there is also a danger that the work will not be carried out to satisfactory standard.

How can I avoid being caught out?

Thousands of fake business listings are added to Google Maps each month, according to a recent study conducted by Google in conjunction with the University of California.

So even though the huge majority of the companies listed are legitimate, it pays to be careful when you are searching for a company using the service, and to use local firms you know of where possible.

Google has introduced new security measures designed to stop the fraudsters since receiving the results of its research.

However, its findings indicate that users should be particularly wary of emergency, or on-call, services such as locksmiths, plumbers and electricians.

"We find at least 40.3% of abusive listings relate to the on-call service industry, e.g. locksmiths, plumbers, and electricians," the study says.

"These service providers are typically mobile, and they usually visit customers after being contacted on the phone."

I've been defrauded. What should I do?

You can report fake listings on Google Maps using the Edit the map tool. To find it, click on Menu (top left) and then on Send feedback.

Fraud of any kind should also be reported to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040).