Google says its crackdown has led to fake Maps listings dropping by 70% since 2015

Scammers have been targeting Google Maps for years.
Scammers have been targeting Google Maps for years.

Fake news may be dominating headlines at the moment but for the last few years, Google has been dealing with another fraudulent issue – fake results in Google Maps.

The internet giant has been working to make Maps more accurate and even commissioned a study from the University of California, San Diego, to get a better understanding of how Google Maps is abused by fraudsters.

In a recent blog post, the company said local searches leading to fake listings is less than 0.5%. They added that the number of bogus listings has dropped by 70% from its all-time peak in 2015 because the company has improved the process used to verify new businesses.

Google said 85% of bogus listings are identified before they even appear on Google Maps.

These listings are made through Google My Business tool and the company verifies the information provided by business owners before making it available to users.

Tourists using Google Maps.
Google Maps users have been targeted by scammers (Thinkstock)

The study found around two out of five fake listings were “bad actors” – aka fraudsters posing as locksmiths, plumbers, electricians and other professional tradesmen.

Despite rigorous checks, some perpetrators still managed to find their way back in using different addresses and VoIP phone numbers.

“The actors operating these fake listings would cycle through non-existent postal addresses and disposable VoIP phone numbers even as their listings were discovered and disabled,” the blog said.

“The purported addresses for these businesses were irrelevant as the contractors would travel directly to potential victims.”

Google Maps.
Some fraudsters have even managed to create fake listings for legitimate businesses (Lars Plougmann/Flickr)

However, 10% of the fake listings actually belonged to legitimate businesses which fraudsters pretended to claim ownership of.

“While making a reservation or ordering a meal was indistinguishable from the real thing, behind the scenes, the bad actors would deceive the actual business into paying referral fees for organic interest,” the blog added.

The company says it has made improvements to include prohibiting bulk registrations at most addresses and preventing businesses from relocating far from their original address without additional verification. Other steps include “detecting and ignoring intentionally mangled text in address fields designed to confuse our algorithms”.

“We have also adapted our anti-spam machine learning systems to detect data discrepancies common to fake or deceptive listings,” it added.

This comes after Google recently revealed it is killing its map maker service and moving many of its features to Google Maps as part of its efforts to crackdown on fraudsters.