The Sinister Side Of Google Maps

Inherently, we Internet users trust helpful sites like Google to be accurate repositories of information. The reality, however, is another story. The Internet has weak points that can ruin your business’ reputation, and those holes exist among even the most reputable online sources. Even organizations like the Secret Service and the FBI have fallen prey to scams through Google Maps (see below).

Nevertheless, many of us trust Google’s information without question. You create a website or mark your place of business in the search engine, and you expect that Google will display your page as a result when someone searches for it. Customers, likewise, expect the information they find through searches to be accurate.

Undoubtedly, Google Maps can greatly aid your business by helping potential customers find you. It can also eliminate you from the market, asThe Serbian Crown discovered the hard way. In early 2012, the restaurant experienced a precipitous 75% decrease in business on the weekends. The decline continued for months until a customer alerted the owner, Rene Bertagna, that Google Places (the search engine’s business directory) had incorrectly recorded the restaurant’s hours.

Based upon Google’s M.O., this is not a unique occurrence—nor is it likely to be an innocent mistake. Google finds its business listings from largely reliable commercial mailing list databases, such as infoUSA and Axciom. Once the listings are in Google’s index, a business owner can claim one through Google and begin curating it for free. However, if you ignore your Google Maps listing, other users can submit community edits to your listing with details like operating hours.

Brian Seely, a network engineer turned whistle-blower, even used Google Maps to intercept Secret Service and FBI calls. He simply set up fake Google Maps listings for both organizations’ offices. He then channeled incoming calls through to the real agencies while recording them. Regarding Seely’s manipulation of Google Maps, the Secret Service commented that “virtually any phone number that appears on a crowdsourcing platform (like Google) could be manipulated in this way.”

Often, such fake listings cause businesses to close their doors for good. Shady businesses can hire hackers to create fake listings to divert Internet searches to their desired services, or even forward competitors’ incoming calls to their phone lines. For example, Brian Seely estimates that there are over 100,000 fake listings for locksmiths alone.

To protect your business from these scams, it is critical that you maintain an online presence. Continually monitor your business’ online presence personally, or consider employing a cybersecurity firm to handle all your cyber needs. If you have any questions about the effects of hacking on your industry or business in particular, please contact Dunbar Cybersecurity.  Contact us, and our experts can provide detailed information and recommend cybersecurity solutions based on your specific needs.