Don't Just Google!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Via Marginal Revolution, I have learned of an interesting cat-and-mouse game concerning illegitimate businesses, such as fake locksmiths, advertising on Google and fleecing customers with the aid of fake locations added to Google Maps:

The company's website at the time listed six physical locations, including a pinkish, two-story building at 10275 West Santa Fe Drive, Sun City, Ariz. When Avi looked up that address in Google Maps, he saw in the bottom left-hand corner a street-view image of the same pinkish building at the end of a retail strip.

There seemed no reason to doubt that a pinkish building stood at 10275 West Santa Fe Drive.

Avi was skeptical. "That's about a five-minute drive from here," he said.

We jumped in his car. It wasn't long before the voice in his GPS announced, "You have arrived."

"That's the address," he said. He was pointing to a low white-brick wall that ran beside a highway. There was no pinkish building and no stores. Other than a large, featureless warehouse on the other side of the street, there was little in sight.

"This is what I'm dealing with," Avi said. "Ghosts."
Scammers typically offer on-site services that customers might want on short notice, and so might not have that much time to investigate. They then offer low-ball rates over the phone and charge much more in person for semi-plausible reasons.

The article gives an absorbing account of efforts by Google and others to remedy the situation, but does not say much about how one might defend oneself from such "lead-gen" (short for "lead generation") swindlers. One thought of mine might be to brain-storm what such services one might need in the future, more painstakingly research them in advance, and keep a list of them in an easy-to access place. (The article did indirectly suggest checking Better Business Bureau listings.)

All knowledge is interrelated, and even the "best" web of lies can only go so far. The best defense against any swindle is to exercise skepticism about any information source, in part by checking it against others. The swindlers have zeroed in on personal emergencies as times when people are least-suited to doing their homework. At least we now know.

-- CAV

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