A partnership between computer scientists at the University of California San Diego and Google has allowed the search giant to reduce by 70 percent fraudulent business listings in Google Maps. The researchers worked together to analyze more than 100,000 fraudulent listings to determine how scammers had been able to avoid detection—albeit for a limited amount of time—and how they made money.
The team presented their findings at the 26th International Conference on the World Wide Web in Australia earlier this month.
The computer scientists identified what they describe as a “new form of blackhat search engine optimization that targets local listing services” such as Google Maps. They also describe how these scammers were able to make money.
For example, when people run a search on their mobile phone, the search engine uses their physical location as one of the inputs to decide which results to display, Snoeren explained.
The scammers take advantage of this by using fake locations to make it look like their business is in close proximity to the user doing the search.
Scammers are able to make money when they get called to help a user based on a fake listing. Scammers might quote a low price when called on the phone, only to charge a higher fee when they show up. They might not be licensed but get the business anyway.
In another scheme, scammers set up fake pins for real hotels or restaurants on Google Maps. They set up websites where customers make reservations, which are connected to the business’ real website or to a travel agency, which is not part of the scam. This allows scammers to make money either by getting a commission for each reservation or for referring traffic to the businesses’ real websites.
*D.Y. Huang, D. Grundman, K. Thomas, A. Kumar, E. Bursztein, K. Levchenko and A.C. Snoeren, “Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps,” Proc. of the International Conference on World Wide Web (WWW), April 3-7, 2017, Perth, Australia.