Lately, the spike in hijacked Google My Business listings appears to be growing. A hijacked listing is when someone other than the business gains control of the local Google My Business profile. Sterling Sky’s Joy Hawkins writes about this phenomenon. She talked about the trends and some of the methods used by spammers and scammers. Read on to learn what you need to know about hijacked Google My Business listings.

Google My Business Phishing

Unethical local marketers are effectively phishing, using the “claim this business” link in the local Knowledge Panel/Profile. This link generates an email request for control over the listing, and sends the link to the registered owner of the profile. There are many more examples and complaints on the Google My Business forum.

The frequency of this tactic appears to be increasing. In one example Hawkins cited, a hijacker used a listing for a law firm to sell leads to other lawyers. When asked about this phenomenon, a Google spokesperson stated

“We are aware of this incident and are monitoring it closely and are continually working to keep this information on Maps safe and accurate. If a merchant ever receives a request to manage or to transfer ownership from an unknown person, they should decline the request. The rights to own or manage a Business Profile can only be granted if the verified merchant accepts the request or the requester proves their affiliation with the business.”

Merging Leads to Unintended Hijacked Businesses

In another mysterious example, Rasmus Himmelstrup of Resolution Media in Denmark (Omnicom Media Group) has stated that he was able to take control of a listing from a large Danish supermarket chain Bilka. He did not intentionally hijack Bilka.

Himmelstrup’s client is a European optometrist chain – Specsavers. In Denmark, they refer to the same chain as Louis Nielsen. The grocery store and optical store got flagged as duplicates (by Google or a third party) and merged. The merged listing shows a mix of information for both locations: photos for both locations, booking links for the optometrist, store hours for the supermarket, and so on.

Himmelstrup said he reported the problem to Google My Business support and Google told him to verify that the Specsavers location actually existed. He said that this instance is “ a good example of how inadequate the first line of support for Google My Business is”. Google supposedly told Himmelstrup to delete the duplicate and re-verify the Specsavers location, which he did. He stated, “upon verification I was granted access to the grocery store Google My Business listing instead, containing Specsavers info as well.”

Himmelstrup doesn’t want control of Bilka’s listing. Ironically, Resolution Media represents Bilka’s major competitor in Denmark and so if he wanted to, Himmelstrup could engage in all sorts of mischief. Of course he wouldn’t though, but to date he’s been unable to get Google to fully understand the problem.

In Conclusion

Obviously, listings fraud, fake reviews and any other bogus local information in Google Maps and Search is bad for consumers. But it’s especially bad for the mostly small business victims. Wrong online information can be impactful on their material sales, especially during COVID-19. For the many Small Businesses that are suffering ranking in local search results is a matter of survival.