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Fake locksmiths manipulate Google search results in bait-and-switch scam

If you are in an emergency situation and need a locksmith, you may want to call a friend for a recommendation instead of using Google to find a qualified service person. According to a recent New York Times article, Google search results are being gamed by fake locksmithing services whose primary goal is to scam a customer into paying as much as possible.

Unbeknownst to most people, many of the locksmiths that dominate Google search results are lead generator operations with call centers in different states and even different countries. These lead gens know how to trick Google’s SEO in order to rank high in the search results and manipulate Google Maps to appear as a legitimate storefront. Behind the scenes, though, the company has no brick and mortar store and maintains a group of poorly trained subcontractors who are instructed to get as much money from the customer as possible. A large number of these contractors are brought in from Israel with the promise of steady work.

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Lead gens operate using a simple bait-and-switch tactic. When you call a lead gen listing with an emergency, your details are collected and forwarded to a subcontractor who is dispatched to your home or car. Once there, the $30 quote balloons into a much higher fee because of some unexpected and often fabricated obstacle such as the procedure being “much harder to perform” or the “lock needing to be replaced.” Most people pay because they are frustrated with their situation and just want to get into their house or car right away. Others don’t realize they are being fleeced because the overcharges are relatively small.

These scams began popping up in the early 2000’s and now have become a flourishing business thanks to Google. “I’m not exaggerating when I say these guys have people in every large and midsize city in the United States,” said Assistant United States Attorney John Ware when speaking to the New York Times.

For its part, Google says it is working hard to find and remove these scam operations when they arise, but the company has so far remained one step behind these swindlers who know how to work the system and fly under Google’s radar. Unfortunately, it is legitimate locksmiths who are paying the price because their listings are grouped with the fake ones, making it difficult for customers to find a qualified service.