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Google Maps users navigating through more scams and fake content

For many people, Google Maps is an indispensable tool that offers way more features than its simple name suggests.

But a couple of reports over the weekend suggest the popular tool for mobile and web faces some serious challenges when it comes to fighting off fake content posted by scammers and others with nefarious intent.

Speaking to several of Google’s “top contributors” who spend much of their own time time offering assistance to Maps users and reporting spam (as well as scams), CNBC learned of a bunch of problems with the service that Google is battling to eradicate.

One of the volunteers, Tom Waddington, described Google Maps as “still really the Wild West,” containing a growing number of bogus reviews and fake listings, among other fabricated content.

Such data undermines the integrity of Maps, with fake negative reviews having the potential to damage a business, and fake positive ones serving to unfairly boost a rival’s reputation. Unreliable data is also highly problematic for the billion-plus users of Maps who use it to seek out reputable or popular businesses.

Google told CNBC it’s in a “constant race with local business spammers.” The company insists it’s investing heavily in the development of automated and manual systems to track down and eliminate fake content, while encouraging a growing community of volunteers to alert it to any problems found on the popular service.

Another recent report, this time from Canada’s CTV News, focuses on similar issues with Google Maps. The news outlet highlights the work of Toronto-based Sydney Eatz, one of Google’s highly trusted Local Guides who spends a good deal of her personal time tracking down and correcting bogus content on Maps.

CTV News says scammers are coming up with “all manner of schemes” that hurt businesses and trick users. The report mentions one case involving Toronto’s Seneca College, which every year welcomes more than 5,000 students from around 130 countries. Using Maps, fraudsters have been adding fake hotel listings that showed up close to the college.

“These fake hotels go for $500 per night,” Eatz said. “These foreign students are placing their booking to bring their family over,” only to later discover that the hotel doesn’t exist.

Google Maps continues to be a great tool for getting around and in most cases works just fine when offering up content relating to businesses, but the issue of fake content and scams is clearly a concern, with many of Maps’ dedicated volunteers keen for more to be done.

While Google’s own team and army of volunteers work to clear Maps of fake content and scams, the web giant also encourages users to flag up any issues it finds with Maps by following the instructions on this web page.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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