How To Find and Report Spam/Fake Businesses on Google

Professor M

Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) Expert, Trainer, Speaker

How To Find and Report Spam/Fake Businesses on Google

Table of Contents

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Google Maps has millions of illicit Google Business Profiles (ex-Google My Business Listings) and hundreds of thousands more are created each month.

Google (My) Business Profile Spam

Google said they Google reveals it removed seven million fake business profiles, and prevented 12 million from being created, throughout 2021.

However, the Google spam detector is not 100% effective so that’s why we still see a lot of spam on Google, frustrating many genuine business owners and professionals. 

If you have some time and wish to understand the impact of spam on businesses and consumers,  you should read these News Outlets articles :

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/13/google-maps-spam-fighters.html

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/appliance-repair-industry-online-listings-1.5762489?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar

https://www.today.com/video/how-ghost-businesses-are-stealing-your-money-70073925647

Why Spam is a huge problem for Google Business Profile 

These fake listings push real businesses further down the local search results, impacting your ability to reach customers and making unsuspecting consumers easy targets for scammers.

What are the most common types of spam/fake listing on Google?

All Profiles/listings with any of the issues below  are considered spam or fake:

  • Keyword stuffing in the Business name –  by adding categories, products, town, city to the name
  • Keyword stuffing in the Address – by adding categories, products to the address field
  • Lead Gen businesses, fake businesses, and “ghost-businesses”
  • Duplicate listings, businesses with multiple listings to showcase different categories and/or service areas
  • Unhidden Private residences, bogus addresses, virtual offices, UPS stores, PO Boxes,  employees’ home addresses, etc
  • Online-only businesses

Just check below a Bright Local Poll about the type of spam often seen:

GMB Spam Examples

Business Name Spam (Keyword stuffing)

Address Spam (Unhidden Private residence)

Lead Gen businesses, fake businesses, and “ghost-businesses”

Map Local Listings Pack Full of Spam/Fake Businesses

Choose your next Chapter

How to find Spam Google (My) Business Profiles on Google

Any business category in any town can have spammy listings, so probably some of your competition is spam/fake. Is it cause for concern? Of course, it is.

Their listing could be above yours and get the customers that should be yours. 

Pro Tip: At the same time you are searching for spam/fake Google (My) Business Profiles, please save everything you find as you may need to use this information as evidence for Google.

Step by Step Instructions to find Spam Google (My) Business Profiles

Step 1

Go to google.com or google.com/maps and search for a main(s) business category(ies) + Town or Keywords + Town. E.g. “Dry Cleaners London”, “Plumber Boston”, “Accountant Dublin”, “Window Cleaning Perth”.

Pro Tip: On Google Search results, click on the “more businesses” link at the bottom of the local pack, and you’ll be taken to the local list of businesses

Google Local Search

Google Map Local Search

Step 2

Now go into each listing above and up to 10 listings below your business profile, then follow the next list of steps or use my spreadsheet as a guide:

Check Google Maps Street View, Google Maps, Google Search
  • Does Street View confirm they are at this address? You may find a vacant lot, grocery store, drugstore or even a parking lot, or a residential area. Is there a shopfront and clear business signs?
  • Does the business name on the listing match what’s on their sign in Street View?
  • Make note of any businesses that share an address, phone number, or very similar name
  • Zoom in on Google Maps to identify other listings that are also using this same address. Check if they are the same business or looks unlikely the building can have that many businesses so probably is a fake address
  • Check the address. Do a Google search for the address, does it return a UPS store website or mail service, P.O. Box, post office, or virtual office as an address? (these are not allowed)
  • If you are in the US, you can try a free Chrome extension GMB Scanner to help spot fake, invalid, or virtual office addresses.
Check Official Information
Check the Business Website
  • What name is listed on their website? Often the listing has a name as “keyword 1, 2, 3” on Google yet the “About us”/”Contact us” page on their website lists their real name.
  • Does the address on the listing match what is listed on their website?
  • Check if operating hours are the same as the listing
  • Does the website advise they are an online-only/e-commerce business
  • Any clues they are a Lead Gen/fake Business, like they will put you in contact with a professional
  • Is it a fake looking website?
  • Look at their terms and conditions, do they advise they are not responsible for the service/products?
  • The site seems broken or distributes malware, that’s a sign of a fraudulent listing.
 Check Phone number
  • Call the phone number. Tip: Call anonymous so they can’t call you back.
    •  How do they answer the phone?  Many spammers who create tons of fake listings answer their phone with something generic like “Hello, locksmith” or “Hello, service”. Normal businesses generally answer with their business name.  If they answer as just “hello” you can always ask “Hi, I’m trying to make sure I got the right number, what business is this?”
    • Ask for directions to their office and see how they respond.
    • The number redirects to a different business.
    • It’s never answered or has a suspicious voicemail box.
    • It’s disconnected or doesn’t even work in the first place.
  • Search on Google for the phone number as it could be used by another business or one of those free SMS numbers websites

Step 3

Collect evidence:

  • Copy + Paste each Listing Google Maps URL
  • Take screenshots of Google Street View of the address showing that it is
    • a private address or
    • a post office/UPS or
    • another business is at the address or
    • it’s permanently closed or
    • it’s an empty field
  • Get the specific link to the zoomed-in version of Street View that shows the particular sign/building/plot.
  • Take screenshots of the issues on the website: business name, terms and conditions, address
  • Record the calls when you call to verify the phone number 
  • Record the Government sources and Official Sources URL, include the URL to the source if you cannot show the search query and screenshots
  • URL Link to a 3rd party business website If the address matches another business. For example, “This address is actually a Regus virtual office” and then link to Regus’ location page
  • You should not use sites like Facebook or Yelp
  • Drive by the location and take photos of the place plus the Street Nameplate
  • You can always reference other listings on Maps as proof that this listing shouldn’t be there (Ex: this business already has a listing here…)

Step 4

Add all the evidence to a Google Folder and add URLs including comments to a spreadsheet or use my Google Sheet Template.

Make sure you include the name, address, Maps URL, phone, and any other proof you are using to make a case in your sheet.  Then report the spam profiles as per the next section’s instructions.

How to Report Spam Google (My) Business Profiles

You will need to “make a case” that a listing is not legitimately on the map in order to get Google’s Support team to review the listing.

Important: Only Google can remove the spam/fake listings. Google Business Profile (ex-Google My Business) listings all belong to Google and unfortunately, it’s at their discretion whether a listing remains on the map or not.

How to Report Spam and Fake listings in Google Maps

All the reports are sent anonymously, however, if you add a picture as proof for the reporting, it will appear in the profile with your Google Username. 

Step 1

Step 2

  • Press “Suggest an Edit”

Step 3

  • Depending on the type of spam select:
    1. “Change name or other details” – If the issue is with:
      • Business name 
      • Address 
      • Category
      • Phone number
      • Operating Hours
      • Website URL
    2.  “Close or remove”
      • Permanently Closed
      • Temporarily Closed
      • Never existed
      • Moved to a new location
      • Private Place or Home
      • Spam, fake or Offensive
      • Duplicate of another place
      • Legal Issue

3.1 – If you select the “Change name or other details”  you edit the field(s) with the correct information and press “Send”

3.2 – If you select the “Close or remove”, choose a reason from the drop-down list. If it’s “Duplicate of another place” a pop-up will appear to select the duplicate listing. 

Step 4 – Final Step

 Once you finished and submitted your edit, you will get an email from Google Maps to thank you for contributing:

What happens next

If your edit is approved, you will receive an email to advise that your edit has been accepted:

 However, if it doesn’t get approved, you do not get an email telling you this.  So it’s important to check your contributions tab on Google Maps to see if the status is pending, approved, or denied (“Not Applied”), follow the steps below:

How to Check Your Google Map Edits Contributions

  1. Go to https://www.google.com/maps/
  1. Press on the Menu button
  1. Press on “Your contributions”
  1. Press on the “Edits” tab

Go through the list to check your “Edits” status: pending, approved, or denied (“Not Applied”)

Most of the reports through the “Suggest an edit” tool are not accepted by Google AI but it’s good practice as it might go through and it may help your case when you use the redressal form (check below).

How to use Business Redressal Form to report Spam/Fake listings

The great thing about the Business Redressal Form is that a Human! from the compliance team at Google will review your submission.

 The Business Redressal Complaint Form is located here: https://support.google.com/business/contact/business_redressal_form

1st Section – “Your Information”

  1.  Full name –  Your own name or the email account’s name that you signed in with. Even if you are a representative of the business.
  1. Contact email address – Either your work email or a Gmail address, Google will use this to send your case ID 
  1. Name of the entity or organization that is getting impacted – Tricky question… but what they mean is “What is the name of Business being reported?’. So you put the name of the infractor if it’s one listing or “Multiple” if submitting more than one listing.

2nd Section – Malicious content (Phone number/URL/Address/Title)

  1. Identify the content on Google Maps that you claim might lead to fraudulent activity – You will have these options:
    1. Title – Business name spam
    2. Address – virtual offices, UPS stores, using another business’s location, private residence, doesn’t exist
    3.  Phone Number – fake numbers, lead gen schemes, the number belongs to another business
    4.  Website – malware types of sites, the website does not belong to that business or brand

Pro Tip: Get to know the  different types of spam on GMB by taking a look at “What are the most common types of spam/fake listing on Google?”

  1. What is the public URL for the location – You put here the Google Maps URL of the spam/fake listing.  Press “Add additional” to add more listings that you are reporting. However, if it’s more than 10 listings use a spreadsheet and upload using the next field.
  1. File upload (optional) – Reporting more than 10 listings? Use a spreadsheet with the links to each listing and upload it here by pressing “Choose file”. DO NOT upload here the evidence like photos or folders, however, it’s ok for you to add links in the spreadsheet for Google Drive folders where the evidence is saved.
  1. Please explain in detail why you believe the content on the above URLs is malicious to be on Google Maps. In this box is your chance to add evidence:
    1. Write in detail the issues as much you possibly can
    2. Reference specific Google Business Profile Guidelines broken or misused 
    3. Add here the link(s) to the evidence, I recommend using a Google Drive Folder for each listing. If you uploaded a spreadsheet with multiple listings, advise what evidence they will find in the attached spreadsheet. 
    4. Write about the impact on Customers and other businesses in the area. 
    5. You have 1000 characters, make them count! 
    6. Make it easy for Google Compliance Officers

And SUBMIT!

 Pro Tip: I recommend grouping together each type of issue, for example, all the Business Name spam as one submission, address spam as another submission, and so on. In this way may take more work but will increase your chances of succeeding. 

Google (My) Business Profile/Google Maps Spam and Fake Listings Guide FAQ

In this section, you will find a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Google (My) Business Profile Spam/Fake profiles.

What happens after I submit the Google (My) Business Profile Redressal Form?

GMB Business Redressal Complaint Form Email with Case ID Example

You will receive an email from Google with a case ID. However, you will not be able to speak with support about this case and you will not receive any email to advise if they took action or not. You will need to check if any action was taken to those profiles after 2-3 weeks.

Will I know the outcome of the Business Redressal Form submission?

No, they will not tell you. So after 4 weeks if the listing(s) is still live or no change was made, you should submit another Business Redressal Form. But first, check again the evidence and ask yourself “did I miss something?”, if you are happy with everything submit the form again.

Why should I send another Business Redressal Form?

As the review of the submission is checked by a human, means different people may think differently if your report has merit or not.

What is the timeframe for Google Staff to review my submission?

It will depend on the time of the year, but you should not expect less than 2 weeks. check after 2-3 weeks and If no action was taken by the 4th week, you should think about submitting another report.

How many times should I submit the Business Redressal Form before I admit defeat?

You can continue to report spam/fake profiles but not more than 3 times a year for the same listing(s).

How many times should I check my local area listings for Spam/fake listings?

At least once a month, ideal every 2-3 weeks.

What are Spam networks?

If you come across a large number of  listings using the same address and/or phone number,  you probably found a spam network. You should try to get information and report as many listings as you can. Tip: check the reviews and the reviewers on the listings as often they are in other similar listings or business categories.

What are the most affected business categories?

Most of the Spam listings are on “emergency” and “quick” services categories, like plumbers, locksmiths, garage door services, electricians or solicitors/lawyers and, understandably, more widespread in big cities than in small towns.

Does Spam Make It Harder To Deliver Good Rankings? What are Spam networks?

Google My Business Spam Poll Difficulty

Yes, a recent study by BrightLocal showed the majority of  professionals believe spam is making it more difficult for local businesses to achieve the top rankings: 
– 77% say Google My Business spam makes their job harder
– 32% saying it is much harder.

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