Google says it's taking legal action against several US marketing firms for using its name in connection with SEO scams.
The companies are already in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for making misleading claims to victims about their supposed affiliation with Google.
The companies used robocalls to inform small businesses that, unless they return the call now, their listing on Google Search and Maps will imminently vanish or be labeled as "closed". The companies also try to cajole victims into paying for unwanted SEO services.
"We're taking legal action against Kydia Inc. d/b/a BeyondMenu, Point Break Media, LLC (and affiliated entities), and Supreme Marketing Group, Inc d/b/a Small Business Solutions," a real Google representative said in a blogpost.
"We hope this sends the message to other scammers out there that we will not hesitate to take legal action against them."
The FTC today published previously sealed court documents in its case against Point Break Media, LLC, and officers of several affiliated companies.
The court in early May granted the FTC's motion for a temporary restraining order, which bans the firms and its officers from falsely claiming an affiliation with Google.
It also prevents the firms from claiming a business is in danger of being marked permanently closed by Google or scrubbed from search results. The court also ordered a freeze on the defendants' assets.
The FTC's documents reveal various examples of the robocalls that victims received:
"Hi, this is Jennifer Taylor, data service provider for Google and Bing. This is an urgent message for the business owner. We have tried numerous times to contact you through mail and now by telephone regarding your Google listing webpage. This is your final notice. If you do not act soon, Google will label your business as permanently closed. Press one now to speak with me or another Google specialist.
"Did you know that 74 percent of your customers search online before making a purchase? If your Google listing is shut down, you will lose on all of those potential customers. It is critical that you, the business owner, take advantage of this rare opportunity to get ahead of your competition. Press one now to find out how to validate your free Google listing.
"This message applies to all business owners. If you are the business owner, press one now. Press two if this is not a business or you would like to be removed from our calling list."
Victims who press one are transferred to a call center with live sales agents who sell the 'Google claiming and verification' services and keywords, again lying about an affiliation with Google.
Some of the agents claimed they work for Google directly. One of the defendants even said their robocall came from 'Google Corporate'.
Presumably Google will be suing the defendants for using its name in a way that could damage its reputation.
According to the FTC, the companies charged SMB victims between $300 and $700 for the claiming and verification service. SEO services costs $950 with a monthly recurring $170 fee.
Google notes that recipients of calls from anyone claiming to be from Google should ask them to confirm this claim by requesting they send an email. Only Google will be able to send an email from an @google.com account.
Previous and related coverage
Google will not robocall you unless you specifically requested a call. While it's difficult to fight phone spam, we have some suggestions that may help make things a bit less annoying.
The Google Maps URL-sharing feature allows scammers to send victims to any site they choose.
Windows 10 security won't protect you from tech-support scammers' lies and trickery.
Google's olive branch to news publishers is about capturing ad dollars from a weakened Facebook as much as it is saving the media industry.