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Google Maps had more than 100,000 bogus businesses, researchers discovered
Google Maps should not trust everything they see within the ubiquitous navigation app, new research has shown.
Tens of thousands of fraudulent businesses are created on the app every month in an effort to push web traffic towards fraudulent online schemes, according to researchers at Google and the University of San Diego, California.
For example, a fraudster could list a locksmiths at a location on Google Maps where there are no business premises.
When a prospective customer calls the number listed in the bogus business listing on Google Maps, they are put through to a centralised call centre that hires unaccredited contractors to do jobs all over.
According to the research, the customer will often end-up being coerced into paying more than the original quoted price – and cannot visit the store to complain, since it does not exist outside the app.
Google supplied researchers with a number of bogus business listings to double-check
The researchers looked at more than 100,000 listings flagged by the Google Maps team as abusive between June 2014 and September 2015.
The group found that less than 1 per cent of all Google Maps listings are fraudulent.
However, there were a number of small pockets of fake businesses discovered during the research.
For example, in West Harrison, New York more than 80 per cent of the locksmiths listed were scams.
Overall, the United States was home to more than half of all fraudulent business listings, followed by India with 17.5 per cent.
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The researchers from Google and the University of San Diego presented the findings at he World Wide Web Conference in Perth, Australia, this week
The team presented their findings at the World Wide Web Conference in Perth, Australia, earlier this month.
Speaking about the findings, Michael Levi of Cardiff University told New Scientist, "People who need assistance can unfortunately be easily exploited.
"If you’re locked out of your house you won’t necessarily check all of the customer reviews – you just want to get inside."
Google minimises the abuse of its hugely-popular Maps app by mailing out verification postcards to locations people have claimed online.
Google has published the research paper
These postcards contain a unique code that users have to submit to Google before they are able to control the listing on Google Maps.
According to the study, fraudsters rent a post box in the local area to register the business and pick-up the Google postcard.
Google Maps allows businesses that have completed this initial verification process to change their address within the postcode area without further checks.
That allowed scam artists to relocate the bogus business from the post box to another nearby address on the map.
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Michael Levi added: "Clearly there is a balance to be struck between making it easy enough for legitimate businesses to use Google Maps, versus making it difficult for illegitimate businesses to exploit it."
Google has not revealed how many of these fraudulent cases are reported in total.
Researchers only examined listings that had been removed by Google after appearing online.
The US search company says that 85 per cent of all cases identified as fraudulent are caught by Google before the listings go live on the service.
Express.co.uk has approached Google for comment on this story.