The New York Times recently published the results of an investigation into a growing problem in the world of Google ads. In a classic bait and switch scheme, scammers place their ads citing fake locations that make them appear to be local businesses on Google’s search pages. In fact they are call centers that could be anywhere.

They offer rock-bottom deals, only to send out poorly trained subcontractors whose main objective is to squeeze unsuspecting consumers for cash (billing for well above the quoted price, insisting on the necessity of additional services, and other bilking strategies).

Although The Times investigation is focused on the locksmith industry, there are implications here for many small businesses across the spectrum, including garage door repair, carpet cleaning, and home security companies. Here are some main takeaways from the article:

  • According to the Consumer Federation of America, this classic bait and switch scam is among the fastest-growing sources of consumer complaints.
  • Not only do the scams impact those consumers who end up paying good money for shoddy or nonexistent services, but also it’s affecting the bottom line of legitimate businesses. One locksmith business owner in the Washington area was quoted as saying that revenue for legit local businesses is down 30 to 40 percent.
  • Google says its working on a solution aimed at identifying and removing the listings of scammers, but hasn’t been successful yet. In fact, after years of trying, Google has yet to find an algorithm to prevent this.

Read The Times story (registration may be required): Fake Online Locksmiths May Be Out to Pick Your Pocket, Too