Google has sued a Columbus business in federal court alleging that the company has been impersonating Google to target and defraud small businesses.
Google charges that the company, referred to in documents filed in federal court in Columbus as G Verifier, has been attempting to charge business owners to verify and set up their business profiles, services that Google offers for free.
Google seeks a court order that would stop G Verifier from continuing what Google called fraudulent behavior.
Google claims it has suffered damages of at least $50,000, and that G Verifier's conduct continues to harm Google and consumers.
"Today we are filing a lawsuit against scammers who sought to defraud hundreds of small businesses by impersonating Google through telemarketing calls," two Google executives said in a blogpost posted Tuesday. "They also created websites advertising the purchase of fake reviews, both positive and negative, to manipulate reviews of Business Profiles on Google Search and Maps. This practice exploits entrepreneurs and small businesses — and it violates our policies on deceptive content.
"Often, online scams are simply age-old tricks cloaked in new tools. That’s the case in this suit against a group of individuals who tried to charge people for Business Profiles — a service we provide for free," the company said.
G Verifier could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit lists the company as having an office on East Gay Street Downtown that showed no signs of being occupied on Tuesday.
The principals behind G Verifier and its multiple affiliates were identified in the case as Kaushal Patel, Bharat Parekh and Shri Hari. They could not be reached for comment.
A business profile is a Google tool that allows business owners to take charge of the way their business appears on Google search and maps. Over the past year, Google says it stopped 12 million attempts to create fake business profiles and nearly 8 million attempts to claim business profiles that didn’t belong to them.
For years, Google has offered tools that help businesses claim and manage their profile on Google. To claim the profile, business owners or their authorized representative must verify that they are the owner and are authorized to make edits to the business profile. The service is offered at no cost.
Google charges in the lawsuit that G Verifier regularly places unsolicited telephone market calls to business profile owners, primarily small businesses, throughout the U.S. and Canada, falsely telling them they must pay a fee for business profiles.
G Verifier also falsely tells business owners that it can get them listed among the top results of a Google search for money, the lawsuit says. Google says no service can guarantee such a result.
G Verifier demands a payment, typically $99, to verify a business profile, according to the lawsuit. The payment also ensures that the profile would not be deactivated or damaged in some way.
G Verifier's agents mispresented that they are Google employees or are calling on Google's behalf, the lawsuit alleges.
Google says hundreds of merchants have contacted Google to complain about G Verifier's scheme. Many don't realize that they had been scammed until they paid G Verifier, the complaint says.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Google says Columbus company has cheated small businesses