Google Goes After Fraudster Creating Fake Businesses Backed by False Reviews; Here's More About it

Google Goes After Fraudster Creating Fake Businesses Backed by False Reviews; Here's More About it
Image Source: SOPA Images/Getty Images

Google is the go-to search engine for almost every internet user and the answers, recommendations as well as resources provided by it are considered highly credible. But, in a recent legal action, Google has gone after an alleged scammer, Ethan Hu, for orchestrating a scheme designed to inundate its search product with fabricated businesses and counterfeit reviews.

Image Source: SOPA Images/Getty Images
Image Source: SOPA Images/Getty Images

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According to the complaint filed, Google asserts that Hu exploited the company's products to list fake businesses online, devoid of any real existence, and further embellished them with counterfeit reviews posted by fictitious individuals. Once this network of fake businesses and reviewers was established, Hu, along with 20 unnamed co-accused, purportedly peddled these fraudulent listings to other businesses seeking to enhance their visibility in Google's search results.

Over the past two years, Google claims that the defendants were responsible for fabricating more than 350 business profiles, which amassed more than 14,000 false reviews. While Google's platform allows for the automatic creation of listings for legitimate businesses, business owners can also establish them by initiating a verification process through a postcard sent to their physical address or by verifying their authenticity through a voice or video call with a Google representative.

In its lawsuit, Google alleges that the defendants pretended to be business proprietors during these calls, using sophisticated props to present their counterfeit listings as genuine small businesses.

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Image Source: Chadchai/Getty Images
Image Source: Chadchai/Getty Images

 

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In one particular instance detailed by Google, the company identified a photograph believed to be of Hu participating in one of these calls. During this interaction, which occurred in June 2021, Hu purportedly assumed the identity of an affiliate of a fake chiropractic clinic called Wilmington Chiro Health. In March 2022, Hu reportedly showed a tool bench to a Google employee as a means to substantiate the existence of "Western Los Angeles Garage Door Repair," before using it to validate two other businesses located in different regions of the country later that same month. Google also pointed out that Hu arranged an array of essential oils and a massage chair to prove the existence of an aromatherapy and reiki business.

Image Source: Krongkaew/Getty Images
Image Source: Krongkaew/Getty Images

 

According to Google, Hu proceeded to market these counterfeit listings for rent or sale on Facebook pages. For example, he allegedly requested $1,000 from potential buyers for access to a fictitious plumbing listing in Monterey, California. This fake listing had received approximately "40 calls and 5 form submissions" in the preceding month, presumably from local individuals seeking plumbing services. Callers would be directed through this sham listing to a legitimate plumbing business with a less sophisticated online presence.

Google has taken legal action with the objective of obtaining compensation for damages incurred and securing a permanent prohibition against Hu and his co-defendants engaging in the advertisement or sale of fraudulent verification services.

Image Source: boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images
Image Source: boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

 

This lawsuit emerges in the context of Google's ongoing efforts to fend off competition from new entrants like AI-assisted Bing and ChatGPT services, while also mitigating potential risks associated with the proliferation of low-quality AI-generated search results. Renny Hwang, Google's head of litigation, emphasized the importance of trust in the company's search results in a blog post, adding that people lose trust in Google if their money is siphoned off using listings on Google.

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