Did you know that Google has formed an alliance with scammers to steal our money? While they won’t admit to it, it’s essentially what happens because of the design of its Google search engine and its policy of taking payments to deceive. Google has been called out for it many times over the years, but has done nothing to address the problem.
The scam works like this: When we google to find a phone number for a business, invariably the top result is not that business and not the correct phone number, but usually a company trying to make us think it is. These companies pay Google to be among the top results. And rarely is the top result the number we are looking for.
These paid search results that used to be separated off to the side on a tinted background, but now they are only distinguishable from the correct results with a tiny “Sponsored” notation. And based on my testing and a recent news article, Google makes no effort to check the accuracy of these numbers. In other words, if a company pays them enough, they will purposely deceive.
Companies that we do business with also contribute to the problem by making it difficult to find their real phone number; they don’t want us to reach them when we need help. As a result, we are driven to Google in an attempt to find theit number.
It’s easy to fall victim, especially if you have an urgent need. I’ve done it and know many others that are deceived. We’re anxious to get help and look for the first number that pops up.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, we learned how a Delta passenger was desperately trying to reach the airline when his flight was canceled and the airline counter had long lines. He googled the Delta customer service number and reached a person trying to get his credit card number to sell him a flight at five times the cost:
He dialed the first phone number the search engine listed. The automated voice at the number Evers called claimed to be a central customer service desk for multiple airlines, although Delta’s name was never explicitly mentioned. That was the first sign something wasn’t right.
Evers had accidentally called a number added to Google by potential scammers in place of the actual Delta customer service number. Like other consumers in recent years, he didn’t know that search results can be manipulated by scammers. It’s called “malvertising.”
While Google responded by correcting some of the wrong numbers that the writer found, this scam has been going on for years. I just did my own quick test and here’s what I found:
I googled “Apple Tech Support” and the top two results were other companies. The second company has a headline “Contact Here. -Apple Customer Service.”
The correct phone number is in the third result, but note that Apple has to pay for that position even though it is the only real Apple Tech Support. Other listings may provide tech support for Apple products, but they are not “Apple Customer Service” and Google should know better.
Many of us that do a lot of traveling are purposely misdirected from businesses that attempt to confuse us. Ever try to find a website for a hotel or rental car? You’ll usually need to wade through a myriad of websites that attempt to get grab our attention before finding the true home site. Sure, we can be more careful and use the airline or rental car apps to find the phone number, but that only works when the businessed want to make that number easy to find.
Google search’s original model was to provide the most accurate search results first, but no longer. I’d describe their current model as
“Providing accurate search results …maybe on the first page, but rarely at the top. That space is reserved for the highest bidder, even though it may be wrong or even a spam site designed to fool our users.”
So much for their original slogan, “Do no evil.”