My friend Miriam Ellis, recently posted a great warning about how to avoid Google Places scams. So I wanted to share her warning and insights.

Then below Miriam’s post is a Google Places extortion scam nightmare I just finished helping one of my SEO training/consulting clients deal with.

Charlatan’s Web – Identify Local SEO Scammers Before They Bite You

Let’s muck out the barnyard together. Want to get my goat? Then find yourself a trusting small business owner, misguide him, take his money and proceed to trash his Local web presence, and yes, I’ll get madder than a wet hen. As the importance of Local Search grows by leaps and bounds, what a tangled web is being woven by charlatans who are making a living off of local business owners who lack education about the rules of the game and are, thus, very vulnerable sitting ducks!

My client’s $1200 Google Places Extortion Scam Nightmare

I sometimes train SEO companies on advanced Google Places optimization and then coach/mentor them on tough cases. I passed the following lead on to one of my mentees to work on. I warned him it was such a complicated case he should just pass on it. But he was up for the challenge and thought it would be a great learning experience, because there were so many unique problems. However it turned out to be so complicated I had to jump in and help.

WORD TO THE WISE – DO NOT LET A MARKETING COMPANY OR SEO CREATE A PLACE PAGE IN THEIR OWN GOOGLE ACCOUNT – BE SURE THEY SET IT UP IN YOURS.

Long story short, the business owner hired a local SEO. When he tried to cancel the service after about a year, the SEO held his Place page hostage and said “if you ever stop paying me the $200 per month, I’ll ruin your rankings, sell your Place page to a competitor and I’ll get you in trouble with Google”. The scammer’s Place page was of course filled with spam and violations including the worst – city added to biz name.

So then the client hired another local SEO that said he knew how to steal his Place page back. The 2nd SEO also created a listing in his own Google account. That listing was filled with spam PLUS he was unable to steal the account back from the 1st SEO.

So THEN the CLIENT created a Place page himself, which promptly got suspended. (So now there were 3 problem Places pages in 3 different Google accounts.)

So what did the company do next? He came to me to unravel the mess! I told him not to do ANYTHING – that I would call the 1st SEO and get his account back, with threats of outing him on the Google forum and reporting to Google if I had to. Client agreed to sit tight.

The next day before I could even call the scamming extortionist the client out of desperation to just finally end this nightmare had called the SEO and negotiated a fee of $1200 to buy back the account. (Note: I was not even going to use this account I was afraid of all the violations – I was just going to strip it so all the violations didn’t merge with the new account, then nuke it.)

So I get the log in to the scammer SEO’s account and guess what? The second I look at the account I can tell it’s in PURGATORY. Dead. Useless. Never to be revived. The client, against my recommendation paid $1200 for an account that was beyond rejected, beyond suspended – totally banned.

Next client was able to get access to the 2nd SEO’s Place page. So I changed password and stripped out all the violations there. But the whole thing is still a mess and we are charging him extra for all the extra accounts and problems we have to unravel and fix, including his suspended listing.

So I echo what Miriam said – get a PRO to do your listing, but be sure it’s an ETHICAL PRO that won’t create long term harm and cost you more money in the long run.

You get what you pay for and with Google Places – it pays to do things right!