Thursday, August 22, 2013

The GoogleDirectory scam

As business owners, we are constantly on alert for scams, and we've seen a few. We've received invoices for advertising that we never orders (which we haven't paid), we've had faxes offering us cheap listings in publications that probably don't exist (those go straight in the bin), and we check that every advertisement that we place actually appears.

We haven't yet had an approach from GoogleDirectory, but they will get the same treatment if they do call. The Herald has gone big on this scam in the last couple of days; check this out:

A former staffer of a New Zealand company allegedly claiming false links to internet giant Google says she was forced to make at least 100 cold calls a day to sell advertising to unsuspecting businesses.
Solly Mamea also claims she was never paid for her stint at GoogleDirectory, and became suspicious of her employer when she was told to change the name of the company when speaking to potential customers.
Both police and Google are investigating Auckland-based company GoogleDirectory, which launched last month and lists more than 100,000 businesses and state agencies across New Zealand.
The company is in no way connected to Google.
The company promotes itself as a new online marketing tool and offers special internet advertisement packages which cost between $200 and $15,000. It promises to advertise customer's businesses on the GoogleDirectory website, as well as other international sites.
The Herald has been contacted by a number of business owners who paid money to GoogleDirectory for advertising, believing they were dealing with Google. They say that aside from being listed on the directory's website, they have had no other advertising from the company.
Company director Simon McLeod went to ground after the Herald approached him. He initially said he would answer questions about GoogleDirectory by email, but has not responded, answered his phone or returned calls since.

Now it's great that the Herald is on to this pack of scammers and its dodgy boss. But there's just one problem; they are about three weeks too slow.

Whatever you might say about Cameron Slater at Whaleoil, he breaks some interesting stories. And yesterday, under the heading Front page of the Herald, 3 weeks behind WOBH he blogged:

I see the Herald has run a front-page story about the dodgy ratbags passing themselves off as Google, a story we covered 3 weeks ago on July 26.

Slater then outlines the series of posts he ran about GoogleDirectory, Simon McLeod, and a series of shell companies providing a trail that leads to a former Auckland solicitor. We say "former" because the man was struck off by the Law Society after being convicted for his role in a property scam. All the details are in the links that follow:

I wonder if people realised they’d been tucked after a series of posts we ran on July 26.
Anyone from Google NZ want to look into this scam?
The Disinfenctant of daylight (GoogleDirectories Part II)
The Shell Company Game (GoogleDirectories Part III)
Simon McLeod didn’t take kindly to those articles, he phoned at the time and abused and threatened me…I know, hilarious really…I’m still waiting for the lawyers letters he threatened.

This was an excellent expose from Cameron Slater. It's pleasing that the Herald has taken it to a mainstream audience, but it is disappointing although unsurprising that the Herald hasn't given Slater any kudos.

But Slater's piece clearly resonated with someone, because this was tucked at the foot of yesterday's Herald story that "broke" this scam. The emphasis below is ours:

Trade Me - which listed jobs for GoogleDirectory under an agency called You'll Love This - has removed several job listings for the company.
Trade Me's head of trust and safety, Jon Duffy, said the listings were removed about three weeks ago following investigations to determine whether You'll Love This was linked to another membership that had been banned from the site.
"If we have concerns around the integrity of advertisers, we retain the discretion to remove them," he said.

Goodness; we wonder what prompted TradeMe to act. It's odd that none of the Herald's "decent journalists, trained and skilled" asked TradeMe that question. 

Or maybe they did, and just couldn't bear to publish the response. Smarten up Granny Herald.

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