Google is suing an internet marketer for violating its terms of service and to prevent the defendant from causing further harm to Google as well as to business owners and consumers.
The person being sued was a member of a public Facebook group called, Arrangement and Rent – GMB’s strategy and domination.
The suit alleges that the company was misleading users, engaging in activities in violation of both federal and state laws, and in breach of its contract with Google as set forth in the Terms of Service.
There are three main schemes of which the defendants are accused:
(i) fraudulent verification of non-existent business profiles,
(ii) posting fake comments on business profiles, and
(iii) the sale of genuine business leads from unsuspecting clients seeking services from the companies listed in the Defendants’ fake business profiles. “
The two entities being sued are GMBEye and Rafadigital, which Google ties together as one company.
Rank and rent
Arranging and renting is a practice where someone creates a business website and associated business profile for the purpose of selling or renting leads from it to a business at a set price or selling the business profile and website.
This practice gained prominence around 2019.
Remarkably, demonstrating the level of credulity (lack of wisdom, experience or judgment) of those involved in rank and hire, practitioners run a public Facebook page in strategies of open discussion and selling advertisements for their websites and business profiles.
The lawsuit filed by Google includes a screenshot of a public Facebook group, with a description of the defendant who claims “Rent GMBs and sell GMBs“
The defendant was in the rank and rent of a facebook group stating that he Rents and sells Google Business Profileswhich is part of what is rank and rent.
Screenshot of the Rank and Rent Facebook Group posted to Google Lawsuit
The suit describes doing business:
Once the defendants have successfully verified these fictitious business profiles, they proceed to either sell the listing or modify the fake company information to make the business profile more desirable to potential buyers.
Defendants sometimes transfer control of fraudulently verified business profiles, which are updated to include unverified real-world business information, to buyers. “
Google Business Profile Verification Service
One of the services offered by the company was Business Profile verification services on Google, as well as promising top listings.
According to Google:
“GMBEye abounds with express and implied assurances that Defendants are able to bypass the verification procedures that Google requires of most merchants, as well as to ensure that a particular business’s listing is ‘at the top’ of Google search results – a misleading and false statement, no company or entity can guarantee such Placement by Google search algorithm.
Much of the defendants’ letters suggest that GMBEye has preferential access to Google or that it is uniquely positioned with respect to Google, allowing it to secure “privileged business listing verification” not available to those who verify their business through Google’s pro bono operations.
… GMBEye’s clients and potential customers likely include both legitimate merchants seeking to shortcut Google’s actions, as well as other fraudsters or bad actors abusing fake business listings; While the latter might quickly recognize GMBEye as a fellow impostor, the former might not.”
The lawsuit makes statements about the website’s messages indicating that they have a “proprietary process” for establishing trust with Google, allowing them to “fast-track the process.”
There are also descriptions of the unusual claims made by the defendant.
Further explanation on the GMBEye website boasts that defendants can even verify business with them [s]pammy names,” indicating that the service sidesteps Google’s measures to maintain accurate, high-quality business profiles.
Likewise, the defendants allege that “[m]ost verification methods cannot [sic] Deal with that because Google will suspend your listing but with our method you can sustain spamming GMBs helping you rank on Google in no time! “
Fake profiles and reviews at gmb
The lawsuit alleges that the defendant offers to improve Google Maps, “GMB” profile listings, and “encouraging comments.”
It also states that the company claims to be able to rank customers first, which is generally known in the search marketing industry as a red flag because no one is able to guarantee such a thing.
The defendants, according to the lawsuit, advertised themselves as lead generation specialists, which means increasing sales calls and contacts, and driving sales, to businesses, part of a practice known as rank and hire.
The suit says:
Rafadigital claims it can[g]et high converting leads directly to your phone “” for all industries[.]“”
Google describes the ranking and rental system
The lawsuit provides a description of how the defendants managed their scheme.
“… Defendants first create a fake business profile, generally accompanied by a fake website based on a simple form.
Defendants typically associate these fake businesses with Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) phone numbers whose area codes correspond to the supposed locations of the fake businesses.
Based on information and belief, the defendants have been linked to more than 350 fake Business Profile listings since mid-2021.”
How the defendants cheated the Google verification system
It was very easy to circumvent Google’s verification system.
The defendant appears to have made little effort to create photos and videos to prove that it was a real corporation, sometimes using the same instrument table, photographed from different angles, to prove that it was a corporation.
A video screenshot included in the lawsuit shows a photo of the individual Google says is “Allegedly linked to a non-existent chiropractor, Wilmington Chiro Health.“
This was used as part of the non-existent chiropractor verification process.
The lawsuit also releases photos provided by the defendant during the verification process of a company called Garage Door Repair of West Los Angeles.
This is the image Defendant provided to “mislead” Google into thinking it was an image of the work area.
Here is the image provided to Google for verification by the Pro Tree Service in Houston, Texas showing the exact same set of tools:
Google’s lawsuit provides another image used by the defendants to verify “AS Budget Plumbers, allegedly based in Davis, California, when the defendants contacted Google to verify that fake listing on March 29, 2022:”
Arrangement and Rent – Strategy & Domination Facebook Group GMB
The lawsuit filed by Google names a Facebook group named, Rank and Rent – GMB Strategy & Domination as a place the defendant used to sell business listings.
The lawsuit describes the process:
For example, Mr. Hu posted the offer below to sell a business listing in a Facebook group called “Arrangement & Rent – GMB Strategy & Domination,” claiming that his listing on “Plumbing GMB+ website” in Monterey, California received “about 40 calls and 5 applications.” In the previous month – probably a Monterey area resident who had been seeking help with a plumbing problem.
Mr. He — who in his GMBEye.com bio he admits to Rent GMBs” And “Sell GMBs“—Bought $1,000 for the business profile of this non-existent business.”
Fake google profile reviews
The defendant has also been accused of selling fake reviews that Google claims were outsourced to fake review service providers in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
According to the suit
To further the illusions of legitimacy and credibility of their fake listings, and as an added service to buyers, Defendants cause fake reviews to be posted in their fraudulent trade profiles and those transmitted to their clients.
… Based on information and belief, Defendants are linked to a network of over 350 fraudulent commercial profiles that include at least 14,000 fake reviews.
Almost all reviews have awarded five out of a possible five stars.
The majority of these reviews—including at least the 14,000 reviews mentioned above—were posted by representatives located in Bangladesh and Vietnam, a remote perimeter from the many purported US companies these accounts posted reviews of.”
Damages sought by Google
Google is suing the defendants involved in the arrangement and rent scheme for three times the amount of actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and advance judgment interest.
The Cornell Law School webpage describes what the interest of prejudices means:
“The interest which the creditor, usually the plaintiff in the case, is entitled to collect, derived from the amount of the judgment, and which compensates the creditor for the damage that occurred before the judgment.
… Another example is Short v. US, where the Federal Service granted the Yurok Indians the benefits of advance judgment for torts to recover the revenues from the timber harvest from which they were wrongly excluded. “
Google Terms of Service
Some people are unhappy about violating Google’s terms of service, naively believing that Google is not the law.
Some marketers naively take Google’s terms of service without the seriousness they deserve.
Google is suing Defendant for breach of contract for violating these Terms of Service for Google Maps and Google Profiles for Business.
What this lawsuit makes clear is that violating Google’s terms of service should not be taken lightly.
As evidenced by this lawsuit, Google has the right to enforce its Terms of Service in a court of law.
Read the text of Google’s lawsuit (PDF)
Featured image by Shutterstock / Tanya Antusenok