Google has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Ethan QiQi Hu and his company, Rafadigital, accusing him of creating 350 fraudulent business profiles and 14,000 fake reviews for an alleged business verification service for Google services.
The tech giant said it has already removed allegedly false content from its services, but is taking legal action to prevent similar content in the future.
“Our lawsuit targets a bad actor who waged a coordinated campaign to deceive consumers and business owners by fraudulently attempting to manipulate our small business services,” a Google ad alleges.
“As our lawsuit shows, this bad actor posted over 350 fraudulent messages Company Profiles and tried to bolster them with over 14,000 fake reviews. He then attempted to sell information about consumers who had been lured by such false claims.”
“While we have detected and removed this misleading content, we are taking proactive legal action to prevent this bad actor from scamming other platforms and to protect our users.”
In 2022, Google claims to have detected more than 20,000,000 attempts to create fake business profiles, illustrating the scale of a problem that the FTC says is costing the average American internet user. $125 per year.
Google Business Verification
Business Profiles on Google are listings of businesses that appear across Google services, including Search, Maps and YouTube, giving users a quick overview of a business and its reputation.
These listings contain the main address, phone number, and hours of operation of the business, include customer reviews, and may also feature images of the owner or visiting customers.
According to the lawsuit Google filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern California, Hu and the companies GMBeye and Rafadigital allegedly implemented an elaborate scheme to manipulate business listings on Google in order to mislead consumers to profit-making purposes.
“Over the past two years, […] defendants misused Google products to create fake online listings for businesses that don’t exist and to bolster them with fake reviews from people who don’t exist,” it reads. the complaint.
“[The] Defendants are selling these listings, along with the confused consumer inquiries that are attracted to them, to individuals and entities seeking to promote their businesses on Google platforms.”
“Defendants also mislead these small business owners, making unsubstantiated and impossible claims about their ability to secure a favorable position in Google’s search results and implying preferential treatment or access over certain Google processes. .”
In short, Google alleges that Hu and his team created fake businesses on Google, boosted them with bogus reviews, and convinced small business owners to buy those profiles for $1,000 and request a name change. in the hope of enjoying a higher position in Google search. results.
Hu allegedly used various business-relevant props during the verification call with Google agents to verify these fake business profiles, convincing them they were talking to the small business owner in the reported industry.
Additionally, Google claims that the GMBeye website was promoting Google Business verification services which supposedly circumvent Google’s standard procedures and even promise the ability to place any business at the top of Google Map searches. .
“Rafadigital’s ad makes dramatic and unrealizable promises, such as that defendants will ensure a website ‘appears #1 on Google’ and that “[w]We rank your business on Google My Business (GMB) to be #1 in map searches so you can outperform your local competitors,” the Google lawsuit reads.
Google asks the court to bar the defendants from advertising or selling business verification services or creating fake profiles and asks the jury to decide whether to award the appropriate compensation for damages.