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No, Google Didn't Call You to Sell You Anything

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In his novel, Damned, Chuck Palahniuk depicts the telemarketing industry as a business that is operated in the afterlife by condemned souls who call their targets at mealtimes to ask inane survey questions. This depiction plays on a sense that telemarketing calls are annoying, with an added suggestion that only people who are consigned to eternal damnation would perform a telemarketing job.

The telemarketing reality, however, is that the industry is robust and profitable, even though the products and services sold by telemarketers may not deliver the value that targeted purchasers are led to expect. Nowhere is this truer than in telemarketing sales of Google marketing services to businesses by companies that have no connection with Google.

Google's revenue exceeded US$67 billion in 2015 - and the company didn't make a penny of that using telemarketing. Phony Google telemarketers overstate their affiliation or relationship with Google to sell a service that a business usually doesn't need because they can likely get that service for free.

Less scrupulous callers use a variety of sales pitches to give unsuspecting business owners an impression that Google riches can be theirs; all they have to do is buy one of the services the caller is selling. It's just that easy.

Telemarketing and Robocalls

Google itself has filed a federal lawsuit to shut down one of the most egregious participants in this scam, but telemarketers continue to contact small business owners with offers to sell listings on Google My Business or Google Search pages. Businesses might also receive calls from self-proclaimed SEO experts who guarantee placement of a business listing at the top of search page results.

Google might contact a small business to verify information, but it will not offer to sell services or request payment for inclusion on any page listings, nor will it guarantee top placement in any search results. Carlton Smith of Flagstone Search Marketing puts it quite plainly:

• Google does not, ever, place robocalls.
• Google does not, ever, ask someone to "update your listing on the front page."
• Google does not, ever, ask someone to "claim your free website."
• Google does not, ever, charge someone to be included in Google Search or Places.

Google also does not make calls to offer free websites or to offer businesses an opportunity to update their front page listings. If a business has any questions about the legitimacy of a Google-related call, it can refer to the company's support information page or report the call to the Federal Trade Commission's Robocalls resource site.

Google Lotteries

Google does not run contests or lotteries, but individuals and businesses alike receive almost daily emails and occasional phone calls congratulating them on their good fortune of having won Google Lotto. The emails and calls ask the recipients to provide personal information and to pay a fee to release the prize funds. This is nothing more than a variation on the "Nigerian Prince" and foreign lottery scams that have plagued the internet since its inception.

Businesses should instruct their employees never to respond to these emails or calls and to delete them without opening any attachments that may have been sent to them.

Deletion of Google Business Listings

Disreputable telemarketers will seek to grab a business owner's attention with claims that the business will be deleted from Google Places or Google Plus local business listings. The callers might request payment for inclusion of the business on Google Maps. Google does not charge a fee to show a business on a Google Map, and it has consolidated its Places and plus listings under its Google My Business portal, which offers basic business listings for free. A business that receives an invoice for a Google service or that is solicited for payment of fees for a Google service should first confirm the legitimacy of the offer.

Miscellaneous Google-Themed Scams

Some businesses have become victims of phishing scams, in which they received emails and calls telling them that their Gmail accounts have been compromised and then divulged sensitive information to reactivate the accounts. Others have been targeted with Google Wallet claims (previously known as "Google Checkout"), where they have received invoices that appear to come from a Google Wallet account.

A business's employees can be trained to spot a Wallet scam. Every legitimate Google Wallet transaction requires a party to sign into a Google account and it only uses Google's Wallet interface to complete a transaction. Google does not operate its payment services with bank wire transfers or other electronic payment systems.

Small businesses are the targets and victims of telemarketing and other scams because they do not have the manpower or resources to erect barriers against them. A busy employee will often approve payment of a small invoice or provide information to a cold caller simply to get the caller off the line and to get back to the business at hand. Increasing employee awareness of the universe of scams is the first step toward avoiding victimization by a scam.

Businesses that have lost money to these telemarketing and other scams will have a greater appreciation for the depiction of telemarketers as condemned souls in the afterlife. Google and other companies provide information and resources that a business can use to keep those souls from their front doors. The telemarketing calls and scams will not stop, but a business can prevent or limit the damage these calls can cause.

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