Over the past two years ALOA has fielded the following complaint from frustrated locksmiths with increasing frequency: “The scammers have hijacked my listing and are stealing my calls. My call volume has dropped and no one will help me!” This complaint can evolve from a number of...
Over the past two years ALOA has fielded the following complaint from frustrated locksmiths with increasing frequency: “The scammers have hijacked my listing and are stealing my calls. My call volume has dropped and no one will help me!”
This complaint can evolve from a number of processes, some of which a locksmith can control, others that can only be reacted to through legal channels. The techniques and methods discussed in this article are not a replacement for legal action against an individual or organization who has infringed upon a registered trademarks or your business name. However, these first steps that we will discuss may reveal attacks on your business that you may not even be aware of that are affecting you right now.
Why is this happening?
The locksmith industry has always been prone to ‘sublime' attacks to gain an unfair advantage over competitors. Examples of this can be seen in outbreaks of ‘Stickers' that are affixed in mass to every door, mailbox and key slot that unscrupulous marketers can find. Many areas have outlawed this practice and will force the offending company to remove the stickers and clean up the residue left behind.
Another example of a ‘subtle' tactic that is generally accepted within the locksmith industry is the use of alphanumeric manipulation of company names in yellow page listings in order to appear higher up in the listings. There is nothing really illegal or unethical in this particular practice but it is an example of how names of companies and directory listings have always been intentionally manipulated to gain a competitive advantage.
The tactic of employing more than one business name in yellow page listings, often legitimately so because of purchase of multiple companies by one owner, has been around for many years. There is a pure mathematical advantage to having more than one listing. A customer simply picking a locksmith at random out of the phone book or other directory has a greater chance of picking a company with more than one listing. In fact, with all other variables equal, it doubles the chances of one company being picked over another.
Physical addresses where no shop exist:
Based on every survey ever conducted by ALOA, Clearstar and others, ‘mobile only' locksmiths make up a significant percentage of locksmiths (at least those participating in surveys). Using a home address in a directory listing is not only ill-advised but may even be dangerous or simply not permitted by zoning issues in your area. This has not been a significant problem for many years because the yellow pages didn't require a listing of an address to have a display ad or an in-line listing. We will discuss in a moment what factors have caused this to suddenly become a major practice and why.
What has changed?
There are really only two changes that have caused this major recent shift in our industry:
1. People: Smart but unscrupulous people have realized the profitability and the ‘holes in the armor' of the locksmith industry. These holes have allowed these unscrupulous people to manipulate the industry for maximum exposure in a very short period of time.
2. Technology: Changes in how information flows regarding business. Most notably is the increased usage of the internet and other ‘vertical' directories such as online yellow page type services. These online services use specific search patterns to find, sort and display results for locksmiths.
The business of changing people is an in exact science at best. It is appears that the people behind many of these exploits are unwilling to change their tactics and play on a level playing field with the rest of the industry. So the only option left is to step up our game and embrace the very technologies that are being manipulated against us. So the battle begins…
How it works.
Three main Internet search engines enjoy the vast majority of the market share: Google®, Yahoo® and the Microsoft® engine Bing®. Of these three engines, Google® enjoys nearly 70 percent of the entire market share. So 7 out of 10 times when a person goes on the Internet to search for something…they go to www.google.com. This article will focus on Google®, but the tactics we will describe here are important for other search engines and vertical directories as well.
Before you get started on these steps sign up for a Google® local account, you will only need an email address and password to get started.
Warning: Before you get started on this process, if you find that you have a Google listing with NO PHYSICAL ADDRESS and you don't intend or don't have a physical address in Google local directory, then DON'T proceed with these steps until you read this complete article. Pay particular attention to Step 13.
Step 1. Go to Google®: Launch your internet browser and type in www.Google.com to the browser address bar at the top. (See Figure 1)
Steps 2 & 3. In the search engine search bar, type in the name of your city and the name of your business. (See Figure 2)
When you click search you will likely be presented with a display similar to the display in Figure 3.
Step 4. This area is commonly referred to as the 10 Pack. It is a result of MANY factors. What we are interested in is finding YOUR listing. If you are in the 10 Pack, congratulations it is a good place to be. However what we want to do next is click the top title section that says, “Local business results for _________ Locksmith near Austin, TX.”
Step 5. The next page will display the ‘Local Business Results.' (See Figure 4) Look through these until you find YOUR business listing. You may wonder, “How did my information get into this directory?” Google® gets its local business information from a wide range of sources including database uploads from utility yellow pages, other internet directories and other ‘information vendors.' The fact that many locksmiths are not aware that they have a ‘Google® Ad' is one of the reasons that the scammers have been able to ‘capture' these ads without anyone knowing it.
If you don't see your ad on the first page, then click the bottom area of the page (Figure 5) to advance to the next page. If you are searching for YOUR company name and city location, you should appear on the first page or two. If you don't find your listing, it is possible that your information is NOT in the Google® directory and will require some different actions further in the process.
Step 6. Once you click your ad, you should see a more detailed listing for your ad. (Figure 6)
Step 7. On this detail screen look, at the upper left side of the screen and you will see one of two messages. One will say “Edit.” Tthe other may say “Add or edit your business.” If you or someone else has already ‘Claimed' the ad, it will normally only say ‘Edit'. If you have not found a true ad for your business, you can do so now by clicking ‘Add or edit your business.'. Either way, click that link. (Figure 7)
Step 8. The next screen will depend if you have already signed up for a Google® business center account. If you have not done so, do so now (Sign in). (Figure 8)
Step 9. Click create account now. (Figure 9)
Step 10. Fill in the information needed on the screen. You simply have to put your email address and a password. You may want to uncheck “Enable Web History” and “Make Google® default home page”. (Figure 10)
Step 11. Once you are signed into your account and have clicked your account, you will see the following screen. Select Edit this information. (Figure 11) and click continue (Figure 12).
Step 12. The next screen will allow you to make corrections to your listing such as correcting the address, name, phone number etc. (Figure 13). Don't put a fake address. In the next steps Google® will offer us some options to VERIFY that this is your ad and in some cases will force a ‘post card validation' which will not work with a fake address.
Warning: Google® will display the address that you put in this block. If you DON'T WISH TO DISPLAY YOUR HOME ADDRESS, you will need to make arrangements to have a business address to provide Google®. We know this is an issue for many mobile locksmiths…you don't want people showing up at your house for service! The reality is that Google® and just about every other directory is going to require you to enter an address to ‘claim' your listing.
Common Question: There are lots of ads that DON'T have an address (perhaps even your own ad) listed. Why do I have to list mine?
The simple answer is: You don't have to CLAIM your ad; you can leave it without the address but be aware that it is susceptible to being ‘taken' from you by the clever but unscrupulous people we discussed earlier.
This point is central to entire issue of scammers; the scammers don't mind using fake addresses. If you don't have a business address, one option would renting space in a business center (not Post Office Box). The drawback there is having a customer potentially showing up at the business center. However, this can be mitigated by including a message in your ad that says, “Mobile Only” or “Address for Mail Only.” This would also keep you in line with the ALOA Code of Ethics.
Step 13. Once you have corrected and filled out your information, click submit at the bottom of the page. (Figure 14)
Step 14. The next screen (Figure 15) is the validation screen. This is the most important step and you can mess this up if you aren't ready. It gives you two options. One is to verify by Phone and one is to verify by postcard. If you select the phone option, Google® will call you immediately (or in five minutes if you choose that option) on the phone number listed in the ad. If you use an answering service, they may not know how to react to this phone call…so call them and let them know what is going on BEFORE you click the button. On the phone call, Google® will give you a five-digit numerical code that will have to be entered onto the screen.
If you choose the post card option, Google® will send you a post card in about one to two weeks with a code number on it that you will have to enter into your account later to claim the ad.
If you have a shop or a suitable mail location, it is BETTER to take the post card option…why?
Google® could virtually eliminate the scammers from their directory by REQUIRING post card validation of any address in their system. This would prevent a company in New York for example from taking out thousands of fake ads in another city with fake addresses simply because they would have to go to those address and get the post card to get the code number!!! This has been formally suggested to Google® as a solution to their ‘locksmith' problem.
Step 15. Once you get your call or your post card, you can return to your Google® Account and select the Local Business Center (Figure 16).
Step 16. You will see the ad that you are trying to claim and a place to enter the pin number that you received by phone or mail. (See figure 17) Once you enter the pin number you will get a notification on the screen that you have successfully claimed the ad.
Step 17. After this is validation is done, you can simply go to your Local Business Center to make changes in the future. However, be aware that if you make a change to the telephone number or mailing address, it will require you to ‘Re-Validate' that information in many cases. (
Congratulations, you have just claimed your Google® local ad and helped deny scammers a revenue source based on your hard work and reputation!
If you have multiple locations or phone numbers you should repeat this process for any ads you have on the Google® Local Business Center.
Possible What If? Scenarios
Q. What if I find my ad but someone has already claimed it?
A. Google® has set up a report form at http://maps.Google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=maps_spam to help report spam abuse. You can easily find this page by typing “I found spam” into the Google® search engine; the page you are looking for is at the top of the page. The form is very self-explanatory and gives you a place to say, “Hey this is my business name and someone else is using it!” Sometimes these are resolved very quickly other times they are not.
However, some business names are SO common that no one can really claim it as their own. “A1 locksmith” is an extremely common name in many cities and variations to the name such as “A1 Lock and Key”, “A1 Safe and Lock” or “A1 Locks and Locksmiths” are going to be VERY hard names to defend and Google® is unlikely to delete any listings that are this common. Another similar variant that will be extremely hard to defend is a personal name and the word locksmith, such as John's Locksmith.
Q. What other sneaky things are the scammers doing to rip me off?
A. One of the most effective tactics used by scammers is to take out multiple listings of your business name from the phone company so they appear in Directory Assistance databases. These listings can appear in 411 for a year or longer before they show up in local phone books or even the Internet. The trick is to outnumber you in the directory assistance database so that when a customer calls 411 and asks for “AA1234 locksmith,” the directory assistance operator is presented with several phony ‘AA1234 locksmiths' of which only one is your true listings.
To combat this you have to call directory assistance from multiple mobile phones and your local land-line phone and specifically ask for your business name. Do this 10 times to ensure that you are always given you number. What you may find is that two out of 10 customers are given the scammer phone number. That could help explain a 20 percent reduction in sales over last year wouldn't it?
Q. I'm sick of these scammers. How can I help put an end to this nonsense once and for all?
A. They will continue to surface as long as there is money to be made. The best that we can do is work together with our associations, law enforcement, the legal system and educate the public about the scammers.
Many of us can certainly step up our marketing game but we need to build from a firm foundation. That foundation starts with the name of your business. If your business has a name that is not ‘trademark-able', meaning the legal system will not grant you a trademark on your name…a strong defendable name will make your company reputation harder to ‘tap into' by our clever adversaries.
Q. I have tried EVERYTHING but the scammers have taken all my ads and have taken out dozens of variants of my business name in 411. If something doesn't happen soon I will be out of business!
A. One locksmith who had variants of his name hidden in 411 experienced a $40K per month reduction in sales. This staggering loss was only resolved through formal legal action against the perpetrators. This process started with a consultation with an attorney, involved professional investigation, multiple subpoenas of third party phone companies, affidavits from customers who were deceived, numerous reports to state licensing agencies and ended in an agreement to transfer custody of the numbers (and several other stipulations). This process took approximately six months and about $25K in legal fees.
Q. I want to fight but I don't even know who I'm fighting against. Aall of the addresses are fake and the call center that answers won't give me any information. What do I do?
A. The scammers have developed a very sophisticated web of shell companies and camouflage. However there is a way to clearly identify who is doing this to you. It starts with visual proof (internet screen shot or saved text message from 411 or copy of yellow pages) and the phone number(s) of the offending party. The phone company providing the number is identifiable by using a site such as www.usaphonelookup.com this will tell you the phone company of origin.
One thing is certain, if you simply stand by and ignore how technology is affecting the industry or depend on others to fight for you…the only thing you will have to worry about is if the scammers are hiring.