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Council of Better Business Bureaus ®
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Council of Better Business Bureaus
Map Spamming: The Directory Scam 2.0
September 07, 2010

Recently, the BBB was contacted by a Dallas resident complaining that a locksmith company that advertised it was right down the street was not even in the same city.  In fact, the company, which advertised a fake name, was not even in the same state.

Attempting to locate the locksmith company, the consumer found that the advertised address down the street belonged to an unaffiliated engineering company.  It wasn’t until the consumer was billed that he thought to widen his search by 1,500 miles. The locksmith company was actually located in New Jersey.

This is “map spamming” and simply put, it is false advertising.
So, what is “map spamming?”

Map spamming is the evolved new version of directory spamming which involves the falsification of information within Web-based map directories.  The term describes the practice of dishonest advertisers using popular Web-based map directories, such as Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps, to create the false impression of a business’ local presence.

Directory spamming, map spamming’s predecessor, used physical directories like the yellow pages in the same manner.
How do they do it?

There are three general methods that spammers use to create the false impression that they are a local business:

1. The spammer uses another business’ address and hope that business  won’t notice.

2. The spammer makes up an address. The fictitious address may show up in an unexpected place on the map – for example, in the middle of a city park.

3. The spammer uses a series of P.O. Boxes which forward to the spammer’s  actual address.

Why do they do it?
In the new Web-based world, consumers have the ability to access information on-the-go like never before.  Consumers are much more likely to search for a business’ contact information using a PC or Web-enabled phone than a hard-to-carry-in-your-pocket yellow pages directory.

So, the directory scam has moved to the World Wide Web, a place with a name that even suggests global scale. Yet, there is still a large and dominant population of consumers who enjoy the thought of doing business with the local down-the-street merchant. This is the prime target for map spammers.

Despite the fact that map spamming can also increase a company’s SEO, the primary unfair advantage is achieved with the stockpiling of inbound business leads. And, it doesn’t take an MBA to figure out that more leads = more money.

Why it’s wrong:
It seems pretty obvious that lying is wrong. However, some businesses often argue that “if we do business in the area we claim to be in, why can’t we  advertise a physical presence?”  BBB standards address the issue in two ways.

First, the BBB Code of Advertising states, that “advertisements that are untrue, misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent… shall not be used.”
And more specifically, BBB online standards state that “online advertisers should use Internet technology to promote the customer’s knowledge of the products or services being offered and should not use technology to mislead customers.”

Essentially, it should be the consumer’s choice whether do business with a local company or an out-of-area company.  Any practice which would try to gain a marketplace advantage through false statements is prohibited by BBB standards. These standards are designed to protect both consumers and business competition.

Government Regulation:
This practice has also gained the attention of government regulators. In one example, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum sued Florist in Miami, Inc., a New Jersey company, for creating the false impression of 53 locations in Florida.

To file a complaint regarding map-spamming, contact your local BBB’s advertising review department.