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Local Online Business Listing Hijacking: Protecting Your Identity

beard-jeff
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Local HijackerMany businesses, local search platforms, and social networks suffer from listings hijackers. Usually, listings hijackers are individuals that attempt to tamper with local business listings, repurposing those online identities for their own benefit. Many of their dubious hijacking methods can be compared to black hat SEO techniques.  

Some of these hijackers claim other local business’ organic listings that haven’t been claimed and authorized by a representative of the business itself, because they don't have physical locations, but could benefit from having one due to the business they generate from local markets. Others might hijack listings merely for the competitive advantage of replacing a competitor's online information with their own business name, address, and phone number (NAP) details.

These hijackers and spammers are creating havoc for legitimate local businesses, as well as the local search industry as a whole, because they negatively impact the sanctity of local business listing NAPs (and often categories).

Unfortunately, many local search platforms don't yet offer adequate solutions to stop listings hijackers because a solid verification and authorization process has not been put in place. Most sites aren’t able to verify that the individual claiming or modifying a listing is a true representative of that business.

How Big is the Problem? 

To shed some light, here are some statistics from the past 12 months:

  • In the Localeze database, unauthorized individuals have made more than 11,000 failed attempts to claim listings by changing the business name, phone number, and category within a listing (but not the address). 
  • Nearly 25 percent of unauthorized attempts originated from IP addresses outside the U.S.
  • Most of these individuals were trying to hijack listings by claiming the listing’s address and changing the category to a service-to-home category. This indicates that the hijackers were likely representatives of a business with no fixed location and/or with a network of mobile workers.

The categories most prone to listings hijackers are largely service-based businesses and include:

  • Locksmiths (a category which just received mainstream attention in The New York Times)
  • Plumbing Contractors 
  • Automobile Glass 
  • Computer Service & Repair 
  • Garage Doors & Openers Service and Repair  

A Real Life Example of Local Search Business Hijacking 

Some hijackers try to take advantage of local business listings outside of these categories by claiming listings from other categories and repurposing them as their own, to generate leads, for sale, for local businesses like plumbers or locksmiths. These individuals are essentially stealing listings illicitly, aggregating leads to build traffic and passing them on to local business customers.  

To illustrate the problem, we reviewed a case where an individual attempted to hijack a business listing in Dallas listed as a dental office. The would-be claimer tried to change the business name to “Royal Locksmiths” and replace the local phone number with a toll-free number. They also tried to change the business category from “Dental Offices” to “Locksmiths.”  

It was clear the individual trying to claim the listing was questionable. To confirm there was a dental office at the listed address, we called the local phone number in the organic listing and determined the office had been there for more than seven years.

We called the toll-free number submitted for “Royal Locksmiths” and asked when we could stop in to have a key made. Their reply: “We don’t have an office you can come to.”  

This is just one example highlighting the chaos that hijackers are creating across the local search business listings ecosystem.

What Should Businesses do to Protect Their Online Identities?

The majority of organic local business listings remain unclaimed and unprotected by an authorized business representative. This leaves those listing identities highly vulnerable to hijacking by spammers, squatters, and even competitors.  

To closely guard their online presence and protect their identities, businesses should always verify and claim listings on as many local search platforms and social sites as possible and/or partner with business listing management providers to ensure consistency, governance, and reach.  This includes managing listings over time and routinely checking to make sure local online NAP information is appearing correctly. Otherwise, online business listings could be tampered with and disseminated across the local search ecosystem, making it a major challenge for customers to find a local business in online or mobile search results.


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