When you need something fixed but don’t know how to go about it, what’s the first thing you do? Like most you probably Google it.
Due to Google’s massive database and global reach, it has become the best friend of all of us when it comes to searching for information.
However, are you sure that everything you find is true and legitimate?
For many years, rogue locksmiths have taken advantage of the search engine’s popularity to scam unsuspecting customers…and it's getting worse. It’s easy to create a website that looks legitimate.
Recently these types of incidents have started rising.
Scammers & conmen looking to make money pose as the most knowledgeable and affordable locksmiths offering their services at around £49, which is about half the usual price. These people take advantage of the urgency of the situation and lure customers in by paying huge amounts of money for advertising putting them in the number one position in the search results, above all the legitimate locksmiths. A quick Google search and it’s almost guaranteed the top 3 will be these types of companies.
For many years I used Google Adwords as a form of advertising as it was a very good way to ensure people searching saw my services.
On the other hand, flustered homeowners whose only goal is to get back into their property instinctively choose the first option they see without checking who they’ve hired or where they are from. The advert might state a low price of £39 to open your door…and there’s the bait. Once the fake locksmiths are hired, their “clients” are slowly intimidated and tricked into paying large amounts of money unnecessarily, sometimes upwards of £600 or £700. All manner of lies will be told…your lock is high security and cannot be picked and so will have to be drilled. The ultimate aim is to create as much work for themselves as they can, and then sell you replacement parts for as much as they can…parts that are often absolute rubbish.
This in turn pays for the high cost of the Google advertising and so the cycle goes on. This method helps them earn a lot more than they usually would. I’ve seen the results of their work many many times and heard stories of people being ripped off to the tune of £700 for a job that should have cost £150!
In my opinion the blame should not only fall on the rogue locksmiths but also on the platform that enables them to advertise and carry out these scams.
The adverts that appear on Google are based on who can pay the most. It’s a bidding process rather like an auction. For example I used to pay approx £5 per click. That’s to say that every time someone clicked on my advert I paid £5 to Google. Now granted not every click resulted in a job but overall I was in profit. Then I started to notice that my bids were too low to reach the number 1 position and so I had to increase it. It got to the stage where I was bidding £30 and more to reach that golden top spot…because no one ever called you if you were number 2 or lower. I noticed that those who were outbidding me with bids of £30, £35 and upwards were those that were advertising a charge of £39 to attend a lockout. How could they do that as after the advert cost it left them with between £4 and £9 profit? Then higher and higher the amounts went and I was literally stopped from advertising as I couldn’t compete. Each time my advert was ‘live’ I would receive a huge number of clicks, effectively using up my daily budget of £50. Once your budget is used up your advert stops appearing for that day. Some days I would get home and notice Google had taken £50 or more from my account but I would have had no calls from these adverts. The scammers were ‘clicking me out’. Once my ad stopped appearing it would ensure theirs would rise to the top again.
I complained to Google about these ‘rogue clicks’ who would occasionally offer me a few pounds refund here and there but basically said ‘there’s nothing we can do and I should keep advertising as whoever was doing it would get bored eventually!’
I think I would have been bankrupted before they got bored and I felt that Google wasn’t taking it seriously at all. Why would they? After all they were suddenly making a small fortune! Instead of making the odd £5 here and there from me they were making 6 or 7 times that with each and every click…so effectively taking a share of the money the scammers had scammed from people.
Before a business is allowed to participate in the bidding, its legitimacy is checked. In my case it involved my satisfying Google by putting prices on my website and a checkable address…not that they ever checked it. Nor did they ever check my prices were legit.
Therein lies the problem. They claim to have processes in place to stop these kinds of behaviours but no way of policing or checking the information provided is genuine. The fact that these kinds of advertisements are able to constantly sit at the top proves this.
Is Google doing anything about this issue?
I’ve seen nothing to suggest they are. As I said they never took my complaints seriously and not once has my Google account manager ever called me back to ask why I stopped advertising after numerous years. Guess they’re too busy counting the cash?
Google has received countless criticisms over the years about the ‘bidding system.’ This system that allows only the wealthiest to be at the top is flawed and open to great abuse.
That they allow questionable companies to be placed in the top position in exchange for the large amounts of money they bid for that position smells even more. Some could argue that Google has assisted these companies in their actions, positively flourish this last year.
Over the years Google has announced various changes such as forcing those companies to provide verified addresses etc. I personally have seen none of those changes have any effect. This year I have seen so many different websites, hundreds in fact, and all probably operated by a small number of people. It has got much much worse.
So where do you go? Who would you complain to?
I can’t answer that as I simply don’t know. Whilst lots of money is involved my guess is it will continue for some time yet. All we can do as consumers is be aware of it and do our very best not to get caught by these types of scams. Easier said than done sometimes I know but…
All I can personally do is keep promoting my business reviews and hope that any potential new customers carry out ‘due diligence’ and research thoroughly before they employ the services of anyone.