Online Marketing Scams: No One Likes Them, and No One Wants to Fall Victim to One of Them
Scammers target people and businesses every single day. From romance scams to fraudulent websites, it’s happening constantly. As individuals, we know to scrutinize and verify others who are asking for our personal information. But, how do you protect your business from highly damaging marketing scams when they seem authoritative and real?
By understanding how they work and how to avoid them, you can protect your business from these common types of marketing scams that we’ve seen businesses suffer from most. If you believe you have fallen victim of an online marketing scam, be sure to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) right away.
The Google Phone Call Scam
Have you received a phone call from Google recently and offered paid listings on Google My Business (formerly Google Local) or SEO support services? If you receive a phone call from Google you were not expecting, that phone call is a scam. Google will never, ever call you unexpectedly.
Unless you requested to speak to a person at one of Google’s customer service lines, Google will never call you. And this goes for all Google-related services as well.
As a business owner, you can initiate a phone call by going through Google’s online support system and either schedule a specific time for the call to take place or you call the line directly. If you get a real phone call from Google, you will know it’s coming.
Google representatives are very good about identifying themselves when you speak to them. They will give you their name and which of their branded services they are supporting. If you speak to someone who claims to be a “Google problem solver” or “business management,” they probably don’t work for Google.
Google also doesn’t charge for their My Business or SEO support services. It is illegal for a mega-tech company like Google to provide online marketing services that they would have a clear competitive advantage over digital marketing agencies.
How to Identify a Google Phone Call Scam
Identifying legitimate calls from Google is pretty cut-and-dry. Google does not make unsolicited sales calls from an automated system, but they may place automated phone calls to your business for non-sales tasks such as making reservations or confirming business hours.
You may also receive calls from Google operators for the purposes of development, customer service, or support related to Google services you use; however, Google will never ask you for payment information over the phone or guarantee you favorable placement in their products or services. They will also never text you or email you with information that you must reply to.
Again, the only exception is if you had called one of Google’s customer service lines and the customer support person specifically told you to send them specific information to help resolve a problem that you are having with their product or service. For more information, see Google’s official statement regarding the reported Google phone call scams.
Domain Name Renewal Scam
Many scams revolve around domain renewal. The most common domain scam is called domain slamming. The scammer’s goal is to trick you into involuntarily switching domain registration companies or give up sensitive payment information. The scammer sends you a notice via email, mail, or they call your business.
This scam is effective because it specifically sites your business and domain name to pressure you into “renewing” your domain name as it “expires soon.” This notice will seem official; it usually includes your correct domain name, your business name, and even your own name.
The problem is the company sending you this fake notice isn’t the company your domain is registered through. The scammers likely found your domain on a site like Whois.com (a site that has a list of contact information along with domain registration details). This information is available to the public, making it a very common marketing scam.
How to Identify a Domain Name Renewal Scam
There are several ways you can check to see if the email is real or a scam. Some of the best common ways to identify whether the domain renewal is legit or a scam are:
- If you identify the sender’s email, mailing address, or telephone number and it is not associated with your provider then it’s not valid. In addition, domain scam senders often have strange addresses, misspelled or unusual email addresses, or hijacked accounts that identify them as scams.
- Multiple links in the body of an email are often indicators of a scam. Malicious emails can be loaded with links to viruses or phishing scams which can jeopardize company information. Avoid clicking links within the body of an email you think is suspicious.
- Verify the sender of the email and check with your domain provider yourself either by phone or email before taking any action. Be sure to use your provider’s official contact information and not any that is suspect from the notice. If your domain provider is surprised to hear about this suspicious email, you know the email is an online marketing scam.
SEO Snake Oil Scam
Before we scare you away from search engine optimization (SEO) as a whole, there are a lot of good people working very hard to get clients real results using SEO. In fact, search engine optimization is an important part of digital marketing and lead generation.
But, there’s always a business out there ready to take advantage of business owners to make a quick buck. Unfortunately, that is the only thing online scammers – and really all scammers – are after.
SEO scammers will generally call or email you to tell you that your website is ranking poorly and that they can guarantee better rankings. They may even try and sell you backlinks. Do not accept anything or provide any information for them right then. The person might be trying to sell you black hat SEO services that will trigger Google to de-index your website entirely if you get caught, or they may take your money without applying any search optimization features to your website.
[RELATED: The Dangers of Black Hat SEO Scams]
How to Identify and Avoid SEO Snake Oil Scams
If you aren’t sure how to tell the honest SEO companies from the not-so-honest ones, here are a few pointers.
- Beware of any company that guarantees rankings. Many of these scams center around some sort of claim like “Guaranteed No. 1 ranking on Google” or “Guaranteed first page ranking on Google.” Be especially wary if they claim to have a special relationship with Google or someone at Google. According to an article from Google itself, there is no priority submit for Google, and no one can guarantee a No. 1 ranking.
- Free trials for SEO just don’t exist. Search engine optimization is very tedious and setting up an optimized website requires days of hard work. Results also happen over time, not all at once. No legitimate company is going to do this for free. If they want any kind of personal information, they’re unquestionably trying to scam you. If it seems too good to be true, trust your instincts.
- If the SEO company you are working with refuses to give you reports when you ask for them, that could be a problem. If you pay for reports you aren’t receiving or if your company never checks in to see if you are getting more business or more leads, you may want to consider new SEO service providers.
- Be careful with companies claiming to have super cheap SEO services. As we’ve said, SEO processes are difficult and time-consuming. If someone is not putting in the work, your results will be non-existent or mediocre at best, and they could even leave you worse off than before. As with anything else, you get what you pay for, and if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
SSL Certificate Renewal Scam
The SSL certificate renewal scam is similar to the domain renewal scam we discussed earlier in this blog. You receive a notice from a company that your SSL certificate is not in compliance or is set to expire, and by renewing your SSL certificate immediately with them, you can avoid having your website shut down.
If you receive one of these notices, be sure to verify which company issued the certificate for your website. You can do this by going to your website and clicking the padlock at the beginning of the navigation bar. You can check when your SSL certificate expires and who it was issued by. If the notice came from a different company, discard it as a marketing scam.
If You Aren’t Sure If It Is an Online Marketing Scam, Trust Your Instincts
At the end of the day, avoiding scams is about using common sense and good judgement. Before you let yourself be scared into wasting money or giving a company your payment information, take a deep breath and look at the situation.
Most scams are either trying to scare you into doing something before you think about it, or trying to slide under the radar with information you don’t understand. If you think someone may be trying to use one of these techniques to scam you, do not accept anything over the phone or reply to their email right then, no matter how urgent they make it sound.
If they call you on the phone, ask for their name the name of the company they work for and what their name is. Most scammers will either act defensively or hang up on you.
So remember, remain calm, ask questions, trust your instincts, and don’t fall for something too good to be true. Your business will thank you for it.
Kaleigh Sullivan is a Writing Intern for Catapult Creative Media. She is a senior at LSU in the Manship School of Mass Communication. When she’s not writing or re-reading Harry Potter, she enjoys sleeping, gaming, and ballroom dancing.
Work with Catapult Creative Media Inc. Catapult Creative Media Inc. is a digital marketing and design agency serving clients over the United States but is proud to call Baton Rouge, Louisiana home. Founded in 2007, Catapult provides digital, social and mobile marketing solutions backed by relevant strategy and measurable results. Catapult works the web to their clients’ advantage, launching them to their next level of success.