Part of getting your business seen online is SEO, and an important part of this is getting your business registered with Google my business and Google maps.
Not only have I had to do this for my own business and my wife’s business but it is a service I provide to clients. When it works, this is a simple process, which involves Google sending a postcard to the business address with a code on it, which you then use to verify the business address.
However, sometimes the postcard doesn’t turn up, or some miscreant might report your listing and claim it is fraudulent or misleading and gets it suspended for review, at which point you have to contact Google my business support and request manual verification, which is where things get ridiculous.
You would be quite right to think, why on earth would Google discriminate against small businesses, this makes no sense and completely contradicts the whole purpose of Google my business.
Yet I have had this issue myself a few times now, and most recently when I changed my own listing to add my virtual office address.
According to Harisha at Google my business support, in order to pass the manual verification, every business must provide photos of their premises, must have their own dedicated entrance which is not shared with other businesses and must show signage with the company name in front of the building, WTF?
These requirements are clearly unfair, unethical and discriminate against every small to medium businesses in the world that uses shared/managed office spaces, people who work from home (including disabled people) or have virtual offices.
There are 125 million formal micro, small and midsize businesses in the world, including 89 million in emerging markets. How many of those do Google think have their own building, with their own entrance and signage?
What makes this even more illogical is how disparate this is from the automated postcard method. As long as you can receive that postcard with the verification code on it, then no other evidence is required, your office could literally be in your garden shed.
This means that most of the businesses already listed on Google (using the postcard method) do not meet these supposed requirements either, which I couldn’t actually find any mention of on the Google my business eligibility guidelines by the way.
Quite ironically, as I pointed out to Harisha, this also includes all the other business that reside at the same managed offices as myself.
So what’s the solution?
In the case of the postcard not turning up, I suggest trying a few more times before giving up. In my most recent attempt, I had to request the card 5 times before it finally arrived (thankfully bypassing this issue).
If you just cannot get that card or have your listing suspended for some other reason, and really have no other choice other than to comply with Google’s unfair demands, then Photoshop is your friend (nudge nudge, wink wink).
If you do not have the skills to manipulate images yourself, just pop along to fiverr.com and you will find someone willing to do some image manipulation for $20 or less 🙂
It is well known that we, the consumers, trust recommendations coming from peers or fellow consumers much more than we trust what businesses are telling us about them. Therefore the businesses selling social proof are very powerful and they can easily manipulate our thoughts on any brand.
Yelp even won a court settlement recently, giving them permission to legally manipulate ratings. Both Yelp and Trustpilot claim that they don’t manipulate the truth, but when you take a closer look at the services they are selling, you get a completely different picture.
There are quite a few sites online that allow you to write reviews on any company, but the majority of worthwhile ones are paid services geared towards businesses collecting product reviews on their e-commerce websites, so members of the public cannot just go and write a review about the company, the rest are business directory websites like yelp.com. So when I discovered trustpilot.com a few years ago it seemed like there was finally a useful and transparent review site.
Trustpilot may have started well back in 2012 when it was run by just a couple of guys, maybe they even had honourable intentions to keep the site honest, we will never know. But once thins is for sure, even if that was was the case then their standards have declined and any good intentions left by the wayside in favour of profit.
While they do have checks in place to stop business owners reviewing their own company, or multiple reviews from the same IP address, that is nothing else in place to stop fake reviews.
Trustpilot’s service has degraded so much that they are themselves now being reviewed on other review sites for their untrustworthiness.
The compliance team pushes the boundaries of incompetence and dealing with them severely tests your fortitude.
From my own dealings with them over the years, I can confirm that I have experienced what I would consider unethical and biased practices from their so-called compliance team which has defied common sense.
They have on multiple occasions blocked negative reviews at the request of the recipient and have then refused to reinstate them unless I have removed literally every negative word from the review, or have requested outlandish and usually unattainable evidence.
They show complete unwillingness to check facts or evidence when provided, even if it is something as simple as clicking a link and looking at a web page to verify companies trading names.
Most consumers will simply get so frustrated with these vexatious and convoluted tactics, they will give up, which is clearly the intent as this puts Trustpilot in the position that they can blame the consumer for not following through.
If a company is using Trustpilot’s free service then it seems as though they will happily allow defamatory or fake reviews to be posted unabated, and will gladly ignore any requests to get them removed or make it as difficult as possible.
in fact, if you read the feedback on the sites above, business owners are claiming they are being blocked by TrustPilot from reporting defamatory or fake reviews.
The only way around this seems to be by using their paid service, after which you receive the opposite treatment and they will go out of their way to remove negative reviews without question and will even refuse evidence from the customer proving the reviews are legit and will not make any effort at all to verify details you send them.
As if this was not bad enough, Trustpilot will also happily allow malicious and defamatory posts against you personally.
According to Trustpilot’s own guidelines, “1.1 You can write a review on Trustpilot about a company if you have had a buying or service experience with that company,”
But it seems they do not follow these guidelines, and if you have a personal web page or a blog, then a vindictive business owner can post whatever malicious and defamatory lies they like about you and Trustpilot will not care.
So what does this mean to the consumer?
Unfortunately, since Trustpilot allow reviews to be manipulated, this means that the scores and ratings you see for any company may not be reliable, so if in doubt, you should not rely solely on this as your only source.
They do have processes in place to stop the same person leaving multiple reviews under different names, and knowing how to get around this will be beyond the ability of the average person who is not very computer literate. So this does mean that fake positive reviews are less likely.
One solution to verify a company that seems too good to be true is to check other directory sites such as yell.com, yelp.com, freeindex.com etc which they may not be monitoring. Also social media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Companies who are in the habit of removing negative reviews will usually not allow posts on their Facebook page without moderation, or will quickly remove anything negative, so this is easy enough to test. No company can remove other people’s tweets though, so check their timeline and do a search for specific phrases.
If you post reviews on Trustpilot, then I would also suggest doing so anonymously to avoid vindictive retribution from malicious business owners.
Dodgy unsolicited sales calls and scams are pretty much the norm these days, and we tend to take them from granted, those of us who are savvy do not fall for them, but sadly there are still plenty of people out there who do get scammed and swindled out of their hard-earned cash by these tricky sales people. The more of us that document these scams and companies implementing them, the less effective they will be as more people get into the habit of searching online first for reviews.
If you have been scammed or feel that someone is trying to scam you, then you should report them to trading standards.
So I had a phone call recently from this chap at edfirst.co.uk (aka School Supplies Service), asking me if I did IT support for schools, and how he was looking for providers in my area as currently, they did not have any and the schools were in need of IT providers. He lamented how his company was the main supplier for schools and involved in all the tenders and how I would be listed as the “go to guy” on the school’s database for my entire area and would make a lot of money as a result. He also made a point of telling me they do not make any money from this and are not allowed to charge anything for this service.
I was still interested and listening at this point, but it all went downhill when he then went on to mention the company he had called before me, and how he had spoken to someone called “Tina”, but she needed to speak with her boss first, so he had called the next person on the list, which was me. He then proceeded to try to play me off against them, stating that the first one to sign-up would be the sole provider for my area, and I really needed to sign up right now or he would then call the next person on the list, and then asked me for a £500 registration fee.
Alarm bells now started to ring, as clearly any legitimate tendering service would not have any requirement for you sign-up there and then on the spot or lose your chance, and trying to play me off against someone else like that is quite clearly a dodgy and unethical sales practice, plus he had contradicted his earlier statement of them not making any money from this by asking me for £500. So I made my excuses and asked him to email the details over to me, so I could check up on this company.
I checked out the edFirst.co.uk website and it seems to be just another directory website targeted at schools, who do little more than supply a printed version of their directory to the schools. After a bit of googling, I found numerous feedback from others which confirmed my suspicions and those who had paid the fee to be listed had got no work from it. (note since I wrote this the majority of the links I posted below stopped working and the negative reviews/comments have mysteriously been removed (no doubt due to threats and harassment from Steve Meredith), so I have removed the links)
I also called the IT support company he had tried to play me off against and spoke to Tina, and she confirmed the conversation and that he had tried exactly the same thing on her, and tried to play her off on the company he had called prior to calling her.
So I then contacted a few of my local schools, and surprise surprise, they had never heard of EdFirst or Schools Supply service.
Needless to say I advised Dale that I would not be parting with my cash on this occasion.
Since posting this article, I have received numerous threats and harassment from Steve Meredith (the owner) in an attempt to intimidate me into removing this post. Obviously it has not worked.
Do not believe Trustpilot reviews
I did originally post my review on Trustpilot, but sadly Trustpilot also has a reputation of being unethical and biased and they will gladly remove negative reviews if you pay them. I have seen many negative reviews appear and disappear after being reported by Steve Meredith, and I suspect most of the positive reviews are probably fake.
I did try to re-post my review a few times, but alas Steve Meredith (The Director) kept reporting them and getting them removed, which is what resulted in my creating this post instead.
Some of the completely false reasons Steve Meredith gave for reporting my review include:- “it was fake and they never contacted me”, “he had a country court judgement against me”, “I was a competitor”, “my review was defamatory”.
I recommend using SiteJabber instead of TrustPilot to post reviews, which so far has proved to be reliabled and unbiased.
Had another couple of calls recently from another one of these scammers selling insurance/cover for your sky box. As usual they pretend they are calling from your existing provider (Sky Protect) and try to trick you into signing up with them. As is usually the case with these scammers, there is no actual service, they just take your money for nothing.
In this case they seemed to know that I had not had any problems or made any claims in the last 4 months, and as a result I am now a “low risk” customer, so they can offer me a cheaper plan. I was wise to this scam immediately having dealt with so many of these calls in the past, and as soon as I challenged the woman for trying to mislead me she became angry and tried to deny everything she had just said to me. I mean how thick must you be if you think that is going to work ?
What does concern me though is how these people are getting hold of my sky account details and history in the first place, the only place to get these details is from sky themselves or from Domestic and General who provide their insurance service.
Here are some of the numbers I have found associated with this company:
Company Owner: MR EDWARD PREEDY Name & Registered Office:
BTG HOME SOLUTIONS LIMITED
8 AVENUE TERRACE
WESTCLIFF ON SEA
Company No. 09020753
Incorporation Date: 01/05/2014
Company Number: 09020753
In case you do not know, Domestic and General is the authorized and approved provider of sky protection, they provide this service via www.skyprotect.com, but D&G actually provide warranty/repair services for many other companies and products as well.
I contacted skyprotect.com to ask them how these scammers are getting hold of their customers details, but sadly did do not care at all that these scammers have their customers details and are pretending to be them, and would not even discuss it, and said that they would open a complaint for me, but that is pretty much all they would do. As this was the only option given to me that might get someone to speak to me, I let them go ahead and open a complaint.
Sadly nobody made any effort to contact me to discuss it or do any investigation whatsoever, all I got was a completely apathetic letter from Hayley Widdowson telling me that she had looked at my account (wow, how helpful) and my complaint has not been upheld based on, well nothing. Below are the key parts of her letter in blue and my response.
Dear Ms Widdowson,
I must say I am very disappointed by your response dated 9th September, which after 12 paragraphs of evasive waffle, still does nothing whatsoever to answer my original question.
I will address your response in-line below.
Following your complaint raised on 07 September 2015 regarding Sky equipment covered by Policy [removed]. I am writing to you as I have now concluded my investigations and I am sorry to inform you that your complaint has not been upheld.
Well thank you so much for informing me that my complaint has not been upheld, however I never actually made any complaint, I asked you a simple question “how are these companies obtaining the details about my account with you”. It was your web support team who refused to answer my question and insisted on lodging it as a complaint as the only way I would get a response from anyone.
1. Your complaint
My understanding of your complaint is that a telephone call has been made to you from a third party regarding your Sky equipment. You are unhappy as this company had full information regarding your Sky Protect policy and are concerned that your personal data has not been handled securely.
It was a question, not a complaint, but roughly yes, I asked you to tell me how they are getting this information about my account with you. So despite understanding the question, you have still failed to actually answer it.
I have reviewed the history of your policy and found that this agreement has been in force since [date removed]. Cover was originally provided under plan [removed] and under this policy reference from [date removed] onwards. Your protection has been paid by Direct Debit Since its inception meaning that it renews automatically each year; this also means that you Should not expect contact by phone from our agents regarding payment or renewal of your cover.
I am not sure why you are providing me with this information about when my account was setup etc, I did not at any point ask for this information, as clearly you SHOULD have this information as my account is with you. And again reviewing the history of my policy has nothing to do with the original question, which still remains unanswered.
I am able to confirm that there is only one extended warranty scheme that is approved and operated under the Sky brand name. This is Sky Protect which is provided on behalf of Sky by Domestic & General Insurance PLC. Whilst independent companies can legitimately offer extended warranties on digital satellite equipment these companies and their products are not connected to Sky or in any way endorsed by Sky.
Thank you again for more information unrelated to my question, but I did already know all of this.
Additionally it is illegal for companies other than Domestic and General to state or imply that they are approved by Sky to sell extended warranty products.
And yet knowing full well that this illegal activity is going on and has been going on for years, you do not seem remotely concerned about it or the fact that your customers details are finding their way into these scammers hands. Your teams previous replies to my emails and your own letter is proof enough of your complete nonchalance on the matter.
Please be assured that Sky does not provide customer data to any company other than Domestic & General for extended warranty purposes and that we do not supply our customer data to any independent companies.
Then please pray tell , how do these companies have my details and the details of your other customers if the only person who has them is you ? If you are not selling/providing the data to 3rd parties, then basic common sense leaves one other option, which is that your data/security has been compromised and the data has been taken.
If you are still concerned regarding the conduct of this independent company our advice in these circumstances would be to complain to the Trading Standards department of your local council, to refer to the BBC website for details of independent companies which have been featured on BBC Watchdog or refer this matter to your local police force.
What is of concern to me now and should be a concern to any of your customers is your complete nonchalance about the security of your customer data and the fact that this data is clearly in the hands of third parties, or how it got there. Also your blatant refusal to answer a straight forward question or actually investigate the matter, instead opting to turn it into a complaint just so that you can evade the question and fob it off as “not upheld”. This distinctly smells of “trying to hide something”.
As per my investigation findings Sky and Domestic & General do not supply customer data to independent companies. As there has been no breach of the Data Protection Act with regards to your personal information I am unable to uph01d your complaint.
There is absolutely nothing in your letter to indicate that any investigation whatsoever has taken place with regard to the security of your data or any possible breach of that security or theft of the data. All you have shown is that you looked at my account and then relayed back to me my own information from my own acocunt, which is not only irrelevant to the original question or issue, but I am sorry to inform you that this does not in any way constitute an investigation into data security by any stretch of the imagination i’m afraid. I would highly recommend that you make the effort to speak with an actual security specialist or at least someone in your I.T. dept who at least has some clue how to perform a proper investigation.
I had no intention of making such a complaint, this was your choice, but as you have of your own volition turned my simple question into a complaint and have clearly demonstrated your total indifference to the matter and unwillingness to actually investigate it, I will take your advice and pass this on to trading standards.
I will also be posting a copy of your letter and my response on my blog for the benefit of others also being affected by this ongoing scam.