Update:

Less than a week after the page was taken, I was able to reverify it and bring it back into my control as well as that of the business owner. I went into the business and we verified it by phone.  We have posted notices for all employees to never give the PIN to anyone over the phone.  They know there are only three people who should ever receive any PIN verification.  Meanwhile, I do not know if the offending party realizes that they lost access.  For so many business owners and possbily agencies, Google My Business is a ‘set it and forget it” tool. Not me.  I check my listings daily.

I’ve managed Google My Business, formerly Google Places for years.  I currently watch over more than a dozen and check them every few days for edits as well as add new posts to them weekly.  So, having a hijacked Google My Business page was a complete surprise to me last week.

A quick Google search showed that this tactic has been around for several years.  I found this forum topic on the subject from about a year ago and there were other mentions of it online, naming a few menu and ordering websites that use this trick to transfer ownership to their staff and steal the traffic.

The chain of events leading up to this was odd.  First, I’ve noticed that one of the restaurant pages was constantly receiving numerous incorrect edits.  This would cause the page to show an error and a page owner or manager would be required to review the changes, make corrections and then submit them.

These edits were happening every couple of days and they were not accurate.  For example, the submission would say that we don’t have wine.  Or that we don’t do take out.  This is a pizza place and there is most definitely wine and take out.

Since there is another page I manage that is getting frequent inaccurate edits, which is taking it out of the “near me” searches, I was concerned that a competitor was at work on this page as well.

The next thing that happened was that I received a request for access.  The business owner would have told me if another person was supposed to have access.  And this is an Atlanta restaurant.  The person trying to access the page is in Los Angeles.  Yes, I did some investigating on him.

On Wednesday of this week, I had access to the page.  I had some edits to review once again (all false) and I did so.  Thursday, I logged in and saw a message that I had to request access.  I then looked at the map and the page had been stolen from our control by one of the menu and ordering sites.  They did not only change the menu to theirs, they changed the website from the restaurant’s own site to that of their own.  We use Single Platform for our menu management. They have access to add the menu link but they leave the website link alone.

If you are wondering why a food ordering website would take this tactic, the answer is traffic.  They are using the organic traffic that is coming to Google in search of restaurants in the area and claiming it as their own.  Instead of the restaurant benefitting from the visitors to their website, the ordering website gets it instead.  Now, they can show higher numbers to justify this restaurant and others to pay them for their services.

Online ordering services can bring new customers to your restaurant.  I think they are a good thing.  But there is no reason to pay for the service if the customers would have certainly found your business anyway.

How to avoid the hijacked Google My Business page

According to my reading, the culprits are having the postcards sent to your business.  Then, in one case that I read, they are posing as Google and asking for the PIN that they sent to you so that they can help verify the page.  Google won’t do this.  This is the digital marketing equivalent of giving your Social Security number to someone calling you and saying they are with the IRS.  Don’t do it.

Another tactic they may use is to sweet talk the person who answers the phone, saying that the owner has signed up with their service and they need the PIN.  Business owners need to make it very clear to all staff members exactly who gets PINs and staff should never give them to anyone else even if it seems legit.

What to do if it happens to you?

The first thing I did was to ask the restaurant owner if she gave this person access and allowed for him to remove mine (and hers!) She assured me that she did not and that I am the only one managing the page for her.  Next, I called Google. I was told to request the page access.  I do not believe that a company that steals access would have the integrity to give it back.  I next contacted Single Platform, with whom I resell for my menu management in the hospitality marketing packages and they made a call to their contact at Google.  They were told to request access and then in 7 days we are to check back in with Google for the next step.  While I am waiting, I am Facebook messaging with Google My Business reps to speed up the process.  I see on the forums that resolution is happening for businesses so that is very promising.  I will update this post as things progress!