'Google' company facing fraud probe after complaints
FRAUD police are investigating a New Zealand company calling itself GoogleDirectory - set up with no links to the internet giant but which has listed thousands of businesses and state agencies.
The company launched last month, but had been signing on companies since at least May, promoting itself as a new online marketing tool.
Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe, of the Auckland central police financial crime unit, said police had received several fraud complaints from businesses.
"The financial crime unit has received information about GoogleDirectory and we're aware of allegations which has prompted us to look into it. We have spoken with a representative of the company," he said.
The company has no connection to the international search giant, Google, which has also launched its own investigation.
GoogleDirectory offers Kiwi businesses special internet advertisement packages.
The packages - which cost between $200 and $15,000 - promise to get a business advertised on its site, several other international websites and links to social media pages.
Last night there were more than 100,000 listings - including major corporates and public agencies. Some companies contacted by the Herald were surprised they were listed and said they had not paid any money. Others said they had received an invoice but had never paid.
Among the cases police are investigating are those of Claire Turner, co-director of Baby On The Move. She said she paid a $2000 deposit for a $4600 package after being told Google was relaunching GoogleDirectory in New Zealand.
She believed the package would allow people searching on Google to easily find her company's 17 branches.
Ms Turner said she was sent statistics for the first month indicating about 138 people had linked to her site but the numbers were at odds with her own company's information which found just one link. Last month she received a second email saying there had been 2357 links, despite her company information showing six.
"We noticed that we weren't getting many hits on our website. We were told there was probably something wrong with our site, but of course there wasn't."
Ms Turner did some research on the internet and found information about GoogleDirectory which further raised her concerns.
She also discovered that a Google search of GoogleDirectory failed to locate the site and it could only be found if you entered the actual URL address. Soon after she was contacted by police.
"I'm a little bit gutted and embarrassed now, to be honest," she said. An Auckland builder who paid $1300 said GoogleDirectory told him it was representing the global online search giant.
He was told his website was "up and running" and his business was being advertised. But outside GoogleDirectory's own website, there is nothing publicising him.
"Normally I'm really cautious, but I thought he was representing Google," the builder said.
A Google spokeswoman told the Herald the company would not make a formal comment about the case because of the cases around the world where people have wrongly used the Google name.
However, she confirmed the company had already begun its own investigation.
GoogleDirectory director Simon McLeod said he was happy to answer questions via email but did not respond to messages.
He wasn't at any of the addresses listed for him on the Companies Office last night, including a home address that was a spa pool company.
Trade Me - which listed jobs for GoogleDirectory under an agency called You'll Love This - has removed several job listings for the company.
Trade Me's head of trust and safety, Jon Duffy, said the listings were removed about three weeks ago following investigations to determine whether You'll Love This was linked to another membership that had been banned from the site.
"If we have concerns around the integrity of advertisers, we retain the discretion to remove them," he said.