The Rise of Local Spam

Ugh. Just when I was starting to like local search, we read this story in the New York Times about the proliferation of locksmith spam. Yes, locksmith spam.

According to Yelp, there are -- no joke -- nearly 3,000 locksmiths in Seattle, though with relatively rare exceptions these operations aren't in Seattle at all.

They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and they'll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.

In the last five years, some of these lead generation companies, as they are known, have become notorious. A few have been sued by state attorneys general. Several have shown up in gotcha television news stories, a selection of which can be viewed on YouTube by searching for "locksmith scam."

The problems with this are pretty obvious. This is a subset of general spam. But the spammers have realized that local search is an easy target because they can simply take the address of a very central building, instantly popping their rankings because distance is a key attribute of most local searches. My intuition is that this is going to be a very difficult problem for Google to solve because, really, who is going to check that these businesses are where they say they are?