Today and yesterday I have received two suspicious, scam / spam emails. I am unsure exactly how the scam works, but my Google My Business listing is being targeted. If you are also being targeted for the scam, let me know in the comments so we can share resources! 

I’m a wedding photographer who has had my GMB listing in place for at least three years. It currently has 35 5-ratings, including a bunch that had just been added by my clients. Duh, it’s fully claimed and optimized to a tee, by me.

Strangely, the fraudulent ownership requests had never happened before 9/21/20. On that date, I received an email saying: [fake name] has requested access to Zoe Larkin Photography on Google My Business

It then says: 

Someone has requested ownership of Zoe Larkin Photography on Google My Business.

It goes on to give the scammer bot’s name: 

mac williams, Business owner

williamsmac97@gmail.com

9829194164

This was closely followed a few hours later by another email with a different name. 

I believe these are legitimate emails from Google. It’s not a phishing scam in the traditional sense in which the scammer spoofs an email to trick you into clicking the link and giving away personal information. 

What does the suspicious email look like?

The email comes from google-my-business-noreply@google.com and looks legitimate. It does not appear to be a spoof or fake ‘phishing’ email, in which you click ‘reject’ and it immediately withdraws $1,000,000 from your bank account. (Well, they would be sorely disappointed in my case, but that’s another story). Here is what the email looks like: 

suspicious email from google my business showing someone requesting access fraudulently

What should you do when you receive an email requesting ownership access of your GMB account?

There are two ways of responding to these fraudulent requests. You can either ignore the email or deny/reject the request. Let’s go through them both. 

Delete and ignore the email

The first option is the one suggested by Joy Hawkins who is a local SEO expert and owner of Sterling Sky. In this thread on the GMB help forum, she writes “simply delete the email.  Do not click on the link.”. 

incorrect answer from joy hawkins in the google my business forum on phishing emails from scammers

I am sure the thinking behind this is: don’t feed the trolls. Or in this case, the scammers. It is likely they want you to click ‘reject’ (because who in their right mind would click ‘allow access’?) So, don’t engage and just get on with your day. 

However, there is another school of thought that you can read more about on this GMB help thread. Apparently, according to the OP, “I have seen that after 3-7 days they can be automatically granted access”. This official Google page is where, I believe, the OP is getting that information from.

Under the section, ‘What to do after you’ve requested ownership’, it states:

If you don’t hear back: If you don’t get a response after 3-7 days, you might have the option to claim the profile yourself. Sign in to Google My Business, and look for a “Claim” or “Verify” button on your dashboard. 

This, to me at least, suggests that the scammers may be trying to exploit a loophole that if the legitimate owner is non-responsive, it may be possible to move forward without their assistance.

This puts us into a bit of quandary. Should we engage with the scammer and alert them that seen their request (which could invite more), or do we delete without hitting ‘approve’ or ‘reject’? 

Hit ‘Review Request’ and then reject the request

Google’s official help is in direct contrast to the ‘delete-and-move-on’ school of thought. Their email to me said the following: “We advise you to deny the request if you feel somebody who is not related to your business is trying to gain access to the business.

At the moment, I am actively denying the requests just in case if you do nothing, this gives the fake / scam account the ability to appeal or move forward without your verification. 

I would suggest you deny the requests so there is no ‘loophole’ that the bot accounts can take advantage of. This way you can always prove that you did your part. Make sure you take screenshots wherever possible and save all emails.

Another thing I did which I also suggest is turning on 2-step verification on the Google account that you log into your GMB with. This sends a code to your phone before you can access anything on that account. Protect yourself and your account in any way you can.

Never give account access to anyone you don’t know.

What is the intent behind attempting to claim ownership of a GMB listing?

It looks like there are bots out there that scrape legitimate Google My Business listings and click on the ‘Request Ownership’ button that appears on every claimed GMB listing. 

The scam is not entirely clear to me. I was told by the Google My Business help team that “without your consent no one would be able to access to your business listing.”. That is a direct quote from Google. However, when you hit ‘reject ownership request’, you will see the following information: 

“Even if you reject this request, the person above may still be granted access to the listing if they can complete the verification process”. 

screenshot showing ownership request from a scam artist attempting to gain access to a Google My Business listing

That is worrying to me. What if there is a way of getting around the ‘verification process’ that completely bypasses me? I have no idea what this means. 

Anyway, there is likely a market for Google My Business listings. I have a couple of theories here if you’ll indulge me. My guess is that once they have ownership of a listing, they can change the name and details of the business and sell it to someone else. 

Here is a GMB thread showing that this actually happened to a business owner. Frightening stuff.

Another less nefarious option is that when you click ‘reject request’, you are telling the scammer that you actively care about your GMB profile. This might theoretically qualify you for some kind of upsell or service. It tells them that the email address that is tied to the GMB account is monitored. 

ownership request for my business - the requester is notified that the request was denied

I just realized there’s another reason the scam bots could be doing this. It’s entirely possible (judging by the amount of spam emails I get every single day) that they may combine a friendly ‘hey I want to do some optimization work on your GMB listing, I’ll do it for free, just accept my request so I can help you!’

Then boom! You have given away your account and you will no longer be able to access it after they remove your ownership rights.

And more importantly, once they are into that account they can potentially access your Google Ads account (with linked credit card information and the ability to run ads until you notice), and maybe even email.

I have most of that garbage filtered out automatically but even the ones that slip through the cracks are numerous (and annoying) enough. So yeah, beware of this scam running alongside someone claiming to help you, either by calling or emailing you first so it seems less random.

More details about other GMB scams are on this post from BizIQ.

Be proactive about with the ownership of your GMB

Though there are mixed messages and confusion out there, my own common sense as a 3-year+ Google My Business user is to be proactive. Don’t just delete the email and hope that that solves the problem. You must actively guard against scam artists and fraudsters that would love to take your Google My Business away from you and sell it to the highest bidder (or even hold it ransom).

Be on guard by scrutinizing emails to check they are not phishing scams. Report those that are. Tell the Google My Business team if you get these ownership requests – without knowing there is a problem, they have no hope of fixing it.

Avoid engaging with the scammers, such as by calling the phone number or emailing them. Focus more on securing your account by signing out of all sessions and changing your password to a very strong one (a string of random numbers and letters is the best, then use a secure service like LastPass to store them).

Turn on 2-factor verification. Monitor the inbox linked to your GMB and reject all requests within 3 days. At least you know you’ve done your part to protect your account. The rest is up to Google to get their act together to put a stop to the fake accounts targeting our legitimate businesses.

Keep your registered business address up-to-date. This is the address where any verification postcard will be sent. With many service-businesses being home-based, this is particularly important as your address may not be displayed on the listing so you tend to forget about it.

What is Google doing about this problem?

As usual, f* all. It appears that anyone can hit ‘claim this business’, even when it has already been claimed. This is a loophole ripe for scammers. I suggested to Google’s GMB help team that they should patch up this loophole immediately. 

screenshot showing an example of a google my business listing that can have its ownership status changed by a scammer

There is no reason why anybody should be able to ‘claim’ a business that’s already active and claimed. An unclaimed business, sure. That makes sense. But if I as a business owner wanted to share ownership with a legitimate person, that should be something I do from within my GMB dashboard. Not someone that everyone and his dog can access and bug me with 24/7. 

I reported the issue to Google on 9/21/20 and they responded very quickly with the following email (text below the screenshot):

screenshot showing email response from google my business help team on the subject of attempted ownership request of my GMB property

Hello Zoe,

Greetings from Google My Business Support Team.

As per your email, I understand you are concerned that someone is trying to request ownership access to your business listing “Zoe Larkin Photography“.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this has caused you. We advise you to deny the request if you feel somebody who is not related to your business is trying to gain access to the business.

Please be informed that without your consent no one would be able to access to your business listing. 

If you have further questions related to this issue, simply reply to this email and we’ll be happy to help! For additional support on a different issue, you can always reach us via our Help Center  [g.co/gmbhelp].
You may receive an email survey regarding your interaction with GMB Support. We value your feedback.
Have a great day!
Regards,Anushna

This is all well and good, but then it happened again just a few hours later. I had to tell Google while I had them on the line that this was just not acceptable.

“Another spammer has just ‘requested access to MY google my business’. See screenshot located here: https://prnt.sc/ulvusc Just as I feared, this is a new scam, not someone’s innocent mistake. 

I and millions of other business owners have better things to do with our time than deny spammers requests. PLEASE, as a suggestion, do not have the option on any listing to ‘claim ownership of this business’ when it has already been claimed. This should only appear as an option for unclaimed businesses.

For your information, I actually WRITE about Google my Business on my website, and will certainly be sharing this problem with my thousands of readers who will be interested to hear what Google is doing to help the millions of legitimate business owners who use the GMB platform, and what you are doing to combat the ever-present plague of spam (or not as the case may be….)”

Of course, and I hope this is clear, but I am not taking it out on some lowly email center employee. Sadly there is nowhere else we can go when we need Google to step up and do something. The answer in my opinion is simple. And I am going to repeat it again here.

Remove the option to ‘claim ownership’ of a business that is already claimed! Permission should be given privately on the legitimate owner’s back-end.

Local business owners are sick of getting jerked around constantly by shady practices allowed by GMB. Spam listings are a massive problem on GMB. I have tried to shut down the fraudulent listings set up by many of my competitors, for businesses that don’t exist.

I have shown entire case-studies with proof of one person using keyword-stuffed entries to gain real estate on the map pack. GMB has been a spammer’s playground from the beginning – it is now a scammer’s playground, too.

screenshot from Google My Business email showing a rejected request on Sep 22 2020
DENIED!

Naming and shaming the scammers!

If you have been targeted by these accounts, let’s name and shame. I will put the names here as they appear – add yours in the comments. Hopefully if it happens to other business owners, they will Google the names and land here. Then they will find out it’s a scam and no-one else will fall for it. 

mac williams, Business owner
williamsmac97@gmail.com
9829194164

Dhalia Minith, Business owner
dhlaminith@gmail.com
8233412989

Brittney H, Business owner
sweetpnkkiss@gmail.com
6904105364

Sirisha Garikipati, Employee
sirishagarikipati558@gmail.com
7659800888

Jean baptiste Monnier, Business owner
jbzh25@gmail.com
0738889490

Sherzod Mahmudov, Business owner
sherzodmah739@gmail.com
(403) 200-2608

Valda Ransom, Business owner
valda.ransomva@gmail.com
(713) 482-8560

Virgil Yancy, Business Owner
virgilyancy@gmail.com
Photographer

Tips for GMB beginners

This post is seriously off-topic for me as a wedding photography educator. Bit I couldn’t resist posting about this as there is so much misinformation and confusion flying around right now – and there seems to be a spike in these attempts at fraudulent GMB ownership requests.

I only have one post that’s even slightly related as of now, though I hope to bring out more content about optimizing your profile. It’s about setting up your GMB – linked below!

READ MORE  How to set up your Google My Business for photographers

If you’re a wedding photographer that’s landed here, feel free to have a browse around my site. I have tons of resources to help you with the business side of things. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel, too!

written by zoe larkin photography - helping business owners figure out local SEO and optimize their web presence to get more customers
Heads up! If you're a small business owner you may be targeted my scammers for this latest scam. Twice in a few hours in September 2020, my Google My Business (GMB) account was targeted by an 'ownership request'. The scammer attempts to gain access to your GMB account by requesting ownership rights. In this informative guide, I dive into the anatomy of a scam + suggest the best course of action to protect your GMB profile from scammers. #googlemybusiness #gmb #scamalert | Zoe Larkin Photo
Why is my Google My Business listing being targeted my scammers & what should I do? | zoelarkin.com

Zoe Larkin
Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! I also help fellow wedding photographers attract their dream clients with actionable SEO & digital marketing strategies. When I’m not shooting weddings, creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog, Insta and my new YouTube channel for photographers! 

Has your Google My Business listing been targeted by scammers attempting to gain access by requesting ownership permissions? Here's what to do

What to do when scammers keep requesting access to your Google My Business account

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  1. Earl says:

    Zoe, I’m getting the same emails. I’ve been rejecting them as I get them. It’s very frustrating and troublesome. I was planning to contact Google in my spare time, but your post says it all. Why in the world would Google allow someone to ask for Ownership, I’ll never know, except the CCP owns the world and everything in it…so why not ask for ownership…right? 🙂

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks so much Earl – haha! A couple of things – if you can, DO contact them. It only took me 5 minutes and I did it on my phone one night. It’s worth taking the time so they at least know – and if anything untoward happens, there’ll be a paper trail so you know you did your part (and we’ll all file a class action lawsuit haha).

      Secondly, I received a reply by the time I woke up the next day so at least someone is reading these messages!

      I was reassured that nobody can go over your head and gain ownership, but I still remember that sick pit in my stomach when I started seeing these requests.

      Luckily, I only ever got two – they stopped after that!

  2. Earl says:

    I will reach out to Google. I have received at least 4 of these requests over the past two months. Like you, I’m busy with my own business. If this continues or does not get resolved, I may consider deleting my Google account altogether. I do not have any other social media accounts, at this stage, due similar and weird emails over time. I was a very early adopter of SM 15 plus years ago – the idea of creating a SM foot print seemed worthwhile. In the end, my SM world was only a waste of time, let alone a serious distraction from my own creativity as an architect. People may think otherwise, but I have lived the SM life. I choose to enjoy people in real life and not in a virtual world. Age, together with the wisdom you gain, does this to you. 🙂

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      It’s funny you mention this because I feel like I’m nearing the same point. Currently I’m feverishly trying to grow a YouTube channel now that weddings have all but ceased. However, oftentimes that all seems like such a treadmill. I’ve pretty much ditched Instagram in the past few weeks, and Pinterest is now cutting my reach by two thirds and dropping daily. I don’t think I’m quite there yet but the way things are going I think that many of us, me included, will completely stop with all this BS and see it for what it is – a distraction from life and spirituality. Good for you deleting your Google account! I’ve often dreamed of such things….

  3. Earl says:

    I like your thinking. I did enjoy your introductory video on your website. You are a talented photographer! I can imagine the impact COVID has had your business. Ugh. For some reason, mine is through the roof. People are staying home and wanting to change their houses. Commercial architect is also crazy right now.

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thank you!

      You definitely chose the right area to specialize in! The small business world has been split those that are folding /seriously struggling diversifying like crazy, and those that are booming during the pandemic it seems!

  4. Summi Kaipa says:

    Hi Zoe, Thanks so much for this post! It is the first thing I came across when trying to figure out why some random person/bot was trying to gain access to my business. Here is the scammer info:

    Brittney H, Business owner
    sweetpnkkiss@gmail.com
    6904105364

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks so much Summi! I added the scammer info to the main post – hopefully if they use the same details to target someone else, that person will Google it and find the info you kindly submitted 😉

  5. Shireesha says:

    Hi Zoe, Thank you so much and your post helps us a lot on GMB spam! I just came across when trying to figure out why some random person/bot was trying to gain access to my business. Below is the scammer info:

    Sirisha Garikipati, Employee
    sirishagarikipati558@gmail.com
    7659800888

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks, added to the post. So, this account that tried to gain access – they used practically the same/ very similar name to your own first name? I wonder if that is a coincidence?

  6. LeeP says:

    Just got one today, here’s the info:

    Jean baptiste Monnier, Business owner
    jbzh25@gmail.com
    0738889490

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Awesome, thanks Lee for taking the time to share!

      Added to the main post.

      I’ve no idea if this is helping but in my mind at least, it will help when people Google the names/ emails of these spammers!

  7. John Walker says:

    Hi Zoe , your info on this problem is the best I have found. My main concern or worry is clicking on anything in these emails. They look official from Google. Any suggestions ? My first step is to try to get Google on the phone … Thanks John Walker

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks John. As the scammers are just taking advantage of a loophole where anyone can ‘claim ownership’ instead of it being unavailable from the public side once the listing is claimed. Google’s help by messaging them however, is fast!

  8. John Walker says:

    Oh here is my scammer.
    Sherzod Mahmudov, Business owner
    sherzodmah739@gmail.com
    (403) 200-2608

  9. John Walker says:

    Zoe, thank you again. I logged in to my gmail account I got these requests from and denied the request… Thank you again. Your post here is the BEST i have found on this issue. Best Wishes , John Walker

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks! If you do want to cause a stink about it, raise it with Google. It’s easy to message them following the ‘help’ links when logged in to your account on your GMB. This way, they may actually do something about this obvious loophole which is currently being exploited by unscrupulous people! Thanks for reading!

  10. Michael Hane says:

    Thanks Zoe! Great article. I just received the scam email today and rejected it. You saved me! All the best! Michael T.

  11. Michael T. says:

    Another thought that may help, take a look at using virtual credit card numbers. Many of the large banks and credit card companies offer them. I rarely use my debit card number these days. The company I use allows me to mask my debit card and lock a CC number in to one merchant only and also set spending limits. This helps add another layer of security if someone does access your CC info on GMB. Hope this helps someone else!

    All the best!

  12. John F. says:

    Just got this one this morning:
    Valda Ransom, Business owner
    valda.ransomva@gmail.com
    (713) 482-8560

  13. Angela Natalie says:

    Morning!

    Thank you for the insights on this requesting ownership HOT MESS!

    Virgil Yancy, Business Owner
    virgilyancy@gmail.com
    Photographer

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks Angela, added. Interesting to see it’s happening to another photographer as well! I really wonder how the scammers are targeting GMB users. Have a good one.

  14. Frank Sheldon says:

    We got this same email today from:

    Lou Potter, Business owner
    potterluiz4@gmail.com
    202-555-0158

    At first, I thought it was because we had recently moved our studio and someone moving into the old location wanted to claim the address. Then I checked the phone number and found it associated with robocalls. After searching and seeing the response from Google you noted above, I eventually ended up here. Thank you so much for all the work you did on this. We will enable two-factor verification now and deny any future requests from scoundrels.

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