The Federal Trade Commission is paying out more than $700,000 in refunds to businesses hit by a robocall scam where telemarketers falsely claimed to be affiliated with Google.
Using names including Pointbreak Media, Modern Spotlight, National Business Listings, and Modern Source Media, they told businesses they would be labeled as “permanently closed” by the search engine unless they spoke with a “Google specialist” who, for $300 to $700, could solve the problem and get the businesses prominently listed on Google.
Much of the service they claimed to offer—claiming a phonebook-style business listing on Google–can be done for free by any business owner working directly with the search engine, and no third party can truly guarantee a prominent search engine listing, according to a report by U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris M. McAliley.
McAliley found the claims were false, and last year a federal court ordered the people involved to turn over more than $3.3 million to the FTC and to stop telemarketing, charging customers, or offering search engine optimization services.
“In fact, Pointbreak had no affiliation or association with Google, and Google does not remove a business from search results or label it ‘permanently closed’ if the business owner does not claim and verify the business,” McAliley wrote.
Now, the agency is sending refund checks to 4,467 victim businesses. Businesses who were caught up in the scam but haven’t yet signed up for a refund can call the FTC’s refund administrator for information.
FTC legal cases have resulted in more than $10 billion in refunds since July 2018, with the details available in an interactive chart, according to the agency.