Google, Yellowbook, and Ziplocal, are being sued for violating U.S. and state laws, specifically, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and the Lanham Act. Plaintiff, Baldino’s Lock and Key Service, Inc., a family-owned and operated locksmith business serving the Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, area since 1961, has filed a lawsuit against Google, Yellowbook, and Ziplocal, to remove fraudulent locksmith listings from their search results. “My company has seen an $8.4 million decrease in revenue since search engines emerged as the go-to for consumer research,” says Mark Baldino, President and CEO of Baldino’s Lock and Key. “The presence of false online search results is devastating not only to my business, but consumers and companies nationwide.”
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, Case No.: 1:14-CV-636-CMH-TCB SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES, DECLARATORY JUDGMENT, AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION FEDERAL LAW VIOLATIONS INCLUDING RACKETEER INFLUENCED AND CORRUPT ORGANIZATION ACT, AND LANHAM ACT VIOLATIONS seeks damages and injunctive relief, alleging:
- The Defendants deliberately mislead consumers by publishing false information with prior knowledge that the information is deceptive.
- They saturate requests for information with false listings to inflate the cost of advertising for legitimate businesses.
- They cause direct monetary damages to businesses and consumers that depend on search engines for factual information.
- They fail to screen out listings placed by criminal enterprises before publishing the listings online.
- Search engines and directories proactively clutter search results with false listings, forcing legitimate companies to pay a premium for Search Engine Optimization and priority placement benefiting them.
- Fraudulent listings numbering at times in excess of a thousand in the area serviced by Baldino’s make it nearly impossible for honest companies to be found near the top of search results or on the map locations.
- Just one false listing can cost a legitimate business thousands of dollars.
Web-based search engines are creating a condition to profiteer: to make or seek to make an excessive or unfair profit, especially illegally or in a black market or racketeering activity. The most startling fact is that every citizen that uses a search engine is at risk of becoming a victim to these online scams.
Not one Internet search engine can claim their search results or directories are not seeded with many phony listings. Google and the other search engines knowingly present these fraudulent listings to consumers making them appear as valid companies in order to create fictional online business competition. This deceptive behavior costs the service businesses billions of dollars in lost market share nationwide as the odds of them being selected is greatly reduced. In order to compensate they must pay the search engines for favorable placement just to be seen. As intended, this practice gains revenue for the search engines. All non-factual listings must be removed and damages should be paid to those businesses that have been victimized. In the future, all listings must go through stringent verification procedures before being published. We need only the truth on the Internet.
This deceptive behavior also misleads the consumer into selecting an unqualified locksmith who many times charges more money than originally promised. And how is the consumer hurt? Imagine you locked yourself out of your car on a rainy night. Luckily, you have your cell phone. You run a Google search for “locksmith nearby.” Plenty of listings, map locations show up, but most are illegitimate companies. The majority of business names are fictional; the address listed is false, but unfortunately the phone number works. The hoax is complete when the search engines present them as real entities. Online locksmith scammers advertise business addresses that don’t exist and prey on innocent consumers desperate to be rescued in a moment of need. Furthermore, scammers often misquote over the phone, raise job prices upon arrival, and are unqualified to perform the job. Would you trust an unverified locksmith to rescue you alone on a dark rainy night? This behavior isn’t just true for scammer locksmiths alone; it impacts all goods and services advertised on the Internet. Every business advertised in an online directory must be legally verified to protect the consumer.
Can the public, the media, and the justice system expose, enforce and correct this problem? Should Google, other search engines, and online directories be allowed to continue with this practice?
Contact: Mark Baldino
Office 703-550-0770 ex 3670
E-mail [email protected]