COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Google claims that companies in Columbus are pretending to be a branch of the tech giant as part of a scam.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Google accused a group going by a variety of names of “a large-scale scam operation aimed at misleading small businesses and consumers for financial gain.” The companies Google is referencing have names including:
- GVerifier Technologies LLC
- G Verifiers and G Verifier Pro
- GVerifier Softech Services LLC
- Shri Hari GoMarketin LLC
- GHyper, GHyperlocal and G Verifications
- Infinity GoMarketin LLC
The collection above includes limited liability companies formed in Ohio, each having a Columbus or Dublin mailing address. Through research, Google said in the lawsuit complaint that it connected the nine brands to two people working together: Kaushal Patel and Bharat Parekh.
The pair formed at least five nearly identical websites — and a Facebook page — using the G Hyper and G Verifier brands interchangeably. From there, they advertised “fake or worthless” services including Business Profile verification, management or optimization to make customers appear higher in search results on Google, according to the lawsuit complaint.
“For instance, G Verifier tells business owners that they will ‘[g]et the first page on Google search’ and that ‘[i]f you buy the service from us, your Google Maps business location will come first in Google search,'” lawyers representing Google wrote in the document.
Google also took issue with phone calls that Patel and Parekh made. The lawsuit claimed they also rang people with Business Profiles throughout the U.S. and Canada, claiming they needed to pay a $99 fee to avoid their Google Business Profile being deactivated, or listed as permanently closed in search results.
Google — which said its Business Profiles are a free service for owners to share information online about their businesses — then referenced this page with over 300 complaints regarding G Verifier’s phone calls.
“Some of G Verifier’s victims have explicitly cited their confusion of G Verifier with Google as a reason for their decision to trust G Verifier and pay needless and fraudulent ‘fees,'” lawyers for Google wrote.
Another service Patel and Parekh advertised included fake positive reviews for businesses on Google, according to the lawsuit complaint. They also offered a service for sale that included flooding a competing business’s page with negative reviews, according to screenshots from an FAQ section on the G Verifier websites.
NBC4 reached out to three email addresses tied to the G Hyper and G Verifier websites, but those requests for comment weren’t returned as of Wednesday morning.
The lawsuit complaint wrapped by claiming Patel and Parekh had violated Google’s Terms of Service, and listed all of the charges it brought forward in a request for a civil jury trial:
- Federal trademark infringement – claiming Patel and Parekh’s companies used the Google mark and logos.
- Federal unfair competition and false designation of origin – Google claimed here that Patel and Parekh marketed services causing confusion among consumers as to their association with the Google brand.
- Federal false advertising – Google claimed here that Patel and Parekh made misleading claims regarding their relationship with Google, and also misrepresented the tech giant’s products and services.
- Federal Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Protection Act – On this count, Google’s attorneys claimed when Patel and Parekh made phone calls claiming to be on behalf of Google, they violated laws that prohibit telemarketers from misrepresenting their affiliation with any person.
- Unfair competition and deceptive trade practices under Ohio common law and Ohio Revised Statute – Google’s attorney’s here mirrored the above charges, but claimed they also violated Ohio state laws.
- Breach of contract – Lawyers claimed here that when Patel and Parekh made Google accounts to post content with its search engine or Maps service, they agreed to the tech giant’s terms of service. The charges attorneys alleged above violated those terms of service, making a breach of contract.
Google’s lawyers asked for the court to ban Patel and Parekh from advertising any of their services related to Google. They also requested an accounting of all of Patel and Parekh’s profits, and for them to pay three times both their profits and damages to Google as well as attorneys’ fees.