Kiwi company GoogleDirectory is under investigation by the Auckland Police. The Internet directory service, which is not connected with the Web heavyweight Google, is the subject of several fraud complaints from businesses.
The company was launched in July, but it had started signing other local businesses to its directory service since May. It offered advertising packages that cost from $200 to $15,000. Google Directory promised that their clients would get advertisement on its Web site, as well as other international sites and links to social media pages.
"The financial crime unit has received information about GoogleDirectory and we're aware of allegations which has prompted us to look into it. We have spoken with a representative of the company," Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe told the New Zealand Herald.
The real Google has no connection with the Kiwi company under investigation, and has also launched its own investigation. Its original Google Directory was launched in 2000, but was discontinued in 2011.
There were more than 100,000 listings in the GoogleDirectory service. Some companies that were contacted by the Herald were not even aware that they were listed. They had not bought and paid any packages from the company. Some companies, on the other hand, received an invoice but had never paid.
Claire Turner, co-director of the company Baby On The Move, was one of the complainants of GoogleDirectory. She told police that she paid $2000 deposit on a $4600 package after she was told that Google was relaunching GoogleDirectory in the country.
She had thought that buying the package would make her company's 17 branches easily found on Google. When she was sent statistics for the first month, GoogleDirectory claimed that about 138 people had linked her Web site, but her own company's record only showed one link.
The second email she received claimed that there were 2357 links, but her record only showed six.
"We noticed that we weren't getting many hits on our Web site. We were told there was probably something wrong with our site, but of course there wasn't," Ms Turner told the Herald.
Ms Turner's Google search of GoogleDirectory failed to yield results. The dubious directory service's Web site could only be found online if its URL is entered on a browser. She was soon contacted by the police.
Another client of GoogleDirectory said that it represented Google itself. The Auckland builder, who was unnamed by the news site, said he paid $1300 for the service. His Web site was apparently "up and running," and his business is being advertised. But there was actually nothing publicising him outside GoogleDirectory's own Web site.
"Normally I'm really cautious, but I thought he was representing Google," he said.
GoogleDirectory is run by SMP Trading, with the name Simon McLeod as the sole director. According to Fairfax Media, Mr McLeod took over SMP Trading in May. It was previously owned by Westminster Nominees, a company which has convicted fraudster Robert Warburton as the sole director and shareholder.
But Mr Warbuton said that he has nothing to do with GoogleDirectory as he had recently sold SMP Trading to McLeod. He was acting as a nominee shareholder for SMP Trading, though, and he refused to name the owner of the company.
"The shareholder - whoever it is - doesn't want to be named," he told Fairfax Media.
Chinese Kiwis Defend New Zealand Over Botulism Scare On Social Media [Read]
Auckland Company Accused Of Abusing Migrant Workers [Read]
To contact the editor, e-mail: