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Tech Q&A: How to cope if fake Google search results hurt you

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

Q: Google has begun showing search results for a misspelling of my business name, and some of these listings include my current phone number and an old home address that is now an empty lot. I edit books under the name Words & Deeds Inc. The misspelled search results are for Woods & Deeds Inc. I tried to work with Google to get these search results deleted, but I was immediately sent to some other link where they offered to "look into it" for $50 to $60. That might be my only avenue to get this problem fixed. What should I do?

—Connie Anderson, Minneapolis

A: You definitely have a problem. When I searched for Words & Deeds, I found listings for your business and a single link to the Woods & Deeds company name. The misspelled company listing included your current phone number, an address where property records show you formerly lived, a link to your website and a picture of trees (perhaps the empty lot.)

When I searched for Woods & Deeds, I found several more listings that included your personal information. I noted that Woods & Deeds doesn't seem to have a website. The information is on other websites, such as Mapquest.com, Yellowpages.com, Yahoo.com and Manta.com.

This situation may be the result of an honest mistake: Someone posted an incorrect piece of information and the mistake spread because websites copied business listings from each other.

Or this may be a malicious attempt to harm you or your business and make you pay to fix it. It sounds similar to a scam reported by the New York Times (see tinyurl.com/ne9chrzk).

In the scam described by the Times, false information about someone was published online by an unknown person, then copied by one website after another until the information was so ubiquitous that it showed up in a Google search. Desperate to get the false information removed, victims contacted "reputation management" companies that promised to get the offending information removed from websites (and thus from Google searches) for a price. But some of the websites that published the false information and some of the reputation management services were owned or controlled by the same people — they were charging to fix a problem they had created.

 

So don't pay anyone to fix this. Send e-mails to the websites that I listed and ask them to change or delete the incorrect listings. Then go to a Google website (tinyurl.com/2zxk5ahy) that explains how you can request to have offending information deleted from Google searches.

Q: When I click on a website link to send someone an e-mail, Windows 10 automatically sends me to my Comcast Xfinity e-mail account, which I don't use. How can I get it to open my Gmail account instead?

—Bruce Snyder, Mendota Heights, Minn.

A: Set your web browser to default to Gmail (see tinyurl.com/ff37n3sv and tinyurl.com/3s6bcebr). Then, when you click on a Web link to send an e-mail, it will open in Gmail instead of Xfinity e-mail.

It's not worth trying to make Windows 10 treat Gmail as your default e-mail. It recognizes PC-based e-mail apps, such as Windows 10 Mail, and some website-based e-mail systems, such as Yahoo Mail. But it doesn't recognize Gmail. The best you can do is set the default e-mail to the name of your web browser (see tinyurl.com/3uxhzv7h).

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