A WEB OF LIES - The MirrorFalse promising using Google's good name
Internet search giant Google is waging war on the sales sharks who use its name. Its taken a string of firms to court claiming they pass themselves off as official Google partners and promise front page search positions in exchange for hefty monthly fees- promises nobody can deliver.
One's called Lavora Marketing whose boss Mike De Martiis claimed "We can guarantee a first page advert on the front page of Google." He's now signed a court order promising to never make that claim again or risk being sent to jail.
What firms like Lavora do is set up Google Adword campaigns that place those pay-per-click "sponsered links" at the top and the right hand side when people search for certain words.
It's simple enough to do yourself- and that way you'll know what you're paying for. Driving instructor Paul Murphy paid Lavora £99 plus VAT for nine months but says he only got a couple of jobs through it. "They told me they were part of Google" he told us. "They made me feel guilty for trying to cancel, saying I needed to give it more time."
Tutor Kath Simpson paid Lavora £150 to build a website and plus a monthly fee for advertising on Google. She said "I have had no business off of this and I am paying £99 a month. They made it sound like they were working for Google. I am a small trader and this has practically killed me." Lavora Manager Mike Hatton, 42, said Kath should "tread carefully with advertising budgets" or she "shouldn't be in business in the first place."
He admitted Lavora had "shortcomings" in the past but insisted all clients are sent a welcome pack and get a call to confirm the deal. But how much of the £99 monthly fee actually went on advertising and how much was trousered by Lavora?
Lavora won't tell clients, or us, explaining "No company would release an operating breakdown of it's costs." There's a healthy profit for sure. In an unintentionally hilarious online recruitment video worthy of The Offices David Brent, De Martiis says he wants "sales superstars and customer service supremos" and bragged that they "can easily earn" £750 to £1500 a week.
Posing in front of a row of champagne bottles the cocky 29 year old- living at the time in a £2million house in Altrincham, Cheshire- boasted of running "the UK's fastest growing Google marketing company" with offices in the United Kingdom and Spain.
Last month Lavora, De Martiis and a third defendant, David Colclough, 40, agreed by court order not to "falsely represent that they are Google or are connected or associated with Google". They've also promised not to make "false representations" about what AdWords can achieve or what search rankings might result.
Without admitting to doing these things, they've agreed to pay Google's costs of at least £37,000. Two other firms linked to De Martiis and Colclough- Storm Media UK and Matchmaker Marketing- have also agreed to similar orders.
Storm's owner Andrew Smith, 41, faces paying damages to Google and cost's of at least £10,000.
A Google spokesman told us: "Our aim is to protect users and prevent websites from using the Google brand to confuse and mislead the public."
Last year Lavora was "taken over" by Answer IT Ltd, a strange choice of words given that the new firm is based in the same office, has the same directors and is 100% owned by De Martiis.
Another AdWords reseller Google's taken to court is Dotcom Chrome, whose sidelineis dishing out outrageous abuse to former clients. Magician Tim Ellis says he was cold called by this lot who promised him "unlimited clicks" advertising on the front pageof Google with a one-month free trial. Believing he was talking to Google, Tim agreed.
But he was charged £125 for the first month, was told his preferred keywords were "poor choices" and the clicks were far from unlimited. When he cancelled the deal, Dotcom Chrome emailed him stating: "I believe our salesman told you every day for one month, did you take this to mean 24/7? If so, perhaps you should have queried it at the time because it could mean once per day for one month."
Then it got abusive: "Instead of dressing up like a clown all year for little or no money why don't you run AdWords campaigns for people and make some good returns as our bosses obviously do?" Finally to outright lies: "Is this the same Tim Ellis that was sued for touching my friend's auntie's child at a party? I think I may need to post something online just in case it is, and get the post on page 1 of google under your company name. Better safe than sorry and all that."
All complaints like Tim's grew on whocallsme.com, administrators found a string of positive reviews mysteriously posted under different names but from the same computer.
Now both Dotcom Chrome and boss Jamie McDougall, 25, of Altrincham, Cheshire, have agreed in the High Court not to pass themselves off as Google or claim they can guarantee search positions. They have also agreed to pay Google £30,000 in costs. McDougall's now trading as Dotcom Platinum, with a website registered by former Dotcom Chrome director Zac Leonard, 24.