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Today’s post is by Sr. Account Manager Liam Mbuthia, who has worked in the SEM industry since 2005 and has never encountered anything like the impending story before. Read and draw your own conclusions. And leave comments if you’ve had a similar experience.

Back in early August, a client advised me that a Google rep had left her several voicemails with his name and contact info; the “rep” was trying to reach out in regards to the change-over from Google Product Search to Google Shopping. The client thought nothing of it, and after she forwarded me the rep’s email (which had an @google.com address), I thought nothing of it either, despite the fact that we had a Google rep we had already worked with in the past.

This is where the fun begins.

We scheduled a call to see what exactly the rep had to say. I advised the client that Google usually provides a dial-in; when the rep said he didn’t have one, that struck me as strange. The client and I hopped on the line, eventually dropping after 20 minutes when it was clear the rep was a no-show. In all my years working with Google reps, I cannot recall one ever not making a call, let alone missing the call without any notice whatsoever.

We gave the young man the benefit of the doubt and rescheduled for a few days later; despite being 15 minutes late to that call, he eventually dialed in.

Once we connected, the rep dove in and started explaining that the change in Google Product Search meant that the once-organic (free) listings were soon to be commercialized (we were already aware of this). Then he began making a few “observations” as though he was in our account (e.g. Product Listing Ads have seen less traffic and higher CPC’s), but his observations weren’t necessarily accurate. He then advised us that he had a coupon code for us to use for a rebate on Product Listing Ad spend until the end of the year, and after sharing my contact info, I dropped off the call and we agreed to follow up via email.

I got off that call and was honestly more confused then before we had spoken. If there was a coupon code for a rebate, why push that so hard on us? It would mean less money for Google — not to say they wouldn’t do something like that for advertisers, but to have a rep push it like a salesman just made no sense.

Within a few minutes of the call, the client and I both received an email from the rep. He said that he could send over the coupon code once I granted him account access.

Hmmm, a Google rep asking for account access. Yeah, that’s about as big a red flag as there is. I replied that I was confused why he needed me to grant him account access since he was a Google rep and should have had access already, to which he responded rather rudely that wherever I get my information is wrong.

That was that. I started diving in to to find out more about this “Google rep,” and I advised the client to not have any more correspondence with him.

What we found out — doing our own research and not at all clued in by the “rep” — was that he actually works for a company named Revana, based in Arizona. Upon further investigation, we found a very recent talk forum talking about this rep by name. Users in the forum stated that they were contacted by a “Google rep” who then requested account access, and once the advertiser agreed to some sketchy Ts & Cs, the reps then had the green light to make account changes without the advertiser’s consent. This was obviously very disturbing, as the advertiser would still be on the hook for the bill — it’s essentially like writing a blank check to Google.

Oh, and we still had no idea how on earth this guy had an @google.com email address, so I emailed our agency rep to get some info. Initially I was told he was in their database as an employee. Only after I followed up with more questions was I informed that he was in fact a vendor, not a full-time Googler.

Both the client and I were floored when we learned of this. We’re always on the lookout for scammers in this space, but this appeared to have been sanctioned by none other than Google themselves. Which begged an obvious question: why would Google hire contractors to pass themselves off as real-deal Googlers?  

Think back to the Ts & Cs mentioned above. Real Googlers cannot just go in and make all these changes and stick the advertiser with the bill, but apparently if a contractor does it, it’s OK. It’s my guess that for these Revana reps, the incentive is a cut of increased ad spend.

Google has a staggering amount of advertisers already, and for many small businesses, being contacted by someone from the inside to help “grow” and “optimize” the account would seem like a no-brainer, time well spent. I’m sure many advertisers are handing over account access and info, since on some levels (especially the Google verification), it seems legitimate.

One other thing of note: a few days after we brought this up to our Google rep, we noticed this little entry in AdWords Help (note the date it was updated).

As the client noted when I showed her this link, the title of the entry is misleading, and that’s part of the problem: nobody was up front about Revana as an outside party; we were led to believe from the beginning that the rep was from Google. Only rather experienced agencies and SEMs would know enough to ask questions, and the gray area for smaller or newer businesses is unsettling. There’s a lesson here: ask questions, and don’t just swallow the Google hook. The same is true, of course, for any search engine claim…there’s a lot of money in the balance and a lot of parties willing to take advantage.

Anyone else have a similar experience? Leave a comment!