Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

'Google' scam employee had her suspicions

Company name changed three times in three weeks says former staffer who walked off job

Several business owners have paid GoogleDirectory for ads. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Several business owners have paid GoogleDirectory for ads. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A former staffer of a New Zealand company allegedly claiming false links to internet giant Google says she was forced to make at least 100 cold calls a day to sell advertising to unsuspecting businesses.

Solly Mamea also claims she was never paid for her stint at GoogleDirectory, and became suspicious of her employer when she was told to change the name of the company when speaking to potential customers.

Both police and Google are investigating Auckland-based company GoogleDirectory, which launched last month and lists more than 100,000 businesses and state agencies across New Zealand.

The company is in no way connected to Google.

The company promotes itself as a new online marketing tool and offers special internet advertisement packages which cost between $200 and $15,000. It promises to advertise customer's businesses on the GoogleDirectory website, as well as other international sites.

The Herald has been contacted by a number of business owners who paid money to GoogleDirectory for advertising, believing they were dealing with Google. They say that aside from being listed on the directory's website, they have had no other advertising from the company.

Company director Simon McLeod went to ground after the Herald approached him. He initially said he would answer questions about GoogleDirectory by email, but has not responded, answered his phone or returned calls since.

Herald investigations into Mr McLeod's business interests revealed links to a convicted fraudster. Two companies Mr McLeod is listed as a director of - SMP Marketing and Corporate Consultants - list Westminister Holdings as a shareholder. That company is owned by former lawyer Robert John Warburton who was convicted of fraud after a multimillion-dollar property scam and struck off.

The Herald can also reveal more about the inner workings of Mr McLeod's company.

Mrs Mamea worked for GoogleDirectory as a telemarketing and customer services representative for three weeks in June and July.

"I was given a script which I had to read to customers I was approaching. One day I came and the company name I was giving them was GoogleDirectory. The next day it changed," she said.

Mrs Mamea was told on three different occasions to change the company name from GoogleDirectory to Corporate Search and then to SMP Marketing.

She stopped going to work after her complaints to Mr McLeod, about not getting paid were not being addressed.

"The first time he said they had missed the payroll cut-off. He said he would put the money into my account the next day. I checked - nothing," she said.

She has not heard from Mr McLeod in the past two months and her calls to him are not answered.

Police are aware of Mrs Mamea's claim she was not paid.

A Bay of Plenty business owner, after becoming aware yesterday that his company was not linked to Google, said he would be going straight to police.

Police were investigating the company.

"We are still evaluating whether this is criminal activity or a scam or a mix of both, and where we're going to go from here," said Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe.

Google said it was aware of the issue and investigating.

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- Additional reporting: Moana Tapaleao

- NZ Herald

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