Police probe online directory firm

MATT NIPPERT AND LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 11:22 21/08/2013

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An internet directory service calling itself ''Google Directory'' is being probed by the Auckland Police fraud squad.

Google Directory - an operation independent of the internet search giant Google - offered advertising packages to New Zealand businesses through unsolicited faxes and cold calls.

Companies were offered deals for between $200 and $15,000 that promised to have their business advertised on the site, several other international sites and links to social media pages.

Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe of the Auckland Police financial crime unit said the investigation was sparked by complaints from members of the public and had been running for a month.

The police needed to determine whether the service being provided by Google Directory was the one being promised, Pascoe said.

The Police were not sure what money had been lost.

"The difficulty is assessing the cost as there is an element of services being provided," he said.

Google International are aware of the police investigation, he added.

Calls to Google by Fairfax Media were not immediately answered.

The Google Direct Facebook page said it was ''One of the strongest and financially viable marketing tool [sic] on the market today.''

The operation is run by SMP Trading, whose sole director is Simon McLeod.

A call to Google Directory was answered by a man who identified himself as ''Frank'' and said he was an answering service and not in a position to comment. He said McLeod was out of the office, and a message left for the director was not immediately returned.

According to the companies office SMP Trading is owned by Westminster Nominees, a company with convicted fraudster and former lawyer Robert Warburton as sole director and shareholder.

Contacted today, Warburton said he had formed SMP Trading some years ago but it had been idle and he had recently sold it to McLeod.

''I had done some work for him previously," he said.

"He wanted a company, contacted me and as it happened I had a number of them."

McLeod took over as director of SMP Trading in May.

Warburton said he had ''no involvement'' in the operations of Google Directory.

He said he was only acting as a nominee shareholder for SMP Trading, but refused to name the owner as he was ''not authorised'' to reveal that information.

''The shareholder - whoever it is - doesn't want to be named,'' he said.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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