Is impersonating a business illegal?

17 replies
Hi Warriors,

I am a web designer and developer and I really need to brush up on my SEO skills and knowledge. As I don't want to use any of my clients as a test guinea pig, I have decided to create a 5 page static website with its own brand and made up name. The business will be advertising driving lessons in my local town.

I plan to optimise and market the website to see if I can get it to the top three results for my keyword. There will be bogus phone numbers but there will be a contact form so I can monitor leads.

If I do end up at the top 3 on Google, I plan on advertising the website for sale or rent.

Is this sort of process ethical or legal?

My main reason in doing this, is it to test different SEO methods so I can apply them to my clients websites.

Thanks.
#business #illegal #impersonating
  • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
    Not sure about the legality.

    Use 555- for the phone numbers to as to avoid any real person or business getting phone calls.
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  • Profile picture of the author auradev
    Why even bother with a fake business? Just make a site about some topic and put some affiliate links in there or something.

    Also making a fake business is not the same as impersonating a business. No body will care about your "fake" home business, but why bother with all the effort to promote that? Go talk to your friends and acquantences and find someone with a website that they haven't put much effort or money into and offer to work on that for free or cheap.
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    • Profile picture of the author sgsmorgan
      Originally Posted by auradev View Post

      Why even bother with a fake business? Just make a site about some topic and put some affiliate links in there or something.

      Also making a fake business is not the same as impersonating a business. No body will care about your "fake" home business, but why bother with all the effort to promote that? Go talk to your friends and acquantences and find someone with a website that they haven't put much effort or money into and offer to work on that for free or cheap.
      Excellent idea and see if you can make something worthwhile out of it as well. Why expend all that effort and possibly get nothing back?
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  • Profile picture of the author tpw
    Using someone's business name without permission is illegal (to be prosecuted in civil court).

    Using a bogus phone number is unethical.

    But optimizing to win a page one listing in google to sell or rent the site to others, is legitimate.
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    Bill Platt, Oklahoma USA, PlattPublishing.com
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    • Profile picture of the author auradev
      Yeah that's a better idea, make a site about some niche that there are a lot of companies in your area, like auto repair or dentists.

      Then optimize it and try to lease it to one of them as an advertising channel.
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  • Profile picture of the author Keithsco
    Ask yourself if you would do the same thing on land . . . create a fake business and then try and sell it . . . there will be the right answer

    So . . for anyone who "found" the business and contacts you wanting driving lessons the answer to them would be . . sorry -this is a fake business . . . lol
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    • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
      Originally Posted by Keithsco View Post

      Ask yourself if you would do the same thing on land . . . create a fake business and then try and sell it . . . there will be the right answer
      Sure, why not? Find a nice piece of land in a heavily trafficked area. Build a building with a fabulous kitchen area and a good-sized dining room. Put up signs that say "[Your City] Fine Dining" (or whatever name isn't in use). Then try to sell it to someone interested in starting a restaurant.

      Might be a high risk investment, but, if you've got the money...
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      • Profile picture of the author AnitaCross
        Anybody remember the website for Dharma? Totally fictitious, but it was interesting to see things in the here and now that tied into the series ("Lost", in case you haven't come up for air this decade...)--the Dharma website, the book Sawyer was reading actually being published, etc. No one cried foul then.

        You could easily create a site that is a spoof of a real world business, i.e. a dentist. Or you could do something tongue in cheek, play on words, etc. As long as you aren't taking people's money for products or services that don't exist, I don't see a problem. (Although I'm not a lawyer...)

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        • Profile picture of the author RyanRobinson
          Personally, I don't think it will be a waste of time. I will be able to test my SEO skills and keep on top of the latest techniques.

          If I do get a good ranking, I could maybe sell it.

          If not, it will be a lesson learned and I will try different techniques.

          There are 6 websites currently ranking for my keyword phrase, these sites however have not been optimised. There are no backlinks against or no onsite optimization.
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          • Profile picture of the author tpw
            Originally Posted by RyanRobinson View Post

            There are 6 websites currently ranking for my keyword phrase, these sites however have not been optimised. There are no backlinks against or no onsite optimization.

            So it should not take too much effort to come out on top.

            Do it, but monetize it ethically.
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            Bill Platt, Oklahoma USA, PlattPublishing.com
            Publish Coloring Books for Profit (WSOTD 7-30-2015)
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    • Profile picture of the author bengirwb
      If you take in any money, you're in business.
      If you use your own name, such as Joe Doe Media, you are not impersonating anything.
      Just pay your income tax.
      Now if you get a check to "Joe Doe Media" your bank might want you to open a business account (unless checks are simply made out to "Joe Doe"
      The bank will want to see a business license issued by your city to open a business account. No big deal, just pay the fee, advertise it as a small legal ad (Joe Doe is doing business as Joe Doe Midea) in a newspaper and you're OK.

      If you do business as "Fantastic Media", do the "doing business as" paperwork and get a license and you're OK.

      But if you use just your name, you're a legal business. It's called "sole proprietorship"

      If you do it that way, I don't think your customers will demand to see a business license. Lots of net businesses are done under the radar.
      Just don't ignore the IRS. Put it on your tax form as miscellaneous income and deduct your expenses, or file a business return.

      Use your own name, or file a "doing business as" name.
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  • Profile picture of the author Rich Struck
    What you are proposing is a complete waste of time. I think you'd be better off to build some sites which are clearly labeled as demo/sample sites and promote your web design business instead.
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    • Profile picture of the author tpw
      Originally Posted by Rich Struck View Post

      What you are proposing is a complete waste of time. I think you'd be better off to build some sites which are clearly labeled as demo/sample sites and promote your web design business instead.

      Maybe a complete waste of "your time"...

      I know people who have put up websites of this nature... And they either sell the leads the website generates, or they sell the site to the highest bidder in the marketplace.

      They make a nice living doing this...
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      Bill Platt, Oklahoma USA, PlattPublishing.com
      Publish Coloring Books for Profit (WSOTD 7-30-2015)
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  • Profile picture of the author eholmlund
    Originally Posted by RyanRobinson View Post

    My main reason in doing this, is it to test different SEO methods so I can apply them to my clients websites.
    If that's your reason, there's no need to put up the facade of a fake business. Make it a real online business, and you can call it anything you want. You could put up some information about driving lessons in your town, just like if you were one of those companies. You could use it as a lead capture system, and you could probably even sell those leads to your local vendors. You can apply all the same SEO strategies that would apply if it were an offline business. All sorts of lead generation businesses work like this in many different industries.
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  • Profile picture of the author princesschaos
    Just wondering... why spend time experimenting your methods on something that's technically just a stand in? Why not just apply them on something that you can actually profit/benefit from (added source of income)?
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  • Profile picture of the author spearce000
    I think what you're proposing will land you in lots of hot water with the ASA - especially when the new regulations for websites come into force next month.

    Why not find a real driving school and offer your services for free on the understanding that you're using their site to test your SEO skills? That would be a win/win situation for you both.

    Failing that, find an affiliate product you can promote via a website you own then filp the site when you're finished.
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