Merchant Full Circle

Earlier today an odd thing started to happen – new comments started pouring in on a months old post I wrote on MerchantCircle, a local business search play. Apparently today the company started automatically calling merchants in its listings database, and what MerchantCircle had to say really upset any…

Earlier today an odd thing started to happen – new comments started pouring in on a months old post I wrote on MerchantCircle, a local business search play. Apparently today the company started automatically calling merchants in its listings database, and what MerchantCircle had to say really upset any number of business owners. Apparently in the call MerchantCircle informed the business owners of their relative rankings and reputation in the system, regardless of whether or not the news was good. As one might expect, if your entire livelihood is in your small business, and an automated system leaves you a voicemail telling you that there is an “unfavorable review” of your livelihood, why, you take that personally.

So what do you do? Well, you fire up Google and do a search for “Merchantcircle,” of course. After all, you want to know what is up with this company, which you’ve never heard of, and Google is always your first stop. And who has the third link on Google, and the first non MerchantCircle related link? Yup, Searchblog. You read my (not very deep) thoughts on the company, and then notice there is a comments section. AHA! A chance to take action is born, and action is taken.

As more and more comments pile on, the site author (that’d be me) takes notice, and I sent an email to Ben Smith, the CEO, alerting him to the issue. Ben has responded that he’s on it.

What I love about this story is how search becomes the connective tissue between cause and action, conversational stitching in real time. Magic.

60 thoughts on “Merchant Full Circle”


    John, same thing happened at the Peter Krasilovsky’s Kelsey Group blog. (see link above) But he thinks it is a smear campaign . . . who knows.

    Funny thing about google, I bet Google get 2x more “type in” traffic than the next highest website. Its nice to be at the top of the food chain (or click stream chain).

    BTW its a common eBay phishing scam for scammer to email random people (using eBay’s member communication template) and claim that they are about to file a negative feedback. With out thinking, the person recieving the template will click “reply to member” in the email and get sent to a scammer site. The ohishing site will look like the eBay site and since the person is eager to defend his feedback, he will quickly enter his username and password without checking the URL. After that, the phisher would try to use the username and password he harvested to get money through the person’s paypal account (hoping that the username/password/email is the same)

  2. Hi John:

    We address the issues in some of the comments on your blog below. What’s more interesting than our little company’s issue is what you point out about search in your post. The pile on effect is really interesting. It is also interesting how were able to get an enormous amount of feedback from people so quickly because of the open communication on the web.

    We are looking to help merchants and search allowed us to know we had an issue quickly so we could work it. It really does provide a lot of value to a small company like us. Of course, some of it as has been pointed out by others might be the classic web echo, but regardless it is interesting. The content below can be found on our site with links at the URL above.

    MerchantCircle is focused on delivering services to enable local businesses to find more clients. As part of this service, we provide a web page for each merchant as well as tools that merchants can use to get the word out about their business (blogs, coupons, newsletters). The free MerchantCircle service is (as the name indicates) free and is being used by over 50,000 merchants currently.

    Merchants can receive ratings and/or reviews on their MerchantCircle listing. In the past, some merchants have raised concerns about not finding out their listing was available and more importantly that a consumer had posted information on that listing. We have been experimenting with many different methods of informing merchants when their listing changes. For example, when a listing is claimed, we notify the merchant via multiple methods to confirm identity. Some of these methods involve pro-actively contacting merchants who may not visit the site regularly or are unaware of the listing. These efforts have been made to try and manage a merchant concern.

    As you can imagine, this required some investment and some effort. In fact, for a while the entire team of 9 personally contacted local merchants. Anyone who was worked with lots of users can probably guess that this approach does not work when rapid growth occurs. Some of the experiments seem to be having unintended consequences and had some execution issues. We are working to address those issues while continuing to deliver value to merchants.

    In addition to our efforts to keep you informed, our system allows users to invite local merchants to join their network, or MerchantCircle. The growth in merchants has resulted in a large number of invites on the system over the past few weeks as merchants figure out that adding to their network will increase the ability of local customers to find their listing. We have received some concerns about this and are working to improve the situation.

    Merchants have complete control over their information on MerchantCircle. If anyone would like their listing to be removed from MerchantCircle please email and include your business name and phone # and we will remove your listing from the site and your contact information from our system within the day.

    If you would like to use MerchantCircle to help grow your business, we look forward to working with you to continue to improve our ability to bring you local customers.


  3. Hmmmm… Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem that Ben’s advertisement above doesn’t address the fact that he used a war-dialer to spread false information hoping to build interest in his “service”.

  4. Fast-forward 4 months… things must be slow at…
    we got the prerecorded call today saying we got googled and we received a positive rating.

    There are, of course, no such ratings at

    I’m not against networking businesses, and I’m aware that MerchantCircle will remove listings upon request. Nonetheless, unsolicited pre-recorded phone calls containing false/mis-leading information isn’t the way to grow a business nor build a positive reputation.

    I echo Brian’s comment posted above.

  5. Why does the sudden influx of comments make it a smear campaign? The whole point would be that there is a negative backlash of people who got phone spammed all around the same time (automation!) and who then googled the company to find out more about it and stumbled across your blog(going to a third-party source to check legitimacy and not “rewarding” a potential spammer by increasing traffic to their site). In what way is this company a LEGITIMATE business? I personally will mention their tactics to as many people as I can – as an example of how not to do it…

  6. After being harassed several times in 2 days by Merchant Circle’s robot phone calls to my home phone that is on the Federal Do Not Call List, leaving messages about the supposed ratings that a Google user left about my business (which of course are fake), I’ve had it. Plus finding their fake blog purporting to be my business on Merchant Circle, which I didn’t write. And their generated Google search result supposedly for my business that says “Get a coupon for (my business name)” that deceptively tricks people into logging into Merchant Circle, only to find a phone listing suggesting the surfer call the business to get a coupon (that doesn’t really exit) I’ve had it. I just filed an FTC complaint for Merchant Circle’s deceptive practices. Tomorrow I’m driving to the state capitol to talk to the my attorney general’s office. Someone has to stop this maddness. No wonder Merchant Circle’s Google ranking and web traffic have gone up incredibly in a month. They are tricking both business owners and Google searchers into driving their web page views to the moon. Worse, Google is supplying ads to these folks. If I were Google, I’d drop Merchant Circle quickly before they are fined. Hopefully, Google has more morals than Merchant Circle, who seems intent on angering everyone with their tricky marketing schemes.

  7. I received a call last night after working hours from Merchant Circle with a recorded message saying that a customer left negative feedback. This is impossible because we do not yet have customers. So I “googled” and sure enough, though Merchant Circle may be a legitimate business and have a good idea, there methods do not look very ethical. So I checked the site to see what was really on there about us. NOTHING! Not a single rating or anything, just the company name (which is incorrect) , address, and phone number; nothing one could not get out of the yellow pages. Spamming my voice mail to try and get my business. Sorry, I do not work with businesses like that.

  8. Merchant Circle just tried to scam me for the first time today. I did not fall for it and quickly found the many blogs exposing Merchant Circle for the scum that they are. Don’t waste your time responding to Merchant Circle. Do take the time to add your comments and continue to expose Merchant Circle for the riff-raff that they are!

  9. As with others who have posted, I just received my first solicitation from MerchantCircle, informing me of “negative opinions” from customers. This was sent to a number on the “no call” list. I can’t believe anyone would sign up after being on the receiving end of such an inept marketing approach.


  10. Thank You for having a blog exposing Merchants Circle.

    I believe I just received an unsolisited prerecorded phone call that was a lame attempt to get my company to sign up for there services. They stated that my company R&D Communications had been given bad customer satisfaction reviews and I could see them by going to Once on their site you have to sign up to see your review.

    I don’t take kindly to punks that resort to misinformation, intemidation or extortion. If they think they can be successful over the phone they have a poor business plan. Those tactics work much better up close and personal. They should have some of their fellow gang members stop by Elburn, Illinois and see if the can scare me into joining up. I’ll be waiting.

  11. Today I got a phone call from these guys, I got nervous and called the toll free number right back, the name merchants circle didn’t even come up in the recorded message. This is a crime and the website should be shut down, there is a much better way to make money then to scam people.

  12. I wish to thank whoever is responsable for this site which has informed me of the background of Merchant Circle as I too have received an automated call from them stating that someone had posted a positive listing for my business. I have received similar notices of Angies List and they have actively solicited me to join their organization. Although I believe Angies List to be ligitimate I am courious as to why the company has been so percistant in soliciting.

  13. Well, Merchant Circle is at it again! They just robot-called me & left a message about a favorable review & that I need to “leave” my # in the blue box if I want to see it!

    I don’t care if it is favorable or unfavorable — I just don’t need these calls wasting my business’s time. I’ll be contacting the attorney general in my state tomorrow to file a “Do Not Call” complaint.

  14. Yes, the scam is back and this time with more tricks.
    We also received an automated call but stating they were Google and our website has been rated and that we should go to to see the review.
    I didn’t find any reviews at all, but actually they did create a page with all my business information and my phone numbers without my permission.
    I have noticed some talk on active rain about them, it seems they are targeting heavily on real estate companies.
    Anyway, I think Google should be aware that they are sending automated calls stating they are Google. As far as I know, Google doesn’t own Merchant Circle, correct me If am wrong.
    I can imagine the amount of small businesses are falling into this scam and signing up for the premium service which is paid.

  15. I am from a church and got essentially the same message: “somebody googled your business and left a rating, to see the rating go to our site and enter your phone number in the blue box to see the rating”


    I found this site and by searching from
    The phone thing sounded like a scam, and I agree with everyone above, someone needs to shut them down, send them to jail for a year or 5 years, just for being misleading.
    Go Military man, get the Feds to go after them.
    And BTW, we are a church, not a business! Go figure!

  16. I have been hit today with these unethical marketing tactics! Could someone post a list of “where to complain” links. Lets beat them at their own game.

  17. Their web site claims they are a “silicon Valley” company, so it would probably be most effective for California residents/businesses to contact the state Attorney General about this outfit, assuming they really are located there. Their domain is registered through Network Solutions, and the only info in their registrations points to Network Solutions, which I believe is a violation of their rules. Anyway, here’s the whois data on :

    WYBS, Inc.
    c/o Network Solutions
    P.O. Box 447
    Herndon, VA. 20172-0447


    Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
    WYBS, Inc.
    c/o Network Solutions
    P.O. Box 447
    Herndon, VA 20172-0447

    The only new tidbit of info is this “WYBS, Inc.” part. I looked that up and found this on a venture capital blog from last August:

    Wybs Inc., a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Internet commerce startup, has raised $4.1 million in Series A funding, according to a regulatory filing. Participants included BA Venture Partners, Rustic Canyon Ventures and Steamboat Ventures.

    Edgar shows this in an SEC filing :
    Sharon L. Wienbar …. Ms. Wienbar also serves on the boards of
    directors of Bellamax, Inc., Biz360, Inc., FaceTime Communications, Inc., Reply! Inc. and WYBS, Inc. (doing business as MerchantCircle).

    Certainly looks like a slimy bunch!


  18. We received a recorded phone solicitation today (7/27/07) despite our number being on the donotcall list. Made complaint with FTC. Interesting that no phone numbers are listed on their website and their domain registration has been made private. I guess they don’t want to be bombarded with the same crap they are delivering to us.

    I thought we had a name for someone who makes you pay to avoid them doing something that hurts you. Requiring me to respond, research, make complaint, and then fill out their removal form is stealing my valuable time. I guess it’s more than one word: thief, blackmailer, terrorist — you pick. Nice business model, guys. Hey, MerchantCircle — how is your reputation?

  19. They called me today (July 31st, 2007) for the first time with a “positive review”. Still sounded way too fishy so I did some checking before I went to the site. It’s all crap. I just registered on the Do-Not-Call list right now, hopefully they just go away.

  20. Another victim of MerchantCircle’s spam here. When is the FTC going to shut these dirtbag’s down? I’m going to start hitting small business forums to warn people about this.

  21. Yeah, My 800 # got called from Merchantcircle on Friday, 8-3-07. They didn’t say the review that came through Google was negative or positive. I checked out the site and it reminds me of, our local site powered by cox communications, a hugh cable company. got us to sign up by offering the listing free for the rest of the year and they did it the old fashion way, they simply mailed out about 100,000 slick looking post cards with the offer to local businesses. We did sign up & it has worked out well for us so far. I think small businesses should look for something like this on a local level. Screw Merchantcircle and the way they solicite, then hide when the backlash comes. Google must be getting something from Merchantcircle. They don’t need to be connected to bad pub.

  22. I received the automated call this afternoon 8.7.07. I checked out this site but was still curious as to what they were doing, of course i did not find a review but interestingly enough i found a blog entry that we never wrote. I would request to be removed from the listing but can only imagine the spam i would get if they have my email address after hearing and seeing their inethical conduct first hand. Somebody please shut them down! I will be writing the FTC as well. It is amazing that after all the different blogs i have seen complaining about their tactics, complaints made etc that this is allowed to continue.

  23. Got a call today from I am really glad that you have this information so quickly available. Thanks for the infromation.

  24. this is just another profiling for money-make.
    line up – you are not better than anyone you have criticized.

  25. My husband owns a small landscape/maintenance company and received a pre-recorded call today saying he had received “a negative review” on Merchantscircle and of course went all rubbery knee’d. I immiediately found your site and thank God for it. Put him right at ease and has made him even more aware of the criminals that exist in cyber world. Thank you, Thank you!

    Robin Kelly

  26. I receievd strange call and yes it has made us upset. but then I also figured that it had to be a ploy because 98% of our customers are not fully happy. But you cannot win them all

  27. My local government agency got the same robot phone call earlier this week, and being the I.T. guy I was put on task to find out what’s going on.

    Here’s a little more information on Ms. Weinbar. I included an email link for her. Interestingly enough, this woman’s previous work expereince involved creating marketing strategies.


    Sharon Weinbar
    Managing Director
    Scale Venture Partners
    Sharon invests in mobile, internet, and enterprise software companies at Scale Venture Partners, which she joined in 2001. Sharon sits on the boards of Bellamax, Biz360, Facetime Communications, Glu Mobile, Merchant Circle, PlayPhone and

    Prior to Scale VP, Sharon spent 15 years at Critical Path, Amplitude Software, Adobe Systems and Bain & Company. Among her varied responsibilities, she directed marketing strategies and operations, integrated product and service businesses following acquisitions, managed the application of technology to Pacific Rim and European markets, and negotiated complex intellectual property licenses.

    Sharon holds a BA and MA in Engineering from Harvard University, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Sharon also serves on the board of the non-profit Myelin Repair Foundation.

    The frenzy in VC-land is palpable. For Sharon Weinbar, a VC with Bank of America Venture Partners, Google’s robust profits signal opportunity. “You can’t say, `Poof, they’re going to go away.’ ”

    Weinbar just made one investment in a stealth ad-network company and is about to invest in YourAmigo, a Pleasanton search engine.


    Listen to an interview with her about “social media”.


    Meet Sharon.


    Email Sharon to give her a piece of your mind!



  28. I got a female automated call that said I got a positive review, and to go to merchant circle dot com to see it. I entered the information, and saw nothing but a pitch for money.

    What kind of duplicity is that? Of course, there is no phone number listed to call for any confirmation. I just now wish I hadn’t given them any information.

    I would change their name from Merchant Circle to Merchant Circle Jerk. Don’t fall for it.

  29. Recently I did a job in Payson,AZ as a network and management consultant. In the process I had to relive the exsisting management of there positions. This is when I learned of merchant circle. I suddenly began to receive calls from customers asking me about posting’s on merchant circle stating that I was a thief and drug dealer. I sent requests to merchant circle to remove all references of the company from the site and was ingnored. I am to the point of hiring an attorney to sue for libal this has been going on for months and months and the company has now sold and is no longer in buisness yet after sending multiple notifications to merchant circle, the posting is still there and people that google my name get to see it and I find myself having to defend the alligations. If any one has any suggestions on how best to proceed to have this filth removed please advise.

  30. Seems this may be a ploy from google to increase search volume so that the quarterly report looks better to investors. Why else would a company(Merchant Circle) advise people to use google specifically to find their company rather than simply giving them their URL? Look back to the complaints and notice a pattern to the dates. I receive these right at the
    beginning/end of each quarter.

  31. Got a call to my do not call registered phone, recorded call, what seems to be the usual “hello, we have a comment left by a customer, blah blah” telling me all I need do is zip over to the site and leave some of my info.
    And who are they kidding? Sniffing a scam I of course googled, and yes, found this site.
    I am so tired of these time wasting scams and interruptions in my schedule.

  32. I own a business in Toledo, OH and have been receiving these same calls as above. I checked out the website & found the information contained in my company listing to be incorrect (a listing that my company was never contacted over).

    Small business owners like myself spend a lot of time (and money) making marketing decisions to better our business persona. Why is it legal for some company to scam not only the businesses they portray, but also the consumer that is actually looking for correct information? If this was passed around in actual mail boxes, this would be illegal… why isn’t it here? It causes the same damage and waste of time.

  33. Multiple, robot phone calls to my business and home phone just made me aware of the scam and fraud called the “” I am thankful for blogs that allow warning about fraud and scum out there.

  34. Heads up — Merchant Circle appears to be using a new ploy. Perhaps the leopard is trying to disguise its spots? An automated phone call informed me today that a “local customer” is interested in contacting our business. For more information about this inquiry, the automated message instructed me to enter my phone number at the MC website. Ugh. What a scam.

  35. We just recieved a call as well, a few minutes ago. My boss passed the info that someone from Google had posted a review about our website, and that if we wanted to see it we could log into with our telephone number. What alerted us that it was a scam was the fact that it was an automated message that had come from a blocked number.

    As I do not want to get scammed or spammed (either through email or the phone), I googled Merchant Circle and I think this is the second blog furiously posting objections to this kind of unfair business practices.

    Although I visted the website, I do not want to log into anything or even use the website. Just doing so increases their traffic, their Google PR (PageRank) and unsuspecting businesses find them as a busy website. Therefore even using their website legitimizes them and they look reputable with a really high PageRank.

    And yet, I would like to see this “review”. So, unwittingly, I manage to search for related businesses in our area, click on our “business” and see no listing. Instead, I see a scam.

    Cannot find reviews for Syds Eastside Auto Parts. Why doesn’t Syds Eastside Auto Parts have reviews? Sign up to take control of your reputation.

    But with all us checking to see what this so-called business has on us, they are generating traffic and making them look legit to people that don’t know any better.

    Don’t get me wrong, I want our link and business information propogated through the positive side of the web. But this place is a link farm if I ever saw one, using unfair business practices, lies and deception to create a mystic.

    What I want to know is why Google hasn’t caught on and banned them or given them a 0 PR for what they are doing, just as they have punished/penalized every other free web directory, as they have been doing to all free link/listing web directories over the past year?

    On another note, if Matt Cutts doesn’t like paid links, why are all the free web directories getting the shaft with poor PR? And why are the paid directories getting bonus PR?

    This online marketting crap is just getting way out of hand and Merchant Circle is a prime example.

  36. Just one more in the list of people being scammed by Merchant Circle. I have received mulitple calls to my cell phone “which by the way is listed on the do not call registry” that customers had left a positive or negative rating. I fell into the trap and entered their site. And did find a negative review, From a nameless faceless ??? customer? Competitor? or just someone at Merchant Circle trying to get me to pay them in order to be able to remove the comment. What a scam. Blackmail or Fraud would be a good term to describe merchant circle and their business practice.

  37. Is there any way to get ahold of this firm (MerchantCircle) besides sending a snail mail letter (that’s all that appears in their “contact” section? I would like to revise a review of a firm but it appears that once one posts a review, it is never revisable nor removeable.

    1. i wish they would quit sending my company e-mails..i get 2 a day saying we have a lead in your area…I just add that sender to block list and  wow  next day 2 more with diffrent e-mail address appear in my inbox…this is spamming as far as iam concerned.i dont want any business sent to me from them and wish somehow i could get all these damn e-mails to quit showing up…If anyone knows how or what i can do to help shut these low lifes down please let us know ….STAY AWAY FROM THIS COMPANY THEY WANT YOUR MONEY AND DO NOTHING FOR YOU IN RETURN……

  38. The robot message has been changed to “a prospective customer has requested Merchants Circle very your company is legimate, please go to Merchants Circle …”

    This is annoying especially given how some much of this kind of marketing is entrapment. We’re in the process of getting third party charges removed from our local phone bill. A mere click on the wrong web site could be an authorization for a voice mail account charged to your phone number. (look up telephone & cramming)

  39. I’ve recently received several of the robo-calls about the “prospective customer” requesting information about our business. Thank you for leaving this blog post and comments up so I can see that others are having this problem. Time for a follow-up?

  40. It is AMAZING that this intrusion masked as a “service call” adn disguised as marketing is STILL going on nationwide after TWO YEARS of complaints. I wonder if we can figure a way to route all of these calls to our Senators and Congressmen?

  41. Same thing happened to us. Got the automated call, went to their site and found nothing. This has happened 10-12 times to each of our 3 different business phone numbers. It’s a scam and they commit fraud by lying about nonexistant reviews. I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. is scum.

  42. This happened to me too. This company is vile slime. No better than phishers or spammers.

    If I were the people running this company and I were irritating thousands of business owners with BS calls, I would have rethought my business model if I had any interest in running an upstanding company. The fact this is still going on after two years is proof-positive that this company is fraudulent scum.

  43. I have read many blogs and researched MC extensively and I have experienced just about every complaint that everyone has shared. I actually helped promote MC over two years ago within my community and took advantage of the ad dollars they would pay out if I were to invite merchants and write endorsements. I must add that I really thought in 2006 that MC was doing a great service but now I’m sorry I encouraged my business social network to join. There are many more details concerning my specific MC drama but I have an idea that hopefully may catch on and settle the issues that we have all experienced without lawyers getting paid.
    Why don’t we all use the business social network mechanism of the MC portal and in a civil manner use it against them to notify visitors that MC….. Get the idea?

  44. I received a voicemail today claiming that Merchants Circle has a video posted of me. BS. If that were somehow true it would probably be an actionable invasion of privacy. This is telephone spam from (480) 543-1367 and I would NEVER do business with MC.

  45. It is time to contact your local and national media to turn the tables on this company. Let’s give them the bad press that they have worked so hard for. CNBC, Fox Business News, Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *