Beltsville's Vocus misses fraudulent news release that touts fake Google acquisition

Vocus, a Beltsville digital marketing company that's growing fast, has a number of useful services for marketers and public relations pros. One of them is PRWeb, a news release service that disseminates business announcements all over the web.

The company is pretty serious about growing its business and snagging a piece of the digital marketing services market. I recently wrote a profile of it in The Sun.

But the company is now catching a lot of heat for letting a fraudulent press release slip through. Someone posted a news release stating that ICOA Inc., a national provider of wireless and wired broadband Internet networks in high-traffic public locations, was being bought by Google for $400 million.

ICOA's stock trades in the over-the-counter (pink sheets) market for less than a penny. The fake news release drove the stock price up a negligible amount. Many think it was some stock speculator doing a "pump and dump" scheme, to drive up the stock price in a short period of time and sell.

Vocus said that it's referred information to federal authorities. The company has put out two statements on its PRWeb blog. It didn't apologize.

From the statement: "[N]o safeguard is perfect, and a fraudulent release bypassed our processes.  We’ve already made additional changes to our processes to guard against this from happening again."

The problem with the press release is that many legitimate news sources picked it up and published stories about it, at lightning-fast Internet pace, without first checking with Google or ICOA.

This is as much a problem with press-release journalism as it is about PRWeb getting fooled.

Still, Vocus and PRWeb were witheringly criticized by Danny Sullivan, who writes the well-known SearchEngineLand blog. He wrote a post titled: How PRWeb helps distribute crap into Google & news sites.

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