Consumer watchdog, Which?, has urged Google to take stronger action against scam adverts after the consumer group found a string of fraudsters appearing at the top of its search listings.
After investigating the search engine’s ad services, which offers businesses the chance to purchase their way to the top of search results, Which? said that dubious adverts were appearing on the site.
The suspicious adverts appeared regularly for a range of companies, including car insurance providers, investment firms, and debt charities.
The watchdog said that running searches for savings-related terms, such as ‘best fixed rate bonds’ or ‘top ISA’ would bring up questionable adverts for ‘investment finder’ services.
After clicking on an advert that purported to be for an investment scheme run by Aviva, one unsuspecting victim lost £160,000.
Scammers have also targeted vulnerable people seeking help with their debts. One such ‘lead generator’ ad mimicked various well-known debt charities, including StepChange.
Which? also found that suspicious claims handling firms all topped the search results for ‘Aviva claims department’, ‘NFU phone number’ and ‘Admiral car insurance claims number’.
Firms will now need to submit documentation to verify their identities if they intend to run adverts promoting financial products, however adverts will remain live during the process which can last up to 21 days.
Which? money editor, Jenny Ross, said: “People should be able to trust that the adverts they see on Google are legitimate. However, our investigation has revealed the various ways fraudsters have hijacked the search engine’s systems to target and exploit victims.
“Despite introducing new measures to vet those advertising financial products or services, we are calling for Google to remove this delay for advertisers in high-risk industries. It should also introduce clear and transparent labels for ads listed by unverified advertisers.”
A spokesperson for Google said: “Protecting users from ad scams and fraud is a key priority. To more effectively prevent predatory financial ads in the UK, we now require certain advertisers promoting financial products or services to complete our business operations verification programme. This will allow us to gain more information about the advertisers’ identity, business model and relationships with third parties so users can trust the ads they’re seeing.
“This policy update follows months of engagement with and input from the FCA to ensure we’re effectively addressing the bad actors responsible for predatory financial ads.”
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