UK: Crooks can place ads for fake companies on FB and Google

The Doctor

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Con artists can easily post scam adverts on Facebook and Google

Which? investigation looked at if two fake ads would be published online
Adverts for two fictitious companies were approved by Facebook and Google
Facebook and Google say they are working to make it harder for con artists to be able to post scam ads on their platforms

By Joe Pinkstone For Mailonline
Published: 6 July 2020

Con artists are able to post scam adverts on Facebook and Google without being detected, according to an investigation by Which?.

It warned that disingenuous adverts for fake companies and products can appear online within hours of being created.

The tech giants have been working to improve protections against bogus ads, but Which? says it is still relatively easy for criminals to avoid detection.

Researchers created two linked fake companies – a water brand named Remedii and Natural Hydration, an online service offering pseudo health and hydration advice – to see how easy it would be to post a fake ad.

Which? devised and posted adverts, but no fake products were sold to consumers during the experiment.

Google reviewed the submitted advert, but did not verify the legitimacy of the business and failed to ask for ID.

In under an hour, the adverts were approved by the search engine firm for both dummy businesses, gaining almost 100,000 impressions over the space of a month.

Afake advert for Natural Hydration was displayed above the official NHS Scotland pages when users searched for 'hydration advice'.

Meanwhile, using a personal Facebook account, Which? created a business page on the social network for Natural Hydration and produced a range of posts with pseudo health advice to promote it.

A paid promotion of the page gained some 500 likes in the space of a week.

Facebook responded to the investigation saying the page set up by Which? does not violate its community standards and is not currently selling products.

'We remove harmful misinformation that could contribute to physical harm, such as false health claims, and have strict policies against deceptive advertising and scams,' it said.

Google has already set out plans to introduce new rules in the UK from early 2021 which will require all advertisers to complete an identity verification programme.

'Our goal is to make more information about the ad experience universally available and accessible,' the company explained.

It comes as the UK's competition watchdog called for new fines and the threat of break-ups for tech giants with dominant positions in the advertising space.

According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), UK expenditure on digital advertising was around £14 billion in 2019, with 80 per cent of it going to Facebook and Google.

It wants a new pro-competition regulatory regime in place to reduce their power, backed by a code of conduct to ensure such platforms do not engage in exploitative or exclusionary practices.

'Fraudulent activity is rife on social media and search engines and our investigation has exposed that a lack of controls on Facebook and Google has made it worryingly easy for fraudsters to create adverts promoting scams or fake products and services,' said Harry Rose, Which? magazine editor.

'Tech giants earn billions from advertising and should be putting more resources into preventing fraudsters from abusing their platforms, so consumers can trust that the adverts they see are legitimate...