Google to tighten ad rules in bid to clamp down on ‘devastating’ scams – after pressure from City watchdog

Google UK has announced it will tighten rules on financial services ads in an effort to clamp down on scams – after pressure from the City watchdog.

From 6 September, firms advertising such services on its platforms will be required to show that they are authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The FCA issued 1,200 consumer warnings last year about scams advertised via online platforms by fake companies that are not regulated by the watchdog, MPs were told earlier this month.

It has called for checks on firms advertising financial products to be made obligatory under a planned “online harms” bill.

Action Fraud has said that Britons lost about £1.7bn to scams over the last 12 months and that, in the year to June 2020, 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled.

It said last month that £63m had been lost by victims of investment fraud who mentioned social media platforms when reporting the crime, over a 12-month period.

Instagram – owned by Facebook – and Facebook itself were the most mentioned platforms.

In nearly half of the reports, victims had been tricked into thinking they were investing in a cryptocurrency.

Under Google’s new policy, ads relating to categories including debt services, gambling, cryptocurrencies and credit repair, will not be covered.

Google UK managing director Ronan Harris said: “Today’s announcement reflects significant progress in delivering a safer experience for users, publishers and advertisers.

“Our utmost priority is to keep users safe on our platforms – particularly in an area targeted by fraudsters.”

The FCA said: “We welcome all steps which protect consumers from scams and recognise that this is a positive move from Google. We will review the detail.

“We want to see continued and concerted efforts by all organisations with an interest in protecting consumers to achieve a sustained reduction in scams.

“While this is an important step from Google we think a permanent and consistent solution requires legislation.”

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at consumer group Which?, said: “Our research has repeatedly exposed scam ads on Google that can have devastating financial and emotional consequences for victims.

“The success of these changes will be judged by whether they stem the tide of scam adverts and will depend on Google effectively enforcing its policies to prevent fraudsters from luring in victims on its platform.”

FCA director of enforcement Mark Steward earlier this month told MPs on the Treasury select committee that the watchdog had been paying Google to publish its warnings on scams.

“The irony of us having to pay social media to publish warnings about advertising they are receiving money from is not lost on us,” Mr Steward told MPs.

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