Financial Conduct Authority  

Bailey sets expectations for Google action on scams

Bailey sets expectations for Google action on scams
Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA

The chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority has said he would like internet providers to remove websites which advertise scams within 48 hours of the regulator raising the alarm. 

The FCA is in the process of persuading these providers, and in particular Google, to "promptly" take down websites which feature misleading marketing as part of the watchdog's drive to mitigate risks to investors in the mini-bond market. 

The regulator's work in this area saw it announce a temporary ban on the mass-marketing mini-bonds to retail investors, without consultation yesterday. 

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The FCA said the risk to consumers was sufficiently "serious and immediate" to justify it exercising its intervention powers. 

Speaking with FTAdviser Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA, said discussions with internet providers were ongoing but he hoped once an agreement was reached action could be taken to remove websites within 48 hours of the regulator raising the alarm. 

Mr Bailey said: "Bearing in mind the reach that Google and others have, I would like to see an scenario where we can agree an evidential test for cases where websites are clearly outright frauds and scams - and we see an increasing amount of this I should say - and if we take the evidence to them they are prepared to take the sites down.

"I can’t see them wanting to be known for being the home for this sort of activity." 

The FCA boss added: "I would want to agree with them what the evidence they need is, but I would hope that once the evidence is presented they would act very fast.

"I don't think there should be any cause for delay if the evidence is there - so I didn’t have a particular number of hours in mind but certainly no more than 48 hours I would think.

"Frankly at this point I would want to get a much better understanding from them about what they have to do to enact that type of step."

The FCA estimates the average amount currently invested by consumers in illiquid speculative securities is more than £25,000 per investor, which the regulator warned would lead to "significant" losses should a provider fail.

The FCA has come under increased scrutiny in this area of the market this year following the high-profile collapse of mini-bond provider London Capital & Finance, which fell into administration in January putting the funds of more than 14,000 bondholders at risk.

London Capital & Finance allegedly signed clients up to fixed-rate Isas promising 8 per cent interest, with investors' capital then invested into mini-bonds used to issue loans to small businesses.

The FCA said: "Widespread marketing of speculative illiquid securities continues, particularly via the internet, with promotions for these products commonly appearing in response to simple online searches for 'high investment returns' or similar phrases.