FCA labels Google's scam advert efforts 'deeply frustrating'

FCA labels Google's scam advert efforts 'deeply frustrating'

The Financial Conduct Authority has lambasted Google and other internet search engines for their efforts in policing high risk and scam finanical adverts online.  

Speaking at the regulator's annual public meeting yesterday (September 24) Charles Randell, chairman of the FCA, said the number of fraudulent adverts which were allowed to appear online was "deeply frustrating" and an "unsatisfactory situation". 

The FCA itself has no power to remove adverts from the web and can only petition Google and other platforms to do so. But Mr Randell said "whatever Google are doing, so far it's not working". 

It was a frustration shared by Andrew Bailey during his time at the helm of the regulator, with the former chief executive telling MPs earlier this year the FCA was "playing whack-a-mole" with these types of adverts.

It comes at a time when experts and the City-watchdog itself has warned scams are likely to increase amid the uncertainty and vulnerability of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Earlier this month FTAdviser revealed the FCA had paid £326,334 on paid search adverts between January and June this year, as part of its high-return investment campaign - an average of £54,389 each month.

The campaign sees the regulator use paid searches against common investment keywords to target consumers at a "critical point" in their online investment journey and "directly attack" online promotions for illegal or unsuitable financial products

Speaking at a press conference following yesterday's meeting Mark Steward, director of enforcement and market oversight, said: "Google and other media organisations do get that there is a problem here, but the steps that are being taken are almost inevitably going to fall short.

"Because the process of placing these adds is so cheap, the scammer only needs to get one response to each ad and they are in profit already."

A Google spokesperson said: "Protecting the community from ad scams and fraud is a key priority for Google.

"To better prevent predatory financial ads in the UK, we've updated our policies to now require certain advertisers promoting financial products or services to complete our Business Operations Verification Programme.

"This programme allows us to gain more information about the advertisers’ identity, business model and relationships with third parties to ensure users can trust the ads they’re seeing."

The spokesperson said the policy changes followed "months of engagement with and input from the FCA" to ensure the "bad actors responsible for predatory financial ads" were stopped.

But Mr Steward said: "We don't yet fully know what the verification process entails and unless it actually includes knocking on the door and making sure they are who they say they are it is not quite clear how verification is going to work.

"Because scammers are able to place glossy ads online very easily and cheaply without due diligence checks at the entry point so false names, addresses and credentials are commonplace."