MSE News

ASA launches new way to report online scam ads

The advertising watchdog today launched a new scam-ad alert system, to help tackle the plague of online fraudsters. But while it should help and offers a direct way to report online scam ads, it's "far from a perfect solution", according to founder Martin Lewis.

The service, launched by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) alongside the Internet Advertising Bureau, allows internet users to report scam ads appearing in paid-for space online to the ASA. It will then send an alert to advertising platforms and publishers with details of the scam ad. You can report an ad using this form on the ASA website.

If platforms and publishers locate the advert, it should then be removed and the advertiser's account suspended. In some instances platforms may also put the ad on block-lists, stopping them from appearing in future.

The launch of the service follows a three-month trial and is in response to the ongoing problem of online ads linking to fraudulent content, such as Bitcoin or crypto-investment scams.

Many scam ads such as these use false stories or doctored images of celebrities – such as MSE founder Martin Lewis – and falsely suggest or claim that those celebrities have endorsed the service. 

For more help on spotting scams and how to protect yourself online, see 30+ ways to stop scams and 20+ coronavirus scams to watch out for, and also see our Fake Martin Lewis Ads guide.

Martin: 'I'm pleased the ASA has listened, but this is far from a perfect solution'

Martin Lewis said: "The UK has been plagued by scam ads online for years. People – both vulnerable and not – have had their money and self-esteem stolen by scammers. 

"So I'm pleased that the ASA has listened to us and other campaigners, and is finally starting to take its remit over online ads seriously. Those that, like me, feel strongly about scam ads should take time to visit the ASA and report them – then you know it'll share its intelligence with the major advertising platforms. 

"However, that is far from a perfect solution. When I sued Facebook over scam ads with me in them, I agreed to settle the case in return for it funding the launch of Citizens Advice Scams Action with £3 million, and crucially, launching a scam-ads reporting button and dedicated team, unique to the UK. And it's these on-ad reporting buttons on Facebook and elsewhere that really allow the 'social policing' necessary to combat the criminals who do this. Yet if people do report on the ad itself, these won't automatically be shared with the ASA at the moment.

“Scammers are swift and clever. When you try to stop an ad, it becomes a game of whack-a-mole – as soon as it's taken down, they resurface it in a slightly different variant and the whole dance starts again. That means the reporting process needs to be seamless and pacey. 

"But under this new system we're effectively asking consumers to report it twice, on the ad and to the ASA. What we really need is a single, recognised, uniform reporting button on every online ad, that both notifies that platform, and if there is a sufficient volume of reports, notifies the ASA which can disseminate the information across the board."

How do I report a scam ad?

You can report an ad using this form on the ASA website.

You can use the form to report all kinds of online scam ads, including ads on newspaper websites, search engines and social media. The ads need to be in paid-for space online.

You'll be asked a short series of questions, such as where and when you saw the advert and why you believe it to be a scam.

It'll also be helpful if you can provide extra information such as a link to the ad if possible, and, if you clicked the ad, a link to the page it took you to.

The ASA says you won't receive a personal response to your report – so don't expect an ad to be removed immediately after you've reported it. But the watchdog says it assesses the reports it receives and uses them as intelligence in its action to tackle scam ads and works with ad networks and online publishers to remove obvious scam ads as quickly as possible. 

What sort of ads should be reported?

The ASA says examples of ads that should be reported include:

  • Fake celebrity news, such as reporting a celebrity has been assaulted or has died when that is not true, or which links through to websites making these claims.

  • False celebrity endorsements, such as those claiming a celebrity made their money through cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and is encouraging others to do the same, or which link through to websites making these claims.

What does the ASA say?

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: "The overwhelming majority of ads responsibly inform and entertain their audience, but a small minority are published with criminal intent.

"Our scam-ad alert system will play an important part in helping detect and disrupt these types of scams. By working closely with our partners such as Google and Facebook we can act quickly to have problem ads taken down as part of our ongoing work to better protect consumers online."

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