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Google to bring in new checks to tackle scam ads

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Certain financial services providers will have to verify that they are authorised by the FCA before advertising on Google from 6 September, in an effort to tackle online fraud. But the new policy doesn't apply to ads for cryptocurrency or debt services, which are already subject to other policies, and there are some other exclusions. 

The move from Google comes after calls from campaigners, including MoneySavingExpert.com and our founder Martin Lewis, for the Government to include scam ads in its Online Safety Bill. The Financial Conduct Authority has also separately called for investment fraud caused by online advertising to fall within the scope of the new Online Safety Bill.

According to Action Fraud figures, £1.7 billion was lost to scams in the past year, while estimates for the year to June 2020 reveal that 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled.

See our 30+ Ways to Stop Scams guide for more help on how to avoid scams and what to do if you think you've been caught out. For one-on-one help and advice, contact Citizens Advice Scams Action through its website, or call its online scams helpline on 0300 330 3003.

Financial providers will have to complete a two-step verification process before advertising on Google

All financial service providers wishing to advertise their services on Google must show they are authorised by the FCA by 6 September. In reality, it means they will now need to provide information to Google that includes:

  • Business details (name, address, email address).
  • Domain(s) or website(s) included in the FCA registry and any other domain(s) or website(s) used for advertising on Google Ads, which are not included in the UK FCA registry.
  • FCA registration number.

If a provider has not yet completed Google's existing verification process, they will also need to do so. This includes providing Google with identity documents such as:

  • Certificate of incorporation.
  • VAT registration certificate or certificate of registration if it's a charity.

If you are an individual or authorised representative (which must be FCA-approved), as opposed to a business, you will need to provide proof of identity by showing a driver's license, EU national ID, EU or UK passport, or a UK residence card. 

It is only after completing both these steps that financial providers will be allowed to show ads on Google. This verification will be needed for all forms of advertising, including search, shopping and display.

But there are exceptions to Google's new rules

There are exemptions to Google's new rules though, for example: 

  • The new policy doesn't cover all financial services ads. Google says ads relating to gambling and credit repair, among some others, will not be considered financial services for the purposes of the new policy, although they still required to comply with all other Google ads policies. Ads relating to debt services and cryptocurrencies also aren't covered by the new policy, though these are already subject to checks which in some cases includes FCA verification.

  • Some advertisers which are not FCA-authorised may still be able to advertise. For example, third parties such as approved resellers may be able to advertise as long as they have been verified by an FCA-authorised firm. 

  • There will also be exemptions for some non-financial services firms that have a "compelling reason" to sell to those looking for financial services. 

Both third parties and non-financial service advertisers will still need to provide details to Google though to verify their identity. 

We asked Google how it plans to stop unverified advertisers from undercutting the verification system and placing scam ads for financial services. It told us that it is using a number of different methods to identify which ads relate to financial services and so should be subject to these new rules, but said it would "not be commenting publicly on the detail to preserve the integrity of the system".

The FCA says it will "assess the outcome of Google’s decision" once these changes take effect. An FCA spokeswoman added: “While this is an important step from Google we think a permanent and consistent solution requires legislation."

What does Google say?

Google UK managing director Ronan Harris said: “Today’s announcement reflects significant progress in delivering a safer experience for users, publishers and advertisers. We are committed to leading on necessary changes to help fight online scammers.”

Additional reporting by the Press Association.

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