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Google introduces new checks to tackle scam financial ads from today - but there are major exclusions

Certain financial services providers will have to prove they are authorised by the financial regulator before advertising on Google from today (6 September). It's an effort by the search engine to tackle online fraud, but the new policy doesn't apply to ads for cryptocurrency or debt services and there are some other exclusions. 

The move from Google comes after calls from campaigners, including and our founder Martin Lewis, for the Government to include scam ads in its Online Safety Bill. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) 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 25+ 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.

From today, financial providers will have to complete a two-step verification process before advertising on Google

All financial services providers wishing to advertise on Google from today must show they are authorised by the FCA. In reality, this means they 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 completed Google's standard verification process prior to today, they 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 FCA-authorised individual or representative, as opposed to a business, you 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 of these steps that financial providers will now be allowed to show ads on Google. This verification will be needed for all forms of advertising, including search, shopping and display.

Both third parties and non-financial services advertisers also still need to provide details to Google to verify their identity. 

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

  • Some firms that 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 are also exemptions for some non-financial services firms, such as search engines or eCommerce platforms that have a reason to show ads to those looking for financial services. 

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 it is using a number of different methods to identify which ads relate to financial services and are therefore subject to these new rules, but said it would "not comment publicly on the detail to preserve the integrity of the system". 

What do Google, the FCA and the Government say?

Google declined to add any further update or comment. 

The FCA says it will "assess the outcome of Google’s decision" although it could not confirm a date as to when this work will be completed, saying it needs to see how the policy is implemented and the impact it has on tackling scam ads. An FCA spokeswoman added: "While this is an important step from Google we think a permanent and consistent solution requires legislation."  

A Government spokesperson said: "We have brought user-generated fraud into the scope of our new online laws to increase people's protection from the devastating impact of scams.

"The move is just one part of our plan to tackle fraud in all its forms. We continue to pursue fraudsters and close down the vulnerabilities they exploit, are helping people spot and report scams, and we will shortly be considering whether tougher regulation on online advertising is also needed."

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