Martin Lewis, Citizens Advice and Facebook launch major initiatives to fight scam ads
Two major initiatives launch today (Tuesday) to combat online scam adverts as a direct result of a campaigning defamation lawsuit by Martin Lewis.
On 23 January 2019, he agreed to settle his case out of court, in return for Facebook making a binding commitment to donate £3m to set up a new anti-scams initiative, and create a scam ads reporting tool, unique to Facebook in the UK.
These initiatives are crucial, as scam ads can have devastating consequences. The adverts, placed by criminals, often use fake celebrity images or endorsements to dupe people into investing in fake ‘get rich quick’ schemes called ‘Bitcoin Trader’, buying diet pills and more.
They can lead to many people being conned out of their cash – in some cases their life savings – and have a serious impact on people’s mental health and self-esteem.
The case that spurred this began in April 2018, by Martin Lewis OBE – founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute. He submitted the lawsuit in a personal capacity (promising any proceeds to charity), after many of these ads using his name and image appeared on Facebook. Over 1000 scam and misleading ads were taken down as a result of his complaint.
Here are today’s announcements:
From Citizens Advice: The new Scams Action project – providing one-on-one help for consumers.
Citizens Advice has been helping people who have fallen victim to scams for decades. This new, dedicated online scams service, funded by Facebook’s £3m donation following its settlement with Martin Lewis, expands that, giving specialist one-on-one help to those worried they’re being scammed and those who have already lost money.
It will also undertake scams prevention work to identify, tackle and raise awareness of online scams in the UK. The charity has found there is no typical profile of a person who has been scammed. With online scams getting more sophisticated, it can happen to anyone.
People who think they have, or are being, scammed online can now get help through Citizens Advice Scams Action by:
- Calling a dedicated phone number to get help from advisers trained specifically on online scams - 0300 3303003
- Accessing new scams advice on the charity’s website – http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scamsaction
- Using a web chat service that can provide preventative advice or next steps if they have fallen victim to a scam
- Face-to-face appointments for those who need it at their local Citizens Advice in England, Wales and Scotland
The service isn’t just for scam ads – it can also help with other common online scams including: email scams such as antivirus and fake invoice messages; website scams like copycat sites; and investment scams which include buying non-existent stocks, shares and other investments such as rare wine or art.
The service is expected to help at least 20,000 people in the first year.
Citizens Advice (England & Wales) will be working in conjunction with Citizens Advice Scotland and other consumer organisations to provide the service across the United Kingdom.
From Facebook: A new unique-to-the-UK scam ads reporting tool, accessible within the app, supported by a dedicated team.
Facebook’s new reporting tool within the app gives people in the UK the ability to easily report ads they believe to be misleading or scams on Facebook.
From today, all UK users can flag ads they believe to be scams or misleading by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of every ad on Facebook, pressing ‘Report ad’, then choosing ‘Misleading or scam ad’ and then ‘Send a detailed scam report’.
This will alert a new, dedicated, specially trained, internal operations team who will handle these reports, review and take down violating ads. That team will also investigate trends to help enforcement, and drive improvements. The tool and dedicated team are unique to the UK, as a result of the lawsuit.
Facebook hopes through this tool it will be better placed to keep pace with new types of scams and gather important feedback from UK users to understand and address this challenging issue.
Reacting to the two launches, Martin Lewis said people power is crucial:
“The UK faces an epidemic of online scam ads – they’re everywhere. Yet disgracefully there’s little effective law or regulation to prevent them, and official enforcement is poor to non-existent, as these criminals are usually based outside of the EU. That’s why I sued for defamation, bizarrely the only law I could find to try to make big tech firms understand the damage their negligent behaviour has caused.
“Today should be the start of real improvement. The aim is to tap the power of what I’m dubbing ‘social policing’ to fight these scams. Millions of people know a scam when they see it, and millions of others don’t. So now, I’d ask all who recognise them to use the new Facebook reporting tool, to help protect those who don’t – which includes many who are vulnerable. Facebook’s new dedicated team will then hopefully respond quickly to ditch the scammers.
“Sadly, we have to accept zero tolerance won’t mean zero occurrence. Yet my hope is it’ll squash the numbers of scam ads and the time those that do get through are live. This is only happening in the UK, on the back of the lawsuit, yet I suspect Facebook will see its success and soon roll it out to the rest of the world.
“The irony is, with these new tools, Facebook should pull ahead of the pack. Many big tech players don’t make it anywhere near as easy for consumers to report scam ads, and they must step up.
“During the lawsuit negotiations I approached Citizens Advice and asked if it’d be willing to help in the fight against scam ads. I was delighted that it was so eager to do it, and that it’d have a couple of years of resources to try to tackle and repair the damage caused by the scourge of scams.
“This is the first time there has been an online scam service, so it may be busy at first. Yet it’ll soon become a firm fixture in the fight against scam ads.
“However, the resources won’t last for ever and I’d call on the other big players, to follow Facebook’s lead, and put their hands in their pockets to fund CASA and those who’ve been victims of scams served on their sites too.”
Commenting on the launch of the Citizens Advice Scams Action, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“We know online scams affect thousands of people every year. We’re pleased the agreement between Martin Lewis and Facebook meant we could set up this dedicated service to give more help to people who have fallen victim to online scams.
“This project means we can not only support people who have been targeted, but also raise awareness of what to look out for to help prevent online scams happening in the first place.
“Citizens Advice Scams Action will work alongside the free and impartial help we already offer to anyone who needs advice - whoever they are, whatever their problem.”
Commenting on the launch of its scam ads reporting tool and its donation to Citizens Advice, Steve Hatch, Vice President for Northern Europe at Facebook, said:
“Scam ads are an industry-wide problem caused by criminals and have no place on Facebook.
“Through our work with Martin Lewis, we’re taking a market leading position and our new reporting tool and dedicated team are important steps to stop the misuse of our platform.
“Prevention is also key. Our £3million donation to Citizens Advice will not only help those who have been impacted by scammers, but raise awareness of how to avoid scams too.
“At a global level we’ve tripled the size of our safety and security team to 30,000 people and continue to invest heavily in removing bad content from our platform.”