Google is not clamping down hard enough on scam adverts appearing in their searches, according to a new investigation.
Consumer group Which? claimed it had found fake adverts for debt help charities and financial firms.
The group says it found search results for common saving terms such as “top Isa”, “best bonds” and “best fixed rate bonds” contained dubious adverts for “investment finder” services encouraging people to fill in their details.
One victim lost £160,000 after clicking on an ad for what appeared to be an Aviva investment scheme. Despite trying to make sure the website was legitimate, they ended up speaking to a fraudster.
They were reimbursed under a banking industry code which protects blameless bank transfer scam victims.
Which? said fraudsters have also targeted vulnerable consumers seeking debt help, with “lead generator” ads imitating charities. They encourage them to submit personal details that are then sold on.
People are then contacted and pushed to take on Individual Voluntary Agreements (IVAs). These are legally binding debt repayment plans which may be unsuitable, Which? said.
Which? says it found search results for “Admiral claims number”, “NFU phone number” and “Aviva claims department” brought up adverts for third party websites referring to themselves with terms such as the “official claims line” and “claims department”.
Advertisers promoting financial services or products are given 21 days to submit verification documentation – but Which? is concerned this grace period will be exploited.
Which? said Google told it grace periods will be removed for some users from September, but Which? believes all advertisers should be verified before their ads are published. It is urging Google to prioritise removing this grace period for advertisers promoting financial services or products.