Six month review of our Scam Ad Alert system

In June 2020, we launched a Scam Ad Alert system in partnership with major online ad and social media platforms, including Google and Facebook, to help tackle scam ads online. We launched the system because, while the overwhelming majority of ads responsibly inform and entertain their audience, some are published with criminal intent. Scam ads lead unsuspecting consumers to sites which fleece and leave them out of pocket.

Our system aims to complement and enhance the work already being done by digital advertising and social media platforms and other regulatory bodies to tackle scam ads and, more broadly, other fraudulent activity online. 

Since the summer, consumers have been reporting scam ads appearing in paid-for spaces online to us via our new online form. We’ve dedicated resources to assessing these reports within 24 hours, enabling us to quickly and effectively alert platforms to scam ads so that they can promptly remove them, suspend the advertisers’ accounts and stop similar ads appearing in future.

We are grateful to everyone who has reported a scam to us so far and encourage consumers to continue to alert us to any potential scam ads they see in paid-for spaces online.

Now, six-months on since the system’s launch, we are reporting on how it is performing by highlighting key stats and trends.


Key stats and trends

Since its launch, we have received:

  • 1,274 reports from the public;
  • which has resulted in 121 alerts being sent to online platforms, meaning that;
  • *one in ten reports we received resulted in an alert being sent

Platforms responded to our alerts within 48 hours (88% of the time) to confirm they had removed the reported scam ad.

We are encouraged that our network of partners have been able to take action to detect and remove multiple scam ads and the underlying account holders as a result of the intelligence received from us.

Nearly all of the scams we sent alerts for related to cryptocurrency ads which used false stories or doctored images of celebrities and misleadingly implied those celebrities had endorsed the service.

It’s vital that these scams have been and continue to be identified and removed quickly so that people are better protected online, especially when considering the significant financial harm they can cause consumers. 

*The remaining reports did not result in an alert being sent because they did not meet our definition of a scam in a paid-for space or because they lacked sufficient information to prove it was a scam. Where relevant, we passed intelligence from reports on to individual platforms.


How has the Scam Ad Alert system developed since its launch?

Since the launch of the Scam Ad Alert form, we have worked with the government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). They operate the government’s takedown service, which seeks to remove malicious email addresses and websites. We now share all our alerts with the NCSC. They scan the alert for website addresses (URLs) to find the host website and remove it if it’s found to be malicious. This means that alerts not only result in action against the ads but also the websites they link to, which increases the effectiveness of our alerts in protecting consumers. We have also continued to engage and share information with others involved in tackling scams online, including the FCA, Action Fraud and social media companies.

Additionally, we have made some changes to our reporting form since launch to simplify it, ensuring the language we use is accessible so that users can provide all the necessary information with ease.

Online fraud is highly sophisticated in nature, and as technology continues to develop, so will the complexity of scams.

Offenders will continue to attempt to circumvent sophisticated solutions deployed by online platforms to fight scams. That’s why a multi-stakeholder response involving law-enforcement bodies, government partners, statutory regulators, platforms and all involved in the online ad industry, as well as national advertising regulatory bodies such as the ASA is critical to combatting them.

We want to ensure our Scam Ad Alert system works effectively for consumers. To achieve this, we’ll continue to monitor the performance of our system and are actively reviewing what more we can do to work collaboratively with stakeholders. We are also exploring what role tech, including machine learning, can play in our ability to more effectively identify scam ads online.

Reporting scam ads helps to keep everyone safe online, so if you are concerned about a potentially bogus ad you see in paid-for space online, please report it to us through our form.

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