Google and others need to take stronger action against online scams impersonating debt charities, Which? has warned.
Scammers have been impersonating debt charities such as StepChange to trick people into revealing personal information, which is then sold on to commercial firms that try to sell a debt solution - that may be expensive or inappropriate.
Which? is calling for Google to take stronger measures to tackle scam ads, while StepChange has been urging regulators and those responsible for online advertising, including Google, to do more to clamp down on offenders more effectively.
Richard Lane, director of external affairs at StepChange, said: “People are shocked when they realise that predators are out there impersonating legitimate debt charities, determined to make money by cynically exploiting people in vulnerable financial circumstances. Yet, to date, regulators and search engines have failed to put in place robust mechanisms to stop this from happening.
“Last year, we reported around 100 offending adverts, and despite the changes this year we have already reported 56. It takes time, effort and money to pursue each of these impersonator incidents, and has become a frustrating game of cat and mouse which is ultimately harmful and damaging to people who are already facing enough difficulty without this additional element.”
Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “People should be able to trust that the adverts they see on Google are legitimate, however our investigation has revealed the various sways fraudsters have hijacked the search engine’s systems to target and exploit victims.
“Google should introduce clear and transparent labels for ads listed by unverified advertisers. The government should also widen the scope of its upcoming Online Harms legislation to include fraudulent content, which would require tech firms to take tougher action to tackle scam adverts.”