Last year, well-known consumer advice expert Martin Lewis decided to take Facebook to court for defamation. The cause? Multiple bogus adverts placed on the social network featuring his likeness, appearing via the ad network Outbrain.
As a trusted face in consumer causes, scammers bolting Lewis’ face onto rogue ads would always be a money spinner. This would, of course, have the knock-on effect of potentially damaging his reputation, especially with tales of victims losing as much as £100,000.
By the time he’d seen around 50 advertisements promoting various Bitcoin scams, enough was enough—especially as he felt reporting the ads got him nowhere.
Making bogus ads for fun and profit
Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with these types of bogus ads hawking swiped images of trusted individuals. It’s essentially the same as we saw a while back on compromised profile pages, all promoting some wonderful new money-making scheme courtesy of Ellen. However you stack it up, people are out of pocket.
In Lewis’ case, some of the ads looked like they were from British newspapers, or other established news sources. Many offered up the usual social engineering tactic of a ticking timer: “Get this offer soon before it runs out!” Work-from-home riches, revolutionary opportunities, making huge amounts from “small” investments—every sleazy claim you could imagine were all present and accounted for, and they all were situated next to or above Lewis looking enthusiastic (and talking about something utterly unrelated).
Facebook banned crypto-themed ads, but these Lewis-themed efforts simply replaced pictures of Bitcoin with pictures of him and sent them to cryptocurrency sites elsewhere. The Lewis ads in question were centered on incredibly dubious binary trading scams.
What is binary trading?
It’s a risky form of fixed-odds betting. You either win or you lose. Win, and you get a bump in your coffers. Lose, and you lose everything. They’re not allowed in the EU, which means scammers set up shop outside its borders, claiming to have base of operations in places like London and Paris, and set to work with slick, convincing adverts. As the FCA advice notes, some scammers will even manipulate the numbers in front of potential victims before swiping all the cash and vanishing into the night.
So it is into this maelstrom of potentially damaged reputations, bogus adverts, and incredibly devastating fake Bitcoin scams that Lewis and Facebook went into battle. With what he felt was a lack of responsiveness over the course of a year, off he went to try and get something done about it.
Closing time for bad ads?
In January 2019, Lewis agreed to settle out of court. By this point, Facebook had admitted there’d been “thousands” of these ads across the site. The legal settlement relied on the conditions that Facebook would donate £3 million pounds to Citizen’s Advice to create a UK Scams Action Project, and they’d also launch a UK-centric scam ad reporting tool complete with dedicated team. The donation would take the form of £2.5 million in cash over two years, with the other £500,000 covering Facebook ads presumably promoting the new services.
We have lift-off
A little later than previously advertised, the wheels have finally turned and the promises listed above have turned into tangible reality. Not only is the Scams Action page live, the rogue ad report tool is also active in the UK. Reporting an ad takes a few steps, but is clearly an improvement on no tool at all. Reporting is a case of clicking the dots above any ad, and selecting the appropriate options before sending.
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There’s never been a better time to start reporting bogus ads on Facebook. If you see something that looks suspicious, by all means file a report and do your bit to help keep the most vulnerable online away from potentially life-ruining scams.