Choice investigation shows Google and Meta not doing enough to protect users from scams
Choice has revealed startling research which reveals 66 per cent of Australians believe digital platforms including Google and Meta are not pulling their weight to protect their users from scams.
Two out of three people interviewed for the Choice study think these huge companies aren’t doing enough to prevent their users becoming the victim of a scam.
“It’s no surprise that such a significant portion of Australians agree digital platforms aren’t doing enough to protect people from scams. says Choice CEO, Alan Kirkland.
“We’ve found a number of advertisements across Google, Facebook and Instagram promoting scam retailer websites, including examples highlighting issues with Google’s policies to prevent scam ads.”
The Choice investigation found Google, Instagram and Facebook we’re running ads that linked through to fake websites imitating popular retailers including H&M, Lorna Jane, Country Road, Peter Alexander, Gorman, Seed Heritage and Decjuba.
The investigation also found Google’s own policy’s about preventing scams were also flawed because some advertisers had not been verified before their ads were published.
Google, Facebook and Instagram are gigantic multibillion dollar platforms but considering this investigation it appears they are more interested in capturing our data for marketing purposes then to protect their users.
So it comes as no surprise that Choice’s research showed 6 out of 10 Australians think they are simply not doing enough to protect them.
The Choice anti-scams team have been conducting thorough searches of the internet and easily uncovered ads on Google, Facebook and Instagram that were promoting scam shopping websites.
These fake sites imitate the popular retailers, and it takes the skills of an expert to tell the fake from the genuine article.
Choice found scam ads on Google for Decjuba and Peter Alexander seven days after Google Australia said they would take appropriate action on the scam activity that Choice brought to their attention.
Linda, a former Choice policy adviser was caught up in a scam when she went looking for a particular brand of wine on Google.
As she did so a sponsored ad popped up for a boutique retailer where she had shopped before.
She clicked on the ad and was taken to what she thought was the wine seller’s website.
After entering her credit card details, she got an error message before trying a second credit card which was also rejected.
“So the next day, I had a look at the website again,” says Linda.
“I was like, hang on, let me just check that I’ve got everything right. Then I saw that the URL was a little bit strange.
Afterwards, she checked her account and saw someone was trying to use her credit cards so she called her bank and cancelled them.
Another customer named Des clicked the link on Google that took him to what he thought was the Weber BBQ website.
“It had all the usual company logos, product info, freight charges etcetera,” Des says.
“It looked very genuine. I transferred $580 to a bank account on the Gold Coast. Long story short, it was a scam. No barbecue arrived.”
Google says it has strict policies that determine the type of ads that are allowed on the platform.
And if ads intend to deceive or violate these policies Google will remove them.
The company said it had removed more than 5.2 billion ads from its platform in 2022 yet the scams keep appearing.
Google says it uses a combination of automated and human monitoring systems to detect these frauds but the scale of the issue clearly shows a lot more needs to be done.
The problem is just as rampant on Facebook where several scam ads also appear and trying to get the platform to block scammers is not an easy task.
Australia’s richest man, mining magnate Andrew Forrest, launched a case in early 2022 against Facebook for publishing ads that included his image that linked to cryptocurrency scams.
The ACCC also joined in and launched a case against Facebook and its owner Meta in 2022 that alleged they were engaging in deceptive and misleading conduct by publishing ads that featured well known public figures.
These cases are still ongoing.
One case in California showed there is a huge battle ahead to have these deceptive ads shut down.
In 2022, a California federal judge ruled in favour of Facebook saying the platform wasn’t responsible for deceptive ads that led to users paying for items that would never arrive.
Choice had shown Meta several scam ads that appeared on Facebook and Instagram and were told the company was constantly tackling scams using human reviewers and machine learning.
“Large digital platforms like Google and Meta have some of the best technology in the world,” says Kirkland.
“They should be putting it to maximum use to protect people from scams but our investigation reveals significant gaps in their approach.
“This reinforces the need for mandatory rules for digital platforms to prevent scams, with strong penalties if they fail to comply.”