Often, when you use a search engine, like Google or Bing, it will target you with adverts. Usually appearing in your search results, designed to capture your attention and your clicks.
A common example is the simple ‘paid search ad’ that appears at the top of the search results.
Shopping ads, display ads, and even local ads all fight for your attention. What adverts you see depends on what you’ve searched for.
For example, Google - the most popular search engine - has online search ads that include:
There are ways to spot a dodgy ad when you’re searching the web, but due to the nature of search engine ads, they’re not always easy to spot.
Some ads will be marked with a headline that suggests the result is relevant but the link accompanying the ad will be completely different.
In most ads, the link URL will closely match the heading of the ad, but in some cases the URL will have no clear link to the text on the ad - those are dodgy ads.
Shopping ads can be particularly eye-catching. Low priced items appearing at the top of search results are instantly attractive and more likely to tempt you to click through to the website behind the ad.
When the price is too good to be true, you should be wary. Previous investigations into dodgy shopping ads have unveiled companies that mislead users with low prices and high discounts on expensive items, only to find that prices on the website don’t match the ads.
We’ve all used online reviews to determine whether we should visit a shop, restaurant or local service, but it is possible for scammers to buy fake reviews that help boost their listing to the top of local search results.
Even in this space, scammers and malicious actors can buy search ads, even if their service is irrelevant to what you’re searching for.
Take time to read through the reviews if there is a high percentage of five star ratings. This can help determine whether the reviews can be trusted or not, don’t always assume that a high star rating is legitimate.
Ask yourself these questions if you’ve stumbled across a listing with tonnes of five star reviews:
You can report suspicious ads straight to the search engine. These include Google’s display ads that might be hosted on other websites. You can , your submission will then be reviewed against Google’s advertising guidelines.
Google says ad reviews are completed within one working day but might take longer in more complex cases.
If you’ve found a suspicious search ad on Bing you can report it to Microsoft, who own the search engine. To report an ad you can where you’re asked to write in the search term you used and the URL behind the ad.
To report an ad on YouTube select the info icon on the ad, this is the 'i' inside a circle displayed within the ad, and click ‘Report this ad’. Alternatively, you can fill in this ‘’ form on Google’s support website. It can also be used to report a Google search ad.
If you’ve seen or been affected by what you think is a scam or suspicious ad, sharing the details can help us inform others about them and what tactics scammers might be using to mislead consumers. Reported scams feed into our research and policy work so we can warn more people.