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16 Jul 2019

Facebook launches new tool to combat scams on social media

Users can now prompt deeper scam investigations if they spot dodgy ads

Facebook has launched a new scam-reporting tool, as the social media giant teams up with Martin Lewis and Citizens Advice to combat the fake ads epidemic.

The move comes after Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, sued Facebook over hosting thousands of fake ads that used his name and image.

Lewis settled out of court, on the condition that Facebook launch a scam-reporting tool and donate £3m to Citizens Advice for an anti-scams initiative.

Both the tool and the Citizens Advice project are active from today. We explore how they work, and what impact they might have on combating online fraud.

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How does Facebook's scam-reporting tool work?

The new tool is an extension of Facebook's current ad-reporting process. Users have always been able to click the three dots in the corner of an ad and click 'Report ad'.

Now, after selecting 'misleading or scam' as the reason for reporting, you are given a new option to 'send a detailed scam report'. Facebook says this will alert a 'new, dedicated, specially trained, internal operations team' who will investigate and remove violating ads.

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert said: 'We recently investigated Facebook and found it was far too easy to get a scam ad approved and published on the platform, where it was seen by thousands of people before being removed. So any measure to get these posts off the site quickly is a step in the right direction.

'Facebook and other tech companies must work harder to ensure their millions of users are protected from scams that could see them conned out of substantial sums.'

Facebook says that this tool is 'unique to the UK, as a result of the lawsuit', suggesting this additional protection will not be available worldwide.

How does the new scam-reporting tool work?


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Facebook scam ads: how big is the problem?

In June, Which? conducted an investigation to find out just how easy it is for scammers to post fake ads on Facebook.

We created an advert for Tesco vouchers that didn't exist, which pointed to a small website we'd quickly thrown together with an online website creator.

Our fake Facebook ad.

It only took a couple of hours for our fake ad to be approved by Facebook's review process, and it stayed up for around a day before it was 'flagged for policy violations'.

During that period, nearly 4,000 people saw the ad and dozens of people clicked it.

Facebook said at the time: 'We are taking action to stop fraud wherever it appears, and will continue to adapt to the increasingly sophisticated techniques fraudsters use to con people.'

While the improved scam-reporting tool will likely make a difference, our investigation suggests some scam ads may be able to slip through.

The new tool still relies on users spotting suspected frauds, but it doesn't stop them appearing in the first place. As we showed, thousands of people can view a fake ad in a very short period of time. Damage could still be done before it is reported and investigated.

To trigger a full investigation by the new team, users must then choose the 'detailed scam report' option. Where users don't do this, the ads may not face the full level of scrutiny a scam would deserve.

Citizens Advice's Scams Action project

The new Scams Action project from Citizens Advice is also launching today, funded by Facebook's £3m donation.

The project is a dedicated online service which offers specialist one-to-one advice to people who have been scammed, or who suspect they may have been.

If you're worried, you can call a dedicated online scams helpline on 0300 3303003 or make a face-to-face appointment at your local Citizens Advice office. The Citizens Advice website's Scams Action page also has an online chat function.

The organisation expects to help 20,000 people with this service in its first year. Italso has plans to work on scam prevention and raise awareness of online scams.

How to spot a scam

Scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and therefore increasingly easy to fall for.

In some cases, criminals may be seeking to steal identifying information about you, while in others they may trick you into paying for something that doesn't exist.

Fake ads to watch out for on Facebook and other social media platforms include:

  • Bogus celebrity endorsements: such as the ones that star Martin Lewis. Other famous faces used to sell scams include Dragons' Den star Deborah Meaden and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. These ads falsely claim celebrities have backed investment schemes, such as Bitcoin.
  • Fake voucher giveaways: such as the fake ad Which? created. Scammers will ask for personal details in exchange for a voucher code, which won't work.
  • Quizzes: some scammers use Facebook quizzes to harvest personal information - such as your mother's maiden name, for example - which they can use to hack online accounts.
  • Profile hijacking: this involves creating a duplicate of a user's Facebook profile and contacting people on their friends list to ask for money.

Stay wary of social media scams by using our expert guide: how to spot a social media scam.