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16 Jan 2022

Facebook repeatedly sells ad space to known scammer

Investment scammer moves from Google to Facebook to find victims

A known scammer took out multiple adverts on Facebook - even after Which? reported it - making false claims to convince potential victims to invest £50,000 each.

These adverts have since been taken down but the ease with which a known scammer could evade detection is extremely concerning.

In the first half of 2021, cases of investment scams jumped by 84% to 6,864 and losses were up 95% to £107.7m.

UK Finance estimates that around 70% of all authorised push payment (APP) scams originated on an online platform, including fraudulent advertising through search engines and social media, and fake websites.

Earlier this month, Starling Bank announced it has stopped all of its paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram until these platforms do a better job of tackling fraud.

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Facebook vetting failure

An advertiser calling itself 'UK Bonds Investment', among other names, was advertising on the social media platform until 17 December 2021 when Which? reported it.

We're concerned about Facebook's lack of due diligence because this firm has been on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) warning list of unauthorised financial firms since September 2020.

When you click through to the website, the firm refers to itself as 'UK Income Bonds'. The phone number supplied has also been linked to another firm on the FCA warning list called insta-crypto.pro.

The website makes several false claims - that it is FCA-regulated, that it has featured in newspapers such as The Sunday Telegraph, and that you will earn 7.9% per year if you invest at least £50,000.

This rogue advertiser has appeared on Facebook under many different names, as you can see from the screenshots below: UK Income Bonds, Phil Jones Investment, UK Investment Group, and UK Bonds Trust. The FCA has recently added specific warnings about some of these names.

Which? has previously seen identical-looking websites advertising on Google under different names bestbondrates.today and ukincomebonds.com, both of which pretended to be an authorised firm to lure victims.

We attempted to contact UK Income Bonds but received no response in time for publication.

Gallery

A large collection of images displayed on this page are available at https://www.which.co.uk/news/article/facebook-repeatedly-sells-ad-space-to-known-scammer-auNcp5Y20OSR

Facebook slow to react

Facebook says it uses a combination of technology, reporting by the community and internal review to stop rogue or scam advertisers. But this example shows how exposed the platform is.

Even when these ads were reported by a member of the public, Facebook did nothing, telling them that they don't 'breach our Community Standards response', as shown below.

It was only when Which? approached Meta - the new name for the parent company of Facebook as well as Instagram and Whatsapp - that the adverts were taken down.

A Meta spokesperson told Which?: 'Following further investigation, we have removed the accounts and ads brought to our attention. We continue to dedicate significant resources to tackle the industry-wide issue of scams and while no enforcement is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies and methods to protect people on our services.'

However, it only took a few weeks for another ad to appear for UK Investment Group which linked to an identical site with a different web address. We reported this new ad to Meta on 13 January 2022.

It told us: 'Following further investigation, we have removed the accounts and ads brought to our attention. We continue to dedicate significant resources to tackle the industry-wide issue of scams and while no enforcement is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies and methods to protect people on our services.'

Proving just how far from perfect its enforcement is, another UK Investment Group ad appeared within four days, on 17 January, the day after we first published this article. Facebook removed this as soon as we reported it, along with a related account.*

Facebook to vet financial advertisers in late 2022

Which? has repeatedly warned about scammers paying for ad space on social media platforms and search engines. As things stand, online platforms such as Facebook bear no legal responsibility for scams that originate on their websites.

Which? wants that to change. We're asking the government to amend the Online Safety Bill so online platforms are required to block fraudulent paid-for ads on their sites.

Google made a significant step in the right direction in September 2021, when it started checking that UK advertisers promoting financial services are authorised by the FCA or qualify for one of the limited exemptions.

Facebook told Which? it plans to follow suit and expects to roll this out in the second half of 2022 in the UK.

But until tech companies are held responsible for fraudulent content that they profit from, Which? is warning all investors to assume any 'opportunities' they discover via online ads are potential scams.


*Article updated on 17 January 2022 to reference another advert taken out by 'UK Investment Group' on Facebook.