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24 Feb 2022

One in six targeted by scam ads on social media, Which? finds

Which? research shows consumers don't feel online platforms are doing enough to protect them from scam adverts

Four in 10 consumers don't feel that social media platforms and search engines protect them from dodgy paid advertising, Which? research has found.

Only 20% of the 2,119 people we surveyed said they felt protected from scam ads. This level of dissatisfaction is higher than with the protection from scams offered by the government (39%), online marketplaces (29%), email providers (33%) and telecommunication companies (31%).

Which?, alongside scam victims, MPs, consumer and business organisations, is today calling on Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), and the government to include paid-for advertising in the Online Safety Bill to help tackle an epidemic of scams gripping society.

Find out why the government must include scams in the Online Safety Bill

'I lost my life savings'

An estimated nine million people have been targeted by a scam on social media, according to our nationally representative survey.

We've heard from many victims of social media ad scams. Jill, 75, lost more than £30,000 in a cryptocurrency scam in 2020. Jill was tricked by an advert she saw on Facebook, featuring fabricated quotes from Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden. She thought the advert was legitimate, as it was on a site she trusted and seemingly endorsed by a well-known entrepreneur. After clicking on the advert, Jill was directed to an online form to input her personal details, and immediately received a phone call from a representative for the company involved.

She told Which?: 'I have lost my life savings and have had to take an equity release out on my home. It has been very stressful. I urge Facebook to be more vigilant, and vet any companies allowed to advertise.'

A spokesperson from Meta, Facebook's parent company, told us: 'Scammers use multiple methods on and offline to exploit people, including fake phone calls and text messages, phishing emails and online scam ads. We're dedicating significant resources to tackling this industry-wide issue on and off our platforms. To fight this, we work not just to detect and reject scam ads on our services, but block advertisers and, in some cases, take them to court.

'While no enforcement is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies and methods to protect people on our service from these scams. We have also donated £3m to Citizens Advice to deliver a UK Scam Action Programme to both raise awareness of online scams and help victims.'

The scale of online scams

Our calls come against a backdrop of a scams epidemic. Our survey uncovered that eight in 10 people said they've seen or been targeted by a scam - reinforcing the scale at which fraudsters have been taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Online shopping scams, where fraudsters use adverts to hook in victims, are a significant problem. Previous Which? analysis of Action Fraud statistics showed that this is the most reported type of fraud.

Recent ONS figures suggest that fraud has increased by 36% compared with pre-pandemic levels, and we previously found that nearly one in 10 people have fallen victim to scam adverts on social media or search engines.

Our survey found that people had seen or been targeted by a scam via email (58%), texts (53%) and calls (47%). About one in six people said they've seen or been targeted by a scam on social media, compared with one in seven people for shopping websites and one in 10 for search engines.

It's not just the financial harm that impacts victims. We've also found that online scams have a devastating, long-lasting emotional impact on victims, and estimate that this equates to around £3,684 in personal losses to each victim's wellbeing.

Sign the petition: make tech giants take more responsibility.

The Online Safety Bill

The government is expected to publish the Online Safety Bill in the coming weeks, and we believe it must be amended to include paid-for advertising. Doing so would give major platforms greater legal responsibility to protect users of their platforms from scams and fraud.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said:

'It's no surprise that consumers don't feel adequately protected by social media sites and search engines. These companies have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, and yet are failing to protect their users from online scams on their sites.

'The government must include paid-for advertising in the Online Safety Bill so that consumers finally get the protection they need from fraudsters who will stop at nothing to target potential victims online.