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Online scam ads targeted for takedown by ASA with new reporting tool

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has launched a new system allowing people to report scam adverts on platforms such as Facebook and Google to aid in their removal.

The 'UK Scam Ad Alert' system has already been successfully trialled for three months during which time various scams, particularly those involving crypto investment such as Bitcoin, were taken down.

Many scam ads of this type use false stories or doctored images of celebrities, misleadingly implying the celebrities have endorsed the service in question.

Such adverts can have a significant financial effect on consumers that fall for them. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Action Fraud warned that in 2018/19 victims of crypto and forex investment scams had lost over £27m in total.

Consumers can now easily report scam ads appearing in paid-for space online. The ASA said it would then “promptly” alert participating platforms with key details of the scam ad, as well as alerting publishers when the ad appeared on a publisher-owned site.

Partners should then remove the offending ad and suspend the advertiser's account. In some instances, they could also add the advertiser to a blacklist, even when the ads weren’t appearing on their platform, stopping them from appearing in future.

The ASA acknowledged the system wasn’t a “cure all”, but said it should help to improve its response to tackling online scams.

“The overwhelming majority of ads responsibly inform and entertain their audience, but a small minority are published with criminal intent,” said ASA chief executive Guy Parker. “Our Scam Ad Alert system will play an important part in helping detect and disrupt these types of scams.

“By working closely with our partners such as Google and Facebook we can act quickly to have problem ads taken down as part of our ongoing work to better protect consumers online.”

Jon Mew, chief executive at the Internet Advertising Bureau said: “While there is no silver bullet solution to combatting scam ads, the launch of the ASA’s new system - in collaboration with a number of our members - is a significant step towards helping tackle the issue and shows what can be achieved at a cross-industry level.

“This initiative takes a joined-up approach to remove scam ads and will play an important role in improving the online ecosystem for both advertisers and consumers. It needs to be utilised alongside law enforcement to address the underlying illegitimate activity behind these ads.”

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