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Google’s crackdown on scam adverts draws tepid response from FCA

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Google UK has said it will ask financial services to verify their identity, starting from September this year, in order to try and cut down the number of scam ads hosted on its platform.

However, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a lukewarm response to Google's announcement, saying that the proposal may not be enough to prevent tougher legislation being introduced to tackle the issue in the Online Safety Bill.

Writing in a blog post, Ronan Harris, vice president of Google UK and Ireland, said that financial services advertisers will be required to demonstrate that they are authorised by the FCA or qualify for one of the limited exemptions described in the UK Financial Services verification page.

He added that while the move would impact a range of advertisers in the sector, Google’s “utmost priority” is to keep users safe.

A Which? investigation from last year found that certain Google searches were rife with scammers pretending to be well-known financial firms. Their use of pay-per-click adverts allowed them to circumvent some of the search engine’s complex rules to appear in the first line of search results, Which? said.

The investigation even created fake adverts that were approved by Google “in less than an hour” and garnered nearly 100,000 views a month.

Harris said: “This new policy update is only the latest step in our commitment to tackling online financial crime in the UK. Our teams continue to use a mixture of machine learning and human review to analyse user experiences and take action.

“Globally, we have also introduced new advertiser identity verification which requires advertisers to submit personal legal identification, business incorporation documents or other information that proves who they are and the country in which they operate.”

An FCA spokeswoman said: “We welcome all steps which protect consumers from scams and recognise that this is a positive move from Google. We will review the detail. We want to see continued and concerted efforts by all organisations with an interest in protecting consumers to achieve a sustained reduction in scams.

“It is important that all social media firms ensure that financial promotions using their services comply with UK law, and we expect all social media firms to ensure they are in compliance.

“While this is an important step from Google, we think a permanent and consistent solution requires legislation. We also continue to consider that investment fraud caused by online advertising should be included in the scope of the Online Safety Bill and welcome the Treasury Committee’s recent statement on this. We will assess the outcome of Google’s decision once these changes take effect.”

The Online Safety Bill has been in development since 2019, but its draft version was only published in May this year.

A coalition of 17 consumer and business groups and authorities have called on the government to include scams within its scope.

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