Google has joined the fight to stop scammers stealing the savings of unwary consumers surfing the net for investment opportunities.
The giant global search engine is banning rogue financial advisers who do not operate under the supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority from targeting online adverts in the UK.
Google is banning any financial adviser without an FCA registration from advertising online.
Table of contents
- Scams rob victims of billions
- 2020: A year of scams
- Crooks getting better at tricking victims
- How to spot an online scam
- What to do if you suspect a scam
Reputable financial advisers are authorised by the FCA and listed on their website.
“This measure reflects significant progress in delivering a safer experience for users, publishers, and advertisers. While we understand that this policy update will impact a range of advertisers in the financial services space, our utmost priority is to keep users safe on our platforms — particularly in an area so disproportionately targeted by fraudsters,” said a statement from Google.
The policy starts on September 1.
Advisers on the FCA warning list face an automatic ban, while firms making unreliable claims about get-rich-quick schemes will see their advertised rates of return capped.
Google is also demanding advertisers prove their identity in the country where they offer investment or financial services.
Google is also the first tech firm to sign up with Stop Scams UK, a group of banks and telecom companies working with the FCA and other regulators to track down online fraudsters.
Scams rob victims of billions
Online financial scams are increasing at an astonishing rate.
Crooks stole £1.26 billion from unsuspecting investors in 2020., while telecoms companies report more than 80,000 fraud cases a year.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the problem as web surfers spent more time online during lockdowns to look for ways to make money.
Scammers stole £479 million from consumers for bogus investments or goods and services they never received.
Alongside this criminal activity, UK banks blocked £1.6 billion of suspected fraudulent transactions.
2020: A year of scams
Although Google, banks, and telecoms firms want to make the web safer for investors and consumers, scammers constantly invent new methods for stealing money.
The criminals involved put a lot of thought and effort into timing their scams to match specific dates in the calendar to catch unsuspecting web users.
Below is a rundown of some of last year’s most reported online theft attacks.
- March: Smishing texts offered payments in return for personal information to workers forced to stay at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown
- April: Millions of scam messages claiming to come from official government departments promised tax refunds and COVID-19 financial support
- May: Fraudsters demanded advance payments from pet lovers seeking cats, dogs, and other animals
- June: Crooks changed tack and advertised cheap travel and fake caravan and motorhome holidays
- July: More fake tax refund emails and texts went out to coincide with the July 31 tax payment deadline
- August: Messages went out requesting financial data updates on phishing websites posing as bank and credit card providers
- September: Thieves posing as DVLA staff asked for fees to update driving licences
- October: Crooks targeted students returning to universities with emails inviting claims for course fee refunds
- November: Dozens of online shopping scams hit the web triggered by Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales
- December: Scammers took advantage of families exchanging gifts during the holiday season by trying to charge for undelivered parcels that did not exist
Crooks getting better at tricking victims
Criminals are adapting to take advantage of remote workers, says a study by banking and credit card provider trade body UK Finance.
Scammers have preyed on people’s financial insecurities prompted by losing their jobs or having to go on to furlough due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Criminals have been preying on people’s financial insecurities during the pandemic through investment scams promising high returns,” says the UK Finance report.
“Previously, criminals typically used cold calling to target their victims. However, intelligence indicates that they are now using sophisticated techniques to commit this form of fraud, including abusing search engine optimisation and creating fake comparison websites to drive customers to cloned scam websites.
“Customers will often be instructed to complete online forms to register their interest before receiving a call from someone impersonating a genuine investment firm or broker. Criminals will also sometimes send out professional-looking fake documentation to make the scam appear more convincing, or provide access to online portals that claim to allow the victim to monitor how their investment is performing.”
Fraudsters actively targeted investors seeking forex and cryptocurrency opportunities as the rising price of Bitcoin stoked interest in the sector.
How to spot an online scam
Fraudsters work hard to make their scams hard to spot, which is why they work so well.
Most scams have some common elements, and if you ask yourself a few questions as you read the text or email, you should soon spot if the message is bogus.
Do you know who sent the message?
The message may look like one from your bank or an official source, but if they are asking for personal or financial information, they are probably phishing
Is the contact out-of-the-blue?
Cold calls looking for sensitive information are rarely from reputable sources
Are you under pressure to respond?
Asking you to make financial decisions within a short deadline or keeping the details secret are high-pressure sales tactics designed to isolate you from taking independent advice
Is the offer is too good to be true?
If you are offered unrealistic returns on an investment or luxury goods at low prices, they are probably scams
Why are you receiving the offer?
Stop and think – if the money-making opportunity is so good, why are you included when the sellers could do the deal for themselves?
What to do if you suspect a scam
If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, then here are some steps to take to protect yourself:
Don’t hand over personal information or money
Never reveal private information to strangers, including account details, user names, and passwords.
Do not make a payment unless you are sure the person asking for money is genuine.
Tell your bank or credit card provider
If you have handed over cash, tell your bank or credit card provider as soon as possible.
Tell the police
The best way to tell the police is through the Action Fraud website or calling 0300 1223 2040.
Action Fraud is the official UK police scam reporting centre
Reporting scam emails
Send a copy of the message to your internet provider and to the fraud investigation department of your bank or credit card firm. Details of how to contact them are on their websites.