Two major initiatives to combat online scam adverts have launched today as a direct result of a campaigning defamation lawsuit by Martin Lewis.
After issuing High Court proceedings against Facebook, Martin agreed to settle his case out of court, in return for Facebook making a binding commitment to donate £3 million to set up the Citizens Advice Scams Action (CASA) service, to provide one-to-one support. Facebook also agreed to create a scam ads reporting tool, unique to Facebook in the UK.
These initiatives, which are available from today, are crucial, as scam ads can have devastating consequences. The adverts, placed by criminals, often use fake celebrity images or endorsements to dupe people into investing in fake ‘get rich quick’ schemes, buying diet pills and more.
They can lead to many people being conned out of their cash – in one case a man in his 80s lost almost £50,000 – and have a serious impact on people’s mental health and self-esteem.
More than 1,000 scam and misleading ads were taken down as a result of Martin’s complaint.
MoneySavingExpert.com founder and chair Martin Lewis said: “The UK faces an epidemic of online scam ads – they’re everywhere. Yet disgracefully there’s little effective law or regulation to prevent them, and official enforcement is poor to non-existent, as these criminals are usually based outside of the EU.
“That’s why I sued for defamation, bizarrely the only law I could find to try to make big tech firms understand the damage their negligent behaviour has caused.
“Today should be the start of real improvement. The aim is to tap the power of what I’m dubbing ‘social policing’ to fight these scams. Millions of people know a scam when they see it, and millions of others don’t.
“So now, I’d ask all who recognise them to use the new Facebook reporting tool, to help protect those who don’t – which includes many who are vulnerable. Facebook’s new dedicated team will then hopefully respond quickly to ditch the scammers.
“Sadly, we have to accept zero tolerance won’t mean zero occurrence. Yet my hope is it’ll squash the numbers of scam ads and the time those that do get through are live. This is only happening in the UK, on the back of the lawsuit, yet I suspect Facebook will see its success and soon roll it out to the rest of the world.
“The irony is, with these new tools, Facebook should pull ahead of the pack. Many big tech players don’t make it anywhere near as easy for consumers to report scam ads, and they must step up.
“During the lawsuit negotiations I approached Citizens Advice and asked if it’d be willing to help in the fight against scam ads. I was delighted that it was so eager to do it, and that it’d have a couple of years of resources to try to tackle and repair the damage caused by the scourge of scams.
“This is the first time there has been an online scam service, so it may be busy at first. Yet it’ll soon become a firm fixture in the fight against scam ads.
“However, the resources won’t last for ever and I’d call on the other big players, to follow Facebook’s lead, and put their hands in their pockets to fund CASA and those who’ve been victims of scams served on their sites too.”