In June 2020, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched their Scam Ad Alert system in partnership with major online ad and social media platforms to help tackle scam ads online. The ASA launched the system because, while the overwhelming majority of ads responsibly inform and entertain their audience, some are published with criminal intent. Scam ads lead unsuspecting consumers to sites which fleece and leave them out of pocket.
The ad platforms, networks and other companies involved in online advertising who participate in the Scam Ad Alert system are: Google; Meta (Facebook/Instagram); Taboola; Outbrain; Microsoft; TikTok; Yahoo; Snap; Twitter; Amazon Ads; Sizmek Ad Suite; RevContent; Index Exchange; Clean.io; Reach; and the Media Trust.
The ASA system aims to complement and enhance the work already being done by digital advertising and social media platforms and other regulatory bodies to tackle scam ads and, more broadly, other fraudulent activity online.
The ASA continue to share all Alerts with government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). They operate the government’s takedown service, which seeks to remove malicious email addresses and websites. They scan the Alert for website addresses (URLs) to find the host website and remove it if it’s found to be malicious. This means that alerts not only result in action against the ads but also the websites they link to, which increases their effectiveness in protecting consumers.
Consumers can report scam ads appearing in paid-for spaces online to the ASA via the online form. They assess reports within 24 hours, enabling them to quickly and effectively alert platforms to scam ads so that they can promptly remove them, suspend the advertisers’ accounts and stop similar ads appearing in future.
12 months on since the last update, the ASA are reporting on how it is performing by highlighting key stats and trends.
Key numbers & platform actions
From 1 March 2021 to 25 March 2022 the ASA has:
- Received 1,251 reports of potential scams via the quick reporting form.
- They resulted in 67 Scam Ad Alerts relating to obvious scams seen in paid-for space online, of which:
- 14 (21%) related to ads seen on social media sites
- 53 (79%) related to ads seen in other online media, such as publisher’s sites, apps, etc
- Platforms responded to ASA alerts within 48 hours 80% of the time to confirm they had removed the reported scam ad (in total 87% responded to confirm the ad had been removed)
In addition to the above, the ASA asked participating platforms and networks how many ads and accounts they had removed or suspended as a direct result of information provided to them via the ASA’s Scam Ad Alert system over the period June 2020 to September 2021. They reported that:
- Around 765 ads and/or accounts had been removed or suspended as a direct result of information provided via the ASA’s Scam Ad Alert system over the period June 2020 to September 2021, of which:
- 135 resulted from a Scam Ad Alert for an ad seen on their own platform; and
- Around 630 resulted from a Scam Ad Alert for an ad seen on another platform
- Not all platforms participating in the programme had to remove ads as a result of the Alerts.
The data provided was fragmentary, and not all participants provided figures, so it is likely that the figures above understate the impact of the Alerts. The fact that the greatest proportion of ads removed as a result of the Alerts were not on the originating platform but on other platforms demonstrates the clear value of sharing intelligence across platforms.
The majority of Scam Ad Alerts sent over the last 12 months have been for scams relating to cryptocurrency. However, the ASA also sent Alerts for other scam types, including fake energy saving devices and diet pill subscription scams.
The majority of those scams involved misleading landing pages featuring fake news stories, including fake celebrity endorsements. This has been a persistent theme since the Scam Ad Alert system launched in June 2020, indicating this remains a successful approach for scammers in their efforts to entice consumers to engage with scams.
The ASA always consider whether reports which aren’t suitable for a Scam Ad Alert nonetheless merit action, where sufficient information is provided. This could include: referring clear breaches of existing ASA rulings to the Compliance team; launching a proactive ASA investigation; or providing intelligence to the relevant platform.
The ASA will continue to monitor the performance of their system and work collaboratively with stakeholders to play their part in tackling scam ads online.
Reporting scam ads helps to keep everyone safe online, so if you are concerned about a potentially bogus ad you see in paid-for space online, please report it to through this form (www.asa.org.uk/make-a-complaint/report-an-online-scam-ad.html).
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