Six month review of ASA Scam Ad Alert system

Mar 2nd '21

In June 2020, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a Scam Ad Alert system in partnership with major online ad and social media platforms, including Google and Facebook, to help tackle scam ads online. They 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 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.


Since the summer, consumers have been reporting scam ads appearing in paid-for spaces online to us via the new online form. The ASA dedicated resources to assessing these 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.


Now, six-months on since the system’s launch, the ASA are reporting on how it is performing by highlighting key stats and trends.


Key stats and trends

Since its launch, the ASA have received:


  • 1,274 reports from the public;
  • which has resulted in 121 alerts being sent to online platforms, meaning that;
  • *one in ten reports we received resulted in an alert being sent


Platforms responded to alerts within 48 hours (88% of the time) to confirm they had removed the reported scam ad.


Nearly all of the scams the ASA sent alerts for related to cryptocurrency ads which used false stories or doctored images of celebrities and misleadingly implied those celebrities had endorsed the service.


It’s vital that these scams have been and continue to be identified and removed quickly so that people are better protected online, especially when considering the significant financial harm they can cause consumers.


*The remaining reports did not result in an alert being sent because they did not meet our definition of a scam in a paid-for space or because they lacked sufficient information to prove it was a scam. Where relevant, the ASA passed intelligence from reports on to individual platforms.


How has the Scam Ad Alert system developed since its launch?

Since the launch of the Scam Ad Alert form, the ASA has worked with the government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). They operate the government’s takedown service, which seeks to remove malicious email addresses and websites. The ASA now share all alerts with the NCSC. 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 the effectiveness of our alerts in protecting consumers. They have also continued to engage and share information with others involved in tackling scams online, including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)Action Fraud and social media companies.


Additionally, some changes to the ASA reporting form since launch to simplify it, ensuring the language use is accessible so that users can provide all the necessary information with ease.


Online fraud is highly sophisticated in nature, and as technology continues to develop, so will the complexity of scams.


Offenders will continue to attempt to circumvent sophisticated solutions deployed by online platforms to fight scams. That’s why a multi-stakeholder response involving law-enforcement bodies, government partners, statutory regulators, platforms and all involved in the online ad industry, as well as national advertising regulatory bodies such as the ASA is critical to combating them.


The ASA want to ensure the Scam Ad Alert system works effectively for consumers. To achieve this, they will continue to monitor the performance and are actively reviewing what more they can do to work collaboratively with stakeholders. The ASA are also exploring what role tech, including machine learning, can play in their ability to more effectively identify 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 the ASA through the reporting form.


Source: ASA


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