Consumers have demanded more checks on online advertisements amid an increase in scams.
More than half of internet users don’t believe the ads they see on search engines are placed there by legitimate companies, according to a report from insurer Aviva.
The warning comes amid a wave of fake investment announcements, fraudulent text messages, calls from fraudsters and other attempted thefts. The report found that 87% of users wanted the government to force social media companies and search engines to ban the promotion of scams and bogus ads.
Rob Lee of Aviva said: “There is a clear distrust of online financial services advertisements. However, tech companies have no legal responsibility to verify the legitimacy of companies that pay them to post ads on their platforms.
“This potentially leaves millions of internet users exposed to unscrupulous advertisements.”
Organizations such as the Which? Consumer group, UK Finance industry lobby groups and the Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association, and the City of London Police are calling for the government to change the law. This would force tech companies to protect people from online scams, with the threat of hefty fines if they fail.
Since the beginning of last year, scams have increased. Aviva research found that 42% of people had been targeted by a scam linked to the coronavirus.
Google said it was looking to remove the bogus ads. However, searching for “safe investments” using the search engine can still give risky and unregulated results.
Coronavirus closures have also changed shopping habits and accelerated the shift to online shopping, even among those who previously avoided internet shopping, such as the elderly. This means that a host of inexperienced consumers have been let loose for criminals to prey on them.
The low interest rates on bank accounts have also meant that savers have sought richer returns, often with disastrous results.
Fake comparison-type websites have tricked consumers into risky or fraudulent investments, some of whom have used copied websites from legitimate companies.
Cheap web hosting, free phone calls, and cheap text messaging have all put more targets at the mercy of scammers.
Last year, consumers were tricked into sending £ 479million in savings to fraudsters, who used a variety of tricks including bogus websites to steal from their victims. Less than half was reimbursed.
Last month, a Telegraph investigation showed that web domains favored by scammers could be bought for as little as £ 5 without asking questions. It was even possible to buy addresses used in previous frauds, including one used to deceive a widower about his late wife’s £ 30,000 inheritance.