By now most Australians are well aware of scams being perpetrated in almost every aspect of our lives. Even us *ahem* older Aussies have become familiar with the concept of scamming. Some of us are even good at spotting them. But the scammers are relentless. Scam ads continue unabated, on social media sites, and even on Google. And they’re looking more genuine every day.
Up against that, what hope do we have? The answer is probably not much and diving headlong towards zero.
Is it time for the websites carrying these ads to do more? Consumer advocate CHOICE believes so. It says Google and social media giant Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, need to take more responsibility. If necessary, they should be made to do so by law.
In the quarter from July through September, CHOICE researchers did a deep dive into ads found on these popular sites. Many were for famous brands, such as Sportsgirl, Country Road, Peter Alexander and Kathmandu.
The problem was, all were fraudulent. The scam ads used genuine company logos and one click took unsuspecting would-be purchasers to what looked like the retailer’s website. These sites had all the products displayed, and a familiar payment system incorporating the usual ‘shopping cart’ and payment options.
Choose the item you want – a pair of shoes, a jacket, a backpack – pay via your preferred method and you’re done. In seven to 10 days your shiny new item will arrive.
Or so you thought. When it doesn’t, you attempt to make contact with the retailer. And it’s here that you notice something isn’t quite right. Your retailer’s website isn’t kathmandu.com.au. It’s katmandhu.com.au.
With a sneakily misplaced ‘h’, the ad you’d originally clicked on had taken you straight to a scammer.
Taking responsibility for scam ads
The story above is only an example of what could – and does – happen. There is no katmandhu.com.au website. (Not yet at least.) But scam ads are taking you to these fake sites from genuine social media sites or search engines.
CHOICE investigations editor Andy Kollmorgen asks the same question many of us would: “With all their endless resources and revenue, shouldn’t the biggest digital platforms have safeguards in place to prevent scammers from posting fake ads?”
Having identified several scam ads on Google, CHOICE contacted Google Australia directly to alert the giant to the fakes. To its credit, Google Australia responded. “Appropriate action” had been taken, it said.
The trouble was, whatever action Google had taken, it was apparently not appropriate enough. A week after that response, CHOICE investigators found scam ads on Google for those same companies, including Decjuba and Peter Alexander.
CHOICE found one example of these ads to be particularly troubling. A scam ad for Decjuba first identified in December 2022 was still running on 18 September this year!
Google claims it removes scam ads as soon as it knows about them, but cited the continuous evolution of scamming tactics as a challenge. A challenge it may be, but too much of a challenge for corporate mammoths?
Google’s parent company Alphabet reported a net income for the quarter ending 30 June 2023, of $US18.368 billion. The income for Meta, owner of both Facebook and Instagram, was $7.78 billion over the same period.
Those are the sorts of numbers that make one believe these behemoths could do better.
In the UK, legislation has been introduced to put the onus back on the companies who carry scam ads. The Online Safety Bill imposes penalties on platforms that fail to block fake ads and scams. To date, the Australian government has not followed suit.
For Australians, it remains very much a case of the old Latin phrase, Caveat emptor, meaning ‘Let the buyer beware’.
Have you spotted any of those scam ads on social media? Or have you been a victim? Let us know via the comments section below.