Invest in a new AI app and make your fortune. Discover the real reason why that Top Gear presenter left the show. Take two gummies and lose four dress sizes… in just seven days. These promises sound, dare we say, too good to be true. And that’s because, of course, they are. 

They are just a few examples of the scam ads the ASA has set out to tackle. Last year it introduced the Scam Ad Alert, a system which enables consumers to report suspicious paid-for ads via an online form. Working in partnership with the likes of Meta, Google, X (formally known as Twitter) and LinkedIn (to name a few), the ASA seeks to access reports within 24 hours and “quickly and effectively alert platforms” to potential scam ads. As well as ensuring the material is removed, advertisers promoting such materials may also find that their accounts are suspended. 

Key trends

Last week, an update reflected on the effectiveness of the system and flagged the following key trends from the last 12 months:

  • False celebrity endorsements dominate, often featuring in ads promoting investments and weight loss treatments. The fictional claims and endorsements are usually incorporated into bogus news stories. 
  • ‘Deepfakes’ starring ‘Martin Lewis’ and ‘Elon Musk’ have materialised, with the former sending the clear message that he “NEVER does adverts and NEVER promotes investments”. These fake video footage ads show influential figures ‘advocating’ for trading and cryptocurrency platforms.
  • When the collapse of Wilko hit headlines this summer, scammers saw this as opportunity to create paid-for ads offering massive (and fake) discounts on the high street retailer’s products. 
  • As the nights grow longer and the weather grows colder, the ASA are on the lookout for scam ads taking advantage of the cost-of-living crisis. Earlier this year, scammers tried to take advantage of those hoping to keep costs down by making misleading claims in ads promoting mini-heaters.

Over the past year, the ASA has received 1,877 reports of potential scams. Upon reviewing these reports, 152 alerts were sent to platforms to remove ads or investigate further. Of these alerts, 53% related to online media (for example, publishers’ sites and apps) and 47% related to social media platforms. 

When it comes to taking action, the ASA states that platforms responded to alerts within the recommended 48 hours in 50% of cases. A total of 60% report back to confirm the ad has been removed, though the ASA notes that in some instances the ad would still be removed even if a formal notification was not received. 

Looking ahead

These numbers, while encouraging in the early stages, indicate that there is room to do more to protect consumers. 

The ASA has made positive steps, partnering with the FCA to educate influencers about the risks associated with promoting financial products (especially those which are scams or particularly unpredictable). They also share Scam Ad Alerts with Stop Scams UK and reports the government-run National Cyber Security Centre, a takedown service which removes offending sites and email addresses.

The IAB UK, the industry body for digital advertising, is in support of the scheme too, making it a requirement that all ‘Gold Standard’ members sign up to the Scam Ad Alert. There are nearly 100 members at the time of writing, and this number is expected to rise. 

Finally, the ASA urge the public to play their part and make use of the form to report anything of concern – you can find it here.