Being besieged by scammers is terrible – and I have first hand experience. For the past few days, scammers have used every trick known to men and women to separate me from my money.
They threatened, coaxed, befriended and rushed me. In one day I received 17 missed calls – all from scammers. Nothing but persistent.
You may think I must have clicked on some shady link online, or had a terrible data breach to attract such a terrible bombing. But unfortunately not.
Convincing: Rachel, right, was led to what appeared to be recommendations from ITV’s This Morning, top and other media
All I did to unleash this attack was what thousands of people do every day. I typed into search engine Google the words ‘best investments in the UK’ and ‘how to invest’. I then clicked on the top search result for each and entered my contact details for more information.
Many of us turn to search engines every day for information on how to invest. With savings rates at record lows, more people than ever are looking online for an investment that delivers a better return. But what our research reveals is how dangerous that process can be. It also provides further evidence that urgent action is needed now to tackle the rising tide of financial crime, as The Mail on Sunday called for in its Nail The Scammers campaign.
We believe that a centralized police unit should be established to deal with these financial fraudsters and put them out of business.
Of course, there are reliable sources of investment information online. But often — above these trusted sources in online searches — are ads from fraudsters and unethical companies blatantly peddling their wares.
Fraudulent cryptocurrency outfits often pay to appear as the top search result, suppressing the government-funded Money Advice Service and the Financial Conduct Authority – the municipal regulator, among others.
Google has promised to crack down on advertising from financial scammers. As of late next month, it says it will only accept financial ads from companies authorized by the FCA.
But that’s more than six weeks away, and in that time it’s inevitable that more victims will lose their savings to fraudsters.
Experts warn that even when the new rules come into effect, it may not be enough to stop scammers from advertising through Google.
Not all ads are scams. Fortunately, I identified the telltale signs of scammers and unregulated cryptocurrency sellers – and I didn’t hand over any money.
But many of the fraudulent websites look genuine and plausible. Seven out of ten financial scams start online.
WHAT happened when I typed ‘HOW TO INVEST’…
I clicked on the first search result on Google, which sent me to an article that appeared to be from the BBC. It said Amazon had launched a new investment platform called Bitcoin Prime that “wants to help families get richer.”
Every detail was a lie, but the website looked so realistic you could easily fall for it. The article featured fabricated quotes from Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, and logos suggesting that Bitcoin Prime was featured in reports on BBC2, The Sun, The Guardian and the Daily Mail.
Within minutes of entering my contact details, I got a call from ‘Mira’, who claimed to be based in ‘Kings Town, London’ – a place that doesn’t exist. She confirmed that the company was founded by Bezos and that I could enjoy minimum investment returns of between 50 and 65 percent.
I told her that I was planning to retire soon and so I couldn’t take any chances with my savings.
“There’s a 1 percent chance of the risk,” she said. “So out of the $100 you invest, you may only have $99.”
When I expressed some caution, she snapped, “You’re just skeptical.”
…AND WHEN I IMPORTED ‘BEST INVESTMENT IN THE UK’
When I entered the words ‘best UK investment’ into Google, the top search result led to an article that appeared to come from the Daily Mirror about an incredible new investment opportunity guaranteed by Holly Willoughby, the presenter of This Morning on ITV.
It looked exactly like the Daily Mirror website, including the masthead and ads.
It was only upon closer inspection that it became clear that it was a forged web page. Every detail was faked – including Willoughby’s involvement.
I clicked through and gave my contact details. Minutes later, I got a call from “Jack” advising me to use his company’s “special algorithm” to invest in a range of cryptocurrencies.
I asked him if this was the service Willoughby used.
“Yes,” he said. “And Elon Musk and Boris Johnson too.”
He assured me that the service was ideal for novice investors because all the work is done by an algorithm, eliminating the possibility of human error.
“The machine says what are the best cryptocurrencies to invest in today,” he said.
“So we don’t have to think or investigate. An idiot could use it.’
Jack told me I had to provide a copy of my ID in order to invest. When I suggested I deliver it in person – since he claimed he worked from The Shard in London – he hesitated at the idea.
He made up excuses about how everything had to go digital while they were operating on the ‘blockchain’.
Later I got a call from his colleague ‘Anthony’ who said that if I didn’t invest there and then I would lose my chance forever.
“If I hang up after this conversation, I’ll have to take you off my list,” he said. “I have 1000 calls to make and the people I call all want to make a profit.”
WE NEED ACTION NOW TO DISASSEMBLE SCAMMERS
Google has promised to tackle fake financial advertising, but not everyone is convinced that this is enough.
Gareth Shaw, head of money at consumer organization Which?, said: “Over the past decade, we’ve heard Google make commitments to stop scam and counterfeit websites abusing its advertising platform. Yet we still hear of people who have been duped.
“If we report false ads to Google, they are removed, only to reappear a few days later. So we reserve our verdict on the effectiveness of the new strategy – the proof will be in the pudding.’
Another solution was proposed last week by a coalition of consumer groups, charities and industry associations – including Age UK, the Investment Association, UK Finance and Which?. They want the government to include paid online advertising in the online security law, which will soon be passed by parliament. This would put the responsibility on Google, Facebook and other social media and search engines to better regulate who they accept ads from.
“Not including online advertising in the bill leaves too much room for criminals to exploit online systems,” the coalition said.
This view is supported by the FCA, the Bank of England, the City of London Police, the Work and Pensions Committee and the Treasury Select Committee.
So far, the government has refused. Responding to calls to include online advertisements, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Oliver Dowden, the Undersecretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: ‘Paid advertising is not subject to online safety guidelines. bill.
“However, we are considering stricter regulations for online advertising to combat scams through the Online Advertising Program. We are also considering other options to reduce fraud and protect citizens.’
WHAT DOES GOOGLE HAVE TO SAY?
The Mail on Sunday shared the fake ads we clicked with Google. It said the companies behind the ads have now been “investigated.”
Google, which is part of its £1,250bn parent company Alphabet, also said the reason it didn’t introduce new, stricter advertising rules sooner was to give advertisers time to adapt.
Google added that it had taken a number of actions against scammers and had pledged $5 million (£3.65 million) in advertising credits to support awareness campaigns in the UK.
Last week it told The Mail on Sunday: “Protecting consumers and legitimate businesses operating in the financial services industry is a priority. We have been working with the FCA for over a year to implement new measures and have recently announced further restrictions requiring financial services advertisers to be authorized by the FCA as part of our efforts to address this evolving issue.”
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