Sophisticated social media scams featuring some of Australia’s biggest fashion brands are at the centre of research by CHOICE that highlights public mistrust of the capacity by social media giants to protect consumers.
Even though Google earlier this year said it removed 5.2 billion ads from its platforms for content violations in 2022, CHOICE says its research shows that two out of three people, or 66 per cent of those surveyed, think Google and Meta aren’t doing enough to protect people.
Even more of those surveyed, some 79 per cent, fear the people they know might have difficulty spotting a scam.
“It’s no surprise that such a significant portion of Australians agree digital platforms aren’t doing enough to protect people from scams,” says Alan Kirkland, the CEO of CHOICE.
“We’ve found a number of advertisements across Google, Facebook and Instagram promoting scam retailer websites, including examples highlighting issues with Google’s policies to prevent scam ads.”
The investigation also found issues with Google’s own policies to prevent scams because some advertisers do not appear to be verified before they publish ads.
Among the brands identified by CHOICE to have been targets of scams are H&M, Country Road, Peter Alexander, Seed Heritage, Decjuba, Lorna Jane, Sportsgirl and Kathmandu.
Fake sites of these brands spoof the official websites with CHOICE saying it's often very hard to tell the genuine from the fraudulent.
It also says the ads can stay live for a long time with one scam ad on Google for women's clothing retailer Decjuba on 23 July still running on 18 September.
“These ads and fake websites make it extremely difficult for consumers to work out what’s genuine and what’s not,” Kirkland says.
“They are often used to trick people into handing over personal information or credit card details.
“Scams are becoming more sophisticated operations, using the same tools legitimate businesses use to advertise. Advertisements for scam websites that we found on Google appeared high on the search results, instantly grabbing a user’s attention, and giving them the impression of authenticity.”
CHOICE campaigns and policy advisor Yelena Nam describes some of the scams as ‘sophisticated operations run like businesses’.
“They're using the same tools that legitimate businesses use to advertise," says. "Ads on Google appear on the top of the page, and also throughout search results, grabbing the attention of a user. Similarly, ads on Facebook and Instagram often come when you're scrolling through your feed or reading content."
CHOICE says that the scale of the problem shows that even Google’s own automated and human systems used to detect fraudulent ads aren’t adequate to cope.
Google is said to have removed more than 5.2 billion ads from its platforms in 2022 but adds that the tactics used by scammers continually evolve.
However, Kirkland says that isn’t good enough, arguing that mandatory codes for digital platforms need to be implemented by government to protect people from scams.
“Large digital platforms like Google and Meta have some of the best technology in the world,” Kirkland says.
“They should be putting it to maximum use to protect people from scams but our investigation reveals significant gaps in their approach.
“This reinforces the need for mandatory rules for digital platforms to prevent scams, with strong penalties if they fail to comply.”
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