/ Money, Scams

ASA launches scam advert reporting tool

You can now report scam adverts you spot online to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – will you be making the most of the new tool?

ASA recently launched a new reporting tool for people to flag fraudulent advertising on social media, search engines and other online advertising space.

It will pass information onto platforms hosting dodgy ads it comes across, such as Facebook and Google.

It’s a positive and promising step for tackling the wildly unregulated world of internet advertising. 

If you stumble across a suspicious ad online you can report it to the ASA service here.

How will it be enforced?

Cryptocurrency and investment scams are currently the biggest concern, often promising tempting but ultimately unrealistic returns.

It’s estimated that £27 million was lost to these kinds of scams in 2018/2019.

Adverts commonly feature photos and testimonials of celebrities who they falsely claim have used their services. 

Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis famously sued Facebook for libel for failing to remove scam ads that used his name and photo to promote scam investment products.

However, although the ASA reporting scheme has support from online media platforms, it currently has no power to enforce them to remove fraudulent ads.

It will be down to the platforms themselves to decide if, and how, it should take action.

With potentially thousands of illegitimate ads brought to their attention, will they have the resources to deal with them all? And how proactive will they be, considering it could hit their advertising revenue?

Identifying and tackling criminals

Most platforms have their own built-in reporting functions for users to notify them of scam content, but we know some of them just aren’t proving that effective.

It will be interesting to see whether the ASA scheme will prove any more successful.

ASA has safeguarded consumers from dodgy advertising on traditional media such as TV, radio, magazines and newspapers since the 60s, but the nature of online advertising has proved harder to regulate, partly because of the vastness of content on the internet.

Posting adverts online is affordable, quick and easy, and it’s possible to precisely target the audience you’re trying to appeal to.

It’s all very well removing a single scam advert, but scammers will simply set up a new one immediately.

As well as reporting, we need better ways of identifying and tackling the criminals behind scam ads online, and preventing them from reposting.

We’re keen to see how successful the new reporting scheme will be over the coming months.

Will you report scams to ASA? What more do you think online platforms can do to stop scam advertising?


Having studied ASA rulings, the usual outcome is: “The ad must not appear again in its current form” or similar wording. That may be fine for companies that have stepped beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable but not for scammers that, as Lauren has said, may repost immediately.

The new reporting scheme will help but during the time taken between a scam ad appearing and enforcement action being taken, the scammers may have had time to exploit many people. My suggestion is that all adverts on social media are examined carefully before publication, the costs being borne by the owners of the site, who can pass them on to advertisers.

The extremely frustrating thing about all these authorities and reporting tools is:
1 – You can’t normally speak to anyone.
2 – What is the point of these authorities if they can’t enforce anything?

We need to be able to talk to real people who have the authority to enforce real change.

We have heard how these front desks (or whatever they are) become inundated with complaints etc.

It is hardly surprising if the same thing gets reported 100’s of times because nothing is ever done about the problem so they can then move onto the next problem.

Janey says:
9 July 2020

Here, here – I couldn’t agree more! – what Alfa says is absolutely spot on!

Absolutely agree with you wavechange. The owners of the site must have a duty of care to the readers and it is no good saying this advert must be removed if all they need to do is change the wording this can continue until infinity. The site should have a duty f care to prevent it being posted in the first place end of problem.

What about dishonest sellers?

Earlier I reported a seller to ebay. There were selling items that retail for well over £300 for under £10 then charging up to £599.99 economy postage within the UK.

Susanna says:
9 July 2020

Hmm but I can’t even see how you get the tool

Scroll up to and click on ‘launched a new reporting tool’
On the resulting page, scroll down to and click on ‘Report scam ads’

Alfa. That is ridiculous.
Did you get caught out on this?

No, just came across it by accident when looking for something else. I do not buy from obvious dishonest sellers like this one and if they are dishonest with their pricing, what else could they be dishonest about?

This seller does not accept returns, so where would you stand if there was a problem or you had to return a faulty product or ask eBay to step in if you only paid £9.99 for it? I haven’t delved too deeply, but eBay Money Back Guarantee doesn’t mention delivery charges. Would you lose a £599.99 shipping fee?

eBay have done nothing about it and the seller now has over 40 items with extortionate delivery charges. Their sold and completed history shows they have been at it a few months now.
Sort into Highest price + P&P

This is just eBay, are they selling on other marketplaces? Some of their images suggest they might have a High Street store, so they are very likely fiddling their taxes.

Sorry to be so pessimistic, but I share Alfa’s view on these reporting tools.

I have in the past reported questionable advertisements to the ASA but was not convinced that they had seriously examined the issue; their response was too quick and justifying the status quo yet they couldn’t possibly have engaged with the advertiser.

I soon realised that reporting fraud to ActionFraud was a waste of time because it was just a statistical exercise and the resources and the powers were just not there to tackle the problems.

The ASA’s new tool might get reasonable use at first but unless there are major changes in the law and regulation of on-line advertising places I cannot foresee much improvement.

We teach people diligently how to cross the road safely – and such teaching is extremely effective, probably because the dangers are obvious. We need to do the same on how to use the internet, to look both ways, and if in doubt wait.

I agree with Wavechange’s suggestion that social media operators should be required to examine all adverts before release. Repeat advertisers could acquire release from this requirement in return for good behaviour.

I would also suggest that this is extended to search engines and product promotion websites, and that the credentials of advertisers should be checked to make sure they are who they say they are, that they operate where they say they do, that they are in a position to supply the goods or services they offer, and that they have a registered name and address as a trader [they might not need to be a registered company but all businesses must, by law, have a registered name]. I would go further and propose that the body accepting the advert should forward details of the advertiser to HMRC.

John Smith says:
6 July 2020

Ad Placement companies are a threat to democracy. Some of you may have heared of AIQ (Aggregate IQ). Paid hundred of thousands of pounds by Vote Leave. Here’s a quote from Chris Vickery of Upguard: “Yarek had access to all of AggregateIQ data. AggregateIQ had access to Cambridge Analytica’s data. This shows a likelihood that a guy in Russia was given access to the psychometric scores derived from the infamous Facebook data set.”

John Smith says:
6 July 2020

“Just to sum up. 1) Facebook broke the law. 2) Cambridge Analytica broke the law. 3) Vote Leave broke the law. 4) LeaveEU broke the law. 5) Brexit and Trump were both won through breaking the law. 6) Facebook let it all happen and covered it up.” – Christopher Wylie.

…it’s one thing to make a law or a regulation but it can be a lot more difficult to actually enforce one.

Another regular topic here is that Amazon, their business partners and other mail order suppliers continue to illegally supply UK consumers with unsafe equipment fitted with EU standard plugs, instead of regulation British 13 A pattern ones.

Yes . . . and even the mighty Which? appears to be incapable of doing anything about it such is the protected or sheltered status of such organisations.

D A Larder says:
12 July 2020

Agreed. It seems to me Which? is too often getting too big for its own boots, a notable exception being the magazine reports. I am on the point of asking my MP why Which? seems to fail to undertake some of the actions Wikipedia says the uk government delegates executive authority to it (Which? legal fails to respond to emails seeking clarification).

D A Larder – Your comment deserves an official response from Which?, but so far as I am aware Which? does not have any executive duties delegated to it by Parliament in the fields of trading standards and consumer protection.

It has the power to make super-complaints requiring government or regulatory investigation into alleged consumer detriment but takes no part in the process.

It also has charitable status for certain activities [largely around education] which provide a degree of tax relief but there are no statutory obligations in that regard.

Chris Walker says:
9 July 2020

Well there are national television ads which are far from honest, take the advertisement for buying a Mercedes_Benz online. It implies that almost any colour car is available when in reality the colour choice of MB cars, at least in the UK, is what I would politely described as inadequate.

What is the point of these agencies if they cant enforce or isuue huge punitive fines? Why bother reporting if they cant demand the ad be taken down? FB clearly doesnt care since its getting paid for real and fake ads and one assumes Twitter etc are the same. Clearly the way to stop it is for the agencies to keep posting Beware fake ads posts.Do not buy anything from a FB ad. About time all thse monitoring agencies were given real teeth and clout else we are paying(Taxpayers are anyway) for an agency that does nothing

The ASA is funded by the advertising industry so consumers are paying ultimately through their purchases of the products promoted.

The ASA is an example of industry imposing effective self-regulation. The public, Trading Standards and even other companies can complain about an ad not being legal, decent, honest and truthful and in some cases a single complaint has resulted in an investigation. All cases and rulings are explained on the ASA website.

The ASA was set up to deal with genuine advertisers that stepped out of line and are likely to take action. I remain to be convinced that scammers who set out to cheat are likely to pay much attention to the ASA. I have suggested above that ads that appear on social media should be screened by Facebook, Google etc., who should bear the costs.

Unfortunately I suspect this is just another organisation paying lip service to serious issues with little or no practical outcomes. Bitter personal experience with Action Fraud, The Insolvency Service, Companies House all demonstrate toothless or cherry picking enforcement. Equally irritating but perhaps less serious, the fairly useless Caller Preference device. Like others I couldn’t see aink to this new ASA tool.

Hi Barrie Everitt.
I agree 100% Action Fraud are useless.
They do nothing, reply to nothing, along with the Met Police etc..

I find it amazing that these scammers never get caught.

1. The first and easy thing to do is get rid of Bit Coin.

It has no head office address, it is unregulated, it has no source to get back to.
We never had it in the past so why now!
I would never use it! Bit coin to me is a scam.

2. They say “they cannot trace scam emails because when they are sent, they go through various servers” So why not close these servers down that are automatically sending them?

3. When you receive a scam email, money gets stolen from your account and ends up in someone else’s bank account. I find it unbelievable that a bank cannot be bothered to retrieve stolen money from an innocent account holder.

I asked about this and was told that “It is not worth a bank going after your money when it is stolen because the amounts are too small”! £1K or £10 K might be small to a bank, but it can be a person’s life savings. It is time they were bothered.

Effectively they are turning a blind eye and allowing criminals to get away with it.
In my opinion, they can all be caught, but the authorities are not interested and do not work together.

I wasted my time reporting scams to the local Police, The London Met Police and none of them answer along with action fraud. I just give up reporting them, they are not interested,

John says:
10 July 2020

I have been reporting phising scams and other types for many months to Microsoft, Which, Google, UK GOV and others.
Nothing happens. Still get the emails.
Best bet is to delete and block.