In April 2018, Martin Lewis felt he had no choice but to sue Facebook for libel. We explain why, and ask why Facebook isn’t doing more to prevent scams.
Martin Lewis’s details were being used to promote fraudulent, get-rich-quick schemes on Facebook – and Facebook wasn’t doing enough to prevent it.
Martin’s not the only celebrity to feature in these scams. We recently found a Facebook ad fraudulently using celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey to promote a dodgy bitcoin scheme.
Facebook isn’t alone when it comes to scams on social media platforms, but it is by far the UK’s most widely used.
Martin has been incredibly vocal in his outrage at these scams appearing on Facebook and other social media, and last year took legal action in a bid to get Facebook to take scams more seriously.
He eventually settled the lawsuit after Facebook agreed to some key scam prevention measures. Here’s what he told us in May 2019, and why our investigation indicates there’s still much more to be done.
Martin told us that he first found out about his details being used to promote fraudulent, get-rich-quick schemes a couple of years ago, after people who’d seen the scams or fallen victim started getting in touch.
He said: “My eyes were properly opened when someone who’d fallen for a scam investment ad contacted me and demanded his money back – he genuinely believed I’d backed the scheme.
I contacted Facebook and other social media sites, but got very little back.
We reported 75 scams, but they often took weeks to be taken down, and were usually instantly replaced.
We later found out that more than a thousand such ads had been published on Facebook – but because we never saw most of them personally, we couldn’t report them.
People were losing life-changing sums of money, but Facebook and other social media sites weren’t doing anything about it.
Existing law and regulation simply isn’t good enough to make them take action to protect people – there isn’t a regulator that takes overall responsibility for scams. I’ve been campaigning to the government to sort this out.
Eventually a lawsuit was my only course of action, so I sued Facebook for libel – the only law that I could use. All I could do was sue for damage to my reputation, rather than the fact these ads were on the site in the first place.
Finally this got the attention of Facebook’s ‘top table’ people, and I settled the lawsuit after it agreed to key measures”
Taking action against scams on Facebook
The ‘key measures’ mentioned by Martin include a new scam ads reporting tool on Facebook, supported by a dedicated internal operations team, and its donation of £3 million to Citizens Advice to deliver a new UK Scam Action Programme.
Neither of these were live as we published this story.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not perfect. For now, Facebook has only agreed to launch the scam-reporting button in the UK, rather than worldwide – though it says it looks to roll out best practice worldwide where relevant.
And while scammers use devious and ever-evolving tactics to sidle through the review process, we feel more could be done to stop them appearing in the first place.
Our investigation has found that scam ads are still appearing on Facebook.
It’s not just celebrity endorsement scams we’ve come across – we’ve also seen ads for fake voucher giveaways, and heard from people whose accounts have been hacked and used to target Facebook friends directly with scams.
We’ve already successfully campaigned for banks to take responsibility for refunding blameless victims of bank transfer scams – now it’s time for social media websites and other tech giants to do more to stamp them out.
Have you spotted a Facebook ad using a celebrity’s image to commit fraud, or any other type of scam? What do you think Facebook should do to prevent this happening on its platform?