- How Were These Ads Allowed By Google?
- How to Protect Yourself From Similar Scams
- What to Do If You Fall Victim to Scam Websites
A 17-year-old Lincolnshire (United Kingdom) teenager has been charged with money laundering and fraud by false representation after using Google Ads to lure people to his scam website.
In April of 2020, the teen (not identified due to his age) created a fake website, mimicking the legitimate gift voucher site, Love2Shop. He then used Google Ads to get the fake site to appear in search results (above the real Love2Shop site), successfully luring his victims. After the real Love2Shop site started receiving a complaint from a customer who had visited his fake website, they started investigating, prompting him to take his site down just after a week.
He harvested around $9,000 worth of vouchers which he then converted into vouchers in his own Love2Shop account.
His fake Love2Shop website ended up stealing around $9,000 from victims in total and was likely not the only scam he was running. Law enforcement tracked him down upon investigation and found 12,000 stolen credit card numbers and 197 PayPal accounts stored on his computer. In addition, officers found that approximately $445,542 (£323,000) had been transferred to his PayPal accounts between January and March of 2020 before he set up his scam website.
It’s unreported how the teen collected the other money, but we suspect that he conducted a similar online scheme due to his computer skills and knowledge.
The teenager invested this money into cryptocurrency, which ended up being worth around $2.5 million by the time he was caught.
The sentence: 1 year in youth rehabilitation (including supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work) for fraud and money laundering, plus the confiscation of his bitcoin.
How Were These Ads Allowed By Google?
Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy for scammers to get ads for their websites appearing as sponsored posts on search engine results pages. Although Google prioritizes protecting consumers, its review process is far from perfect.
The only requirement to buy Google Ads is to have a Gmail account. Ads go through a review process, but businesses are not verified, nor is proof of identification required to buy ad space.
We have strict advertising policies in place to protect consumers and prohibit ads that intentionally mislead users or fail to deliver on the promoted product or service.
When we become aware of ads that violate our policies, we take action. We are also constantly evaluating our policies and enforcement systems to continue to improve, and have recently introduced a new program to verify each advertiser’s identity in order for them to serve ads on our platforms.
How to Protect Yourself From Similar Scams
This incident should be a warning to all not to trust everything you see or read, even if it does appear as a Google Ad. If you click on a link, whether from a Google Ad, an email, or a text message, always look at the URL and verify that it’s a genuine website.
Some scammers will try to trick you by using a URL that’s similar to the genuine site you’re trying to visit. For example, a fake Love2Shop.com website could be Love2Shoop.com.
Before you buy on a website that you’re not familiar with, you should pay attention to:
- Customer reviews
- Their Terms and Conditions
- Shipping and refund policies
- Their contact information
- Payment methods (e.g., if they accept weird forms of payment like gift cards, it’s a scam)
Look for anything suspicious, such as spelling and grammar mistakes and lack of information (especially contact information).
What to Do If You Fall Victim to Scam Websites
If you do fall for scams like this, you must act quickly so the scammer can’t continue to steal your money or identity. You should contact:
- Your financial institution to cancel the credit card that you entered on the website and dispute the transaction
- The credit bureaus, if you think your identity could be stolen, to place a fraud alert or credit freeze
- The authorities to report the fraud and help stop the scam, such as:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) division of the FBI
- Your State Attorney General’s Office
- The local police department