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Hundreds of misleading investment ads found on Facebook and Instagram

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Written by: Rebecca Goodman
06/12/2022
Hundreds of misleading and potentially fraudulent adverts for financial services including investments are being shown to users of Meta sites Facebook and Instagram.

An investigation has found several examples of misleading investment adverts which could lure people into parting (and potentially losing) their money.

Of 1,064 adverts, 484 found on the Meta platform, which owns the two social media companies, were investment related. Half were for investment products and the rest were offering investment-related services like tips, training and advice.

In most cases, the products that were advertised are unregulated and 12% of investment product adverts were unclear and offered high returns without clarifying how an investor would get these.

One in four, 25%, of the investment products advertised were to do with property while 22% were for cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), according to the investigation by consumer group Which? and Demos Consulting.

The companies used human and automated analysis to scan Meta’s advert library for adverts with certain red flags, such as promising guaranteed returns on investments.

These red flags could mean people are led into making risky investment choices. In the worst case scenario, they could become a victim of fraud.

Investment scams are the fastest growing type of fraud and those who are victims lose more than £45,000 on average each year, according to Action Fraud.

Which? is now calling on the government to pass the Online Safety Bill without any further delays.

Adverts containing risky red flags

The consumer group also found adverts for binary options, which have been banned in the UK since 2019. Binary options are a type of fixed-odd trade in which the payout depends entirely on the outcome of a yes/no proposition.

It also found 89 adverts with three or more red flags, such as having no risk warnings or a claim that returns were guaranteed. It found 23 adverts with five or more of these red flags.

Separately, Which? and Demos Consulting also trained algorithms to search for risky adverts, using four specific risk factors. From a sample of 6,357 adverts, the companies were able to pinpoint 186 with risk flags, with an accuracy rate of 77 to 91 per cent.

It says this experiment demonstrates how online platforms could be better deploying their technology to create algorithms that detect and remove harmful adverts at scale.

Potential scam adverts use the ‘Tesler’ name

The investigation uncovered 39 unique adverts mentioning Tesler. Which? said there were multiple indications that they were probably scams and it was also unable to find any evidence of a real, registered company called ‘Tesler Investments’.

Criminals often use well-known names, or versions of them, to mislead victims into parting with their cash.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has previously issued a warning about a scam investment company using the brand name Tesler and impersonating a regulated trading company based in the UK.

A researcher for the consumer group clicked on a Tesler advert and was prompted to enter their contact details. Shortly after they were called by a representative and pressured to set up a trading account.

A Meta spokesperson said: “We removed a number of the ads brought to our attention for breaking our rules, many of which had already been disabled prior to being contacted by Which?.

“Promoting financial scams is against our policies and we’re dedicating significant resources to tackling this industry-wide issue on and off our platforms. We recently started rolling out a new process that requires financial services advertisers targeting users in the UK to be authorised by the FCA.”

The government “must ensure the Online Safety Bill is passed”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It is extremely worrying that misleading and potentially fraudulent investment adverts are still being shown to Facebook and Instagram users, putting consumers at risk of immense financial and emotional harm.

“If a consumer group and another charity can design algorithms and uncover these adverts then tech giants should be able to create effective systems to do the same job on a bigger scale.

“The government must take a crucial step in the fight against fraud by ensuring the Online Safety Bill is passed into law without further delays. Otherwise we could be waiting even longer for alternative action to tackle online fraud infiltrating the world’s biggest search engines and social media sites.”

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