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Facebook scam-busting service launched

Written by: Emma Lunn
UK Facebook users can now report fake adverts using an in-app tool, following the Martin Lewis defamation case.

The move is one of two initiatives launched after the founder took Facebook to court after his name and photo were used on fake adverts on the social networking site.

Lewis agreed to drop the legal action if Facebook launched the tool and also agreed to donate £3m to fund an anti-scam programme in partnership with Citizens Advice.

Facebook reporting tool

Facebook adverts, placed by criminals, often use fake celebrity images or endorsements to dupe people into investing in fake ‘get rich quick’ schemes, buying diet pills and more.

Various adverts appeared on Facebook, and elsewhere online, falsely claiming Lewis was endorsing various services such as binary trading, energy products, PPI reclaim companies and mortgage brokers.

Lewis issued High Court defamation proceedings against Facebook in April 2018 over the fake ads. He said the scams can have a serious impact on people’s mental health and self-esteem, and cited one case where a man in his 80s lost almost £50,000.

UK Facebook users can now flag ads they believe to be scams or misleading by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of every ad on Facebook, pressing ‘Report ad’, then choosing ‘Misleading or scam ad’ and then ‘Send a detailed scam report’.

This will alert a new, dedicated, specially-trained internal operations team who will handle these reports, and review and take down violating ads.

Citizens Advice Scam Action project

The Citizens Advice Scam Action (CASA) project will provide one-to-one help online, on the phone or in person for people worried they’re being scammed and those who have already lost money.

It will also undertake scams prevention work to identify, tackle and raise awareness of online scams in the UK.

Martin Lewis, founder and chair, said: “The UK faces an epidemic of online scam ads – they’re everywhere. Yet disgracefully there’s little effective law or regulation to prevent them, and official enforcement is poor to non-existent, as these criminals are usually based outside of the EU. That’s why I sued for defamation, bizarrely the only law I could find to try to make big tech firms understand the damage their negligent behaviour has caused.

“Today should be the start of real improvement. The aim is to tap the power of what I’m dubbing ‘social policing’ to fight these scams. Millions of people know a scam when they see it, and millions of others don’t.

“So now, I’d ask all who recognise them to use the new Facebook reporting tool, to help protect those who don’t – which includes many who are vulnerable. Facebook’s new dedicated team will then hopefully respond quickly to ditch the scammers.

“Sadly, we have to accept zero tolerance won’t mean zero occurrence. Yet my hope is it’ll squash the numbers of scam ads and the time those that do get through are live. This is only happening in the UK, on the back of the lawsuit, yet I suspect Facebook will see its success and soon roll it out to the rest of the world.”

Lewis said the £3m Facebook has given to Citizens Advice should fund a couple of years of resources to try to tackle and repair the damage caused by the scourge of scams. After that he hopes other “big players” will chip in and fund CASA.

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