Cryptocurrency scams claiming to feature advice from Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis have been spreading on Facebook.
Numerous adverts have been uploaded to Facebook’s Ad Library claiming that if people invest a small amount of money – between £190 and £250 – they can generate £3400 per month.
The links used in the six adverts uploaded to Facebook’s ad platform take viewers to a poorly-designed website attempting to mimic the BBC’s website.
“Special Report: Martin Lewis’s Latest Investment Has Experts in Awe And Big Banks Terrified”, the headline of the fake article states. It encourages people to invest in a cryptocurrency auto-trading program called Bitcoin Code with claims that it will generate huge amounts of money in short spaces of time.
It also claims that “big banks are trying to cover this up”, while also using the rise in inflation and cost of living crisis to encourage people to invest.
The websites running the adverts, which have only appeared on Facebook and not on other Meta platforms, mimic the Amazon-owned book website Goodreads. Apart from the URL and a slight change in font, the fraudulent websites look identical to the original.
The first advert appeared on the platform on 4 May, with the most recent uploaded on 6 May.
“Ads must not contain deceptive, false or misleading claims, such as those relating to the effectiveness or characteristics of a product or service”, Facebook’s policy states. This includes “exaggerated claims, tips or tricks” and “false or misleading claims about product attributes, quality or functionality”.
Meta claimed the adverts were removed before The Independent brought them to its attention. Though they stated that their Ad Review can sometimes take more than 24 hours to complete, Meta provided no evidence to back up this claim despite multiple requests from The Independent, and would not say how long the adverts had been active for.
This is not the first time that Facebook has had to content with Mr Lewis’ image being used for scams. In 2018, Mr Lewis launched a High Court legal battle against Facebook over claims that over 1,000 scam adverts on its platforms have caused vulnerable people to hand over thousands of pounds to criminals.
Facebook and Mr Lewis eventually settled after the social media giant launched a dedicated tool to report scam ads and donated £3 million to a new Citizens Advice project to stop more from spreading.
“It shouldn’t have taken the threat of legal action to get here. Yet once we started talking, Facebook quickly realised the scale of the problem, its impact on real people, and agreed to commit to making a difference both on its own platform and across the wider sector”, Mr Lewis said at the time. It is unclear why Facebook did not detect these adverts before they were live on its platform.
Facebook’s ad platform has been criticised for lax rules in the past. An investigation by The Independent last year found that companies can use fake testimonials attributed to Twitter accounts that do not exist to advertise on Facebook and Instagram, despite Facebook’s ad policies forbidding “deceptive, false or misleading claims”.
Facebook toldThe Independent that the ads did not violate its policies because they are not advertising misleading claims about the benefits of a product, service, or functionality.
When The Independent asked how testimonials from seemingly fake Twitter accounts could be interpreted as anything other than a misleading claim about the benefits of a product, and that companies could theoretically bypass Facebook’s policies in this way, Facebook declined to comment.
As well as Facebook, Microsoft’s ad platform has also been used to share scams. A fake ‘Amazon’ website attempted to scam people out of money under the impression they are investing in Tesla was accidentally promoted on Microsoft’s news website.
“We have numerous control measures to identify advertisements that do not comply with our policies, and terms of services including the ingestion and blocking of the FCA unauthorised domain lists”, Microsoft said in a statement to The Independent at the time.