Consumers warned on fake debt advice sites appearing on Google

(Image credit: Pixabay)

Google has been criticised by charities and insolvency practitioners for allegedly making thousands of pounds from unregulated advertising, almost a year after it created new guidelines aiming to tackle the very same problem.

Examples of bogus websites that mimic charities and offer to write off people’s debts are still live, while legitimate charities and insolvency practitioners who are effectively falling victim to identity theft say their complaints to Google are being largely ignored.

In some cases, unregulated debt advice websites are often remaining online for over a week after being reported to Google. 

At the same time, the Financial Conduct Authority says it has recently blacklisted 13 fake websites, offering dubious debt advice with no regulation in place. Both the StepChange Debt Charity and National Debtline recognised charities claim they have been impersonated.

Fake websites

According to finance website This is Money, there have been many examples of websites purporting to be charities that help with debt. In reality, however, they’re lead generators that earn commission every time they put someone in touch with debt solution providers. The sites themselves are effectively faceless and don't have any genuine contact details.

This is Money also revealed the large sums of money being spent on advertising with Google by the questionable websites. It found that one, the so-called ‘stepchanging’ had paid Google around £20,000 for ads from the beginning of April through to mid-May. Meanwhile, the website has already been placed on the blacklist created by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Although Google has put safeguards in place to stop the flow of bogus debt help websites, critics claim that the certification policy is not being enforced effectively enough.

Authorised registered insolvency practitioners need to be licensed in order to advertise debt services, but those working in the industry have expressed concerns that Google isn't doing enough to check if details appearing on debt websites are genuine or simply being used by impersonators.

Google has since issued a statement addressing the situation, saying: 'When users come to Google looking for advice or solutions for their problems we want to ensure that the information surfaced to them in ads leads to honest players and we take this responsibility seriously.

When we become aware of ads that violate our policies, we take action. We do not allow ads for credit repair services and ads for debt settlement or debt management services in the UK are only allowed to run if certified by Google."

In the meantime, anyone who has debt problems is advised to ignore anything that looks dubious and head for more obviously genuine help resources, such as the Government’s Money Advice Service or Citizens Advice, along with the official StepChange Debt Charity or Money Advice Trust websites.

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.