Fraudulent tech support ads and IT help desk scams are nothing new. But Google is finally taking steps to protect customers from the IT fraudsters.
In a blog post today, David Graff, Google's director of global product policy wrote:
"We’ve seen a rise in misleading ad experiences stemming from third-party technical support providers and have decided to begin restricting ads in this category globally.
For many years, we’ve consulted and worked with law enforcement and government agencies to address abuse in this area. As the fraudulent activity takes place off our platform, it’s increasingly difficult to separate the bad actors from the legitimate providers. That’s why in the coming months, we will roll out a verification program to ensure that only legitimate providers of third-party tech support can use our platform to reach consumers."
It sounds like a promising move. But Google didn't indicate if legitimate IT service providers can currently post ads. Nor did the search giant indicate when the "verification program" will specifically arrive.
The Wall Street Journal offered these additional insights:
" will start implementing the restriction on these adds immediately, but they will take weeks to go fully into effect in all languages and parts of the world, people familiar with the new policy said. They added that the verification process for allowing individual vendors back onto the platform is still being worked out."
Tech Support Scams: The Growing Numbers, Problems
How bad is the tech support scam problem? The numbers are staggering. According to The Wall Street Journal:
- A 2018 study found 72% of sponsored ads on major search engines related to technical support queries led to scam websites.
- Microsoft, which receives around 12,000 complaints about tech support scams every month, reported a 24 percent increase in such complaints through 2017.
- The Federal Trade Commission registered 45,000 complaints about online tech support fraud in 2016, which the agency estimates is only a fraction of the true total.
Cleaning Up Online Networks
Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online services have been working overtime to block or take down various types of ads and social campaigns. Among the big concerns: Nation states that secretly launch social and search campaigns to influence elections and more.
Google has quietly worked to cleanse its online ad systems from a range of fraudulent efforts. In the past year, for instance, the company took down more than 3.2 billion ads that violated Google's advertising policies; that’s more than 100 bad ads per second, Graff's blog indicated.
Alleged Tech Support Scams: The Scorecard
Meanwhile, prosecutors also have been cracking down on alleged IT support fraud. Among the cases ChannelE2E has tracked:
- Inbound Call Experts (doing business as Advanced Tech Support) and associated defendants were fined $10 million in 2016 to settle charges related to fraudulent, high-pressure sales tactics, according to the FTC.
- Multiple lawsuits targeting iYogi, the help desk support provider.
- A federal court, working with the FTC and State of Florida, in 2016 temporarily shut down multiple, interrelated IT service providers that allegedly are deceptive scammers.