For a while now, in the Marketing and especially in the Advertising industry, we’ve been facing this terrible issue called Ad Fraud and the effects it has on our metrics, analytics, and, obviously, on our budgets. However, today we are discussing this problem from a different perspective than we usually do, what happens when users are the victims of Ad Fraud? And more specifically, how exactly could this happen? Well, a great example would be having websites pretending to be governmental ones, and having them launch Ad Campaigns.
Whenever we face an annoying bureaucratic matter that we have to take care of, what’s the first thing we do? Correct: Google it to find out how. So what could happen if the first thing that we see when we search for that is an Ad saying “Hey! You can do so right here just filling up this data and paying us this amount of money!”, well, it’d at least be worth a click. AND, what if afterward, the website was white and blue and their URL said something that seemed like “.gov”? There wouldn’t be too much to think about, right? Well, according to this article, many people wish they would’ve, at least, checked the URL one more time.
Basically, what happened is that a bunch of people created websites very similar to what the US government’s ones look like (you know, blue, white, Roboto, or Arial font), included a “-gov” in their URLs, and proceeded to launch Search Ads promoting certain types of paperwork that the government does for free or for very little money and charging really high amounts for them, leaving aside the fact that they were absolutely not doing such paperwork nor related to it in any way. So, if you don’t know too much about official paperwork and didn’t pay too much attention to URLs, then you are definitely falling for it, and losing your money to a scam.
Needless to say that creating fake government websites it’s not legal at all, and it’s against Google’s content policies but for some reason, they were still featured in Search Results. The reason is that there’s a very fine line between what Google used to consider “pretending to be government websites” and what actually happened, especially because most of these websites had a very small letter saying that they were not the government, and leaving aside the fact that they all ended up in “.com”. So Google Ads removed (or intended to remove) all of these Ads, and created a new policy stating that they will no longer allow for websites nor Ads offering services that the government itself offers, hence, no more sites claiming to do paperwork implying they are an actual official website and charging you for it.
So you know how recently we’ve been talking about Google Ads accounts getting banned? Well, this is exactly what we mean when we say it’s not a very certain science. Take this example: Until a couple of days ago, people were perfectly allowed to create Ad Campaigns on behalf of the government, leading users to a scam that made them pay for the government’s free paperwork. This is something that’s actually really dangerous and illegal, and Google Ads just let it go. But hey, don’t you dare create an Ad about sugar dating or you will definitely get banned.
Because it’s actually legal to create private websites that help you out with government paperwork for a price, Google Ads just let these sorts of websites launch their Ads exclaiming to do so. But, in this case, not only were they not offering them as a private company but actually claiming to be the government, but also they were not doing any paperwork at all. As said by the victims of these scams, they paid the fees charged and got nothing at all, and they only got what they were looking for (for example, EINs or address changes in the USPS) once they did it through the actual official pages.
So now that Google Ads has figured that this should be included in their “not allowed” list, my conspirative brain needs to go to places like “what could be other grey areas that Google Ads is not banning but actually are illegal?”. Not to be that person, but I can’t help but want to go deep diving for potential areas that people can make scams from, just because Google (who’s been in such an ethical mood lately) doesn’t have strict policies about it.
In my opinion, it’s not a surprise that, as technology evolves, so do people’s minds and how resourceful they can get when it comes to developing new strategies to take advantage of others. What does surprise me is how long it took for Google to make something about it, because this is not the first time something like this comes up, and it’s actually been a war between them and healthcare.gov to prevent websites from launching Ads naming them and then leading to private subjects.
In my opinion, Google Ads is having a very controversial priority order. On one hand, they are launching all these new policies to protect user’s privacy (such as their beloved FLoCs, which allow you to target your Ads by groups of people that share interests) but then they just completely expose them to scam-leading Ads.
So, to conclude, I believe that we should never let the fact that Google Ads policy contents are always changing, and that there are bad people out there that will always try to find the way around it to make a profit out of it. That’s why my advice for today is to always remain attentive to Google Ads updates and to pay a lot of attention to the websites you are giving your credit card info to, and obviously, please remember to check if it’s “.gov” or “.com” next time you have paperwork to do.
Mora is a PPC Analyst at Hellbent Digital at work, and a theater nerd when not at work. And it turns out understanding theater—that is, how to put on compelling live shows that engage the audience—is a very useful skill for understanding digital marketing.