TrustInAds.org, a new organization founded by AOL, Facebook, Google and Twitter aimed at protecting people from malicious online advertisements, has issued a report that shines light on how online advertising platforms are combating tech support advertising scams that attempt to infiltrate a person’s computer.
In researching this trend, Facebook and Google discovered that bad actors were using ads on Google and Facebook’s platforms to lure consumers to websites where they were encouraged to call a 1-(800) number for tech support. These scam advertisers were often presenting themselves as official representatives of companies of the products for which the users were needing support, and having them download and install special software as the initial step to solving their issue. The downloaded program – unbeknownst to the user – contained malicious software with viruses, spyware, adware, keystroke loggers and other harmful applications.
With this review process, Google and Facebook removed over 4,000 suspicious advertiser accounts linked to more than 2,400 tech support websites.
“While limited in volume and scope, these tech support ad scams not only present a real problem for victims, but also for advertising platforms, publishers and legitimate advertisers,” added Haralson. “Internet companies have worked hard to remove these ads from their platform, but they need consumers’ help too.”
The alert also provides tips on how consumers can remain safe online, including:
- Have a clear understanding from which provider you are soliciting tech support. Checking the website of the product’s provider, or calling the provider directly, should always be the first step to solving a tech support issue. However, some may choose to seek support from a third-party provider. Consumers should know who they are seeking support from, as some scammers pose as representatives as official representatives of brand-name companies.
- Never give a password over the phone and be suspicious when asked to download software. No legitimate company will ever ask a consumer to provide a password to their account over the phone, and at no point should anyone be required to download a piece of software from a third-party tech support provider in order to solve an issue.
- Keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date. Users should always make sure they are running updated security/antivirus software on their computers that can detect problems as soon as they appear.
- If you become suspicious of an ad or are victimized by a scam, REPORT IT! One of the best ways companies can defend users from harmful scams and bad ads is through user feedback.
While the overwhelming majority of ads people see on their favorite websites are safe and legitimate, there are scammers that constantly try to game the system to find ways to exploit consumers. In many cases, scam ads on the surface appear normal and harmless, but may redirect people to webpages that can install malware to a computer or mobile devices, direct them to scam or phishing websites, or try to sell them counterfeit goods.
Because of the diversity of the platforms, each of these companies face unique challenges when it comes to fighting bad ads and scammers. In its own review, Twitter did not uncover any of these types of tech support scams – its advertising platform is still nascent in size and scope relative to Google and Facebook. However, the company believes in a proactive approach to addressing these issues and providing its insight and expertise to help identify bad ads and keep them off all advertising platforms.
“TrustInAds.org is about educating people so they can avoid malicious ads, and alerting the public, advertisers, and policymakers about ways platforms are working to prevent these types of ads from appearing online.”
Through this organization, the companies will bring awareness to consumers about online ad-related scams and deceptive activities by publishing regular and timely Bad Ads Trend Alerts, collaborate to identify trends, and share its knowledge with policymakers and consumer advocates around the country.