Google plans crackdown on tech-support scams appearing in search ads

Google has made the astonishing revelation that in 2017 it took down an average of “100 ads a second” for violating company policies.

Of those, many were scams advertising bogus tech support services where callers ended up handing over large sums of money for “support” they didn’t need.

Ads delivered by Google’s search engine appear at the top of listings and can, in the case of scams, show fake web addresses to trick the user into thinking they’re looking at information for a legitimate service.

Google has, for a long time, had systems in place protecting people from misleading, inappropriate, and harmful ads, but when it detects an increase in scams targeting a specific category, it tries to move swiftly to put more resources into eradicating those ads from its search results.

David Graff, director of Google’s global product policy, said in a blog post over the weekend that the company recently spotted a rise in misleading ads stemming from third-party tech support providers.

In a bid to stamp out the bogus content, Google is now 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,” Graff wrote. “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.”

Graff acknowledges that these efforts alone won’t deter all bad actors from trying to get their ads into Google’s search results, but he insists that it will make it “a lot harder.”

He added that the web giant is constantly looking at ways to block such content, and that the battle is ongoing “to keep the online advertising ecosystem a safe place for everyone.”

Tech support scams

There are a number of variations on the tech support scam, but they often begin with the victim calling the number shown on the ad in the search results. The scammer might then ask for permission to access the victim’s PC remotely under the guise of trying to determine the issue with the machine. After that, the scammer will “discover” a security threat or damaging virus, or even upload one to the PC. The victim would then be persuaded to purchase the scammer’s support package, most likely at an inflated price.

In 2017, Microsoft said it received 153,000 reports from users who suffered at the hands of tech support scammers, marking a 24-percent increase on a year earlier.

If you think you’ve been targeted, contact your bank to block any payments, then try uninstalling any software that was installed as part of the scam. Finally, run a virus scan on your computer to make sure it’s clean.

Most ads that show up on search engines are legitimate, but if you have any suspicions, take a moment to run an additional search to cross-check any contact information while also researching the results that show up immediately below the ads.

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