Do Social Media firms serve as a gateway for scammers? 

What action could the FCA take against Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? 

Everybody was shocked to learn of the suffering that customers of London Capital and Finance Group (link is to FSCS with latest updates and useful timeline of events). 

Basically, as individuals (so called investors even though most had never invested at all) scrolled through their social media feeds they were presented with ‘advertisements’ offering 8% plus returns within an ISA.

The underlying investments were packaged as ‘mini bonds’ and whilst the regulator had been warned on numerous occasions by finance industry professionals they didn’t take any action until after 14,000 individuals had been scammed. 

In terms of the unsuspecting ‘victims’ they were mainly inexperienced individuals (not investors) and simply grabbed at an offer of returns that were far far higher than anything else available. 

Now, of course, with hindsight it’s easy to say, ‘if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is’ or that a ‘fool and his/her money is soon parted’. And there are probably numerous other tropes that could be rolled out. 

But the fact of the matter is that those individuals shouldn’t have been scammed and whilst the regulator was partially to blame, the facilitation of the crimes were enabled by Google and other search engines, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

Back in March 2019 I wrote this post on the potential for ‘crowdfunding’ relating to being scammed and also this general post on pension/investment related scams. They’re still relevant but due to other more useful pursuits I tend not to write about such things anymore – it’s too depressing!

As with much of the information around scams it soon became apparent that most efforts to combat it (including the FCA’s own Scamsmart) were futile.

At the root of it all are complex opaque corporate structures that set up a range of marketing, investment, claims and legal companies.

There is no solution unless changes are made to the legal framework that enables scamming on an industrial scale.

Anyway, at the time of writing about the London and Capital Finance scam social media was buzzing with numerous individuals and dodgy companies offering to help those impacted – as quite logically those that had been ‘fleeced’ had nowhere to go.

Certainly not the FCA.

The Role of Social Media

As we are all increasingly aware Social Media is detrimental in many ways to all kinds of things – whether that’s dangerous ideologies, poisonous ideas, government propaganda, high pressure sales, fake reviews, NHS scams, dodgy conspiracy theories and even dodgier counter conspiracy theories etc etc. 

If we put aside for moment that they are ‘at all beneficial’, and instead be truthful and acknowledge they are simply advertising mediums/funnels (as is Google as well as just being a relational database!) built to maximise advertising revenue.

If we start from that point it’s just about clicks, traffic and generating advertising revenue. 

Money, money and more money.

The Current Google as of late 2021 

Before we take a little look at Social Media let’s give a cursory glance to Google.

Google’s ‘Money or your Life’ strategy seems to be working.

In a nutshell – if it impacts your wealth or health you will face more advertising scrutiny.

For financial services companies Google have now put in place Algos (or bots) that target certain keywords and keywork combinations and phrases so that advertisers are not presented unless they are authorised and regulated by the FCA. 

A good example?

Try this:

Put in search for ‘best investments for ISA’

You’ll probably find that news (fake or not) websites will be presented as well as some well established (authorised and regulated) financial services firms.

In times before you would have been presented with a barrage of ‘ads’ with catchy ‘clickbait’ headlines. Just look at the video in one of my scam posts.

Those days are over – for comparison, just search for a term such as ‘resin driveway’ and you’ll see the difference!

Ads ads and then some reputable driveway websites such as Drivewaywise.com with a useful post on the pros and cons of resin

The actions taken by Google have pleased the FCA (as current boss of FCA had more meetings with Google than anybody else last year)

The FCA (for the time) takes comfort in the fact that Google is screening out the potential for ‘dodgy’ advertising to reach consumers.

If a firm is regulated and authorised by the FCA they have to adhere to certain ‘prescribed’ formats for advertising covered under ‘financial promotion rules’. 

So that’s good news! 

The downside is that reputable and dare I say it sincere individuals (such as myself) will never be found on searches on Google and the like because of lack of authorisation. 

Does this matter to me? Not really.

I don’t want anybody’s email address, I’m not affiliated with third parties, I’m not flogging something – but maybe I will in the future.

Censorship is inevetably coming but until then I shall write about things if I want to.

Another downside is that just because firms are authorised and regulated this doesn’t necessarily mean that individauals won’t be scammed. 

Many (if not all) of the firms you’ll find on the FSCS were authorised and regulated by the FCA at some point! To think that there aren’t existing firms fully authorised and regulated that aren’t scamming (in some shape or form) is plain stupid. 

As ever due diligence carried out in a personal capacity is very important.

This means looking at the history and financial resilience of any financial services firm you engage with. 

Whether it’s a tastefully designed garden installation or sussing out a regulated IFA exercising the same level of due diligence is crucial.

There are just as many crooks in the regulated fields (if not more) but most wear a shirt and tie instead of baggy tracksuit bottoms with skunky spliffs hanging out of their mouths!

Social Media – Twitter 

As most of us are aware, Twitter is a place for people to have an opinion, discuss, throw insults, embarrass and humiliate.

People also occasionally share ideas too. Any time spent on Twitter will make you feel miserable and that’s possibly the only guarantee.

Once upon a time it was also rife with supporters of various financial companies offering so called ‘independent’ opinion and the like. Most have now scuttled off.  

Facebook 

Once upon a time, Facebook positioned itself as a friendly place for people to share photos. This enabled people to say things like, “He’s hot” or “she’s hot’. It also enabled people to look at other people’s lives (in a kind of creepy way) and also enabled people to ‘brag’ about what they have or what they’re doing. 

Facebook was the main medium used by many financial scammers offering utility comparisons to gain data or debt management services, mortgages etc etc.

The main marketing during the London and Capital finance group was conducted via Facebook and if you’re ever really curious about how Facebook used to work just look up the Cambridge Analytica documentary. An unbelievable 200 or so data points on each user.

Instagram 

Kind of like Facebook but for people that can’t spell or write (or can’t be bothered). Offering luxurious toys for wannabes is a guaranteed way to attract. 

Pinterest 

Again an image focused platform for people with ultra low attention spans. This platform has an apparent ‘bounce’ rate (how long somebody stays on a page before clicking away) of less than 10 seconds. Not much time to grab somebody’s attention, unless their TIK TOK trained!

Linkedin

For many years Linkedin (owned by Microsoft and Bill Gates) promoted itself as a ‘professional’ networking space. It’s useful for job hunting and ego massaging. But scammers have targetted Linkedin in unique ways – whether that’s simply hacking accounts, identity theft, misleading reviews and fake job ads to gather data – it’s all on Linkedin. 

FCA Threats  – What does the FCA want Social Media Platforms to do? 

The FCA wants to protect consumers from harm. That is their purpose (or one of them anyway). They are also tasked with ensuring that ‘confidence’ is maintained in our financial services industry. 

Crappy ads fleecing people is detrimental to their objectives. 

Therefore, the FCA want Twitter, Facebook etc to copy follow Google and ensure that only authorised and regulated firms can advertise.  

Eventually, they will probably demand that anybody that mentions keywords such as ‘money’ are first put through a stringent processes.  Eventually this may lead to individuals having to justifiy their intentions at a faceless inquisition but that’s for another day.

Take Action (A Call to Action)

(Another) useful telephone number has been set up for people to dial if they want to report or check a scam.

The number is 159 so save it into your phone.

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