Evidence submitted by Money Savings Expert (ECR0062)




Emerging trend in economic crime affecting consumers:

Martin Lewis fake adverts scamming vulnerable consumers out of £1000s


MoneySavingExpert.com welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Treasury Committee’s Economic Crime inquiry.

We would like to inform the Committee of a wide-scale problem which involves Facebook being paid to promote and advertise known scams. We have evidence that at least until recently, Facebook has taken very little responsibility and has continued to publish these adverts even after it has been notified that they are completely false and could lead to its users being scammed out of thousands of pounds.

At the heart of the scam lies a fake “celebrity” endorsement of a “get rich quick” scheme. We know that Lord Alan Sugar, Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Sir Richard Branson have had their names and reputations abused in this way, as has MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis. For the purposes of this submission, we will focus on the evidence involving Martin Lewis and MoneySavingExpert.com, but please consider this as totemic of the wider issue.

The problem

Martin Lewis’ face is being published widely on Facebook and across the internet on native advertising platforms including Oath, Taboola, Google and others. The false endorsements seemingly advertise binary trading, boiler products and PPI companies. None of these ‘endorsements’ are genuine. The people behind these adverts are leeching off the hard-earned, widely-trusted reputations of Martin Lewis and MoneySavingExpert.com.

The consumer sees the scam advert – typically on Facebook – and clicks through to find what often appears to be a genuine news article from The Mirror, BBC News and even MoneySavingExpert.com. None of these articles are authentic, which can be determined from the URL. The fake news story normally includes a picture of Martin Lewis alongside fake quotes, tweets and Facebook posts. Crucially, Martin Lewis’ endorsement for the “get rich quick” story is wholly false.


From the evidence we have gathered, consumers tell us they are falling foul of these scams because they believe Martin Lewis has invested in these schemes and is recommending them.

For example, one victim has told MoneySavingExpert.com she invested in a binary trading scheme “... because it was supposedly recommended by Martin.” Another reportedly paid £9500 for a new boiler after “... seeing an alleged Martin Lewis-endorsed advert.”

One MoneySavingExpert.com user was “persuaded to invest” in a company called Stern Options and he says he subsequently lost almost £19,000. Stern Options was advertising on Facebook even though the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued a warning about this company, which is not FCA regulated. Despite attempts to explain the endorsement was fake, this particular person still believes MoneySavingExpert.com is to blame for the loss of his money.

The biggest loss we are aware of involves a retired woman who featured in a Sunday Mail (Trinity Mirror) article, who says she invested more than £150,000 with Stern Options after seeing an advert on Facebook which claimed the investment was backed by Martin Lewis. Despite not being able to gain any redress from either Stern Options or Facebook, the victim was eventually able to get her money back from her bank via the chargeback scheme.

Most recently, someone has even created a fake Martin Lewis Facebook account and used it to target MoneySavingExpert.com users privately via Facebook Messenger.

Action taken by MoneySavingExpert.com

Whenever we become aware of a fake advert, we ask the host platform/publisher to take it down immediately. Compared to other platforms, Facebook has been particularly uncooperative when we have flagged these scam adverts to it. From October 2016 we reported multiple posts, where we had the advert link, through its own reporting system. Each time we received an auto-response and no other confirmation of actions taken.

We have attempted to directly engage with Facebook in several ways, but for a long time this was without success. It was only when MSE launched a high-profile media campaign to raise awareness of these scam adverts in October 2017 that Facebook’s UK PR agency started a dialogue with us. This put us in the laborious and farcical situation of being forced to report each advert we were aware of, on a case-by-case basis, to the PR agency (as well as using the report function on Facebook, where we have the link).

To be clear, this is primarily a consumer protection issue and not a public relations one. Therefore, it was inappropriate for the responsibility of managing the situation to have been given to a PR agency – it should have always firmly rested with Facebook.

We have also been working closely with Action Fraud and the FCA to report these issues and individual scams. The FCA has dedicated some of its investigations team to tackling this fast-growing problem.

The legal team at MoneySavingExpert.com has also tried to contact many of the companies responsible for the creation of the scam adverts to remove any mention of Martin Lewis and/or MoneySavingExpert.com. We rarely get a response. Some of these organisations are based abroad and most ignore any correspondence.

In a similar battle, we have reported some adverts created for legitimate business purposes but that falsely use the image of Martin Lewis as an endorsement to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). In October 2017, the ASA ruled that three Facebook adverts breached advertising rules and misleadingly implied Martin was endorsing the companies’ services and products. However, the ASA was created in a pre-digital age and has no power over Facebook as a platform. It can only take action against the companies creating the adverts.

Although the role of the ASA has been expanded to cover some activities in the internet age, it still falls short in two areas:

1)      The ASA is effectively a code of conduct for legitimate advertisers, relying on its ability to create bad publicity to name and shame non-compliance. While this works for big, genuine brands that need to protect their name, it holds no weight for scammers. It also means that when it is unknown who is doing the advertising, as is common with online scams, it can’t even investigate.

2)      Even if the ASA could investigate these scams, its current processes would be far too slow to be effective, as it can currently take months to publish a report following an investigation.

Actions taken by Martin Lewis

Many online advertisers operate on the basis of ‘report and take down’, putting the onus on the person being impersonated. This is a highly problematic process because it attempts to absolve the platform of responsibility to proactively tackle this issue. The platform should be taking action itself as a publisher.

However the issue of ‘dark ads’ makes this system even more unworkable. Dark ads are not served universally, there is no homepage to look at, and only the individuals being targeted (which can be very bespoke) will see them. Therefore in a case like the 1000s of scam ads featuring Martin Lewis, it is farcical for Facebook to expect him to ‘report them’.

The lack of action on Facebook’s part led Martin Lewis – in a personal capacity – to launch court proceedings against Facebook on 23 April 2018.

Mike Schroepher, Chief Technical Officer at Facebook, later gave evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. He revealed that Facebook had found and removed thousands of fake Martin Lewis adverts, in addition to the 50 or so that we had initially informed Facebook of. This had not previously been communicated to MoneySavingExpert.com. While we welcome this increased proactivity, the onus should never have been on us to find these adverts in the first place.

Current situation

Since Martin Lewis High Court proceedings against Facebook were issued, Facebook’s approach appears to have been more proactive.

However, just removing these adverts and their pages is not enough. In our experience, once removed, the fraudsters simply re-launch them soon afterwards under a different page, and the whole process begins again. Facebook and its PR agency have been repetitively told that Martin Lewis does not do adverts. This begs the question – why can’t Facebook use face and text recognition to stop any advert containing any reference to Martin Lewis and/or MoneySavingExpert.com before it goes live? The advertising platforms Outbrain, Oath, Google and Taboola have all managed to successfully introduce text recognition – and swept their networks for fake Martin Lewis adverts – after engaging with MoneySavingExpert.com fully on this issue.

Facebook has been publishing these adverts with seemingly no care, attention or quality threshold. Criminal scammers from overseas are able to advertise on its site to target UK consumers. It accepts money for these adverts but then takes no responsibility when they lead to vulnerable people being scammed out of thousands of pounds. The burden is left with Martin Lewis and MoneySavingExpert.com to fight it and raise consumer awareness.  

But this is not about finding a cure; the scams need to be prevented at source, which can only be done by proper regulation of advertising online, which is currently non-existent. Legislation is urgently needed to put a stop to the current Wild West of advertising on the internet and social media. Facebook must be forced to take responsibility for the adverts it publishes and it must be forced to protect consumers from extreme detriment.

Please see the appendix for examples of the scam adverts as seen on Facebook, fake news stories containing the false endorsements, the Facebook Messenger example and the Sunday Mail article.

About Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is the journalist and consumer campaigner who created MoneySavingExpert.com and is now the site’s Executive Chair. Martin also founded and chairs the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute charity.

He’s the UK’s most-googled man, Citizens Advice’s Consumer Champion of the Year, and has spearheaded major financial justice campaigns including bank charges reclaiming (over seven million template letters downloaded), PPI reclaiming (over six million) and a successful large-scale campaign to get financial education in schools. He has his own prime-time ITV programme, The Martin Lewis Money Show, as well as a range of other regular media slots. He was appointed OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2014.

About MoneySavingExpert.com

MoneySavingExpert.com is the UK’s biggest consumer website dedicated to saving people money on anything and everything by finding the best deals, beating the system and campaigning for financial justice. It's based on detailed journalistic research and cutting edge tools, and has one of the UK's top 10 social networking communities.

During April 2018 MoneySavingExpert had 16.2 million users, visiting the site 29.2 million times, and looking at over 72.5 million pages. Over 13 million people have opted to receive its free weekly email, more than 1.7 million users have registered on the forum and over 3.4 million have joined its Cheap Energy Club.

In the event of any queries, please contact the campaigns team: campaigns@moneysavingexpert.com




Example 1: Facebook advert and click through





Example 2: Facebook ad and click-through









Example 3: Clone MoneySavingExpert.com fake site












Example 4: Martin Lewis Facebook Messenger scam