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Scam ads: why an Australian billionaire is launching legal action against Facebook

Scam ads: why an Australian billionaire is launching legal action against Facebook

Advertisements using unauthorised images of celebrities are used to lure victims into fraudulent schemes

The Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest has launched criminal proceedings against Facebook for failing to take action on scam ads featuring his image. A Guardian investigation into the scam ads sheds light on how the scam works and what the ads look like.

What are the scam ads?

The ads appear on Facebook or on news sites as “programmatic ads” supplied by Google. Programmatic ads target individual users.

These ads use images of celebrities or other well-known people in the regions they are targeting, such as Forrest or Dick Smith in Australia. They are presented as a news story claiming the celebrity has made a “big investment” and the banks are shocked by how well it is doing.

Fake news website used for the scam ads. Photograph: Screenshot

If you click on the ad, it takes you to a fake news story that includes a link claiming to be a cryptocurrency investment scheme. If you enter details to register for the scheme, you receive a phone call typically asking you to invest a small sum, such as US$250. You are then asked to invest increasingly larger amounts.

In one case that Guardian Australia previously reported, a 77-year-old Queensland grandmother clicked through from a Facebook ad featuring Forrest. She initially transferred $5,000 to a cryptocurrency exchange before being encouraged to put in more of her money. Scammers eventually emptied her accounts, stealing her entire life savings of $80,000. She was unable to get her money back.