Google Ads Breached by Phone Carrier Scam

John Lister's picture

Google has shown bogus ads for a scam website at the top of its results page according to a consumer group. The ads had somehow bypassed checks designed to make sure only legitimate businesses appear in the "sponsored" section of the results.

These results, labeled as sponsored, appear at the top of the rankings. They come above the "organic" results which are based on Google's algorithm that takes into account factors such as the relevance of a page to the search term, the authority and expertise of the creator, and whether people who click on the result quickly return to the search results. (Source:

Pay To Play

Although the sponsored results are largely down to whoever pays the most to appear for the relevant search term, Google has rules to prevent scam websites buying ads. In particular, sites aren't allowed to pose as other companies and hijack their traffic and goodwill simply by paying more for the slot.

Consumer group Which? (similar to Consumer Reports) discovered such a scam in the United Kingdom with ads that appeared to be from (and link to) a mobile carrier called Lyca Mobile. In fact the ads directed users to a look-alike site designed to trick customers, who thought they were signing up for a legitimate phone service contract, into providing credit card details.

Real Company Still a Fake

Publicly available data showed Google had verified the identity of the advertiser as "Vodafone Finance Management." Vodafone is the name of another UK mobile carrier. It has no connection to "Vodafone Finance Management", though the latter's company incorporation documents falsely claim it is a subsidiary.

Google hasn't confirmed how it verified the identity in this case. However, Which? believes Google is simply checking that the company details provided by the advertiser are genuine and the company exists. It doesn't appear to be doing enough to check that this company is genuinely connected to the business that appears to be the subject of the advertisement. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you pay much attention to the sponsored results section on Google? Would you assume businesses listed here are genuine and who they say they are? What, if anything, should Google do differently to avoid scams?

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doulosg's picture

Of course it's the result of giving away the consumer product (i.e., browser, email, etc.) for free. But they are making it harder to find content under all the ads, so this is really no surprise.
That being said, the sponsored "ads" on the search results are the *last* place I look (on the first page).

jimain's picture

I'm offended by the aggressive approach to winning acclaim.

repete_14444's picture

Google’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil.”

It dropped that in 2015. I think we know why.

Recently, Google admitted that a recent update to its Google Play system corrupted the memory of many Pixel phones, making them nearly unusable.

However, rather than being correctable with a subsequent update, the fix requires deep programming knowledge using developer software tools. This truly is unacceptable. Google should replace every affected phone.

The moral of this story is being aware that Google always can pull the rug out from under you.

Apple has made its share of mistakes but nearly always goes the extra mile to rectify them without requiring you to become a computer programmer.