Fake government debt advice ads hosted by Facebook condemned

The enormity of the challenge Facebook must contend with to get its advertising house in order has been laid bare by fresh condemnation of ‘misleading’ debt advice propagated by the social network.

Research by The Guardian has unearthed unscrupulous commercial debt management companies running adverts that employ logos similar to the lion and unicorn UK government crest, as well as images of Boris Johnson, implying that they are official channels.

The cut-throat debt consolidation market has seen a multitude of companies spring up, each chasing the fees and commissions of clients in return for restructuring outstanding debts, employing every trick in the book to dupe people into signing up as several debt advice charities will provide this assistance for free.

One such charity, Stepchange, has decried such dubious marketing tactics as “deeply misleading,” including one egregious example of a Facebook page named Debt Respite Scheme UK – a blatant attempt to duplicate an official government debt relief scheme.

WiseoldMary, another company that is listed as a ‘lead generator’ for others, was blasted for advertising itself as ‘Government Debt Legislation.’ The brazen tactics are still being employed despite a 2020 ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that criticized adverts placed by its parent company, TFLI Ltd, for failing to clarify that leads would be passed on to a third party, nor conveying the associated potential fees and risks.

TFLI insists that it works with the ASA to ensure its advertising is “clear and transparent” and asserts that its usage of official wording and imagery is a reference to “... the fact that individual voluntary arrangements are a result of government debt legislation.”

A Stepchange spokesperson said: “It’s a real problem working out which companies really sit behind the ads. Often these firms are lead generators at several removes from the firms who might actually set up a product for the client.

“If you give your personal details over to one of these companies you may not know where the information is going or who’s going to then get in touch with you about that solution.”

The Guardian’s analysis of Facebook’s ad library unearthed no less than 35 pages offering debt management services, spending a cumulative £100k per month between them.

Facebook’s reputation has been sullied in recent years by a series of scandals amid accusations that it prioritizes ad revenue above the safety of members.