How to spot a fake online advert

Fake adverts can appear on auction sites, online marketplaces, search engines or in your social media feeds. They often look genuine and try to hook you in with false celebrity endorsements, discounted products, or tempting jobs or investments. But the aim is often to steal money from you or sell you fake or non-existent goods.

Fake advert checklist: what to look for

Carefully planted among real adverts, these fake versions can be very convincing. But there are usually a few clues that an advert isn’t genuine, so some signs to look out for include:

  • bargain prices on high value items or incredible returns on investments – especially if they’re using language designed to hurry you (‘Only for 24 hours!’ or ‘Last few remaining!’)
  • language designed to panic you – for example, a warning that your device has been infected in an advert for antivirus products
  • claims that a product or service (such as a health card or driving licence) can be obtained more quickly or easily than going through official channels
  • a logo that looks familiar but there’s something not quite right about it – for example, the colours are distorted or it’s a bit fuzzy
  • being encouraged by the advertiser to move away from the official website to complete the transaction
  • if you click on a link, it takes you to a website that doesn’t feel right (perhaps the web address isn’t the usual one or the branding looks a bit different)

What to do if you suspect fraud

If you’ve seen something that doesn’t feel right, STOP!

  • break the contact – don’t click on any links
  • stay on the official website and only use their recommended payment methods
  • research the company or seller by looking at reviews on trusted review sites
  • report it to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
  • you may also be able to report on the platform where you saw it

What to do if you’ve already responded to the advert

Don’t panic! What you do next depends on whether you’ve clicked a link, sent information or made a payment. Take a look at our advice on what to do if you’ve been a victim of fraud.

Reporting fraud

If you’ve been a victim of a fake online advert, find out how and why to report it.