WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing that more than one in 10 ads served to Google users searching for information about student loan relief direct the user to websites that violate Google’s policies or have characteristics of a financial scam. The findings come as the Biden administration mulls action on widespread student loan relief, with questions surrounding potential action sure to bring many borrowers to Google for answers. TTP’s findings are a troubling sign that Google is once again turning a blind eye to bad actors abusing the search giant’s ads system.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “At a time when there is record attention on student loans, Google is serving up a minefield that may leave users in even worse financial shape. Google must not only remove these ads but re-evaluate its faulty approval system that allows so many scam ads in the first place.”
TTP used Google Trends to compile a list of the top 20 student loan-related search queries, including “student loans,” “Biden loan forgiveness,” and “cancel student debt.” Then, using a clean instance of a Google Chrome browser, TTP ran searches on each phrase and recorded all of the ads displayed alongside the first ten pages of search results.
Google Allowing Student Loan Relief Scam Ads
In total, the investigation captured 242 ads placed by Google. Of those, TTP identified 29 as violating Google’s policies or having scam characteristics—nearly 12% of the data set. That means more than one out of every 10 ads in these searches were of questionable quality.
Many of the scam ads that TTP encountered in its search are connected to advertisers with dozens of complaints lodged against them on the Better Business Bureau website. Some of these advertisers ask visitors for payment before providing any services, such as the promise to improve a user’s credit score. Others falsely claim “A+” ratings from equally fraudulent services built to mimic the appearance of a government agency. This is all despite Google policies barring advertisers from “making inaccurate claims or claims that entice the user with an improbable result,” and taking money from users without being able to provide the service.
The prevalence of scam ads in Google search results is a chronic problem not just isolated to student loan-related queries. Previous TTP reports found scam ads on Google when users searched for information related to Covid stimulus checks and voting information.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Google knows that it could tighten the faucet to stop scam ads from getting through, but that doing so would also tighten the flow of ad revenue. If the company insists that its retroactive approach to protecting vulnerable users from loan scams is sufficient, then it is knowingly and irresponsibly putting its own finances above those of its users.”
About Campaign for Accountability
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.