Carpenters Group: Why we’re fighting to tackle Google AdWord spoofing

Imagine the scenario; on my local high street, I decide to set up a fast food restaurant called McDonalds – complete with golden arches logo. It wouldn’t be more than five minutes before my spoof burger joint would be shut down, even though there was no real consumer detriment.

Now, contrast this with what is happening to insurers and brokers in the online space.

Claims Management Companies (CMCs) are spoofing insurer brands’ claims helpline numbers by buying up Google AdWords for searches – yet there is very little being done to stop this happening. The result is consumers on the high street are being more protected than those online.

That is wrong and should be remedied.

The MO of these CMCs is cunning. They buy AdWords – keywords on Google where the top results are paid-for adverts, but they are only doing this for mobile-only searches. The intention is never for the unwitting consumer to click on a link, but to use the ‘click to call’ function. When our victim clicks ‘call’, the voice at the other end of the line makes it appear as if they are reporting a collision to their insurer, when really they are giving their data over to a CMC unconnected to their actual insurer.

The detriment can occur in a number of ways; CMCs can often take up to 40% of claim damages awards as a fee, where if the consumer’s insurer were to handle the claim, they’d likely get the full value of the claim. We’ve also heard examples where a firm racks up excessive credit hire charges, only to discover at a later date it is in fact a fault claim and the unsuspecting consumer is left to pick up the tab. Finally, sometimes the claim number can also be a premium rate service. All very damaging to consumers and the brokers and insurers to whom Carpenters Group provides claims services.

So what can be done about it?

Carpenters Group have had conversations with several Ministers whose brief cuts across this issue; Paul Scully MP, John Whittingdale MP and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Oliver Dowden MP.

Carpenters Group supports the introduction of tighter regulation which compels internet firms like Google to have more responsibility in stopping consumer detriment as a result of the adverts they host.  There are three ways we’ve identified that this can be done.

The first is through an amendment to the Online Safety Bill, a piece of draft legislation that aims to tackle harms caused in the online space. The focus of this, however, is on user-generated content, so AdWords fall outside of its scope unless the Bill is amended.

The second is through a newly-created branch of the Competition and Markets Authority called the Digital Markets Unit. One of its key remits will be “protecting consumers and businesses from unfair practices” – and so this seems a natural fit with an aim of tighter regulation. It is currently operating in shadow form under existing CMA powers, but the Government will consult on the statutory powers it will have, which is an opportunity for the industry to influence.

Finally, DCMS are also to bring legislation through a programme of work on online advertising. We have also spoken to officials conducting this review and believe they understand the issue and are keen to tackle it.

We have been working closely with colleagues at the Insurance Fraud Bureau and the Association of British Insurers – organisations of which we are associate members. Through our collaborative approach, we are confident we can make an effective case for change, as well as provide policy suggestions as to how this may be achieved.

As a strong advocate to insurers in the fight against fraud, Carpenters Group will do all we can to help Government to highlight and resolve this issue, benefiting all of our customers, who are at the heart of everything we do.Faye Fishlock
Head of Defendant Services, Carpenters Group


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