- Millionaire consumer rights champion Martin Lewis is suing Facebook after claiming scammers are using his reputation to ensnare people in “get-rich-quick schemes” through fake ads.
- The TV star’s team has been surprised by Facebook’s “deliberately obtuse” response to being served with legal action, according to his attorney.
- He is pursuing exemplary damages against Facebook, which is extremely rare and could result in the company having to make a big payout.
- Others could join the lawsuit, with fellow millionaire Duncan Bannatyne saying he admires Lewis’ stand.
- Facebook said fake ads are not welcome and it’s working to remove offending posts and the “bad actors” behind them. The company has offered to meet Lewis and explain the action it is taking.
A millionaire British consumer rights champion announced this week that he is suing Facebook over fraudulent adverts – and he has been shocked with how the company has responded to the legal action.
Martin Lewis said scammers are using his reputation to ensnare people into bitcoin “get-rich-quick schemes” through fake adverts on Facebook.
The Money Saving Expert founder has counted 50 such adverts, but Facebook revealed this week in evidence to a British parliamentary committee that the number is actually more like thousands.
Lewis decided to sue after becoming frustrated with Facebook’s sluggish response to his takedown requests. His attorney, Mark Lewis, said Facebook took up to three weeks to reply to his requests, by which time the damage was already done.
Mark Lewis, a media lawyer at Seddons who was at the forefront of efforts to expose the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, said Facebook’s response to being taken to court has not been much better.
Facebook’s law firm White & Case has insisted he serves legal notice on the company in Ireland, which makes the process more drawn-out and bureaucratic.
“It’s deliberately obtuse and unhelpful. You would expect that from a scam artist, but you wouldn’t expect that from one of the biggest companies in the world,” Mark Lewis told Business Insider.
Facebook said it has been in contact with Lewis’ representatives “for some time” and has removed the offending ads and thousands of others that break its advertising policies.
A spokeswoman told Business Insider: “We have also offered to meet Martin Lewis in person to discuss the issues he’s experienced, explain the actions we have taken already and discuss how we could help stop more bad ads from being placed.”
Martin Lewis is pursuing exemplary damages against Facebook, which is extremely rare in UK defamation law. If successful, the High Court could take punitive action against Facebook, which means it not only has to compensate Lewis, but also cough up the profit from any of the fake adverts in his name.
The millionaire consumer rights champion does not intend to profit from the case. Instead, he will donate any of the damages he is awarded to anti-scam charities.
Facebook could be hit with a class action lawsuit
Winning his case will also set a precedent that will make it easier for others to take action if their reputation is damaged by fake Facebook adverts. This, Mark Lewis said, makes it less likely that he will settle.
The attorney, who is working on a no-win-no-fee basis, said he has had interest from another high-profile individual in joining Lewis to take joint action against Facebook. He would be keen to hear from others.
Lewis, who has a net worth of £125 million ($US175 million) according to The Sunday Times, is not the only millionaire entrepreneur to raise concerns about fake Facebook ads. Deborah Meaden, the star of BBC show “Dragons’ Den,” has campaigned against the problem, as has her former co-star Duncan Bannatyne.
“Martin Lewis is very courageous taking on Facebook. Perhaps we should join together to bring a class action against them to try and halt this type of scam once and for all to stop ordinary people being duped,” Bannatyne said in a statement.
Indeed, scammers have even traded off the “Dragons’ Den” brand – the UK equivalent of “Shark Tank” – to try and entrap people. The BBC is aware of the issue and the broadcaster’s lawyers have been in touch with Sony Pictures Television, which owns the intellectual property to the show. Asked if it is in touch with Facebook, Sony declined to comment. The BBC also declined to comment.
Facebook: Fake ads are “not welcome”
In evidence to British lawmakers on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week, Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said fake adverts are “not welcome on our platform.”
He said the fraudsters have invented ways of getting around the Facebook machine that takes down fraud ads, such as intentionally misspelling names of the individuals they are using to front their scams. This being the case, Schroepfer said it is vital Facebook roots out and removes the “bad actors” completely.
“In the case of Mr Lewis, he reported on the order of 50 ads to us. As a result of that, we did a more extensive investigation using our technical tools, found thousands of other ads, and took all of those down proactively,” Schroepfer said.
“More importantly, we found the dozens of actors, the people who are fraudulently advertising on the platform, and took them off. It prevents them from advertising in the future.”
He added that the company is hoping to use facial recognition, which it is currently rolling out in Europe, to assist with its efforts in removing fake ads. “It is challenging to do technically at scale and it is one of the things I am hopeful for in the future that would catch more of these things automatically,” Schroepfer said.
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