We know the illegal online pharmacies used to love the Google. Apparently, the mortgage scammers have found AdWords to be quite useful in their nefarious schemes, as well. The Treasury Department’s Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) announced this week that it’s worked with Google to shut down 85 alleged online mortgage modification scams.
As a result of the investigation, Google suspended relationships with more than 500 online advertisers who allegedly used AdWords to prey on vulnerable homeowners looking to modify their mortgages. Some schemes involved asking homeowners for an up-front fee, telling them to stop paying their mortgage and stop contacting their lender. Sometimes, mortgage payments were diverted to scammers. In some cases, homeowners also transferred the deeds to their properties to the criminals and released other sensitive personal financial information.
“The first place many homeowners turn for help in lowering their mortgage is the Internet through online search engines, and that’s precisely where they are being taken advantage of and targeted,” said Christy Romero, Deputy Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, in a statement. “Web ads that offer a false sense of hope may not be legitimate and can end up costing homeowners their home.”
In some case, the AdWords landing pages purported to be part of the U.S. government, using a government seal or a name resembling that of a government agency.
SIGTARP says Google’s cooperation will have an immediate impact and protect countless homeowners.
Google’s AdWords program has long been used by criminals seeking to lure in unsuspecting victims via Web ads. The company recently agreed to pay $500 million to settle an inquiry by the Department of Justice, which alleged that Google helped Canadian pharmacies illegally sell to U.S. consumers. The company, along with Yahoo and Microsoft, previously also agreed to pay a settlement over illegal online gambling ads in 2007. Policing its AdWords program for nefarious types is surely a great challenge for Google, given the incredible volume of advertisers and ads that it runs every day. This time, at least, the U.S. government seems to be working with Google rather than blaming it for profiting from the illegal ads.