UK public figure sues Facebook for defamation over fraudulent fake ads

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 24 April 2018
Martin Lewis says he has been fighting the scam for more than a year and wants Facebook to take greater responsibility.

A popular British consumer advice expert and TV presenter Martin Lewis is suing Facebook for defamation, claiming the social media network failed to prevent criminals from buying more than 50 scam adverts that ripped off his public image to commit fraud.

Lewis, who founded and presents The Martin Lewis Show on ITV, said fraudsters illegally used his photo and name to lure victims into fake get-rich-quick schemes with dodgy labels like 'Bitcoin Code' or 'Cloud Trader'. The ads often click through to fake news websites to lure victims into the scam (see examples in photo gallery below).

The scandal is another example of how Facebook has struggled to keep up with fraudsters exploiting the platform for malicious purposes.

It follows a spate fake ads and propaganda placed by Russia-based Internet Research Agency, which Facebook has subsequently banned, as well as organisations like Cambridge Analytica targeting political propaganda ads to Facebook users in the 2016 US election.

Lewis' personal defamation lawsuit against Facebook seeks exemplary damages that he says will be donated to anti-scam charities. Part of the reason for launching the suit, he adds, is to raise public awareness of the issue and prevent more victims from falling into the fraudsters trap.

Lewis claims Facebook was first made aware of the scam more than a year ago and that he made it clear he doesn't advertise on the social media platform.

“Enough is enough. I’ve been fighting for over a year to stop Facebook letting scammers use my name and face to rip off vulnerable people – yet it continues. I feel sick each time I hear of another victim being conned because of trust they wrongly thought they were placing in me. One lady had over £100,000 taken from her,” Lewis said.

“I don’t do adverts. I’ve told Facebook that. Any ad with my picture or name in is without my permission. I’ve asked it not to publish them, or at least to check their legitimacy with me before publishing. This shouldn’t be difficult – after all, it’s a leader in face and text recognition. Yet it simply continues to repeatedly publish these adverts and then relies on me to report them, once the damage has been done.”

Lewis said that when Facebook has been alerted to fake ads in the past, it can take several days or weeks for them to be removed only for scammers to post new identical ads soon afterwards.

Facebook's response

Facebook told AdNews it was working with Lewis' team to remove ads promptly and that it had invested heavily in developing its advertising review program, which includes automated and manual review of ads.

“We do not allow adverts which are misleading or false on Facebook and have explained to Martin Lewis that he should report any adverts that infringe his rights and they will be removed,” a spokesperson said.

“We are in direct contact with his team, offering to help and promptly investigating their requests, and only last week confirmed that several adverts and accounts that violated our Advertising Policies had been taken down.”

The money saving expert - a well known public figure in the UK – believes that Facebook's reactive policy isn't good enough and believes the social media platform has a responsibility to prevent it from happening.

“It’s time Facebook was made to take responsibility. It claims to be a platform not a publisher – yet this isn’t just a post on a web forum, it is being paid to publish, promulgate and promote what are often fraudulent enterprises. My hope is this lawsuit will force it to change its system. Nothing else has worked. People need protection.

He add: “On a personal note, as well as the huge amount of time, stress and effort it takes to continually combat these scams, this whole episode has been extremely depressing – to see my reputation besmirched by such a big company, out of an unending greed to keep raking in its ad cash.”

Lewis is being represented solicitor Mark Lewis of Seddons in the High Court proceedings, which was issued on Monday. He said the plaintiff is pursuing exemplary damages to send strong message to the social media platform.

“Facebook is not above the law – it cannot hide outside the UK and think that it is untouchable,” Lewis said.

“Exemplary damages are being sought. This means we will ask the court to ensure they are substantial enough that Facebook can’t simply see paying out damages as just the ‘cost of business’ and carry on regardless. It needs to be shown that the price of causing misery is very high.”

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