Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 24 March 2020
Law stated as at: 2 April 2020
Following its announcement that it will “act quick and robustly” during the pandemic, the ASA has released guidance reminding consumers to be extra cautious of potential scams, both online and offline, in relation to misinformation surrounding coronavirus. The ASA is working on raising awareness and avoiding Covid-19 scams as part of a broader coalition of consumer protection and enforcement bodies, including Citizens Advice and National Trading Standards.
The ASA has stressed that whilst the majority of businesses and advertisers continue to be good corporate citizens, a small number of operators are happy to exploit peoples’ anxieties by, for example, charging an excessive re-sale price for protective equipment bought in bulk or advertising a product which they fraudulently claim to be effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
The ASA has made it clear that they will act decisively against irresponsible ads and have already banned ads for facemasks which claimed to protect people from the virus despite advice from Public Health England stating that there is little evidence of their widespread benefit outside of clinical settings.
The guidance includes key tips for combatting fraudulent scams, for example:
- Check the sender’s email address: Ensuring, for example, that the contact name matches the actual email address.
- Look out for spelling and grammatical mistakes in emails: This is often a good indication that an email is a scam.
- Do not download files from unfamiliar people and avoid opening attachments from unfamiliar email addresses: This could download harmful viruses onto your device.
- Do not assume that all information on social media is correct: If you’re not sure who the business or individual is, don’t part with your money or give away your bank details.
- Only trust established outlets: Watch out for emails and phone calls claiming to be from experts who have information about the virus. If you have questions about coronavirus, visit Public Health England’s or the World Health Organisation’s website or social media feed.
- Do not give away personal details: Never provide anyone with your email password, bank account details, or other confidential information which could be used to impersonate you.
- Pause, think, report: Don’t be afraid to hang up the phone or close the door on sellers who you are wary of. It’s better to end a conversation if you don’t feel comfortable rather than make a snap judgment on whether to buy something.
Why this matters:
The ASA has made it clear that they are taking a hard-line approach against irresponsible ads that seek to exploit people’s health-related fears on Covid-19 during this period.
In light of this unprecedented health context, advertisers should be particularly vigilant in ensuring that their advertising remains responsible and under no circumstances could be seen to take advantage of the current situation through misleading advertising.