It wasn’t Google AdWords’ security software that was out of date. The ads they promoted didn’t contain malware and had every pretense of being legitimate. It would take some digging to find out that the advertisers were running scams.
Google AdWords would serve up an ad that had been vetted for a lack of viruses. Their ads were safe to click on, but as Google Ads Engineering Director Vikaram Gupta explains “last summer our analysis technology flagged a set of accounts as suspicious. To the human eye, the ads looked like ordinary rental property ads that met our policies. After we dug in deeper, we discovered that the system was right to be suspicious – the vacation rentals turned out to be a scam and the rental properties didn’t exist.”
The bad actors who were paying to have these ads promoted would take publicly available photos of property – downloaded from photo sharing sites or lifted from realtors – and advertise them for rent. The deal would be too good to be true.
“A beach house big enough for the whole family? Palms trees, hammocks, a pool, the works. And just look at that price!”
A person would make a deposit, pack up their things, load the family into the car and show up at the address only to find an entirely different-looking house with people already living in it!
Meanwhile, the thieves would disappear with the cash.
Google deleted about 1.4 million scam ads like these per day (ones that hocked everything from cars to fake ebola cures), for a whole year. These scams were all perpetrated without a single line of bad code: no viruses or worms to infect computers. They are simple exercises in social engineering, designed to exploit human error.
Cybersecurity education can help to protect customers at banks and credit unions from these scams. Financial institutions are in the perfect position to provide that education, and they’ve got a good reason to want to. They’re on the hook for replacing credit cards and expensive customer support calls, not to mention the reputation risk of fraud.
Cybersecurity education can even act as a gateway to sales if delivered correctly. It will draw people to their financial institution for the help they need, where they can be exposed to product offerings that are relevant to their specific life events. Customers will be better protected from cyberattacks and the bank can increase its share of wallet.