Fresh Warning Over Rip-off Locator Forms On Google

BACKGROUND:

Rip-off websites which charge people for free Covid-19 passenger locator forms feature at the top of Google search results, the BBC has found. Airline Ryanair said passengers should be “extra vigilant” and only download forms from the official website. The passenger locator form is designed to help airlines contact people in the event of a coronavirus outbreak. Google said it had removed several ads but the BBC found some still topped its search results on Wednesday.

Experts Comments

July 30, 2021
Chris Hauk
Consumer Privacy Champion
Pixel Privacy

Once again, the bad actors of the world are looking to benefit financially from customer confusion in a COVID-19 world. Passengers need to stay alert, staying aware of the scams run by the bad guys. When looking for locator forms, never click a link from search results unless you are absolutely sure the link goes to a genuine government-run website. They will never be charged a fee for the free forms by the genuine government website.

July 30, 2021
Paul Bischoff
Privacy Advocate
Comparitech

Paying Google for sponsored ads is a cheap and easy way to get a link at the top of search results. On top of that, a lot of government and non-profit websites don't invest a lot of time or effort into search engine optimization, so the official pages are often ranked low or not at all. Conversely, scammers do put effort into ranking their pages highly because it's their main source of traffic.

Normally, Google just removes scam ads when they're reported, but this case is more of a gray area.

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Paying Google for sponsored ads is a cheap and easy way to get a link at the top of search results. On top of that, a lot of government and non-profit websites don't invest a lot of time or effort into search engine optimization, so the official pages are often ranked low or not at all. Conversely, scammers do put effort into ranking their pages highly because it's their main source of traffic.

Normally, Google just removes scam ads when they're reported, but this case is more of a gray area. Selling free forms isn't strictly illegal, so Google has been slow to remove the ads.

Google often has a tough time ranking primary sources highly in results. Statista is a great example. It's a site with a bunch of statistics lifted from 3rd-party sources that it doesn't clearly attribute unless you pay for it. Statista often ranks highly in Google even though the original data and statistics are often free.

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