The UK Government must legislate to ensure search engine companies do not mislead consumers or promote financial scams, according to a global insurer.
Aviva said the Government must include paid-for adverts in the scope of its Online Safety Bill to provide greater consumer protection from online financial fraud.
The call comes as new data revealed just over half of internet users do not trust that adverts on search engines are placed by a legitimate financial services company or provider.
Around 56% also do not believe that search engines verify the authenticity of a financial product or services yet still take their money for advertising.
The findings come in The Aviva Fraud Report, which found consumer confidence in online services remain low amongst high levels of deception.
Over-55s were the least likely to trust online adverts for financial services, with only 29% believing proper checks had taken place, whilst 59% of 16 to 24-year-olds said they did have trust in what they were shown.
Rob Lee, director of fraud prevention at Aviva, said: “There is a clear mistrust of financial services adverts online.
“However, there is no legal responsibility for technology firms to verify the legitimacy of the companies which pay them to publish adverts on their platforms.
“This potentially leaves millions of internet users exposed to unscrupulous adverts.”
Of those surveyed, nearly nine-in-10 said they believe the Government should legislate to ensure search engines and social media sites do not mislead consumers or promote financial scams.
And 85% of people think search engines should be responsible for advertising content on their platforms so that it is not misleading.
Mr Lee said: “We believe the Online Safety Bill presents an opportunity to protect financial services consumers at every stage of their online journey.
“We welcome the recent inclusion of user-generated fraud – such as that promoted on social media sites – within the scope of the regulatory framework
“We support the financial services industry in calling for the legislation to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts.”
The scale of online fraud has accelerated through the coronavirus pandemic, with face-to-face advice heavily restricted and consumer habits switching.
Aviva found 42% of people have been recently targeted by a Covid scam – up 91% of the number of people who reported receiving emails, texts, phone calls and other communications mentioning coronavirus, and which were suspected to be a financial scam.