‘Click to dial’ ads on Google are costing consumers, Which? claims

Google, News

Consumers are being misled into using claims firms or dialling premium-rate numbers when trying to make an insurance claim, because ‘click to dial’ ads are appearing above insurers’ websites on Google, a Which? investigation has found. 

Which? analysed search results for the terms people most commonly use when searching for their car insurer’s phone number on Google, the default search engine on Android phones and Apple iPhones.

The consumer watchdog found claims management companies (CMCs) and premium-rate call connecting services competing for their adverts to appear above the insurer’s own website. Which? found one in five searches (21%) displayed adverts for ‘call connecting’ services at the top of the results. 

These adverts appear above the insurer’s number and when consumers tap on an advert, they’re taken to a website which displays a large phone number and a button that says ‘click to call’. Consumers will be put through to their insurer, but via a premium-rate phone number.

The cost of making these calls can quickly escalate – with a 30-minute phone call costing £112.50 on Sky, £124.50 on Three and £127.50 on Vodafone. 

Call connecting service ads are in breach of Google’s rules, so they shouldn’t be able to appear in the search results at all. Google says it takes action to remove these ads and in 2020, removed over 99 million ads in relation to restricted businesses.

The investigation also found ‘click to dial’ ads for claims management companies (CMCs) were rife and appeared in two in five searches (43%) for customer service phone numbers.

‘Click to dial’ ads have a clickable number in the search result itself. Some of these ads can trick customers to believe they’re contacting their insurer, when they’re actually being put through to a third-party to handle their claim, who will take a cut from any insurance payout.  These charges often aren’t stated upfront on the CMCs websites and can catch consumers unaware. 

Insurers have been warning customers about the dangers of ‘click to dial’ adverts for CMCs for years, but they still commonly appear at the top of search results. Admiral said it has been complaining to Google about CMC adverts appearing at the top of search results for a number of years and has published a guide on its website warning its customers back in August 2018. Other insurers such as LV and Aviva have published similar warnings.

Which? is calling on Google to take more effective action to stop premium-rate call connecting services, which violate their policies, from appearing in the first place. It says consumers should avoid dialling any customer service numbers with ‘Ad’ in the top corner of the search result. They should also be wary of any search results that don’t match the term they typed in and any which don’t state the name of the company they’re trying to reach. 

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert said:  

“These types of ads have been a problem for years and many of us are unaware that when we use a number we find in an ad online, we risk being left out of pocket or accidentally employing a third party. 

“Google needs to work proactively to prevent call connecting ads which violate its rules and misleading click-to-dial ads from appearing in the first place. It must also take greater action to ensure these ads are not misleading consumers by branding themselves as ‘official’ customer service numbers.” 

Says a Google spokesperson:

“We have strict ads policies that govern the types of ads and advertisers we allow on our platforms. Under our policy we prohibit ads for call directory, forwarding and recording services. When ads breach our policies we take action to remove them, in 2020, we removed over 99 million ads in relation to restricted businesses.

“To ensure a positive experience when users see or click on a Google ad, we have strict policies that govern the kinds of ads that we allow to run on our platform to prevent ads that are harmful. We take the appropriate action to remove any ads that are in breach of our policies. We enforce our policies vigorously and last year we removed 3.1 billion bad ads from our platforms.”

Chris Price
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