A high-profile personal-finance guru in the United Kingdom is taking on Facebook in the courts.
Martin Lewis is well-known among Brits for his encyclopedic knowledge of all things financial. His TV shows and countless media appearances cover a huge range of money-related topics, with the self-styled consumers’ champion offering tips and advice to regular folks who’re looking to better manage their financial affairs.
But with his face and name so recognizable, unscrupulous businesses have been using Lewis to promote high-risk financial products — or out-and-out scams — in ads on Facebook. Some of the ads link to fake news articles about Lewis endorsing a particular product, gently persuading readers to hand over their cash.
Having told Facebook multiple times that he never does ads, Lewis said the company should be able to quickly remove the content, or, using its facial recognition technology, stop it from appearing at all.
But the money-saving expert has become fed up with what he sees as Facebook’s lax response to his complaints about the ads and is suing the company for defamation.
Within the last 12 months alone, the social networking giant has published more than 50 fake Martin Lewis ads that will have been seen by millions of people across the U.K.
Lewis, who’s promising to donate the entirety of any payout to anti-scam charities, hopes the case will gain enough publicity that Brits will come to know that he never does ads and so should therefore ignore any that use his image.
“I’ve been fighting for over a year to stop Facebook letting scammers use my name and face to rip off vulnerable people — yet it continues,” Lewis said in a release posted on his website. “I feel sick each time I hear of another victim being conned because of trust they wrongly thought they were placing in me. One lady had over £100,000 ($ 140,000) taken from her.”
Despite asking Facebook repeatedly to stop publishing the ads, Lewis said that the company continues to do so, “and then relies on me to report them, once the damage has been done.”
He said that many of the ads stay online for days or weeks after being reported, with scammers simply launching a new, almost identical campaign soon after.
“It’s time Facebook was made to take responsibility,” Lewis said. “It claims to be a platform not a publisher — yet this isn’t just a post on a web forum, it is being paid to publish, promulgate, and promote what are often fraudulent enterprises. My hope is this lawsuit will force it to change its system. Nothing else has worked. People need protection.”
Mark Lewis of Seddons, the firm of solicitors representing Martin Lewis, said his team is seeking exemplary damages. “This means we will ask the court to ensure they are substantial enough that Facebook can’t simply see paying out damages as just the ‘cost of business’ and carry on regardless. It needs to be shown that the price of causing misery is very high.”
Facebook responded by saying: “We do not allow adverts which are misleading or false on Facebook and have explained to Martin Lewis that he should report any adverts that infringe his rights and they will be removed.”
The company added: “We are in direct contact with his team, offering to help and promptly investigating their requests, and only last week confirmed that several adverts and accounts that violated our advertising policies had been taken down.”
Lewis isn’t the only well-known person having their identity used by scammers in online ads, but he’s believed to be the first individual to take Facebook to court regarding the matter.