Martin Lewis, the consumer advice and money-saving expert, is suing Facebook for defamation after it published dozens of fake adverts featuring his face and name.
He is seeking exemplary damages in the high court, arguing that Facebook failed to prevent or swiftly remove false advertising that has both tarnished his reputation and lured unwitting victims into costly scams.
Lewis said he would not profit from any damages won, which he would donate to charities combating fraud, but that he hoped the action would prompt the site to stamp out scam adverts.
The TV presenter, who founded the consumer site MoneySavingExpert.com, said vulnerable people were targeted with adverts for “get rich quick” schemes with titles such as Bitcoin Code or Cloud Trader that were operating as fronts for binary trading firms based outside the EU.
On one occasion, Lewis said, a woman had spent £100,000 in “a binary trading nightmare” that had attached his name to its advertising. The woman was eventually able to recover her money, as she had paid by card.
Lewis said: “I get about five messages a day from people saying, ‘I’ve just seen your Bitcoin ad and wanted to check it.’ If that is the number who get through to me, how many more must be just taken in?”
He said Facebook had failed to stop the adverts despite his complaints and action. “It is consistent, it is repeated. Other companies such as Outbrain who have run these adverts have taken them down. What is particularly pernicious about Facebook is that it says the onus is on me, so I have spent time and effort and stress repeatedly to have them taken down.
“It is facilitating scams on a constant basis in a morally repugnant way. If Mark Zuckerburg wants to be the champion of moral causes, then he needs to stop its company doing this.”
He said Advertising Standards Authority rulings against the advertisers had little effect. “Criminal scammers from outside the EU are not really interested in the ASA. These adverts are in a lacuna of regulation. No newspaper would have run these adverts, and certainly not over 50 times.”
A defamation case against Facebook will have to establish that the UK has jurisdiction and that the company is the publisher.
Mark Lewis of Seddons, the firm of solicitors leading the action, said: “Facebook is not above the law. It cannot hide outside the UK and think that it is untouchable. Exemplary damages are being sought. 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.”
Martin Lewis said he hoped the court action would be of benefit “partially as a bit of publicity stunt” whether he won or lost. “I want to get the message out. These ads are fake, don’t trust them,” he said.
Facebook said: “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.
“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.”
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