SCAMMERS are hijacking Google's search engine to target victims with bogus financial and charity adverts, new research has found.

Part of the racket was revealed after searches for terms such as 'top Isa', 'best bonds' and "best fixed rate bonds'.

One victim lost £160,000 after clicking on a link for an investment scheme from a scammer posing as a respected firm. Which? is now calling for Google to take stronger measures to tackle scam ads, after finding fake ads for are regularly appearing on the tech giant’s search results.

The consumer organisation investigated Google’s pay-per-click service, which allows businesses to pay for prominent spots on search results, and discovered scammers have also exploited vulnerable people seeking debt help with ads imitating charities and road accident victims with car insurance promotions.

Google has announced plans to verify all advertisers on its platform to help tackle fraudulent activity. Working with the FCA, it introduced a verification programme for advertisers promoting financial services and products in July - however Which? said the wider programme to verify all advertisers is currently only applied to advertisers registered in Canada, India, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

Under new rules, advertisers promoting financial services or products now have to 21 days to submit documentation to verify their legal identities and business operations.

Which? is concerned this grace period will be exploited by scammers and says all advertisers should be verified before their services are published online.

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Jenny Ross, Which? money editor said that should be able to trust that the adverts they see on Google are legitimate.

HeraldScotland: A Google search screen

"However our investigation has revealed the various ways fraudsters have hijacked the search engine’s systems to target and exploit victims," she said.

“Despite introducing new measures to vet those advertising financial products or services, the grace period is a glaring loophole and we are calling for Google to remove this delay for advertisers in high-risk industries.

"It should also introduce clear and transparent labels for ads listed by unverified advertisers. “The government should also widen the scope of its upcoming Online Harms legislation to include fraudulent content, which would require tech firms to take tougher action to tackle scam adverts.”

The consumer group also found suspect ads when searching for debt charity StepChange.

Motorists affected by traffic accidents have also been targeted by 'click-to-dial' ads that lead those looking for their insurer's phone number to instead contact claims management companies, Which? said.

Consumers are led to believe these firms are working on behalf of their insurer to submit a claim, however their details are passed on to third-party companies and people can find themselves owing thousands of pounds for services which would have been covered by their genuine insurer, the consumer organisation said.

Google said: "Protecting users from ad scams and fraud is a key priority. To more effectively prevent predatory financial ads in the UK, we now require certain advertisers promoting financial products or services to complete our business operations verification programme. This will allow us to gain more information about the advertisers’ identity, business model and relationships with third parties so users can trust the ads they’re seeing.

"This policy update follows months of engagement with and input from the FCA to ensure we’re effectively addressing the bad actors responsible for predatory financial ads."