The consumer watchdog is suing Facebook’s parent company Meta over scam ads for cryptocurrencies published on the social media platform. 

The ACCC alleges the companies that own Facebook engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by publishing scam advertisements featuring prominent Australian public figures in breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) or the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act (ASIC Act). 

The ads contained links which took Facebook users to a fake media article that included quotes attributed to public figures featured in the ad endorsing a cryptocurrency or money-making scheme. 

Users were then invited to sign up and were subsequently contacted by scammers who used high pressure tactics, such as repeated phone calls, to convince users to deposit funds into the fake schemes.

The ads, which promoted investment in cryptocurrency and other money-making schemes, were likely to mislead Facebook users into believing the advertised schemes were associated with well-known people featured in the ads, such as businessman Dick Smith, TV presenter David Koch and former NSW Premier Mike Baird, the regulator claims. 

“The schemes were in fact scams, and the people featured in the ads had never approved or endorsed them,” it said. 

“The essence of our case is that Meta is responsible for these ads that it publishes on its platform,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“It is a key part of Meta’s business to enable advertisers to target users who are most likely to click on the link in an ad to visit the ad’s landing page, using Facebook algorithms. Those visits to landing pages from ads generate substantial revenue for Facebook.”

The regulator says Meta was aware that the celebrity endorsement cryptocurrency scam ads were being displayed on Facebook but did not take sufficient steps to address the issue. The celebrity endorsement cryptocurrency scam ads were still being displayed on Facebook even after public figures around the world had complained that their names and images had been used in similar ads without their consent.