UK ad watchdog gets ‘proactive’ in crypto scam crackdown

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has called crypto marketing a “red alert priority” as it prepares to get tough on “misleading” and “irresponsible” ads, reports the Financial Times (FT).

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has called crypto marketing a “red alert priority” as it prepares to get tough on “misleading” and “irresponsible” ads, reports the Financial Times (FT).

The watchdog said on Friday that, while it has previously relied on customer complaints to track down rogue ads, it will now be stepping up its efforts and taking a more proactive, tech-led approach.

This means that careless advertisers will now have to contend with advanced web-scraping and AI tools as the ASA seeks to clean up crypto promotions online and across social media.

  • Unregulated or misleading companies will receive warning notices from the ASA.
  • Companies will be instructed to add disclaimers to their crypto ads.
  • The regulator will also clamp down on social influencers shilling cryptos.

Speaking about the move, Miles Lockwood, chief of complaints and investigations at the ASA, told the FT: “We see this as an absolutely crucial and priority area for us.

“Where we do find problems, we will crack down hard and fast.”

The ASA finds itself at the forefront of the battle against misleading crypto marketing because, unlike more conventional financial products, cryptocurrencies fall largely outside the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

That said, the FCA has warned investors away from a long list of cryptocurrencies that have failed to register in the UK.

The ASA has already been busy

The ASA has already targeted and squashed a number of crypto-related ads.

In March it banned a regional press spot from UK-based Bitcoin exchange Coinfloor. The ad targeted pensioners and was flagged as “socially irresponsible.”

The ASA stressed that a small disclaimer toward the end of the advert was not enough to adequately highlight the risks involved with an unregulated asset — particularly as those most at risk would have little or no crypto experience.

Coinfloor’s ad with a tiny font disclaimer at the bottom. Source: BBC

[Read more: Crypto exchange’s ‘irresponsible’ Bitcoin ad targeted retirees, says watchdog]

And it was a similar story in May when the watchdog was forced to cut short Luno’s “Time to Buy” campaign, which was running across London’s underground network and buses.

It was claimed that the ads again failed to adequately convey the risks of investing in Bitcoin and were taking advantage of inexperienced traders.

The exchange subsequently agreed to add “an appropriate risk warning.”

And way back in 2019, the ASA upheld complaints against an advert from derivatives platform BitMEX, which it said featured a graph that exaggerated the investment returns on Bitcoin.

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