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Google Removes Dubious UK Broadband ISP Support Adverts

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022 (9:15 am) - Score 2,640
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Internet search giant Google has removed two adverts, which appeared to offer support services to broadband users on major UK ISPs, after an investigation by Which? claimed that “customers with internet problems [were] being duped” by “dodgy broadband broker adverts” that tried to sell packages on “shadySupanet (Supatel).

In this situation, consumers, who were seeking support contacts for their broadband ISP via Google by using terms such as “BT help“, “Sky help” or “talk talk help“, found themselves being presented with big ‘click to dial’ style adverts at the top of the results’ page for two companies – BroadbandServices.co.uk and PhoneInternet.co.uk.

Both adverts presented – in large blue text – a phone number for ‘Broadband Services‘ or ‘Phone Internet‘, while promising “support” or a “dedicated team“, albeit without any clear alignment to any specific ISP (the terms used are all very general). All of this appeared above legitimate results for the real ISPs. Which? claimed that this could result in consumers being “duped” (i.e. thinking you’re calling your ISP, when you’re not).

The consumer magazine found that neither of the two companies are registered with Companies House in the UK, while the website for BroadbandServices.co.uk mentions being based in New Delhi, India and PhoneInternet.co.uk points to an address in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

A number of mystery shoppers, posing as consumers with connection problems at the aforementioned ISPs, were then tasked with calling the two companies and found that all of their calls went through to the same organisation – Comms Broker, which isn’t registered on Companies House either, but lists itself as being based in Preston, Lancashire. It claims to be a comparison service.

The call centre staff then set about trying to sell callers the same package on a Cyprus-based provider that sells UK broadband services – called Supanet (Supatel), which is a familiar name around these parts and has somewhat of a “chequered history“, due to questionable billing practices and an Ofcom fine for mis-selling (here). We stopped listing them many years ago due to some of the horror stories that people were sharing.

Which? noted that one of their members complained of being signed-up to Supanet by Comms Broker, despite the fact that the customer concerned thought they had clearly expressed their desire to join BT. But when trying to stop the switch, the customer “was told that she would need to pay a fee of £460 to cancel her package, and was threatened with a debt collection agency“.

The consumer magazine also discovered that a company called Tpad123 had, until last December, been based at the same address as Comms Broker claims to use. Tpad123, claims Which?, was founded by the same person as Supanet, is described as a supplier on Supanet’s website, and was previously called ‘Supanet Support Limited‘ between 2009 and 2015. Neither Tpad123, Supanet nor Comms Broker gave Which? a comment when asked.

Which? says they believe that Comms Broker could be breaching Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, such as by allegedly misleading people into believing it offers broadband support and convincing callers they need to switch ISP, when they don’t. Google has now removed the adverts and is starting to verify the identity of all advertisers on its platforms via their Business Operations Verification (BOV) programme.

A Google Spokesperson said:

“We don’t allow adverts or destinations that deceive users by excluding relevant product information or providing misleading information about products, services or businesses.”

Admittedly, most people are probably familiar enough with the internet to be able to tell the difference between safe search results and adverts from bad ones, but not everybody has that same level of familiarity and some cleverly crafted ads could easily catch users out.

This is why it’s always wise to ignore adverts at the top of search results and instead go directly to the ISP’s website when seeking official contact details. Admittedly, some broadband providers do make it incredibly difficult to actually find a phone number – often sending you around in circles through generic help pages. Hence why people often go back to Google.

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