Broken Promises

Methodology for Investigation of Scam Ads on Google

We created custom computer code to search Google for the following phrases: “IRS stimulus,” “stimulus check,” “where is my stimulus?,” “coronavirus stimulus,” “claim stimulus money,” “coronavirus money,” “government check,” “where is my coronavirus money?,” “where is my covid money?,” and “where is my government money?'' Our automated program clicked through the results of each search and gathered all of the ads that appeared alongside the results.

We then investigated the destination page linked in each ad and categorized them into the following categories: browser hijackers, credit card scams, personal data scams and marketing data scams, predatory financial marketing scams, third party search arbitrage sites, legitimate government/intergovernmental organization sites, and other legitimate sites.

We found that 45 of the 126 ads we identified linked to sites in one of the five scam or deception categories that appeared to violate Google’s policies. Only 17 of the ads related to these search terms linked to official government or intergovernmental organization websites.