After this newspaper alerted the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to the firm, the City watchdog issued an official warning and Google suspended Eagle Direct from the search engine.
Pressure is now piling on both Google and the FCA to come up with a permanent fix. Currently, Google relies on the regulator to alert it when a rouge firm is flouting the law. It means the tech giant may not take action at all until it gets word from the authorities.
It raises questions about how quickly unscrupulous firms can be stopped, as the regulator has been grappling with gaping black holes in its own register of authorised firms – designed to be a gold-standard of consumer protection, but shown by this newspaper to be woefully inaccurate.
Previously, security flaws allowed hackers to change the status of unregulated firms to “authorised”, leading unwitting investors to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in unpoliced ventures.
The regulator has promised to tighten its own safety measures and Google has said it is working with the FCA on a resolution to the ads problem.
The company did not say how it planned to combat “copycat” websites taking advantage of its ads system to sell goods and services that fell outside of FCA regulation. These firms charge users for services that are typically free, such as renewing a driving license or applying for a European Health Insurance Card and have been found to appear above official Government websites in search results.
A spokesman for Google said: “We want the ads people see on Google to be useful and relevant, so we have financial services policies designed to help people make informed financial decisions. When ads breach our policy, we take appropriate action. We are working with regulators such as the FCA on further clarity in this area in order to protect consumers.”
An HM Treasury spokesman said: “We don’t directly offer bond products and are not associated with these adverts.
“To protect consumers, we have given the FCA strong powers to ensure products are regulated effectively, and we support their efforts to work closely with internet companies.”
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