Online Advertising Scams for Software Downloads Highlighted in Report

Google removes 6,500 suspicious advertisers linked to approximately 250,000 websites distributing malware and unwanted software

WASHINGTON--(), a coalition of internet industry leaders working to protect people from malicious online advertisements and deceptive practices, today released its latest Bad Ads Spotlight Report detailing how some bad actors use online advertisements for free software downloads to install malware or malicious code that could steal sensitive information or download a virus.

“Fortunately, this issue did not span across multiple platforms, unlike some of the previous trends we have highlighted in the past,” said Executive Director Rob Haralson. “However, we believe it’s important to highlight issues that could affect consumers to raise awareness and help individuals make smart choices online. For this issue, some of the software we found associated with these ads can be tremendously harmful, so we encourage consumers to fully understand what software they might download from any website they visit.”

Some of these software programs, advertised as free, can introduce a variety of consumer harms - all without the consent or knowledge of the user. For example, they can infiltrate a user’s computer to introduce malware and other security vulnerabilities. The software can also rewire the browser’s default settings, act like unwanted adware that injects inappropriate or scammy ads on webpages, or install malicious code that can capture sensitive user information or even hijack the computer.

Google removed approximately 6,500 suspicious advertiser accounts linked to approximately 250,000 websites distributing malware and unwanted software. In addition, the company’s platform successfully uses user complaints and other means to create automatable signals that are built into the enforcement algorithms and can teach themselves to flag similar ads going forward.

“All of our member companies work tirelessly to identify and remove any ad that violates their advertising policies,” continued Haralson, “but bad actors are constantly looking for new ways to bypass the automated filtering and manual review processes in place to catch them.”

Consumers should consider the following to help protect them against bad actors:

  • Understand the software. You should always strive to understand any software that you download to make sure that it does not contain malware or unknown add-ons. Read the disclosures from the software’s site and don’t agree to “add-ons” or “additional offers” that you do not understand.
  • Keep your browser up-to-date. When your browser notifies you that it’s time for an update, do so as quickly as possible. These updates often include important security fixes to patch previously identified vulnerabilities.
  • If you see a suspicious advertisement on any of our platforms, REPORT IT! As we highlighted in our previous reports, one of the best ways we can defend users from harmful scams and bad ads is through user feedback. The member companies have simple ways to alert them of potential scams and bad ads. Visit to learn how.

Users should also file a complaint with FTC by visiting

And if you believe your personal financial information has been compromised, we encourage you to visit the FTC’s consumer information section of its website regarding identity theft (

Do download a copy of the Bad Ads Spotlight Report, please visit

ABOUT TRUSTINADS.ORG is a group of Internet industry leaders that have come together to work toward a common goal: Protecting people from malicious online advertisements and deceptive practices. With this effort, and its member companies are bringing awareness to consumers about online ad-related scams and deceptive activities; identifying trends in deceptive ads; collaborating on best practices; and sharing our knowledge with policy makers and consumer advocates around the country. To learn more, visit

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Hillary Schmidt, 202-888-6829


Hillary Schmidt, 202-888-6829