Barclays scam website warning ad is banned for getting green padlock wrong

A Barclay’s advert about the dangers of misleading scam sites has itself been banned for being misleading.

The advert takes the form of a PSA-style message, warning people to check for a green padlock icon before making purchases online. No boasts about Barclays products or services were made in the ad, though it did prompt viewers to “search Barclay’s DigiSafe” online.

The ad caught the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after a tide of complaints flooded in. It typically only takes one or two complaints to launch an ASA investigation, but Barclay’s false claims spurred 15 individual complaints about the misleading nature of the ad.

The advert begins as a satirical Christmas promotion for “SUPERCON – defender of the galaxy” – a children’s toy robot. After showing off the toy’s “powerful disc cannon” and “realistic sounding jetpack”, the mock ad shows the toy’s “web exclusive” price of £1.99.

At this point, the robot SUPERCON has a crisis of conscience and confesses that the toy is a scam, tricking people into paying online for something they’ll never receive.

The robot continues to explain that if websites are missing a “padlock” icon then they aren’t safe to use for payments, and could be “fake”.

On the surface, the advert seems innocent enough – just a piece of safe browsing advice with a Barclay’s logo slapped on the end. However, the fifteen complaints all highlighted that the advert misleadingly implied that websites with green padlocks were guaranteed to be safe sites.

So what is the green padlock?

The padlock icon is how most browsers highlight a website with a secure HTTPS connection. This means that the website has been confirmed as genuine by a certificate, and that your connection to that site is encrypted and protected from external attacks.

Even if your connection to a website is safe, that site itself could still be a scam – anyone can make a HTTPS site and certificate claiming to be anything they want.

Barclay’s responded by saying “the ad did not intend to provide technical detail surrounding the website padlock”, and that “the ad made no safety guarantees”.

The ASA decided that most people wouldn’t understand what the padlock icon meant, and would assume that (according to the advert) websites with green padlocks were safe from scammers. Because of the emphasis given to the padlock, the advert misleadingly implies that looking for the icon is the only step to staying safe online.

The ad has been banned from appearing again – even though it’s a Christmas ad and we’re now in April.


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