Predatory lenders trick Google into serving ads to desperate, broke searchers

Google bans ads by predatory lenders who promise foreclosure prevention and high-rate short-term loans, but they do allow payday loan ads; when you search for "need rent money fast," the predatory lenders target you with payday loan ads that collect your information and turn it into a lead for a high-pressure sales-call from one of Google's shitlisted usurers.

In this way, Google's search queries are used to build detailed sucker lists of vulnerable people who are targeted by the dirtiest lenders in the business, whose "products" will drown them in debt. It's not just the scumbag lenders who buy these lists; they're also sold to out-and-out criminals who target the desperate and needy for naked fraud.

Imagine again the person who turns to Google with a search term like "need money fast." Let's say that person ends up at a lead generator's landing page, providing various information in hopes of getting a quick loan. "A very small percentage of those folks are actually qualified for a loan," said Michael Waller, an attorney in the Bureau of Consumer Protection's enforcement division at the FTC. "And so the vast majority—95 percent of those applications, which means 95 percent of the folks whose social-security numbers and bank-account numbers fall to the cutting room floor—are referred to in the industry as 'remnants.'"

Those so-called remnants aren't discarded, though. They are sold and resold and resold again. "What's created over a period of time is the consumers just become suckers," Waller said in the FTC workshop. "It's a sucker list. And people will buy that information for all different kinds of reasons."

"Data brokers, publishers, folks who have this information—and a lot of people have access to this information along the chain because it's shared freely even if it isn't purchased—there's a lot of pressure on them to use, to monetize what they consider an asset," Waller said. "Which is just a big pile of data, a big pile of data points."

As the big piles of data online continue to grow, these issues will become more pronounced. Information filters that control what version of the Internet a person sees are calibrated based on how much money various algorithms think you have. Which means distinct digital-advertising landscapes are increasingly drawn on socioeconomic lines.

People's Deepest, Darkest Google Searches Are Being Used Against Them
[Adrienna Lafrance/The Atlantic]

(Image: Bernardino Mei (Italian (Sienese) – Christ Cleansing the Temple, public domain)