I received an email from a tipster (send in your tips here) who asked about what recent Google advertising changes will mean for the debt relief industry.
Concerns about Google advertising changes were written about by the esteemed Jonathan Pompan at Venable.
The alarming Google post reads:
Ads for credit repair services will no longer be allowed to serve.
Ads for debt settlement or debt management services will be allowed to serve only if the advertiser is certified by Google. Certification will be available only in certain countries.
[United States certification requirements are listed as “Google allows ads promoting debt services only if the advertiser and provider of these services is an approved non-profit budget and credit counseling agency, as defined by 11 U.S. Code § 111. Advertisers must also be certified with Google.”]
To be certified by Google, debt settlement and debt management services advertisers will need to be registered, licensed, or approved by the relevant regulatory authorities or recognized professional bodies in the country or countries they are targeting.
Advertisers can request certification with Google when the application form is published. For more details, see About debt services certification.
This policy will apply globally to all accounts that advertise these services directly, to lead generators, and to those who connect consumers with third-party services.”
As Pompan accurately writes, “Section 111(b) of title 11, United States Code, governs the approval by United States Trustees of credit counseling agencies for inclusion under 11 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) on publicly available agency lists in one or more United States district courts.”
Does This Mean Credit Counseling Will Take Over?
This does mean that Google advertising changes will impact entities wanting to target consumers. If I was running a debt relief company today, at first, I’d want to puke after hearing this information. At first glance it is alarming.
We all know that non-profit credit counseling has been quietly developing debt settlement referral relationships so the consumers not helped by credit counseling will or can still flow to debt settlement companies. Just in a different way.
These issues are created by the debt relief industry and I’m a broken record for saying over and over again that unless the debt relief industry effectively polices itself, someone else is going to do it for you. This policing can’t be the hollow trade association policing, it needs to be third party policing that is trusted. The irony is the people generating the most waves in the industry are also the ones least likely to participate in that but could best afford to.
It appears clear that in the absence of a trusted third-party non-self-serving trade association the reliance on the Department of Justice Trustee program is an available standard. It’s not perfect, but then again nothing is.
Groups like OCCAM are trying to fill that void but need industry membership to embrace their tough standards.
The process for applying to be an approved Debtor Education agency can be found here and to be approved as a Credit Counseling agency the instruction are here.
It would be incorrect to assume Google is specifically trying to kill the debt relief industry. What they appear to be doing to trying to cut down on the industry scammers by using a third-party trusted standard. It just so happens that the standard favors credit counseling.
In reading so many of the regulator lawsuits they frequently contain examples of deceptive ads run on Google as part of the alleged scam.
It’s not Google’s job to stop the scammers in the debt settlement, credit repair, and other verticals. But if the only method is the wack-a-mole regulatory approach and no proactive cop on the beat then, I get why Google made the change.
What These Changes Really Mean
The Google changes are disruptive and many will be alarmed or irritated by them. But it’s Google’s ball and they can take it and go home if the aggravation and negative PR of selling debt relief ads are more than the profit generated by them. We don’t know how often the argument is made that Google has aided scammers by allowing them to advertise.
It’s Not Fair!
Give me a break. This is a situation created by the debt relief industry for its lack of action in stamping down the scammers. Doing that is actually relatively simple. All people and companies have to do are shed light on the bad actors, like tipsters (send in your tips here) already do. But we need all companies to out the bad actors early and more brave people to speak up.
The new Google policy changes advertising on Google but it is not the only online advertising network and there are other ways of marketing. From an outside POV it looks like the Google changes will alter easy advertising efforts but those debt relief companies will just adapt or find advertising opportunities elsewhere.
For example, look at how some settlement companies are hiding behind personal loan mailers.