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ACM launches campaign to help seniors search online more safely

Seniors that conduct online searches often are not aware that companies pay to appear at the top of search results. At the same time, many consumer problems often begin with an online search and a click on an ad that leads to an untrustworthy site. A survey carried out by Dutch senior citizens’ organization ANBO showed that one in three seniors in the Netherlands are not aware of this phenomenon. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has launched a campaign to raise awareness among senior consumers about this phenomenon.

Clicking on a paid search result does not necessarily have to be a problem, but such ads could also forward consumers to an untrustworthy site. In the campaign, ACM warns that the top result is not always the best. The top search results are usually ads, and are therefore not always the best offers for consumers. ACM thus recommends: take your time to compare the different search results before you contact a company, even if you are in a hurry. Information and tips can be found on the campaign page.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “It’s important that consumers are able to search for information online with confidence. This campaign is aimed at helping them recognize ads among the other search results. It’s important to look closely, compare, and then make a careful choice, especially when you need something quickly. That is how you can prevent ending up with an untrustworthy company, and getting an unexpectedly high bill afterwards.”

What is often the problem?

Not all consumers recognize ads when they search for information online, especially when they are in a hurry. ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM’s consumer information portal, regularly receives reports from consumers that ended up with an untrustworthy company by clicking on an ad when they were looking for a company for an emergency job or when they were requesting an official document or applying for social benefits from the government. Such ads are a risk to vulnerable consumers that are digitally less savvy such as some seniors.

In order to assess the magnitude of the problem among this target audience, ACM together with ANBO carried out a survey. According to the results, 38% of seniors say that they find it difficult to see the difference between ads and normal search results. One in four say they do not check whether the search result is an ad or not. However, over half of the respondents say that they do see risks of clicking on ads.

‘Prevent regret, take your time, and compare’

ACM ConsuWijzer’s campaign targets seniors using videos on social media. The goal is to increase their resilience, so that they are able to go about their business online with confidence, without getting into trouble. The most important tips are:

  • Recognize the ad by spotting the word ‘ad’ or ‘advertisement’ near the search result in question. These are usually located at the top of the page with search results. Resist simply clicking on the top result. This is not always the best offer for you. Remember to check out other offers.
  • Be critical. Take your time, and compare. When comparing other businesses, look for the following things:
    • Do they list their contact details such as an address?
    • What are the costs? And compare these with the prices of other businesses.
    • Check reviews. And read the reviews about those businesses on complaint sites as well. What are the experiences of other consumers with those businesses?
    • Do these businesses have a registration number with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KVK)? Are these numbers correct?
    • Consult with others. Ask friends, family members, or neighbors to browse together with you before contacting a business: are the costs too high? What do they think about the trustworthiness of the business? And they might have tips for you.

Do you have a bad feeling about a certain business? Leave it, and look for another one.

ANBO is delighted about ACM’s campaign. ANBO director Anneke Sipkens says: “The digitalization offers everyone many opportunities and possibilities, including for seniors. In that context, it is important that they are able to go online safely. This campaign will help them do so.