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Fake credit union advertisement on Google

By Jim Bruene on June 1, 2009 4:24 PM | Comments (2)

image It's not often I see an unfamiliar name amongst the top bidders for "online banking" at Google. But today, the sixth advertiser on the right-hand column (number nine overall), was an ad supposedly from CenturyCU.org (see ad right and  search results page below).

The ad had a seemingly clear call to action, Visit Our Credit Union Today For Online Banking! However, when I clicked on the link, it lead to a .info page full of ads unrelated to the legitimate Century Credit Union (see second screenshot below).

While this doesn't appear to be a phishing attempt since it's not displayed on searches for "Century Credit Union" or "Centurycu.org," it is a bit disconcerting. It's clearly a violation of Google's terms of service and shouldn't have made it past Google's filters, but they are not perfect.

But my bigger question is: How does a spammy .info site make it to the top-10 advertisers on this popular banking term? Are there really so few serious bank or credit union bidders in the area? Or is it that the Google AdWords ROI just isn't there right now? 

Other than a regional Chase ad on the top <chase.com/washington>, it wasn't until the fifth page of results that another Northwest financial institution made an appearance, Coastal Community Bank advertising its BancVue/FirstROI-powered high-yield checking account (landing page here).  

Search results page for online banking (1 June 2009, 3:20 PM from Seattle/Comcast IP address)

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Landing page for the fake CenturyCU.org Google ad (1 June 2009)

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Umm, not so fast. That may not actually be a fake ad. "centurycu.org" is a legitimate address and company, as you noted. That page you saw looks to me like one of those rotten DNS-failure context-marketing schemes wherein your Internet provider, when a DNS (website name) lookup fails for whatever reason, attempts (for reasons of financial gain) to "intelligently" (and I use the term very loosely) redirect/hijack you to what they hope is a related page of paid-for links, rather than just showing you a bland 404 error. It's a common although onerous and somewhat devious practice.

I would speculate that somehow the actual link attached to that ad on that Google page was corrupt or incorrect; thus the name lookup failed; thus you saw the context marketing. It's likely not nefarious evildoers. And it's likely that most of your readers will not see what you saw even if they click on the same ad. It all depends on their ISP and/or DNS provider.

K.U.

@KU

Thanks for your comment...I'm glad you wrote about the redirecting practice. I don't think that's what was happening here...the landing page was at a .info site called "a1creditunion".

I don't think Comcast would redirect me to that site, but I could be wrong.

Also, I checked the Whois before I posted and found the URL owner is private and the URL was registered March 6, 2009, again that doesn't sound like Comcast's m.o. --Jim

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