Malicious ads are on the rise and just as AdWords is an appealing platform for legitimate advertisers looking for a massive audience, Google’s self-serve ad service is a juicy target for scammers looking for the same.

From ads that hawk scammy get-rich-quick products to ads that lead users to web pages infested with malware, malicious ads pose a significant threat to Google. After all, if users come to fear where Google’s results (paid or unpaid) might lead them, Google risks losing one of its most valuable assets: the trust and confidence of its users.

As reported by AdAge, Google has been cracking down on the scammers behind these malicious ads by closing AdWords accounts associated with the suspect activity. And it has now upped the ante with swifter, bolder action:

Now, when Google finds an ad that it deems dishonest or a scam, it disables that
account immediately and any similar accounts that it can connect to the

While Google will review requests from those who claim to be innocent, a Google spokesman told AdAge that the company has learned that most of the malicious account activity is intentional. Hence the less forgiving, one strike and you’re out policy.

And what of those scammers who will simply sign up new accounts? According to AdAge, Google has developed “technology to determine who is connected to what account, which will make it
very hard for a banned user to create another account
“. Obviously, I’m sure that Google’s technology isn’t perfect and the most motivated of scammers will probably find a way to circumvent it, but the message is clear: if you’re a scammer looking to use AdWords to spread malicious ads, Google is going to try its best to make your life more difficult.

In my opinion, it’s the right approach. After all, if Google can make itself a tougher target, the cost of targeting Google will increase for scammers. As the costs rise, the economics of using Google will become less favorable and more and more scammers — especially the least sophisticated — will go elsewhere.

The question, of course, is how well (and how quickly) Google can keep up with the scammers. The economics of online crime favors scammers. A single hacked computer could easily give scammers access to multiple financial accounts, and infected machines can be bought and sold to botnet operators for a pretty penny. The lengths to which scammers are willing to go to get their malicious ads in front of consumers hints at the money that can be made.

But even if the fight won’t be easy, trying to shut down scammers is crucial to Google’s relationship with its users and to its continued success going forward. Hopefully more companies in the online advertising space will follow suit because right now, offense and defense is sorely lacking in many places.

Photo credit: dannysullivan via Flickr.