KEY POINTS

  • Three states filed complaints with Google over the ads but no action was taken
  • Google is trying to determine why it did not act on those complaints, including one to which it responded it did not consider the site fraudulent
  • It is unclear whether the sites were collecting sensitive information as well as bilking consumers

Google reportedly is trying to determine why it failed to stop ads for a fishing license scam that involved a group of predatory websites despite complaints from multiple states.

CNN Business reported Monday the investigation involved nearly three dozen suspect websites that targeted people who wanted fishing licenses in 14 states.

The Better Business Bureau lists numerous complaints, citing a Google search that led the complainants to websites, many citing Fishing License USA.

In a statement to CNN Business, Google said it has strict policies against misleading users “by implying an affiliation with a government agency.” It said the ads had been removed and an investigation was underway. The company also suspended the advertising accounts that placed the ads for some of the sites.

CNN Business said it found Google put the bogus ads targeting at 11 states at the top of its search results. Texas, Pennsylvania and New York told CNN Business they complained repeatedly beginning six months ago, but the company never acted.

"Unfortunately, Google disagreed with our pleas and has allowed it to continue showing up as a paid ad on search results for information on Texas fishing licenses," Texas Parks and Wildlife communications director Josh Havens told CNN Business.

In addition to Texas, Pennsylvania and New York, the scam involved California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The report said officials have yet to determine the purpose of the sites – whether they were trying to collect sensitive information or just trying to trick people into sending them money, charging twice or three times the cost of actual licenses.

CNN said it is unclear how many people were scammed, and Google declined to reveal how many people had clicked on the ads.

Google itself has been the target of scam ads, and advises users not to provide a password or other sensitive information in response to an unsolicited message and to check the message header to determine whether it actually came from Google.