Dangerous Facebook Ads Bug Results In Unauthorized Media Spend

Posted in Facebook Advertising

[11/8 Update: We have received a refund from Facebook: 11/9, On one 4 year old account, the spend cap worked today, testing additional accounts] The Facebook Ads application is throwing what seems to be a bug or a misleading change in feature behavior that allows accounts to exceed the Account Spend limit setting. aimClear experienced overspend situations twice in the last 10 days. There also seem to be contradictions in various places throughout FB’s help screens. There are two explanations as to how the Account Spend limit feature works.

In reality you can’t ever adjust an Account Spend limit number in the UI and consider it a “Absolute” cap.  This is described in detail below. We’re not sure what’s more disturbing, the change in spend cap behavior or the feature description contradictions.

Either way, get the word out to your fellow marketers: Facebook Account Spend limits may not work as we have understood them to function. You may overpay FB. Depending on the size of the account, this can be an expensive error.

What Is A Spend Limit & Why Is It Important?
Most every paid marketing channel provides marketers with spend-limit tools which are essential for managing budgets.  Spend limits, AKA “Caps,” regulate the flow of money spent.  Facebook Ads provides daily and account-wide spend caps. Daily spend limit provided at the individual ad level seems to be working as always. The issue applies to the Account Spend limit. When Account Spend mechanisms fail or perform differently, an ad serving application can overspend marketers’ designated media budgets.

Change & Contradictions
Here’s how the behavior of the FB Ads Account Spend limit appears to have changed. Account Spend limit has always acted as described in the user interface help bubble-the place where marketers actually enter the spend limit amount. Facebook tells us there that the Account Spend is absolute and can be reset at any time. The bubble says when your account reaches “this limit” ads will be paused.

It seems pretty straight forward, right? As described, the left hand box shows what was spent and the right box is “this limit.”  That’s how the spend cap has always worked for us. It’s a pretty basic concept.

This functionality now seems to be contradicted in FB’s help section. We do not know when this language was posted, but what is described there is not the way Account Spend limits have worked for us previously or as described currently in the help inline bubble. In fact it has worked so well that it’s one of the last worries an account manager used to have here.

What? If this is true, then the “?” help in the user interface where marketers enter spending limits is deceptive as to how spend limits actually work.

If you change your spend cap to 200K when you are already at $195,122.96 does this mean Facebook can  spend $395,122.96?  Is that what $195,122.96 of $200,000 means? You mean the $200K is not an absolute cap?

The Back Story
One of our clients incurred a spend overage last weekend because the Facebook Ads Account Spend limit feature did not halt expenditures once the limit was reached as described in the inline help bubble. We reported it to Facebook right away.

aimClear runs daily weekday hand checks of every account.  We automate with spend limits to avoid weekend overages.

  • On Thursday we checked one of the accounts we manage, and set the Account Spend limit, preparing for the weekend.
  • On Friday morning we checked as usual, and the account in question was still hundreds below the spend limit. All good. Spend limit set. Have a nice weekend.
  • As we have countless times before, we trusted the spend limit (over the weekend) to halt the account when the limit was reached.

Imagine our surprise on Monday morning to discover that the account kept on spending over the cap, spending hundreds of dollars. Look below at the red box. Clearly the account was allowed to spend past the $11,053.65 we authorized. Had this been a larger account, the results would have been disastrous. Imagine another zero and do the math. We’re lucky this account is relatively small.

Facebook says the Account Spend feature stops ads within 15 minutes. The 15 minutes is not the issue here. This account spent for 2 more days over the weekend.

We contacted Facebook last Monday morning, flagging the first instance.  They expressed concern and asked us not to quote them for this blog post. Now it is over a week later and we have no explanation other than Facebook telling us it’s escalated. Facebook Global Marketing Solutions Team has not followed with us for 5 days as of this writing. We think the right thing to do is for Facebook to refund any advertisers whose Account Spend limit was exceeded.  The bottom line is that Facebook Ads native spend cap can’t be trusted as before.

Anyway, we were just about to dismiss this as a one-off and then it happened again, to a totally different account…



  • May

    This happened to my account too! It shows that I’ve spent $104.46 out of the $25 cap. That is way over the absolute spend amount. I have contacted Facebook about this and am awaiting their reply. Also, I cannot seem to reset the account spend back to zero. I really hope Facebook will give me a refund and solve this problem

  • Jessica

    Very interesting… the same thing has happened to me,
    I just wanted to test an advert, set my spend cap at $20.00
    Now it says,
    $907.20 of $20.00 ?
    Does this mean I will be billed for $907.20 ?
    I set my limit to $20.00 because this is all I wanted to spend?

  • Isaac Sarayiah

    I have got a similar bug in that a couple of days ago my account spend suddenly went from zero to £548 overnight when my cap is £50 and it said my ads were not delivering. However, I was still being charged for ads supposedly clicked through when it says they were not being delivered for 2 days.

    I also tried to reset my account spend limit but it will not reset. Facebook support is useless so your advice is appreciated.

  • Marty Weintraub

    To commentators sharing similar experiences: Thanks for your comments. Contact Facebook via the help in Ads Manager. It took some time but FB took care of us.

  • James Lawson

    Same has happened to me £59,18 of £60.00 spent (says that at the top of the screen)
    I have then been billed £21.78, £29.69, and £22.26 which totals £73.73 – So not as serious a problem as some are having but enough to cause me concern.

    • Marty Weintraub

      James, It seems that the problem has been fixed, so far as we can see. Did you contact Facebook to handle it?

  • Joel Grant


    After being charged for facebook exceeding our absolute spend cap in January 2013, I found this article looking for answers. Sounds like their response has been less than adequate. Any further update on the matter? Our ad only ran about half a day past the account cap, so it’s not much to fuss about given the difficulty of working with a facebook csr. Just annoyed by the contradictory features and language.

    Thank you,

    • Marty Weintraub

      Joel, We got a one refund for a client and FB has refused to refund another. The main thing to remember is to not trust the spend cap, though it seems to be working for us now. Yep, it’s pretty annoying. Thanks for the comment and reaching out. Please keep us advised in this thread if anything further comes to light.

  • Lenny

    @Marty can you advice on how to get these Facebook reps into reason? My efforts have been unsuccessful. Their final word is the response I’m adding below, but if you got a refund any help is appreciated,

    “Facebook only issues refunds in cases of unauthorized or fraudulent charges so we will be unable to refund you in this particular case.”

    • Marty Weintraub

      Lenny, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having issues and you don’t think FB is treating you right. Our response to perceived injustices is usually to pursue matters through channels the advertising channel provides. When we get REALLY upset we blog about it. Usually if we’re on the right side of the matter, that one-two punch yields results. Best of luck!

  • Gail Gardner

    Marty, what reason did Facebook give for refusing to refund another?

    Back when I managed AdWords accounts their spend cap quit working (not that it ever worked correctly). I was still teaching ppc at the time at SearchEngineForums and had several people who had huge overspends that maxed out their credit cards.

    Google refused to refund their cards. They gave them credits for AdWords instead – but the amounts would take those small businesses a year to recover that way. Unless you have very deep pockets you have to be extremely careful with Google, Facebook, etc.

    I once had a client whose fruitcake was featured on the Yahoo! Buzz page. I shut down all their ads when I received six emails indicating their card had been charged in less than an hour.

    If their store had been featured a few days earlier they would have made so much money they would have been happy to pay – but it was a day or two before Christmas and few will pay expedited shipping for fruitcake they can’t get in time!

    To their credit, I contacted Yahoo! and they refunded the advertiser’s money which was quite reasonable of them. Even though they did create the issue, it was unintentional and they could have refused. My argument was that we ONLY paid for SEARCH not content ads and being featured on the Buzz page is NOT a search.

    If Facebook refuses to refund money that is clearly overspending how they say their cap works they are as bad as Google. Advertisers should always be given immediate refunds when a system does not work as advertised.

    • Marty Weintraub

      Gail, Facebook does what FB does. Customers do their best within the service FB provides or doesn’t. It’s as easy as that.