Coalition calls on Govt to act against online scams

11 May 2021

A coalition of 17 organisations have joined forces to warn of the risks consumers face from scams and urge the Government to include online scams in its proposed Online Safety Bill.

In a joint letter to the Home Secretary and Digital Secretary, the organisations, which include Which?, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Carnegie UK Trust, UK Finance, PIMFA, City of London Police, MoneySavingExpert and Age UK among others,  called on the Government to ensure that consumers are better protected against the financial and emotional harm caused by online scams.

According to Action Fraud, £1.7 billion was reportedly lost to scams in the last 12 months, with the pandemic prompting many criminals to shift their activity online. In the year to June 2020, 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled. However, actual financial losses are likely to be much higher than the figures suggest, with some victims not reporting scams.

The organisations said: “Online platforms play a pivotal role in enabling criminals to reach and defraud internet users through the hosting, promotion and targeting of fake and fraudulent content on their sites, including adverts that they make significant profits from. Yet platforms have very little legal responsibility for protecting their users, despite often being the best placed to tackle harmful content.

“While we recognise there are initiatives being progressed by the Government designed to tackle aspects of online fraud, there is a growing risk that current plans for regulatory frameworks are not taking a comprehensive approach to the threats faced by consumers and do not reflect the extent or urgency of the problem.”

UK Finance figures showed a 32% increase in investment scam cases in 2020, which are often promoted through adverts on search engines and social media offering higher than average returns.

The organisations are calling for online platforms to be given legal responsibility to protect users from fake and fraudulent content on their sites that lead to scams.

Annabel Hoult, CEO of Which? said: “The biggest online platforms have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, yet they are failing to use it to protect scam victims who are suffering devastating financial and emotional harm due to the flood of fake and fraudulent content posted online by criminals. The time for self-regulation is over, as clearly it has not worked. The case for including scams in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming and the government must take the opportunity to act now. Online platforms must be given a legal responsibility to prevent, identify and remove fake and fraudulent content on their sites so that their users are better protected.”

Liz Field, chief executive of PIMFA, commented: “The financial services industry has along with our partners been calling for financial harm to be included in the Online Safety Bill for some time. It is not vital that the government takes action to provide better protection for consumers online by ensuring online search and social media firms take greater responsibility for what we, their customers, see on their platforms.

“The Online Safety Bill could provide a clear legal framework that would protect consumers from ever more sophisticated online fraud, largely perpetrated by organised criminals. PIMFA and our partners in this campaign continue to urge the government to include financial harm in the Online Safety Bill. Doing so would save thousands of victims suffering enormous financial and mental distress and would be one of the best possible ways to disrupt organised crime.”

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