/ Scams

Why scams must be included in the Online Safety Bill

The tech giants are not doing enough to stop lives being devastated by fraud. We’re demanding the government includes scams in the Online Safety Bill.

Update: 20/07/2021

We’ve today rejoined a coalition of consumer groups and industry bodies, including UK Finance and Martin Lewis and MoneySavingExpert, to renew our call for the government to include paid for online adverts within the scope of the Online Safety Bill ahead of pre-legislative scrutiny.

This follows recent Which? analysis of Action Fraud figures that found a devastating surge in scams during the pandemic, as fraudsters exploit the shift to online shopping.

Action Fraud figures, show in the year to April 2021, 413,553 instances of fraud were reported โ€“ an increase of a third (33%) on the previous 12 months. More than ยฃ2.3 billion was lost by victims as a result, causing huge financial and mental distress.

To date, the government has indicated that online advertising will be dealt with through a separate review of advertising regulations which is only in its infancy. Our joint statement:

“As a coalition of consumer groups, charities and industry bodies, our united view is that the governmentโ€™s current approach to tackling online fraud is flawed. It will likely lead to complex and muddled regulations, and far worse consumer outcomes than an Online Safety Bill with a comprehensive approach to online fraud.

While we welcome the recent inclusion in the Bill of fraud carried out through user generated content and fake profiles on social media websites, there is still a long way to go. Failing to include online advertising in the Bill leaves too much room for criminals to exploit online systems.

This view is backed by the FCA, Bank of England, City of London Police, Work and Pensions Committee and Treasury Committee, who have all commented that the scope of the Online Safety Bill should be expanded to include fraud carried out via online advertising.

We do agree with the government that the impact of these frauds is often devastating, not just financially but also emotionally. Thatโ€™s why we urge ministers to reconsider their current plan, and make sure the Bill protects as many consumers as possible from the full extent of the devastation caused by scams.โ€

Full list of 13 organisations that have signed the statement:
๐Ÿ“„ Age UK
๐Ÿ“„ The Association of British Insurers
๐Ÿ“„ Carnegie UK Trust
๐Ÿ“„ Innovate Finance
๐Ÿ“„ The Investment Association
๐Ÿ“„ Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
๐Ÿ“„ MoneySavingExpert
๐Ÿ“„ Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association (PIMFA)
๐Ÿ“„ B&CE Ltd, provider of the Peopleโ€™s Pension
๐Ÿ“„ TheCityUK
๐Ÿ“„ UK Finance
๐Ÿ“„ Victim Support
๐Ÿ“„ Which?

Update: 11/05/2021

Following today’s Queen’s Speech, it’s right that the government is giving the major online platforms we interact with every day a legal responsibility to protect their users. However in order to truly stamp out criminal content and activity online, the government must make it clear that scams are within the scope of the forthcoming Online Safety Bill.

Online scams have a devastating financial and emotional impact on victims โ€“ and too often platforms like Facebook and Google are leaving their users worryingly exposed to criminals operating on their sites.ย 

The current approach of self-regulation is not fit for purpose. The case for including scams in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming, with industry, regulators and consumer groups all calling for urgent action to tackle online scams and for platforms to better protect their users from fraudsters.

Our open letter: 07/05/2021

We’ve joined forces with a coalition of organisations championing consumers, and representing civil society and business, to warn that the UK risks failing in its ambition to be the safest place in the world to be online unless it uses new laws to protect people from an avalanche of online scams.

This is our open letter sent to the Home Secretary and DCMS Secretary:

Scams and the Online Safety Bill: 05 May 2021

Dear Home Secretary and Secretary of State,

We are writing to you regarding the forthcoming Online Safety Bill. We urge the Government to expand the scope of this vital legislation to include fake and fraudulent content that leads to scams. This would better protect people against the devastating financial and emotional harm caused by these crimes.

As a group of organisations representing consumers, civil society and several sectors of the economy, including banking and financial services, we recognise how essential online services have become in peopleโ€™s daily lives as a result of changes in the past year.

There are now more people spending more time online and the benefits of this are significant. We are determined that people can continue to make the most of this shift and fundamental to this will be ensuring their safety online.

Yet there is a problem because the existing laws and regulations designed to protect consumers in the online world have failed to keep pace with criminals in this modern arena. This is particularly the case in relation to scams, where fraudsters are increasingly taking advantage of online platforms to target victims.

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.

3.7 million incidents of fraud

To illustrate the size of this problem, ONS data shows there were 3.7 million incidents of fraud between March 2019 and March 2020, making it the crime that adults are most likely to fall victim to in the UK, while Action Fraud figures show ยฃ1.7 billion was lost to scams in the last year.

UK Finance data shows that across scam types, there has been a significant rise in cases over the past year, with criminals adapting to target victims online.

As an example, there was a 32% increase in investment scam cases in 2020, which are often promoted through adverts on search engines offering higher than average returns, and a 38% increase in cases of romance scams, driven by the rise in online dating during the pandemic.

These figures are likely a significant underestimate of the true value and do not take into account the fact that even when the victim is reimbursed, criminals still retain illegal proceeds, reinvesting them in further organised illegal activity, causing wider societal harm. Nor do they capture the equally devastating emotional impact that scams have on victims.

Even if people are able to get their money back after falling victim, they can still experience significant emotional harm. Four in ten (42%) Money and Mental Health Research Community respondents who had fallen victim to an online scam felt that they had experienced a major negative impact on their mental health. Vulnerable people, including those experiencing mental health problems, are also more at risk of falling victim to these crimes.

Action against fake and fraudulent content

Across industry, regulators and consumer groups, there is now wide-ranging consensus on the urgent need for action to tackle scams and the critical role that online platforms must take in protecting users from the harm caused by fake and fraudulent content.

We believe that fake and fraudulent content that leads to scams must be included in scope of the proposed Online Safety Bill. This would require online platforms to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content from being hosted on their sites, putting in place incentives for platforms to work together with the telecoms, banking and finance sectors to tackle economic crime.

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 future 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.

We remain committed to working with the Government on this vital issue, toward our shared ambition for the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, so that people and businesses continue to benefit from the shift to digital.

Copies of this letter go to the Minister for Digital and Culture, the Minister of State at the Home Office, the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health.

Yours sincerely,

Download the letter in full

Add your voice

We donโ€™t believe the big tech companies are doing enough to protect their users against fake and fraudulent content on their platforms. How do you feel about the ease with which this content can be hosted on their sites? And what would you like to see these companies do to finally put a stop to this?ย 

What would you want to say to the government about online scams? What actions should it take?

Let us know in the comments.

Jo Blake says:
15 May 2021

I fully support this initiative, too many peopleโ€™s lives are being ruined.

Whenever I have received a phone call I think might be a scam I report it to the Police Fraud Squad.
I was once told my credit card had withdrawals made. I gave no details, but contacted my credit card supplier, and no withdrawals had been made. Before agreeing to anything, always make separate checks.

Paul McOwan says:
16 May 2021

Surely in this day & age it should be possible for the Government to block websites that are identified as scams particularly those from overseas. Our is this asking too much as there is probably no profit to be made? A number of my friends have chosen to discontinue all online activity and gone back to the old ways.

Pauline Austen says:
20 May 2021

Very good,the old ways are always the best.,and ultimately more superior and eternally dependable.

Pauline says:
23 May 2021

Well said,the old ways are always the best and that will become more apparent as time passes.

Janis says:
16 May 2021

Government bodies like HMRC should first set an example by NOT sending out emails which do not follow even the basic rules, like addressing people by name not as “customer”. They consistently send out emails inviting individuals to click onto the numerous links they include within their email. In spite of numerous attempts to tell HMRC not to send out emails which look like phishing emails but are apparently genuine, they take no notice whatsoever.

Janis – I must say that I have never received any official HMRC correspondence by e-mail. It might happen perhaps if the taxpayer initiates some correspondence that way but all my dealings with HMRC [and the DWP], in both directions, have been by letter stating all the necessary identifying details like name, address, tax reference or NI number. I have never been addressed as a “customer” [which we are not]. If this persists in your case I recommend you take it up with your MP.

Scams are a huge problem now, and everyone must contribute to the fix: governments, laws, companies

… and internet users too? Like charity, should not security begin at home?

Pauline says:
26 May 2021

Hi Derek,I wish charity did begin at home in this country,far from it. We give millions to foreign causes while some of our own are penniless or homeless.

That said, we do have many charities that are striving to help the country’s poor and homeless. But I think more complete, longer term solutions require better education to enhance job prospects and foster empowerment. Also much better mental health care, to tackle the root causes of the drug and alcohol addictions that cause homelessness.

Pauline – Charity is discretionary spending by people of their own money and, in a free society, they have the right to direct it to where they feel it is most deserved or most satisfies their own ideas of necessary benefit.

It is the job of the state to relieve poverty and hardship using the money it takes from people compulsorily through taxes. Naturally, there are controls and criteria to attempt an equitable distribution of such support. Not all allocations will attract public approval but, while opinions might differ, total destitution is rare in the UK and is almost always avoidable or open to mitigation.

In any structurally-graded society, there will always be inequalities and relative poverty. Even in totalitarian regimes, where every aspect of life is strictly controlled, there are significant differences in emerging realities since the human condition is not perfectly consistent in its conversion of support into achievements.

As a leading member of the international community, with an historical and cultural obligation to act honourably, the UK has a duty to operate in an exemplary manner to address world problems and is actually quite selective and not over-generous in its aid programmes. Most foreign aid is tied to specific outcomes and is generally perceived to create long-term goodwill that has various mutual or reciprocal benefits.

In terms of housing, there is probably a technical surplus of accommodation in the UK but its distribution does not match personal needs and economic requirements. Many argue that, together with a more interventionist house building programme, there should be stronger state direction over the location of employment and I believe there is considerable merit in such a planned approach, but it would need to be much more flexible to meet changing priorities than many would feel comfortable with. Very little modern employment needs to be concentrated in distinct geographical locations where essential resources or conditions exist, but when those characteristics prevailed throughout most of the twentieth century there was usually great upheaval and deprivation as traditional occupations were overtaken by technological advances and population shifts were required.

The On-line Safety Bill is an attempt to offset some of the adverse consequences and serious harms of the more self-deterministic society that has emerged in the present century. Unfortunately, it cannot remedy all society’s shortcomings.

RMc says:
17 May 2021

We need to have better ways for people to be protected. Currently there seems to be little, if any penalty for scams originating outwith the UK. These are having a devastating impact on individuals and companies alike.

Would be nice if there was some way for the perpetrators to be at risk somehow.

Claire says:
18 May 2021

Scamming affects everyone. If you have a phone number, email address, bank account, credit card, business or even a simple postal address – you’re a target. The government needs to raise funding for anti-scamming task forces and introduce harsh penalties for scammers everywhere.

Our Government has already set up Action Fraud and the National Cyber Security Centre, see:-https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/information-for/individuals-families

Curmudgeon says:
18 May 2021

Surely, the banks to where any fraudulent money is sent should be the ones that repatriate stolen funds. Receiving banks should perform full due diligence before allowing any account to be opened. If they fail in their duty to perform the required security checks, then they should take on the liability, not the innocent victims. It’s basic common sense.

I have received a message yesterday to say my bill payment has not gone through for my mobile phone when I got in touch with my company they told me it was a scam I was lucky I used my head and went directly to my company Vodafone and they sorted it out for me, so please if you get a message lime this get in touch with your company don’t click on the website they give you

Very good advice, Lillian. Thanks for passing on your tip.

These are what I call ‘false jeopardy’ scams where they try to panic people into a course of action that could lead them to reveal personal information to a criminal.

It’s a reasonable assumption that almost everyone over the age of four has a mobile phone these days so there’s a fair chance of plenty of hits by the scammers.

1) Banks are not doing enough to protect their customers, who have invested their funds with utter ‘trust’. Thousands of victims who are innocent caught out unaware are being scammed everyday, are not being properly supported by their bank.
Banks should recompense victims under banking protocol.
Banks have invested customers money, they have billions invested. The money lost to the customer is a drop in the ocean to banks.
Once an unusual payment has been made, the bank should make contact with the customer to question ‘thoroughly’ the transaction and block the payment to gain confirmation before it goes through. They should also provide customers with call blocking services for mobile devices and anti-virus systems free of charge. Why? because they are supposed to be protecting their customers.

2) Mobile service providers also need to provide customers with advanced ID calls protection free of charge, the banks and mobile companies need to collaborate and join forces to protect customers.

Susie – The function of a bank is to protect the money that their customers leave with them, and they do that reliably.

What you are asking them to do is to question an instruction given by a customer to pay some of their money to someone else. If customers want that additional service for an extra degree of protection I agree it should be made available for a fee. I think the first obstacle is an “unusual payment”; how will that be defined? Every payment I make that is not a direct debit or standing order is unusual and no two are identical.

If a bank has been negligent, or allowed unsuitable people to open and operate accounts because it didn’t make adequate checks, or failed to give appropriate warnings to their customers, then it would be right to give compensation for that. Banks should also get to know their customers better and tailor the services available, and the limitations on them, to the ability of their customers to manage their accounts safely. They should also diligently pursue all fraud cases internally and involve the police in apprehending external criminals.

The question is whether banks should protect people who are not protecting themselves.

Ken peters says:
25 May 2021

I agree to all the above, but wish all Banks would do more.
Ken Peters. They did next to nothing when money went missing from my account!

eg.linked to NI nos or parents names which are part of the password but never shown other than to the originator

One of the advantages of the National Insurance number hitherto is its relative obscurity and lack of currency. Most people would have to look up their own NI No. and very few commercial organisations have a record of them [mainly banks, building societies and other financial institutions in connection with certain investments that have taxation implications] . The chief users are employers, HMRC and the DWP for benefit claimants and pension payments. I would not be in favour of NI Nos. becoming generally used identifiers since it would only be a matter of time before they were misused with criminal intentions.

Scammers are currently trying to frighten people by alleging that their NI No. has been ‘compromised’, or will be withdrawn, thus enticing them to reveal personal information [including bank account details] “in order to set up a new coding”. I cannot imagine why or how that would be possible and it is a complete lie. Only the DWP can alter NI Nos.: they very rarely do so, and would always communicate officially by letter with security checks to make sure they are dealing with the correct individual.

Setting up a false peril is a despicable form of deceit.

Yes I too have been hit.In the years gone by I was caught twice that I k ow of.
Please get the government to act and help save our money,particularly the young and us older folk.

James says:
21 June 2021

You have my full support,

On making a bank transfer yesterday I was surprised to be questioned by bank staff (I hope!) about the circumstances of the transfer before it was allowed to go through. Presumably we should welcome this but it involved phoning a mysterious number and waiting in a 30 minutes queue with a threat of account blocking if I did not complete the procedure.

L Wells says:
30 June 2021

I feel that it’s got to the point where I don’t believe anyone who rings me now, that isn’t a personal friend or family. I would never give out information over the phone and always ask the caller the name of the person they want to speak to – often they don’t even know!
Phishing emails are just as bad. I got caught out once – luckily didn’t lose any money, but did infect the computer with a virus ๐Ÿ™
What saddens me the most is that there are people out there willing to scam others, especially the vulnerable. Why is our society so sick?

This Conversation reappears on the homepage today, presumably because there is an update in the introduction:

“Weโ€™ve today rejoined a coalition of consumer groups and industry bodies, including UK Finance and Martin Lewis and MoneySavingExpert, to renew our call for the government to include paid for online adverts within the scope of the Online Safety Bill ahead of pre-legislative scrutiny. [continues]

It’s encouraging to see updates included in existing Conversations, where appropriate, rather than starting another discussion on a similar topic.

Yes – and it’s good of you to write a comment otherwise we might not have known about the update.

The degree of under-reporting might be lower now because of the massive rise in the number of scam attempts and because of the higher profile of fraud crimes generally, but I should imagine the actual number of frauds arising from on-line advertisements far exceeds the reported 413,000+.

The government appears to be in a state of legislative paralysis on so many fronts at the moment.