/ Scams

Win! Scam ads included in the Online Safety Bill

Thanks to Nadine Dorries for helping #stoponlinescams

Last month I, alongside thousands of you, called on the government to protect consumers from online scam advertising, one of the most common ways fraudsters target their victims online. Last night, it acted.

Yesterday DCMS announced that fraudulent paid-for advertising will be brought in scope of the Online Safety Bill.

This amendment will place a new legal duty on major social media sites and search engines to prevent paid-for fraudulent and scam adverts from appearing on their platforms. It represents a huge step forward in the fight to protect consumers against online scams, and wouldn’t have happened without your support.

As you’re aware, Which? has been consistently calling on the government to ensure the Bill tackles scam adverts, not just fraudulent user-generated content, since the draft legislation was published last year.

Only two weeks ago our digivan toured Westminster and Big Tech firms across London, featuring a range of voices including scam victims, MPs and campaigners, appealing to Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to amend the Bill, while thousands of you either tweeted or sent a postcard calling for this change. I want to say thank you to those who took the time to do this. 

Speaking directly to Which? on Facebook and Twitter today, Nadine has confirmed she heard our calls, and hopes that amending the Bill to cover paid-for advertising will ‘stop fraudsters conning people out of their hard earned cash’. 

 

This amendment should make a huge difference to stemming the tide of fake and fraudulent ads on social media and search engines which cause devastating financial and emotional harm to innocent victims.

The Bill must now make sure the regulator has the support and resources it needs to hold companies to account, so that fraudsters are prevented from using adverts to lure unsuspecting victims.

I’d like to thank all of those who have supported our campaign so far, and who called on Nadine directly last month by sending a postcard or tweet. Getting the government to amend this legislation to ensure it addresses the range of scams that take place online has been no small feat, but yesterday’s announcement proves that our calls have been heard loud and clear. 

Comments
Colin Hayhurst says:
9 March 2022

Congratulations. Overall this can start to help to tackle a huge and important problem.

I would support it fully, but as written the Bill will apply not only to “Tech Giants”, as stated by Nadine Dorries, but also small companies. Our own small responsible UK search engine company Mojeek is to be treated like Google and Microsoft. The Bill is very likely to help further insulate tech giants from competitors.

Em says:
9 March 2022

I can’t see that Mojeek is currently taking any form of advertising, paid or unpaid.

It’s a nice problem for a small business to look forward to, but more work is required before then, to ensure that knock offs of government agency websites that take a fee just for writing your name don’t come top of the results list.

Try typing “US visa application”. Some scammy website with a co.uk address comes first. The official USA ESTA government website is tenth at the bottom of the page. How do I report these suspicious links on Mojeek?

ron says:
9 March 2022

Time for Facebook to do some REAL fact checking into the claims of their advertising rather than just taking the money. Or following the government line on what is a “fact” and what is not!

Hermione Sacks says:
9 March 2022

Bills like this which include important protection should not make things harder for small companies. Maybe this could be changed during parliamentary discussion an so avoid the problem.

Liz says:
9 March 2022

If you allow small companies to be outside the legislation then it won’t be long before people stop using them, just because they ARE outside the legislation. A fact I’m sure the fraudsters won’t miss.

I don’t think it is practical to exclude small companies and still have an effective regime. many of the worst on-line offenders are probably small outfits operating in the shadows. If they wish to have the benefit of the huge outreach that social media can offer then they should be subject to scrutiny by the platforms of the products they are promoting.

The news that social media companies and search engines will be made responsible for preventing paid for fake reviews and other scams advertising appearing online is very welcome but for this to be effective we need to know whether the companies will just have to apply due diligence or if there will be penalties that will ensure that the new legislation can be relied on to control the problem.

As well as protecting members of the public, legitimate companies deserve to be protected from being undercut by scammers that advertise goods and services at lower prices.

This is a good result and I hope Which?’s campaign was instrumental in changing the government’s mind.

I don’t wish to be churlish, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that this “wouldn’t have happened without your support”. Plenty of influential figures, media, MP’s, peers, and other groups were calling for this change. However, well done!

What we have to look out for now is where the scammers and fraudsters go next on their journey of exploitation.

Quite, John. To be fair, a large number of MPs supported the inclusion of scam adverts in the online safety bill, as committee proceedings, for example, show..

The question is, how will this be dealt with when cases arise? I presume that, being legislation, it will need underpinning with sound law. For example, how will an online media company be made liable for a (substantial) penalty when an advert is found to result in scams? Will the test be that it should, or could, have been found to be there to perpetrate a fraud before one was committed; if so, what legal test will need to be satisfied to show the media company was at fault?

Will it be penalised if a discovered scam ad is not removed within a defined length of time? How long will they have? This presumably must give time to ensure that a fraud has actually been committed, not simply reported.

I expect that those organisations with deep pockets will hire the best lawyers to defend them, so the evidence against them must be robust.

Will we end up with a system of penalties for clearcut cases of negligence, and/or ex gratia pay-offs to possible victims rather than spend time and money on legal process?

It’s a good start, but what about unpaid-for scam emails of which I receive several a week? I realise that most of them are from abroad, but it should still be possible to penalise the foreign companies who allow the emails to be set up and then sent out in their thousands.

Tony — I agree this is only the thin end of the iceberg but unfortunately it is almost impossible to identify, let alone to penalise, the senders of e-mails in the sort of jurisdictions favoured by criminals.

When I see an end to complaints about adverts for unbelievably cheap shoes on Facebook, etc, I shall know something is happening, but I am not sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation.

Phil & Andera says:
9 March 2022

I truly hope some good comes of this but Nadine Dorries, the conservatives. I truly hope to be proven wrong.

I will be collecting in order to help ensure the bill achieves our aims. Anonymous PayPal address for the receipt of donations to follow.

Gman says:
9 March 2022

Thankyou Which?
Thankyou people
Thankyou Nadine Dorries

John Waller says:
9 March 2022

At last, common sense has prevailed.
We done Which?.
Well done everybody who contacted Nadine Dorris.
I am amazed scam ads were not included in the first place.

MR SALLAH says:
9 March 2022

very well at last the fight has been worn.

Christine Winnan says:
10 March 2022

Well done….and THANK YOU…..great and heroic achievement !

Derek Farman says:
10 March 2022

this is a very important step in the right direction. To often when researching on Google or reading articles, it is infuriating when there are adverts flashing away at the side (very disconcerting) and sometimes even overlaying what one is reading. The fact that some are scams as well, make it doubly infuriating.

This is welcome, but as both I and malcolm r have indicated on several occasions, the success of this relies heavily on policing and enforcement.

We are very good in the UK at agreeing what needs to be done and strengthening laws accordingly, but not so effective when it comes to enforcing those laws. I really hope the Government ensures the Regulator has the resources it needs to tackle this.

Ken McIntosh says:
10 March 2022

What I cannot really understand is, in this modern day and age of high-tech and cyber security, why aren’t these scammers traced within seconds or minutes and then arrested on site in due course! I personally forward any scam/phishing emails to the appropriate people-banks, paypal, ebay etc, but nothing seems to be being done!

Ken, I think the simple answer is a lack of resources and a lack of desire when it does not impact directly on those hosting these scams. There are millions of these scams occurring every day, but Governments do not have the resources to tackle and there is no desire from Social Media giants as it does not affect them directly.

People need to be made aware that when they participate in social media they are the product, not the client. Rather than paying a subscription, the price of participation is targeted advertising and the monetisation of their personal data.

Will this just be another “sticking plaster” farce like GDPR ?
On this PC, I run “Firefox” and “Privacy Badger”:
The majority of sites visited have dumped their third party cookis onto my machine before they have even asked if I want them.
More and more sites are also dumping the Facebook tracker on me – a few are honest enought warn that they will be doing so and now several sites are refusing to function if the Facebook tracker has been trapped.

Peter Monteath says:
11 March 2022

Congratulations to Anabel and all the Which team for all their work in this matter.

David Smith says:
19 March 2022

Thank you for running the call for the amendment.
This is a major achievement for consumers.
Social media has been too cavalier in allowing theses scams. Just for profit.

Michael O'Donnell says:
29 March 2022

Two things: I once spent an hour finding driving license application sites taking money for a free service and then reporting them to Google. All disappeared almost immediately but were replaced by different sites the following day. It would cost these organisations a tiny fraction of their budgets to have a member of staff do this every day.

Second: consider making websites liable for any fake advertising that they host. I’m sick of seeing fake celebrity promotions on newspaper websites.

I agree that sites offering facilities such as ‘Driving Licence’ renewals for a fee when the service is free with the DVLA should be taken offline. Most of these sites are designed with similar colours and layouts to official sites, intended to fool consumers they are using an official site. A large proportion of these sites appear first in google searches as sponsored or Ad listings.

In addition to reporting to Google, fake, scam or suspicious sites can also be reported directly to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The NCSC has the power to investigate and remove scam websites. It’s free to report a suspicious website and it only takes a minute. Even if you’re not certain the site is a scam, report it to the NCSC so they can check.

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/phishing-scams/report-scam-website