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Tech firms asked to clarify fraud and scam prevention controls

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FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo a sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif. Google is once again postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-January 2022. The internet search giant is also to requiring all employees to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Google's represenative said 'scams and fraud are organised crime, much like identity theft or hacking.' Photo: AP

The UK’s Treasury is grilling tech giants Google (GOOGL), eBay (EBAY), Facebook (FB), and Amazon (AMZN) on what they are doing to fight economic crime, prevent fraud, and protect consumers on their platforms

Treasury committee chair Mel Stride has written to the companies following an evidence hearing last month as part of an inquiry on economic crime.

“There has been a huge rise in online crime and, as a committee, we want to gain a clearer understanding of what is needed to ensure tech platforms are safe spaces for people to operate and not fall victim to scams or fraud,” he said.

“Notwithstanding the efforts already being made by tech platforms such as Google, eBay, Facebook and Amazon, I am keen that they spell out in more detail what they are doing to protect their users from online fraud and advertising scams, and how they are tackling issues such as the online promotion of tax avoidance schemes.”

The committee wants to know details about the firms' online fraud steering group and meetings with government departments about economic crime. It also wants to know how the companies are compensating their customers who have been victims of financial fraud.

It has asked all companies what policy they have regarding the promotion of tax avoidance and evasion on their platform.

Some of the questions relate to the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The committee has asked each company how much the FCA paid them in the the last three years to warn their users about unauthorised advertisements, and if any other public sector bodies paid them for financial crime-related advertising.

Stride's letters have asked for a response by 18 October.

Read more: How a bitcoin court case in Japan may create crypto millionaires

In last month's hearing, Amanda Storey, director, trust and safety at Google, said "scams and fraud are organised crime, much like identity theft or hacking."

She said the company is "evolving our policies over many years to tackle financial services issues in terms of our advertising."

"Any advertiser wanting to target a UK user with a financial services ad has to be FCA authorised and has to pass identity checks before it can run that ad."

At the same hearing, Gaon Hart, head of public policy, customer trust, UK at Amazon told the committee Amazon has "three broad types of scams."

"You are talking about the customer support scams that we see, where someone pretends to be from Amazon or from another organisation, and sits there and tries to get access to somebody’s details."

He said there are also recruitment scams and retail fraud,"which is fraud on the site by either sellers or buyers either not sending the goods or, alternatively, not paying for the goods, essentially."

Earlier this year the UK introduced a Digital Markets Unit to enforce a new code to govern the behaviour of tech giants that currently dominate the market.

The unit became operational in April, but it will only gain the powers it needs if MPs vote to grant them, and that could take as long as 2022.

Back in May a coalition of organisations urged the UK government to use the Online Safety Bill to protect people from an “avalanche” of online scams.

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