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People with mental health problems ‘face greater risk of financial harm’

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·3-min read

People with mental health problems face a greater risk of financial harm when using certain services, from impulse spending to taking out expensive credit or dealing with scammers, according to a research charity.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which was set up by consumer champion Martin Lewis, said current plans to tackle online harm do not go far enough.

It said those with mental health problems can often face higher risks due to low mood, reduced concentration or impulsivity – which in turn can make it harder to control online spending or spot potential scams online.

A survey of 2,000 adults across the UK found that people with mental health problems are three times more likely to have been the victim of an online scam, compared with the wider population (23% versus 8%).

And people with mental health problems are also twice as likely to feel under pressure to spend whenever they go online (22% versus 11% of those without a mental health problem).

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A separate survey found that people agree that pushy, personalised notifications and adverts drive them to spend more than they can afford to online, the charity said.

People with mental health problems are twice as likely to say that easy access to credit online has led them to spend more than they could afford (46% versus 24%).

The new Online Safety Bill will give regulators more powers to crack down on some social media content.

Money and Mental Health wants the plans to go further and said Ofcom should be given new powers to force social media platforms to take stronger action on user-generated scams – for example, scam content which is made to resemble a social media post from a friend.

The charity said six in 10 (59%) adults want the Government to do more to protect people from financial problems when they go online, with fewer than one in 10 (9%) disagreeing.

Martin Lewis
Consumer champion Martin Lewis (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Lewis, who has campaigned against scam adverts using his image and name, said: “I’ve been campaigning for action on online scams for three years, but UK consumer protections and fraud investigations remain hopelessly inadequate and out of date.

“That’s leaving vulnerable people exposed to increasingly sophisticated online criminals, and causing grave distress in the middle of this global crisis.

“The Online Safety Bill represents a golden opportunity for the Government to put this right, by putting proper safeguards in place against scams, but unthinkably it is planning to pass up the chance to put things right.”

He added: “We are urging the Government to rethink this plan.

“Failing to include scams in the Bill will not only make a mockery of its promise to create world-leading online protections, it will also leave vulnerable people defenceless against crime.”