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UK government urged to tackle 'avalanche' of online scams

·Contributor
·3-min read
Close-up shot of female hands typing on computer keyboard, lying on bed, working late at home.
Action Fraud also estimated that in the year to June 2020, 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled, while ONS data showed there were 3.7 million incidents of fraud between March 2019 and March 2020. Photo: Getty

A coalition of organisations has joined forces in a bid to urge the UK government to use the Online Safety Bill to protect people from an “avalanche” of online scams.

In a joint letter to Priti Patel, the home secretary, and Oliver Dowden, digital secretary, businesses including Which?, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, and UK Finance, have warned that Britain risks failing in its ambition to be the safest place in the world to be online.

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

“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,” the letter said.

The Online Safety Bill could be announced as part of the Queen’s Speech next week on 11 May.

Other businesses urging government action include the City of London Corporation, City of London Police, The Investment Association, MoneySavingExpert and Age UK.

Watch: Protection from online scams

Read more: UK investment fraud reports jump by a third as criminals exploit COVID pandemic

It comes as the coronavirus crisis has caused people to spend more time online than ever before.

Online scams have escalated in the past 12 months as criminals shift their activity online. According to figures from Action Fraud, some £1.7bn ($1.22bn) has been reportedly lost to scams in the last year.

Action Fraud also estimated that in the year to June 2020, 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled, while ONS data showed there were 3.7 million incidents of fraud between March 2019 and March 2020. This made it the crime that adults were most likely to fall victim to in the UK.

The group warned that the actual financial losses are also likely to be much higher and do not capture the emotional impact on victims. Research also showed that vulnerable people, including those experiencing mental health problems, are more at risk of falling victim to these crimes online.

Data from UK Finance also revealed a 32% increase in investment scam cases last year, which it said are often promoted through adverts on search engines and social media offering higher than average returns.

Read more: 'I take responsibility' for failure to stop £236m 'suspected fraud', says Bank of England chief

“The time for self-regulation is over, as clearly it has not worked,” Anabel Hoult, CEO of Which?, said. “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.”

David Postings, chief executive at UK Finance, said: “Fraud has a devastating emotional impact on victims and even when the victim is reimbursed, the stolen cash is used to fund serious organised crimes which damage our society, including terrorism, drug trafficking, and child sexual exploitation.

“The banking and finance industry is tackling fraud on all fronts, but we can’t do it alone.”

Watch: How to prevent getting into debt

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