May 14, 2021

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Government is failing to protect vulnerable people from online scams, Martin Lewis warns

2 min read

Mental health campaigners have accused the Government of failing vulnerable people by neglecting to give regulator Ofcom the power to tackle online scams and fraud in forthcoming legislation.

The Online Safety Bill, which Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has described as the “most comprehensive online safety regime in the world“, is due to go before Parliament this year. State-backed regulator Ofcom will be able to fine social media firms up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover if they are found to have failed in their duty of care to protect users.

However, the Bill does not cover online scams and other financial types of fraud, which the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute – the charity founded by consumer expert Martin Lewis – has called both short-sighted and a missed opportunity.

“They’ve talked about creating the most comprehensive online safety regime in the world, and yet there is nothing in there on financial harms, scams or fraud,” Helen Undy, chief executive of the institute, told i.

“This is not because these areas are already adequately regulated by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) or another body – they’re just not covered.

“We can’t see the logic for including it because the issue is only going to get worse and then the Bill would have to be brought back in two years’ time anyway.”

People experiencing mental health problems are three times more likely to have been the victim of an online scam compared to the wider population (23 per cent compared to 8 per cent), the equivalent of 4.6m people, and are twice as likely to feel pressured into spending money whenever the go online, new research from the institute has found.

It is calling on the Government to revise the Bill and give Ofcom the power to crack down on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that have been found to host user-created fraudulent content, such as scams masquerading as social media posts.

“I simply don’t understand how an Online Safety Bill can simply exclude the epidemic of scams the UK faces. Scams don’t just steal people’s money, it often takes their self-respect and mental health too,” said Martin Lewis.

“The Government has promised to set world-beating standards for online safety, but as it stands the Online Safety Bill will utterly fail to protect people from the growing threat posed by online scammers, especially to vulnerable people.”

A spokesperson for the Government said: “We recognise the concerns about the growth in scale and complexity of online scams and fraud, and we continue to work closely with industry, regulators and law enforcement partners to pursue fraudsters, close down the vulnerabilities they exploit and make sure people have the information they need to spot and report scams.”

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