Campaigners call for new online harms regulator to cover scams as mental health sufferers 'three times as likely' to fall victim to fraud
Mental health sufferers are three times more likely to fall victim to online scams, while the coronavirus pandemic has made the threat worse - and now campaigners are calling on the Government to act.
New research from charity the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), which was set up by MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis, shows that millions of people with mental health problems have been scammed online. And the risk from fraudsters has become even more acute in the months since the first coronavirus lockdown began in March - see below for the full findings.
But while the Government is planning to introduce an Online Harms Bill next year to help bolster online safety, it's not set to include any protections related to scams - a decision which Martin Lewis has blasted as "unthinkable".
Martin and the MMHPI are now calling on the Government to include scams in the new bill, and to give the new online harms regulator, which is being set up, the power to crack down on scammers. This could include forcing online platforms, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, to take more action to stop scams appearing on their sites.
Facebook last year agreed to create a scam ads reporting tool and donate £3 million to a new anti-scams initiative, but only after a campaigning lawsuit launched by Martin following his name and image being used on the site by scammers. See our 30+ Ways to Stop Scams guide for more on how to protect yourself.
Martin: 'Failing to act now will leave vulnerable people defenceless at the hands of scammers'
Martin said: "The UK already faced an epidemic of scams, but now lockdown has accelerated it, especially online. These vicious criminals are exploiting the fact that more people are stuck at home, spending more time online, and potentially struggling with their mental health - all of which increase the risk of falling victim to these schemes.
"To add insult to injury, the fraudsters are getting away with it. I've been campaigning against online scams for three years, but UK consumer protections remain hopelessly inadequate - leaving vulnerable people as easy prey for online criminals, and causing trauma and crippling money problems in the middle of this global crisis.
"Now we are to have an Online Harms Bill and watchdog, and it would of course be unthinkable if they didn't include scams. Yet perversely, laughably, embarrassingly that seems to be exactly what the Government is planning. We need MPs to take up a clarion call to 'Add Scams to the Bill' to ensure the new regulator has the power to tackle it.
"Failing to act now will leave vulnerable people defenceless at the hands of scammers, who every day are coming up with more sophisticated ways to con people out of money and data."
Mental health sufferers 'three times as likely' to fall victim to scams
As part of the MMHPI report, a poll of 2,000 adults found that those with mental health problems were most likely to have lost money or personal data to scammers, compared to the wider population. It found:
- Almost a quarter of people with mental health problems have fallen victim to an online scam. 23% had been scammed online, compared to 8% of the general population - making people with mental health issues three times as likely to become scam victims.
- Almost two thirds of online scam victims have mental health problems. 61% of those who had been scammed reported having a mental health issue, though this group makes up 38% of the population as a whole. MMHPI says common symptoms of mental health problems, which can include difficulties concentrating or making decisions, can make it harder for people to spot and avoid online scams.
- Almost 2 million people could have been scammed online during coronavirus lockdowns. 4% of people polled said they'd been a victim of an online scam in the six months from the start of the first lockdown measures in March - which would account for 1.9 million people if reflected nationally. People have also reported scams specifically related to the pandemic, such as fraudulent adverts for face masks, coronavirus tests and supposed cures.
MoneySavingExpert.com has contacted the Government for a response and we will update this story if we hear back.