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Martin Lewis urges Government action on online scams to help protect millions of people with mental health problems

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The Government is leaving millions of people with mental health problems exposed to scams by failing to combat online fraud in its forthcoming Online Safety Bill, MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis has warned. It comes as new research has found those with mental health problems are three times more likely to be victims of online scams.  

While the government's new Online Safety Bill, which is due to be introduced to Parliament this year, will give communications regulator Ofcom more power to crack down on offensive social media content, the government has explicitly ruled out giving Ofcom powers to tackle online scams.

Martin and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) - the charity Martin founded - are now calling on the government to urgently rethink its plans. They want Ofcom to be given new powers to force online platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to take stronger action on user-generated scams - where a scam is created to resemble a social media post from a friend, for example. 

 

New research from the MMHPI shows that people with mental health problems face a much greater risk of financial harm when using online services, including dealing with scammers. The charity says this is in part due to the impact of common symptoms of mental health problems, such as low mood, reduced concentration and impulsivity, which can make it harder for people to spot potential scams online. 

See our 30+ Ways to Stop Scams guide for more help on how to avoid scams and what to do if you think you've been caught out.

'The Bill utterly fails to protect people from online scammers'

MoneySavingExpert.com and Money and Mental Health and Policy Institute founder Martin Lewis said: "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.

“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.

“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. We can’t continue to leave big tech, much of which comes from the original Wild West, to police itself.

“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.”

Mental health sufferers 'three times more likely' to be victims of online scams

A survey by the MMHPI, which saw Opinium poll 2,000 UK adults on a nationally representative basis, found the following:

  • People with mental health problems are three times more likely to have been the victim of an online scam, compared to the wider population (23% compared to 8%). If reflected nationally, this would amount to 4.6 million people with mental health problems who have been victims of an online scam.

  • People with mental health problems are twice as likely to feel under pressure to spend whenever they go online (22% versus 11% of those without a mental health problem). In particular, people say that pushy, personalised notifications and adverts drive them to spend more than they can afford online.

  • People with mental health problems are twice as likely to say that easy access to credit online led them to spend more than they could afford (46% versus 24%). Many people with mental health problems said that online lenders did not provide them with the support and information they needed to make informed choices about taking out credit.

MoneySavingExpert.com has contacted the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport and we'll update this story if we get a response.  

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