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Martin Lewis and MSE join coalition of organisations urging Government to use Online Safety Bill to tackle scams and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which were both founded by Martin Lewis, are among 17 organisations today calling for the Government to use its new Online Safety Bill to help protect people from an avalanche of online scams.

The coalition of organisations, which also includes consumer group Which?, charity Age UK, banking trade body UK Finance and the City of London Police (which runs Action Fraud), have written a joint letter to home secretary Priti Patel and culture secretary Oliver Dowden. It calls for scams to be covered by the new bill, which could be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May – read the full letter.

According to Action Fraud figures, £1.7 billion was lost to scams in the past year, while estimates for the year to June 2020 reveal that 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled. The coalition of organisations argue that consumers need to be better protected against the devastating financial and emotional harm caused by cyber crime.

See our 30+ Ways to Stop Scams guide for help on what to look out for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you're a victim of a scam. For one-on-one help and advice, contact Citizens Advice Scams Action through its website, or call its online scams helpline on 0300 330 3003.

'I plead on bended knee - put scams in the Online Safety Bill'

Martin Lewis, founder of and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “It beggars belief that the Government’s Online Safety Bill could ignore the epidemic of scams that the UK faces - but that's the plan. Scams don’t just steal people’s money, they can take their self-respect too and those with mental health problems are three times more likely to be affected.

"The policing of scams is critically underfunded, leaving criminals to get away with these frauds with impunity. The Government has a chance to at least deny them the ‘oxygen of publicity’ by making big tech responsible for the scammers' adverts it is paid to publish.

“I plead on bended knee for the Government to take that opportunity, by putting scams in the Online Safety Bill. Failing to do so will betray its promise to create world-leading online protection and will leave vulnerable people defenceless against online crime in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Online platforms 'should be given a legal responsibility to protect users'

The coalition of groups is calling for online platforms, such as search engines and social media sites, to be given a legal responsibility to protect users from fake and fraudulent content on their sites that lead to scams.

In April 2018, Martin took legal action against Facebook after 1,000 scam adverts abusing his name or image had appeared on the social networking site. As part of its settlement, Facebook agreed in January 2019 to launch a dedicated tool to report scam ads, which is has done, as well as to donate £3 million to Citizens Advice to help tackle them. 

In the joint letter, the coalition of organisations say: “Online platforms play a pivotal role in enabling criminals to reach and defraud internet users through the hosting, promotion and targeting of fake and fraudulent content on their sites, including adverts that they make significant profits from. Yet platforms have very little legal responsibility for protecting their users, despite often being the best placed to tackle harmful content. 

“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 time for self-regulation is over'

The 17 organisations that have signed the letter are:

  • Age UK
  • The Association of British Insurers 
  • The Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME)
  • Carnegie UK Trust
  • City of London Corporation
  • City of London Corporation Police Authority Board
  • City of London Police 
  • Innovate Finance
  • The Investment Association
  • Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
  • MoneySavingExpert
  • B&CE Ltd, provider of the People’s Pension
  • Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association
  • TheCityUK
  • UK Finance
  • Victim Support 
  • Which?

David Postings, chief executive at UK Finance, said: “The banking and finance industry is tackling fraud on all fronts, but we can’t do it alone. We need other industries including the online platforms exploited by criminals to join the fight and take responsibility for criminal activity that is happening on their doorstep." 

Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which?, added: “The time for self-regulation is over, as clearly it has not worked. The case for including scams in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming and the Government must take the opportunity to act now." 

What does the Government say?

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is working closely with industry, regulators, law enforcement and consumer groups to tackle online fraud. This includes our Online Advertising Programme, which will consider further regulation relating to online advertising to reduce online harms, recruiting more police with specialist skills as part of our commitment to recruit 20,000 new officers, and providing scam reporting and takedown services to remove malicious or fraudulent websites.”

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