'Push harder and act faster': Treasury Committee backs calls to include paid-for scam ads in Online Safety Bill
A cross-party group of MPs has backed industry calls for the Government to include paid-for scam advertising in the forthcoming Online Safety Bill. In a report published today (2 February), the Treasury Committee urged the Government to "push harder and act faster on the growing fraud epidemic".
The Treasury Committee's report, which referenced evidence given to the Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill by Martin Lewis - MoneySavingExpert.com and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute's founder - warned that work done by the Government so far was still "not urgent enough" to "stem the rise" of people falling victim to online scams. The Treasury Committee also made a series of recommendations - see below.
Currently, there are few meaningful powers in place to prevent scam adverts from appearing online, and regulators are unable to punish the big tech platforms that get paid to publish them. Some victims have lost life-changing sums of money, even their life savings, because they trusted the reputations of the people featured falsely in the adverts.
Martin has long campaigned on this - he even successfully sued Facebook in 2019 getting a £3 million settlement to set up a new scam help charity. And in May 2021, Martin alongside a coalition of charities, agencies, regulators and trade bodies sent a joint letter calling on the Government to use the upcoming Bill to help protect people from an avalanche of online scams.
What the Treasury Committee is calling for
The Treasury Committee's report, which covers various types of financial fraud (not just online paid-for scam ads), has called for the following action:
- Paid-for scam adverts to be included within the scope of the Online Safety Bill. The Treasury Committee also wants the Government to stop online companies from ignoring existing legislation designed to protect consumers from harm.
- The Government to consider whether online platforms should be required to conduct 'Know Your Customer' checks on advertisers. It says this could help to prevent scams ads from being published in the first place.
- Online platforms to become better at removing scam ads.
- The Government to "seriously consider" whether online platforms should become responsible for reimbursing victims of online fraud.
- It to become mandatory for victims of 'authorised push payment (APP)' fraud to be reimbursed. This follows the Payment Systems Regulator proposing the same measure in a consultation paper, which closed this month. APP fraud sees people tricked into sending money to an account they believe is safe.
Mel Stride, chair of the Treasury Committee, said: "While the Government has made some progress in this area, we're today calling on it to push harder and act faster on the growing fraud epidemic. Some of our recommendations, such as legislating against online scam adverts, can be implemented quickly."
What does the Government say?
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport says it recognises the problem caused by online scams and fraud and says it will carefully consider the recommendations made by the Treasury Committee. It adds that it is also looking into online advertising, including whether tougher regulation is needed, through the 'Online Advertising Programme'.