New laws to tackle online scam ads FINALLY confirmed – but Martin Lewis warns the fight against fraudsters isn't over
New laws to crack down on online scam adverts, including fake celebrity endorsements, are finally to be introduced. MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) and its founder Martin Lewis, whose name and image are often misused by scammers online, have long campaigned for action on scam ads. But there's still more to be done to protect consumers and it needs to happen soon.
The Government's announcement comes just weeks after Martin was forced to issue a warning over a scam advert which showed an AI-generated video of him endorsing an investment scam.
Online scam adverts in general have exploded in number as digital technology has become increasingly sophisticated. They can destroy not just people's finances – but also their self-esteem, mental health and even leave some considering taking their own lives. That's why MSE and Martin have repeatedly called on the Government and regulators to act.
Below we explain what you need to know about the proposed new laws. You can also 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.
Martin: 'It's not perfect but at least we're finally taking the first steps'
Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com founder, whose face and name is used in more scam adverts than anyone else, said: "The UK has been suffering an epidemic of scams for at least six years. The lax regulation has been a fraudster's charter, letting criminals get away with defrauding 100,000s people with seeming impunity – even when it's via widespread paid advertising which the world's biggest tech companies profit from.
"Two things need to happen. First, far more policing resources need to be put in to catching the criminals committing to the UK's biggest crime. Second, we need to deny them the oxygen of publicity, by stopping all the ads.
"I've been shouting, lobbying and suing about this for years, so today's very long overdue Government response to the Online Advertising Programme is very welcome when joined with the advertising provisions of the Online Safety Bill. It's not perfect, the speed which firms will be required to act on scam ads needs tightening up, but at least we're finally taking the first steps."
Social media sites and other online advertising platforms will be forced to act on illegal ads and scam adverts under the new rules
In its response to a consultation looking at paid-for online ads, the Government says its planned new laws will place a legal responsibility on websites, social media platforms and third-party advertising firms to put "proportionate systems and processes" in place to stop illegal or scam adverts.
These systems might include, for example, making it harder for criminals get adverts published or requiring them to identify and take down scam adverts quickly. Online platforms may also be required to report suspicious activity to regulators.
The new laws will work in tandem with the Online Safety Bill – a landmark piece of legislation that once in force aims to tackle illegal and harmful online content, including paid-for scam ads – something that MSE successfully campaigned to include.
However, it's not yet clear exactly how the new rules will work in practice, when they'll come into force, or how they'll be enforced. There will be a further consultation on these details before these measures become law – which could take several months.
These rules are long overdue – they must now be brought in at speed
It was March 2022 when the Government first launched its Online Advertising Programme consultation to look at how paid-for online advertising was regulated and what more could be done to protect consumers and vulnerable people from the rise in illegal or scam adverts.
Now, over a year later, the Government has finally responded and set out its proposed new rules – but they're still not in effect (and likely won't be for some time), so scam ads continue to spread online.
We want these new protections to be brought in as quickly as possible – so we'll continue our campaigning and maintaining pressure on the Government.
In the meantime, the Government says it has set up a new task force which will gather more evidence on illegal advertising and work with industry leaders to increase protections before the legislation is introduced.
If you think you've been scammed, here's what to do
Take the following steps:
- If you've already responded to a scam, end all communication immediately.
- Call your bank directly and cancel any recurring payments – or, for speed and ease, you can call the 159 hotline.
- Report the scam to the police through Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or report a scam anonymously on the Action Fraud website. If you're in Scotland, report a scam through Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or on the Advice Direct Scotland website. You can also report scams to Police Scotland on 101.
- If you need more help, contact the Citizens Advice helpline on 0808 223 1133 or via their website.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) sets out a number of different ways to report scams depending on the type:
- Emailed scams. If you get a dodgy looking email, you can report it to the NCSC by forwarding it to email@example.com. Remember not to click on any links within these emails.
- Text scams. If you get a suspicious text message, you can forward it to the number 7726 – this will allow your provider to track the origin of the text and arrange to block or ban the sender if it's a scam. You can also report scam text messages to firstname.lastname@example.org – remember to provide a screenshot of the text message.
- Website scams. If you notice a website or URL that doesn't look quite right, you can easily report the web page to the NCSC directly via its online form.
- Scam adverts, including ads on newspaper websites, paid-for search engine ads, or ads appearing on social media. These can currently be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) through its online form.