Have the 'Martin Lewis' scammers finally been uncovered?
An investigation by the BBC appears to have uncovered the people behind a plague of scam adverts featuring MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) founder Martin Lewis, as well as others. The BBC says many of the ads are run by a single global network of scammers, while nearly a third of UK victims told the BBC they were lured in because the ads featured Martin.
Martin has been fighting scam ads using his face and name for over six years. He never appears in adverts, so any you see are a scam. In 2018, Martin sued Facebook for defamation over it, settling for a £3 million donation to set up a new anti-scam fund for charity Citizens Advice and a special scam ads reporting tool for Facebook unique to the UK.
Since then, Martin and MSE have successfully campaigned to get scam ads in the Online Safety Bill.
Yet this work has focused on cutting off the scammers routes to the public. Now, a BBC investigation finally says it has tracked down the scammers themselves. We've got full details about the investigation below. You can also see our Stop Scams guide for tips on how to protect yourself and your cash.
The network is believed to have collectively scammed people out of £1,000s
The BBC World News documentary, which aired on 12 April and is titled The Billion Dollar Scam, is the result of a year-long investigation into the "murky world" of online investment scams. There is also a corresponding online report. The investigation claims:
- A group known to the police as "Milton", which consisted of 152 companies that posed as investment firms, targeted savers and collectively scammed them out of £1,000s, if not £100,000s.
- This group lured the majority of its victims through social media adverts. Within 48 hours of clicking the ad and inputting their personal and contact details, victims received a phone call promising 90% returns in the first day, the BBC said. Victims were encouraged to place smaller investments, which initially did well. They were then enticed to invest larger sums of money that they eventually lost.
- Others were told to download software that allowed the scammer to control their computer and place trades for them - a practice that's illegal in the UK. Often these trades were not real and were only a simulation - the scammers were instead siphoning off the money for themselves.
Some victims say they fell for the scam because the ads featured Martin Lewis
As part of the investigation, the BBC spoke to dozens of victims from the UK. Of the around 40 people in the UK it spoke to, around 30% said they were convinced by the advert because it used Martin's image. One of the investment brands identified as using Martin's face was a company called "Ecosales". This company was closed down following a police raid in connection to its investigation, the BBC told us.
We've contacted the men the BBC identified as being behind the Milton group to offer them a right of reply and we will update this story if we hear back. The BBC said when it contacted the men behind the Group, they either failed to respond, or vehemently denied knowledge of the firm or that they were involved in scamming consumers.
There were over 400 scam-related crimes featuring mentions of "Martin Lewis" reported in the six months leading to March 2023, according to data from crime reporting agency Action Fraud. It says this resulted in a collective financial loss of almost £6 million.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "It's both heartening and worrying that the scammers seem to have been identified. I don't know whether they're the only group doing this, but certainly if the BBC is right, then a huge volume of scams have come from this.
"Unfortunately the policing of online scams and fraud in the UK is virtually non-existent. It's a licence for criminals to make money. There are only negligible police resources put into stopping fraud — very few scammers are ever spoken to let alone arrested — and they get away with it with impunity. That's why I've always focused on trying to close down their routes to the general public.
"So while exposing the scammers is a valid, strong piece of journalism — and plaudits to the BBC for putting the resources in — we need real, mainstream police and legal resources put in place to ensure proper prosecutions. Only when the scammers have a feasible risk of losing their ill-gotten gains and criminal punishment will we start to see a reduction."
Martin and MSE are continuing to push for the Online Safety Bill to come into force as soon as possible
Last year, the Government confirmed that ads appearing on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and those on search engines, including Google, would fall under the remit of the new Online Safety Bill.
This inclusion followed campaigning from Martin, MSE, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute - the charity founded by Martin - as well as a number of other charities, agencies and trade bodies. Celebrities including Deborah Meaden and Sir Richard Branson also signed our letter to the Government on the issue after having their names and faces abused by scammers in online advertising.
However, the Bill is yet to come into force and is currently going through the committee stage in the House of Lords. Martin and MSE, as well as other campaign groups, have been pushing for the Bill to go through as quickly as possible writing to the then-Prime Minister Liz Truss about it in October 2022.
Martin and MSE do NOT appear in adverts
Remember, Martin and MSE DON'T do ads. MSE won't send out emails except for our weekly newsletter or those you'd get if you're signed up to one of our services. We will never, ever, EVER cold-call or feature in adverts. We're a consumer help website, here to fight your corner.
If you're unsure, go directly to the MSE site - we always put the content there.
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 new 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.
Here's how you can report a wide variety of scams quickly
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.
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