Financial organisations write to govt urging inclusion of scams in Online Safety Bill

A coalition of organisations, including B&CE, the provider of The People’s Pension, and the Association of British Insurers (ABI), has called on the government to include online scams in the Online Safety Bill.

In a letter, they argued that 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.

“Yet platforms have very little legal responsibility for protecting their users, despite often being the best placed to tackle harmful content,” the letter stated.

It also argued that a “wide-ranging consensus” had emerged across industry, regulators and consumer groups on the urgent need for action to tackle scams and the critical role that online platforms must take in doing more to protect users.

Considering this, the coalition has called for online platforms to be given a legal responsibility to protect users from fraudulent content on their site that could lead to scams, highlighting the proposed Online Safety Bill as the “perfect opportunity” for this.

Whilst the group acknowledged that there are governmental initiatives being progressed to tackle aspects of online fraud, it warned that there was a growing risk that current plans for future regulatory frameworks are not taking a comprehensive approach, and do not reflect the extent or urgency of the problem.

Indeed, the letter flagged figures from UK Finances that revealed a 32 per cent increase in investment scams in 2020, also highlighting the case study of one individual who lost nearly £120,000 due to an online scam.

Alongside this, the group cited recent figures from Action Fraud, which revealed that £1.7bn was lost to scams in the past year, with estimates that in the year to June 2020, 85 per cent of all fraud was cyber-enabled.

Commenting on the letter, B&CE chief executive officer, Patrick Heath-Lay, said: “Retirement savings represent rich pickings for ruthless criminals, with £2.5trn of UK pension wealth being accessible to scammers.

“Pension fraud is arguably the cruellest of all financial crimes because a typical victim is of an age that means they are unable to recoup their losses.

“Research we have conducted shows that consumers need much more protection from this type of crime and one way to do this would be for the government to introduce tougher legislation.

“Including financial fraud in the Online Safety Bill would be a good step forward, which is why we have joined forces with other organisations in making this plea to ministers.”

MoneySavingExpert founder and Money and Mental Health Policy Institute founder, Martin Lewis, added: “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.”

Work and Pensions committee chair, Stephen Timms, has previously called for economic harm to be included in the Online Safety Bill, receiving support from PIMFA and UK Finance, with MPs also calling for tech giants to be held more responsible for their role in the fight against pension scams.

Quilter CEO, Paul Feeney, has also recently written to the Prime Minister and Minister for Digital and Culture to call for the government to include scams and other financial harms in the upcoming bill.

Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, previously confirmed that he had met with Google to discuss these issues, with the government also recently announcing plans to consult on the role advertising can play in enabling online pension scams later in 2021.

The full list of signatories to the letter was: 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, Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association (PIMFA), B&CE Ltd, provider of the People’s Pension, TheCityUK, UK Finance, Victim Support and Which.

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