Calls grow for inclusion of financial scams through paid-for adverts in Online Safety Bill

The government should extend the protection offered in its Online Safety Bill by including financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts, according to Aviva.

The firm called for the change in The Aviva Fraud Report after it found that more than half (53 per cent) of internet users did not trust that adverts on search engines were placed by legitimate financial services companies or providers.

Older internet users were the least trusting, with 29 per cent of over-55s being likely to trust search engine results compared to 59 per cent of 16-24 year olds.

Additionally, the report stated that more than half (56 per cent) of internet users said they did not believe that search engines verify the authenticity of the financial product, service, or provider that they allow to be advertised on their platform.

It also found that there was widespread support for such a measure, as almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) people thought the government should legislate to ensure search engines and social media sites do not mislead consumers or promote financial scams.

In July, the government rejected the Work and Pensions Committee’s recommendation that the Online Safety Bill should tackle fraud facilitated through paid-for advertising, indicating that it intended to tackle the issue in its Online Advertising Programme and planned to consult on the issue later in 2021.

Aviva director of fraud prevention, Rob Lee, commented: “There is a clear mistrust of financial services adverts online. However, there is no legal responsibility for technology firms to verify the legitimacy of the companies which pay them to publish adverts on their platforms. This potentially leaves millions of internet users exposed to unscrupulous adverts.”

He added that the Online Safety Bill was “an opportunity to protect financial services consumers at every stage of their online journey” and said Aviva supported the financial services industry “in calling for the legislation to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts”.

The report also highlighted the urgency of online safety after national lockdowns and Covid-19 prevention measures accelerated growth in internet usage, noting that 50 per cent of people said they had used the internet more when searching for products and services over the last year.

Additionally, over two-in-five (42 per cent) people said they had been targeted by a Covid-19 scam, which are communications from suspected fraudsters which mention the virus, with this figure representing a 91 per cent increase over the last year.

Lee commented: “The challenges posed by lockdown conditions has shifted the mindset of millions, opening the door to more people buying financial services and products online. While this brings opportunities for making it easier to buy products, it does also open the door to fraudsters looking to prey on the vulnerable.”

He concluded: “It’s clear we’re a long way from the government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online. The current online environment combined with challenging economic conditions and increased financial strain on consumers is creating the perfect storm for fraudsters to exploit the most vulnerable.

“Government must act quickly to protect more consumers from becoming the victim of online fraud, by ensuring financial scams are included in the Online Safety Bill.”

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