Technology

Government has failed to protect millions from damaging scams, Martin Lewis says

Campaigners are disappointed that tackling scams was not mentioned in the Online Safety Bill during the Queen's Speech.

Consumer champion Martin Lewis has criticised the Government for not including scams in its new online safety plans set out in the Queen’s Speech.

The MoneySavingExpert.com founder has been battling fake online endorsement adverts for years, with many still falsely using his image and name to lure members of the public.

Campaigners had hoped that the upcoming Online Safety Bill would include a crackdown on scams but it was not mentioned in the speech nor detailed in plans released afterwards.

Mr Lewis said the move leaves criminals to “get away with fraud with impunity”, telling the Government it has “failed to protect millions”.

“The Queen read that ‘My Government will lead the way in providing internet safety for all, especially children’,” he explained.

“Yet the Government has stumbled at the first fence, by not including scams in the Online Safety Bill.

“We live in a world where the policing of scams is dangerously underfunded, leaving criminals to get away with fraud with impunity.

“This was 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.

“By not doing so the Government has failed to protect millions, in the midst of a pandemic, from one of the most damaging online harms to their financial and mental health.”

The financial expert said he had a “slim hope” that “the door is ajar for scams to be added to the Bill at the committee stage,” adding: “We will continue to expose this gap, and push ministers to put in place proper consumer protections against scams.”

The core focus of the draft Online Safety Bill centred around tackling illegal content harms online, making tech giants accountable under Ofcom as regulator, who will be granted powers to issue large fines.

Mr Lewis – who is also founder of the Money and Mental Health charity – has long fought to tackle scams, having previously threatened to sue Facebook for defamation in a personal capacity, following a raft of scam ads featuring his picture.

He dropped the campaign in January 2019 after the social network agreed to donate £3 million to Citizens Advice and set up a new scam advert prevention project.

The consumer champion was recently highlighted in a report by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) alongside Sir Richard Branson, as two prominent celebrities whose images are abused by scammers.

Reacting to the plans, MP Stephen Timms, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Every day that goes by without proper regulation of online adverts gives scammers a free pass to prey on people on the internet.

“The Government has repeatedly been told by countless consumer groups and public bodies of the huge financial and emotional harm caused by this online free-for-all, but has so far failed to act.”

Consumer group Which? said the case for including scams in the Bill is “overwhelming”.

“Online scams have a devastating financial and emotional impact on victims – and too often platforms like Facebook and Google are leaving their users worryingly exposed to criminals operating on their sites,” said Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which?.

“The current approach of self-regulation is not fit for purpose.”

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