‘Make social media firms legally responsible for tackling fraud'
Social media companies should be made legally responsible for removing scam adverts from their networks and protecting users from fraud, the head of a policing body has said.
James Thomson, chairman of the City of London Police Authority Board, will tell an audience, including security minister Damian Hinds, on Thursday that tougher measures to tackle internet fraud should be included in the Online Safety Bill.
He also wants fraud to be made a national priority across all local police forces in the UK, in the same way that tackling county lines drugs gangs has been a focus in recent years.
Mr Thomson is expected to say: “Not only does fraud affect millions of UK citizens each year, some of whom are very vulnerable, it weakens our economy and threatens our international reputation as a safe place in which to do business.
“It is vital for online platforms, such as social media companies, to take a legal responsibility to identify, remove, and prevent false and fraudulent activity on their websites.
“Regrettably, this is something they have failed to do effectively to date, so introducing the right regulatory framework is now essential.”
Mr Thomson will call for fraud to be classed as a priority harm in the Online Safety Bill, and for the legislation to include measures to tackle paid-for advertising on social media that con artists use to lure in victims.
His views echo those of consumer champion Martin Lewis, whose image and name have repeatedly been used by fraudsters and who has long campaigned for tougher rules around scam adverts.
Earlier this year Mr Lewis reacted angrily when scams were not included in the Government’s online safety plans as set out in the Queen’s Speech, saying the omission left criminals to “get away with fraud with impunity”.
The calls have also been backed by consumer rights organisation Which?.
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “There has been a devastating spike in scams since the start of the pandemic, yet despite the emotional and financial impact on victims, tech giants are failing to step up and adequately protect their users.
“The case for including scam adverts in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming, with police bodies, businesses, regulators, consumer groups and many MPs all agreeing urgent action is needed. It is vital that the Government seizes the opportunity to act now.”
City of London Police is the national lead force for fraud, and the Police Authority Board oversees its work.
Fraud is estimated to make up around a third of all crime in England and Wales, and Mr Thomson will say around 80 percent is classed as cyber-enabled, involving the use of the internet and digital devices.
A Government spokeswoman said: “We have brought user-generated fraud into the scope of our new online laws to increase people’s protection from the devastating impact of scams.
“The move is just one part of our plan to tackle fraud in all its forms. We continue to pursue fraudsters and close down the vulnerabilities they exploit, are helping people spot and report scams, and we will shortly be considering whether tougher regulation on online advertising is also needed.”
She said that the Government will hold a consultation on the rules around paid-for advertising online later in the year.