Govt called to include paid advertising in online safety bill

Govt called to include paid advertising in online safety bill

Consumer group Which is calling on the government to include paid-for advertising in the online safety bill, in a response to the boom in online scams.

An increase in online fraud – including pension and investment scams – has pushed campaigners to advocate for the move, which could hold major platforms accountable for the safety of vulnerable online users.

Research by Which, which polled 2,119 consumers, estimated that 9mn people (17 per cent) have been targeted by online scams. 

The research found that four in 10 (43 per cent) consumers were dissatisfied with the protection from scams provided by social media platforms and search engines, more than double (20 per cent) the number who felt protected.

The research also showed that an increasing number of scams have surfaced amid the Covid pandemic, with 79 per cent of people having been targeted and 9 per cent falling prey to social media scams. 

This follows figures from the Office for National Statistics, which highlighted the increase in scams by 36 per cent when compared to pre pandemic levels.

Due to the alarming figures, the consumer group is campaigning for the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Nadine Dorries, to address the rise in online fraud by including paid-for advertising in the online safety bill.

“The government must include paid-for advertising in the online safety bill so that consumers finally get the protection they need from fraudsters who will stop at nothing to target potential victims online,” said Rocio Concha, Which’s director of policy and advocacy.

With research from B&CE, provider of The People’s Pension, showing that more than £14bn may have already been stolen from pension savers in the UK, the master trust is supporting Which’s call.

Phil Brown, director of policy at B&CE, said: “Pension fraud is arguably the cruellest of all financial crimes, causing misery to victims often left without enough to live on in retirement. 

“In the thirty years I’ve worked in the pensions industry, I’ve heard devastating stories of people who’ve been scammed out of their life savings, have had to sell their homes to survive, and in the saddest of cases have taken their own life, feeling they had nowhere else to turn.

“If the government fails to act now, it will create a digital loophole for scammers to jump through, helping line their pockets while hard workers lose out.”

The industry has come together on scams recently, with 17 groups, including adviser trade body Pimfa, calling for the online safety bill to include scam ads to ensure consumers are better protected against the harm caused by fraudsters. 

In the Queen’s Speech last year, a new version of the online safety bill was introduced to include financial fraud and user-generated online scams but not fraud via advertising, emails or cloned websites.

Back in December, the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill demanded more offences be covered by the online safety bill, including fraudulent advertising.