Scam victims face betrayal if online safety bill is revisited

The author is Director of Policy and Advocacy at which?

The race for the UK’s next Prime Minister has put the current government’s political record in the spotlight and what a new leader could do differently.

One bill that is now under scrutiny again is the Online Safety Act. Its intended purpose is to make the UK the “safest place in the world to be online”. If enshrined in law, it has the potential, among other things, to stop millions of pounds worth of fraud every year. This would be done by tech companies taking responsibility for stopping the flood of ads on their websites paid for by scammers to scam innocent people and fund organized crime.

But the bill could now be in jeopardy. Delayed until a new Conservative leader is elected, it has drawn criticism and proposed changes in the earlier stages of the contest and from backbench MPs. Possible revisions must not undo years of hard work that it is hoped will protect consumers from falling victim to fraud.

The amounts of money lost this way in the UK are staggering. Last month UK Finance published its annual fraud reportwhich found that £1.3billion had been stolen through fraud in 2021. Much of this money leaves the country and funds serious organized crime around the world.

One of the big growth areas for scammers is bank transfers, where victims are tricked into sending money to criminals. Consumers lost more than £500m to these scams last year. This includes notional investments of £171m; £64m in purchase scams where victims pay for counterfeit or non-existent products and services; and £31million through romance, in which victims are persuaded to make payments to someone they believe are in a relationship.

What they all have in common is that they usually start and thrive online. The UK financial report found that major platforms such as search engines, social media and shopping platforms represent the bulk of our online activity but too often serve as a channel for fraud rather than a barrier. Research by TSB found that Facebook and Instagram account scams account for more than eight out of ten of all online investment scams, even though these companies have some of the most innovative technologies.

In which? We’ve heard from countless victims over the past few years, many of whom have lost life-changing amounts of money in the time it takes to make just a few clicks. The impact goes well beyond money and can have a devastating impact on people’s mental and psychological well-being. Our calculations estimate that the welfare of victims of online fraud costs £7.2 billion a year.

This is why legislation to combat this explosion of fraud by making tech companies take more responsibility is so necessary, and why which? assembled such a broad coalition, ranging from consumer groups and other charities to big banks and the City of London Police – in a campaign to ensure it was broad enough to make a difference.

The sophistication of online fraud leaves us all vulnerable. Those who say they are too turned on to be scammed are either in a fortunate minority or far too complacent about scammers’ determination and capacity to catch them. Anyhow, we should all realize that something needs to be done to end the free movement that criminals are currently enjoying online.

The job of the next prime minister is to drown out the noise and focus on what this landmark law can do to make people safer. Candidates for the country’s highest office should pledge to support online safety law and resist any attempts to water it down.

This is a golden opportunity to get the biggest tech companies to take responsibility for stopping the tide of fraudulent content on their websites. Anything else would be a betrayal of fraud victims.

Scam victims face betrayal if online safety bill is revisited Source link Scam victims face betrayal if online safety bill is revisited

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