A coalition of 17 business and consumer groups have urged the UK Government to ensure consumers are “better protected” from online fraud.
In an open letter, the organisations joined forces to call on parliament to introduce laws into the soon to be announced Online Safety Bill or risk the UK “failing in its ambition to be the safest place in the world to be online”.
The group said that an “avalanche” of scams are affecting millions of users across the UK, causing “devastating financial and emotional harm”.
Figures released by Action Fraud show that scams have escalated over the coronavirus period, with data indicating that £1.7 billion has been lost.
“Online platforms play a pivotal role in enabling criminals to reach and defraud internet users through the hosting, promotion and targeting of fake and fraudulent content on their sites, including adverts that they make significant profits from,” the organisations wrote in their letter to Westminster. “Yet platforms have very little legal responsibility for protecting their users, despite often being the best placed to tackle harmful content.
“While we recognise there are initiatives being progressed by the Government designed to tackle aspects of online fraud, there is a growing risk that current plans for future regulatory frameworks are not taking a comprehensive approach to the threats faced by consumers and do not reflect the extent or urgency of the problem.”
Due to the increased use of the internet over the lockdown period, many criminals have shifted their activity online. Action Fraud data estimates that in the year to June 2020, 85% of all fraud was cyber-enabled.
UK Finance figures show a 32% increase in investment scam cases last year, which are often promoted through adverts on search engines and social media offering higher than average returns.
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Action Fraud said that the actual financial losses of online scams are “likely to be much higher” and “do not capture the devastating emotional impact on victims”.
Commenting on the news, Anabel Hoult, CEO of Which?, said: “The biggest online platforms have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, yet they are failing to use it to protect scam victims who are suffering devastating financial and emotional harm due to the flood of fake and fraudulent content posted online by criminals.
“The time for self-regulation is over, as clearly it has not worked. The case for including scams in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming and the government must take the opportunity to act now.
“Online platforms must be given a legal responsibility to prevent, identify and remove fake and fraudulent content on their sites so that their users are better protected.”