The government has been urged to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts in the scope of its Online Safety Bill.
A fraud report from investment giant Aviva found that 87 per cent of people think the government should legislate to make sure search engines and social media sites do not mislead consumers or promote financial scams.
The majority (85 per cent) believe search engines should be responsible for advertising content on their platforms so that it is not misleading.
53 of internet users do not trust that the adverts on search engines are placed by a legitimate financial services company or provider.
Over half (56 per cent) don’t believe that search engines verify the authenticity of the financial product, service, or provider that they allow to be advertised on their platform. Those over 55 were much less likely to trust the results of a search engine (59 per cent) than those aged 16 to 24 (29 per cent).
“There is a clear mistrust of financial services adverts online,” said Rob Lee, director of fraud prevention at Aviva.
“However, there is no legal responsibility for technology firms to verify the legitimacy of the companies which pay them to publish adverts on their platforms. This potentially leaves millions of internet users exposed to unscrupulous adverts.
“We believe the Online Safety Bill presents an opportunity to protect financial services consumers at every stage of their online journey.
“We welcome the recent inclusion of user-generated fraud – such as that promoted on social media sites – within the scope of the regulatory framework. We support the financial services industry in calling for the legislation to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts.”
Aviva’s report also revealed that Covid has accelerated the need for government intervention.
Half (50 per cent) of consumers said they used the internet more during lockdown and two-in-five (42 per cent) have been targeted by a Covid scam.
This was a 91 per cent rise over the last year in the number of people who reported receiving emails, texts, phone calls and other communications mentioning coronavirus, and which were suspected to be a financial scam.
“The challenges posed by lockdown conditions has shifted the mindset of millions, opening the door to more people buying financial services and products online,” said Lee.
“While this brings opportunities for making it easier to buy products, it does also open the door to fraudsters looking to prey on the vulnerable. It’s clear we’re a long way from the government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online.”
Aviva’s report comes as a survey commissioned by Hargreaves Lansdown showed that younger people are more influenced by social media site TikTok than their family when it comes to investments.