Fintech trade body Innovate Finance has joined a coalition of consumer groups calling on the government to include a ban on scam advertising in the Online Safety Bill.
The coalition of 14 consumer representative bodies said that the current iteration of the bill is “flawed” and doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people from online financial fraud.
The bill has been making its way through Parliament in recent months, and is expected to be enshrined into law some time in 2022.
It aims to make internet service providers responsible for what is happening on their platforms, including for serious crimes like child abuse, fraud, racist abuse, promoting self-harm and violence against women.
Earlier today (15 December), the joint committee on the Online Safety Bill said that the exclusion of paid-for scam advertising from the scope of the bill would obstruct the government’s stated aim of tackling online fraud and activity that creates a risk of harm more generally.
“What’s illegal offline should be regulated online,” said Damian Collins MP, chair of the joint committee on the draft Online Safety Bill.
“For too long, big tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless. A lack of regulation online has left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and in some cases even loss of life.
“The committee has set out recommendations to bring more offences clearly within the scope of the Online Safety Bill, give Ofcom the power in law to set minimum safety standards for the services they will regulate, and to take enforcement action against companies if they don’t comply.
“The era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end. The companies are clearly responsible for services they have designed and profit from, and need to be held to account for the decisions they make.”
A coalition of 14 consumer groups, charities, policing leads and financial services industry bodies, welcomed the recommendation for scam ads to be included in the bill but said that “our view remains that the government’s current proposed approach to tackling online fraud in the draft bill is flawed.”
The groups include Innovate Finance, UK Finance, Which?, Martin Lewis and MoneySavingExpert, the Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (PIMFA), TheCityUK, the Investment Association, the Association of British Insurers and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
“We welcome the committee’s call for paid-for scam advertising to be included in the scope of the draft Online Safety Bill, and we urge government to act now,” the coalition said.
“This will be vital in safeguarding the public from the epidemic of scams perpetrated by online criminal gangs.
“Including measures to combat user-generated fraud, whilst leaving fraud facilitated via paid-for digital adverts out of scope will only lead to complex and muddled legislation, creating loopholes for criminals to exploit and a poor outcome for consumers.
“Fraudsters will be able to continue to exploit people online by posing as legitimate businesses or using fake celebrity endorsements to steal from the public.
“Fraud is far from a victimless crime. Yet while life changing sums are being lost by victims, platforms are profiting from the paid-for content that facilitates this type of criminal activity.
“We call on the government to accept the joint committee’s recommendations to include paid-for digital advertising within the scope of the draft Bill and ensure the public are properly protected from this illegal activity.”