Internet scams to be included in UK online safety bill | Scams

Measures to protect people from internet scams will now be included in proposed online safety laws, the government has said.

Under a previous draft of the online safety bill, platforms which host user-generated content would have a “duty of care” to protect users from fraud by other users.

However, with this new change, the bill will require online platforms to protect them not just from user-generated scams, but also from pre-paid fraudulent adverts appearing on their services.

These will include unlicensed financial promotions, or fraudsters impersonating legitimate businesses, as well as ads for fake companies.

The change will affect the largest and most influential social media companies and search engines including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google.

According to the bill, such platforms and search engines will need to put in place “proportionate systems and processes to prevent the publication and/or hosting of fraudulent advertising on their service and remove it when they are made aware of it”.

An example of these fake ads includes posts seen on Google and Facebook which impersonated and used the image of Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, in attempts to defraud users.

News of the changes to the bill coincides with the government’s launch of a public consultation on its online advertising programme, which will look at current regulations and assess whether they are being adequately funded.

The results of the public consultation could mean that influencers who fail to declare social media posts to be ads when they are paid to promote products could be subject to stronger penalties.

Commenting on the changes made to the bill, Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, said: “We want to protect people from online scams and have heard the calls to strengthen our new internet safety laws.

“These changes to the upcoming online safety bill will help stop fraudsters conning people out of their hard-earned cash using fake online adverts.”

Lewis said: “I am thankful the government has listened to me and the huge numbers of other campaigners – across banks, insurers, consumer groups, charities, police and regulators – who’ve been desperate to ensure scam adverts are covered by the online safety bill.

“We are amidst an epidemic of scam adverts. Scams don’t just destroy people’s finances – they hit their self-esteem, mental health and even leave some considering taking their own lives.

“The government now accepting the principle that scam adverts need to be included, and that firms who are paid to publish adverts need to be responsible for them, is a crucial first step. Until now, only user-generated scams were covered – which risked pushing more scam ads, incentivising criminals to shift strategy.”

The online safety bill is currently being subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of MPs and peers.

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