The industry has welcomed the government’s decision to bring paid-for online adverts within the scope of the Online Safety Bill after a year-long campaign by PIMFA, Which? UK Finance, The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute and others.
Bringing such adverts within the scope of the Online Safety Bill could wipe out online fraud and the practice of cloned websites.
PIMFA chief executive Liz Field says: “When the Government first published its White Paper on the Online Safety Bill many who work in financial services, consumer groups and charities were dismayed to discover that financial harm was not among the harms the new Bill would deal with.
“As a result, PIMFA, UK Finance, Which? The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute and many other organisations formed a campaign group to lobby the Government to include fraudulent online adverts and user-generated content, which cause untold financial and mental distress to thousands upon thousands of victims each year, within the scope of the Online Safety Bill.
“In May, the Government conceded our point about user-generated content and included such content within the scope of the Online Safety Bill. Today, it has once again accepted our argument, and that of the Financial Conduct Authority, Financial Services Compensation Scheme, Bank of England, and the Treasury Select Committee among a host of MPs and others, that paid-for online adverts be included within the scope of the Bill.
“Of course, we will wait to see the detail in the Bill. But we are delighted to see the Government has seen sense and is willing to act to save thousands of people from the threat of fraud, which is, after all, the widest reported crime in the UK today.”
Phoenix Group head of financial crime prevention Yvonne Collins says: “This is a momentous move from the Government, responding to the urgent need to crack down on fraudulent online advertising. By including measures to address this in the Online Safety Bill, internet users will be better protected and laws regulating online activity will be in line with existing practices in the wider world. The onus is now on social media platforms and search engines to be more vigilant against fraudulent activity on their services, including unlicensed financial promotions and fake ads.
“As platforms and search engines step up and put proportionate systems and processes in place, consumers must continue to be wary of suspicious online activity. Fraudsters look to target those who are vulnerable, and with the cost of living escalating and global uncertainty, they will see this as an opportunity to strike.
“Popular scam techniques to watch out for during uncertain periods include using market volatility around stock markets to encourage you to transfer or review your finances, promoting investment opportunities with guaranteed returns, offering to unlock cash held in pensions, and fake online resources that deliver malware that can infiltrate sensitive data. Always take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or personal information and don’t be afraid of rejecting, refusing or ignoring any requests you receive – only fraudsters will try to rush or panic you, whereas a legitimate company will answer further questions or provide additional information to answer any concerns.”
B&CE, provider of The People’s Pension director of policy Phil Brown says: “We’re delighted that the Government is acting to close this digital loophole. This is a huge step forward in the battle against ruthless criminals who will stop at nothing to get their hands on some of the £2.5 trillion of UK pension savings that are potentially at risk. This is great news for all consumers but lawmakers and partner agencies must continue to remain one step ahead of fraudsters.”
Aviva director of fraud prevention Rob Lee says: “The news today that pre-paid fraudulent advertising will now be within scope of the Online Safety Bill comes as a welcome relief to all those who have campaigned so hard to help protect consumers from online fraud. We have seen first-hand the often devastating impact fraud has on the financial and mental wellbeing of victims.
“We will of course need to examine the detail of the Bill when it is presented to Parliament for further scrutiny, to ensure that consumers are adequately protected at every stage of their online journey, but this milestone represents a significant shift in the right direction.
“The legislation needs to tackle the problem of financial scams and misleading financial promotions. Our concern is centred on the sharp practices employed by fraudsters, which mislead consumers and put them at serious risk of financial harm.
“There is a clear mistrust of financial services adverts online. 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.”
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