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Omitting scams from Online Harms Bill is ‘embarrassing’

Written by: Emma Lunn
Martin Lewis says not including scams in the Online Harms Bill is ‘laughable’ and ‘embarrassing’ as vulnerable people are easy prey for scammers.

As well as founding, Lewis is founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.

The institute says the government is making a mistake by not including scam protection in its forthcoming Online Harms Bill.

Lewis says the government should give its new online watchdog the powers to prevent firms enabling this type of criminal activity.

New research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that a lack of consumer protections against online scams has left vulnerable people as ‘easy prey’ for fraudsters.

In particular, it shows that more than 4.5m people with mental health problems have been victims of online scams, which often cause crippling financial harm and distress.

The pandemic has made this risk more acute — with nearly 2 million UK adults falling victim to online scams in the six months after lockdown began.

The new Money and Mental Health research shows that experiencing common symptoms of mental health problems — such as impaired decision-making and reduced concentration — can make it much harder for people to identify and avoid online scams.

As a result, people with mental health problems are significantly more likely to have lost money or personal data to online scammers compared to the rest of the population.

Money and Mental Health’s research warns that while the risks posed by online scammers is growing, consumer protections in the UK have failed to keep up as there is currently no regulator charged with cracking down on online scams.

The charity is urging the government to remedy this issue in its forthcoming Online Harms Bill (expected next year).

In particular, it is calling on government to include scams in the Bill and to give the new online harms regulator the powers to clamp down on online scammers — for example, by forcing online platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to take greater action to prevent them appearing on their sites.

Martin Lewis, founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “The UK already faced an epidemic of scams, but now lockdown has accelerated it, especially online. These vicious criminals are exploiting the fact that more people are stuck at home, spending more time online, and potentially struggling with their mental health — all of which increase the risk of falling victim to these schemes.

“To add insult to injury, the fraudsters are getting away with it. I’ve been campaigning against online scams for three years, but UK consumer protections remain hopelessly inadequate — leaving vulnerable people as easy prey for online criminals, and causing trauma and crippling money problems in the middle of this global crisis.

“Now we are to have an Online Harms bill and watchdog, and it would of course be unthinkable if they didn’t include scams. Yet perversely, laughably, embarrassingly that seems to be exactly what the government is planning. We need MPs to take up a clarion call to ‘Add Scams to The Bill’ to ensure the new regulator has the power to tackle it.

“Failing to act now will leave vulnerable people defenceless at the hands of scammers, who everyday are coming up with more sophisticated ways to con people out of money and data.”

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