Online security

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 online safety bill, platforms that 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 only from user-generated scams, but also from fraudulent prepaid advertisements appearing on their services.

These will include unauthorized financial promotions or fraudsters posing as legitimate businesses, as well as advertisements for fake businesses.

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, these platforms and search engines will have to put in place “proportionate systems and processes to prevent the publication and/or hosting of fraudulent advertisements on their service and to remove them when they become aware of them”.

An example of these fake advertisements includes posts seen on Google and Facebook that impersonate and use the likeness of Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, in an attempt to defraud users.

News of the changes to the bill coincides with the government launching a public consultation on its online advertising programme, which will review existing regulations and assess whether they are adequately funded.

The results of the public consultation could mean that influencers who do not declare social media posts to be advertisements when paid to promote products could face stiffer penalties.

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

“These changes to the upcoming online safety bill will help prevent fraudsters from scamming people out of their hard-earned money using fake online advertisements.”

Lewis said: “I am grateful that the government has listened to me and the large number of other activists – among banks, insurers, consumer groups, charities, police and regulators – who have desperately makes sure that fraudulent advertisements are covered by the online security bill.

“We are in the midst of an epidemic of fraudulent advertisements. The scams don’t just destroy people’s finances – they affect their self-esteem, their mental health and even cause some to consider suicide.

“The fact that the government now accepts the principle that fraudulent advertisements must be included and that companies who are paid to publish advertisements must be responsible for them is a crucial first step. Until now, only user-generated scams were covered, which risked pushing more fraudulent ads, causing criminals to change their strategy.

The Online Safety Bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of MPs and peers.