Ministers plan U-turn over Online Safety Bill web scam proposal

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Ministers plan U-turn over whether to include internet scams in the Online Safety Bill


Ministers are preparing to make a U-turn and include investment scams in the Online Safety Bill.

Hundreds of thousands of would-be investors are being conned out of their savings every year by internet adverts purporting to be from legitimate financial services firms.

The Government previously shied away from forcing internet giants to check the validity of adverts on their websites.

Online fraud: The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has maintained that most financial harms will not be included in the Online Safety Bill

Online fraud: The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has maintained that most financial harms will not be included in the Online Safety Bill

But ministers are under pressure to include online scams in the Bill to halt a ‘pandemic’ of fraud. Whitehall and City sources told the Mail they are expecting paid-for adverts, hosted by the likes of Google, Bing and Facebook, to be included in the Bill.

This would force internet firms to check whether adverts they show are ‘real’ – and stop taking money from criminals.

Some of these scammers pose as household names, such as Aviva or Hargreaves Lansdown, while others use their own name but set up a professional-looking website.

Savers click on the adverts, thinking they are investing their money in a legitimate business – and often only find out months later that in fact they gave all their cash away to a criminal.

Conmen stole a total of £753.9million from British savers through fraud in the first half of this year alone, according to trade association UK Finance – and most of these scams originated online.

Under former culture secretary Oliver Dowden, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – which is leading on the creation of the Bill – maintained that most financial harms will not be included.

But Nadine Dorries, who took over last September, is understood to be more receptive to the idea.

Two sources in the banking industry told the Mail that Treasury ministers have also come round to including rip-offs such as investment fraud and mobile phone text scams in the Bill, and are lobbying their counterparts in other government departments.

One source added that Treasury ministers were ‘leaning on’ their ministerial colleagues in the DCMS.

A joint committee of MPs and peers released a report last month urging ministers to broaden the scope of the up-coming legislation. 

DCMS said it would consider the recommendations of the committee, and is expected to issue a response around February.

The Treasury declined to comment last night.

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