Major Law Changes In The UK To Protect people From Online Scammers
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Major Law Changes In The UK To Protect people From Online Scammers

Government makes changes to the Online Safety Bill to tackle scams and fraud

Social media sites and search engines will be forced to stamp out fraudsters and scammers on their platforms as the government strengthens its pioneering internet safety laws. The move comes as the government also launches a consultation as part of a wider overhaul of how online advertising is regulated in the UK, including proposals to improve transparency and accountability and tackle harmful, fraudulent and misleading adverts.

Together the measures aim to boost people’s trust and confidence in being online by making sure the UK’s rules and regulations keep pace with rapid advances in technology. A new legal duty will be added to the Online Safety Bill requiring the largest and most popular social media platforms and search engines to prevent paid-for fraudulent adverts appearing on their services.

The change will improve protections for internet users from the potentially devastating impact of fake ads, including where criminals impersonate celebrities or companies to steal people’s personal data, peddle dodgy financial investments or break into bank accounts.

Separately, the government is launching a consultation on proposals to tighten the rules for the online advertising industry. Harmful or misleading adverts, such as those promoting negative body images, and adverts for illegal activities such as weapons sales, could be subject to tougher rules and sanctions.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said:

We want to protect people from online scams and have heard the calls to strengthen our new internet safety laws. As technology revolutionizes more and more of our lives the law must keep up.

Security Minister Damian Hinds:

Crimes like romance and investment fraud leave lifelong scars on their victims and can completely destroy their finances and ability to trust. We know that these crimes are on the rise and with all of us spending longer online, criminals are spotting their opportunities to abuse people’s trust and trick them more and more.

The changes that we are announcing today mean that online and social media companies will have to acknowledge these issues and take robust action to combat the scourge of online fraud, and take more responsibility to protect their users from this high-harm crime.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.

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.

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.

Mark Steward, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight, Financial Conduct Authority said:

We welcome that the Online Safety Bill will now require the largest platforms to tackle fraudulent advertising. Online Safety Bill – fraudulent advertising duty

Under the current draft of the Online Safety Bill, search engines and platforms that host user-generated content, video-sharing or live streaming will have a duty of care to protect users of their services from fraud committed by other users.

Today the government is adding a new duty to the bill which will bring fraudulent paid-for adverts on social media and search engines into scope, whether they are controlled by the platform itself or an advertising intermediary.

These companies will need to put in place proportionate systems and processes to prevent (or minimize in the case of search engines) the publication and/or hosting of fraudulent advertising on their service and remove it when they are made aware of it.

It will mean companies have to clamp down on ads with unlicensed financial promotions, fraudsters impersonating legitimate businesses and ads for fake companies.

The regulator Ofcom will set out further details on what platforms will need to do to fulfil their new duty in codes of practice.

Ofcom will oversee whether companies have adequate measures in place to fulfil the duty, but will not assess individual pieces of content, in keeping with the approach taken in the rest of the bill.

Online Advertising Programme (OAP)

The government is also today launching a public consultation on its Online Advertising Programme (OAP). The content and placement of online advertisements is currently overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) under a system of self-regulation.

Adverts seeking to defraud such as investment scams and promotions for fraudulent products and services including fake ticketing, which in many cases involves fake celebrity endorsement, have proliferated online.

People are also being targeted through legitimate-looking adverts that contain hidden malware.

Elsewhere there is evidence of online adverts selling items prohibited in UK law, such as prescription medicines and counterfeit fashion, misleading adverts misrepresenting the product or service they offer, and influencers failing to reveal sponsorship arrangements with companies in their posts.

The programme will look at the current regulations and regulators including whether they are properly empowered and funded. Options include strengthening the current self-regulation approach or creating a new statutory regulator with tough enforcement powers including:

Rule-making powers such as setting mandatory codes of conduct and enforcing them with fines and the ability to block and ban advertisers which repeatedly break the rules.

Increased scrutiny across the supply chain related to high-risk advertising such as the promotion of products related to alcohol or weight loss.

Increased scrutiny of advertisers which repeatedly breach codes of conduct and more checks on firms and individuals placing adverts and buying ad space.

Information gathering and investigatory powers such as the power to audit and request transparency reports from companies and request data from them.

The Online Advertising Programme consultation will be open for 12 weeks from Wednesday 9 March 2022. The government intends to respond to the consultation and outline proposals to reform online advertising later this year.

The National Cyber Security Centre launched the Suspicious Email Reporting service in April 2020 to help people report suspicious emails, including those claiming to offer coronavirus services. As part of the Online Safety Bill, we are making sure that online providers prioritize tackling fraud and doing everything they can to protect members of the public using the platforms. Since the launch, the NCSC have shut down over 76,000 scams across 139,000 websites.

Additional information can be found by visiting the UK gov
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
Home OfficeChris Philp MPJulia Lopez MPThe Rt Hon Nadine Dorries MP, and The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP

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