Television personality, money expert and consumer champion Martin Lewis is asking parliament to act now and introduce an online safety bill to protect consumers and stop fraudsters from getting away scot-free.
He told The Observer: “There is an epidemic of scams in the UK. It’s been exploding for the past three or four years, and it’s been exacerbated due to the pandemic.” He is calling for new measures to be introduced in the bill of online safety which is due to be introduced in parliament next week. He is calling ministers to include measures to force big tech companies to vet all the adverts they publish on their platforms to stop people being scammed.
Martin has been campaigning for this for years and to highlight the scale of the problem he launched a lawsuit against Facebook in 2018 after his name was used to promote an advertisement for a fraudulent scheme. Facebook failed to take the advert down. Incredibly Lewis’s face was used in over 1,000 adverts which were paid for by criminals and used to con people into scam investments. Facebook settled the case and agreed to pay £3 million to The Citizens Advice Bureau. However, since then, Lewis says little to nothing has been done by big tech firms to stop this from happening.
So far nothing has been done to force tech companies to vet their advertisements, something which is required from television and radio stations, but Tech companies have been left to their own devices and have failed to act. They are paid to publish articles sometimes hundreds to thousands of pounds, the problem is they do not know or make any attempt to find out who is paying for them. Fraudsters often use Google and social media sites to scam people and UK citizens are losing billions annually because of it.
Lewis told The Observer: “When I was suing Facebook, I met a senior member of the government. I said, ‘can you not regulate?’ And I got this semi-flippant response that, ‘well, it’s really difficult for us to do, which is why we really want you to take the court case’. I think the government and the Westminster classes are absent at the wheel when it comes to scams. And it’s just outrageous that nothing is being done.”
The numbers of people scammed since the pandemic started has skyrocketed as scammers target more and more people. Less than 1 percent of the police budget is spent on investigating online fraud and when an individual is affected, they are encouraged to report it to Action Fraud. Lewis said: “When I do my day job, I of course encourage people to report to Action Fraud too. But I need to be honest – I think that is potentially a futile thing for most people to do. Because Action Fraud is outrageously under-resourced.
“I’m not blaming the individuals at Action Fraud. But very, very few cases of fraud are ever investigated. We have an open charter now for scammers and fraudsters that they can pretty much always get away with this scot free. And that simply isn’t acceptable.”
The impact of fraud on victims is appalling, Lewis said. “As well as potentially being life-destroying financially, it has a huge impact on self-esteem and mental health.”