Charlie Shakeshaft, CEO of Individual Protection Solutions, reacts to the new Online Safety bill, acknowledging the pros and cons, and what more needs to be done by the government to ensure people are adequately protected online
Scams and fraud have arguably never been as prevalent, nor as sophisticated, as they are today. The pandemic has touched every aspect of ordinary people’s daily lives. Worryingly, one reality of everyone being stuck at home, and reliant on technology to communicate with friends and family, has been the opportunity afforded to scammers to target and contact some of society’s most vulnerable people.
The financial impact of scams has been stark. ONS data shows that there were 4.7 million incidents of fraud between March 2019 and March 2020, while Action Fraud states that £1.7 billion was lost to scams in the last year.
This is having a knock-on mental and emotional impact on actual and prospective victims of fraud. According to research by Individual Protection Solutions (IPS), people now consider their online and data security to be their biggest data concern. A third of people are more worried about scams now than at the start of the pandemic, while 75% of people are contacted by scammers at least once a week.
In this context, the announcement of the Online Safety Bill’s imminent implementation may have seemed timely. However, dig a little deeper, and it is clear that the Bill will not cover scams and fraud in any meaningful way.
Consumers are caught in a vicious cycle. Big technology companies, who are often the source of data breaches that allow fraudsters to obtain key personal data, are simply not worried about putting stronger checks in place to protect their users. Governments have the power to force change but are refusing to mandate that change and threaten serious punishments on the world of big tech.
Online Safety Bill
The Online Safety Bill is a classic example of this. It includes deterrents for romance scams and controversial user-generated content, but it does not go nearly far enough in protecting people from the growing issue of fraud. By failing to confront scams via advertising, emails or cloned websites, people will continue to face a growing threat from online criminals.
Given the increase in scams exposed over the last year, the urgency and extent of the problem is not reflected seriously enough in the government’s response. This bill was an opportunity to force big tech to play their part in stopping online fraud, but the government has let us down.
Often, scammers will be targeting the most vulnerable people in our society, those with a trusting nature who are likely to take a call for a friendly chat. Things are spiralling as such a rate that there have even been recent reports of a new type of scam, where cold callers will force individuals to send them money just to stop them phoning them.
The reality is that people’s financial and mental health will continue to be preyed upon by online scammers, but what this Bill offers is the first glimmer of hope that the regulation and policing of scams is starting to be addressed. The government says it will publish a Fraud Action Plan later this year and look at how scammers use digital advertising to lure people into handing over their cash. The question is how much longer the public can afford to wait.
My grandmother was bombarded with thirty nuisance calls a day. So difficult was it for her to find help, that I decided to launch Individual Protection Solutions, to help people who were in a similar predicament. We have released several free tools that people use to better understand how well their personal information is protected, and then make it more secure. Until such time as serious legislative change is made, the onus will continue to fall on people to protect themselves from the growing underworld threat of scammers and fraudsters.
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