A charity set up by Martin Lewis has warned the government’s proposed online safety bill needs to be radically overhauled to better protect people with mental health problems falling victim to online scams and fraud.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, a research charity started by Lewis, said there are now “gaping holes in the UK’s online consumer protections” that are leaving victims facing financial misery as a result.
The online harms bill, as it was called, was first proposed by Theresa May’s government in April 2019. It sets out strict new guidelines governing removal of illegal content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material and media that promotes suicide.
However, the charity is calling on government to go further. It said the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, should be given new powers to force online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to take stronger action on user-generated scams. It is particularly concerned about “scam content” which is made to resemble a social media post from a friend.
Research for the charity found that people with mental health problems face a much greater risk of financial harm when using online services and spaces – from impulsive spending or taking out high cost credit, to dealing with scammers.
They are three times more likely to have been victim of an online scam, compared with the wider population, it warned.
Martin Lewis, founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, as well as MoneySavingExpert said: “I simply don’t understand how an online safety bill can simply exclude the epidemic of scams the UK faces. Scams don’t just steal people’s money, it often takes their self-respect and mental health too. As it stands the bill will utterly fail to protect people from the growing threat posed by online scammers, especially to vulnerable people.”
Lewis, who has been campaigning for action on online scams for three years, said the UK consumer protections and fraud investigations remain hopelessly inadequate, and out of date.
“The bill represents a golden opportunity for the government to put this right, by putting proper safeguards in place against scams, but unthinkably it is planning to pass up the chance to put things right. We can’t continue to leave big tech, much of which comes from the original wild west, to police itself,” he said
The government has promised that its new online safety bill (due to be introduced into parliament this year) will create the “most comprehensive online safety regime in the world”.