Consumer affairs and financial services specialists alike have given their backing to new commitments from some of the world’s leading tech and social media platforms to do more to clamp down on online fraud affecting UK citizens.
Delivering on a previous government pledge to address the issue of fraud, the Online Fraud Charter was signed 30 November by Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Match Group, Microsoft, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube at a meeting chaired by home secretary James Cleverly.
“The Online Fraud Charter is a big step forward in our efforts to protect the public from sophisticated, adaptable and highly organised criminals,” said Cleverly. “An agreement of this kind has never been done on this scale before and I am exceptionally pleased to see tech firms working with us to turn the tide against fraudsters.
“Our work does not end here – I will continue to ensure we collaborate across government, and with law enforcement and the private sector, to ensure everyone in the UK is better protected from fraud.”
Antony Walker, deputy CEO at techUK, which worked extensively behind the scenes on the charter’s development, said: “The charter builds on measures that tech firms already have in place to defend against online fraud and will enable better and more consistent cooperation between the private sector, government and law enforcement.
“The nature of online fraud is constantly evolving and tech companies are continually adapting and improving their approaches to combat this criminal activity.”
At its core, the charter commits the platforms to take more effective action to block and remove fraudulent content, such as online scams, fake adverts and romance fraud, from their sites. Some of the measures being introduced include actions to verify new advertisers, better verification processes on peer-to-peer marketplaces, and new features on online dating services to clamp down on catfishing.
The signatories have also pledged to working better with law enforcement, and have committed to establishing direct lines of contact for law enforcement to report suspicious activity taking place on their services to make it easier to quickly spot and remove fraudulent content.
“This charter goes further in supporting a whole system approach to effectively tackle fraud, by establishing a network of major online companies to join with law enforcement in helping to protect the public from criminals who would exploit them,” said assistant commissioner Nik Adams of the City of London Police, which leads on national fraud issues.
“This charter has measures that will empower the public and increase their confidence in using online platforms, knowing that tech companies and policing are working to help keep them safe.”
Meanwhile, Westminster is supporting the charter by taking tougher action to crack down on illegal ads and to stop ads for age-restricted products such as alcohol and gambling from reaching minors. Separately, the Online Advertising Taskforce is also publishing an agreed action plan to set out steps industry and government are taking to tackle online harms and increase protection for children.
With fraud the most widespread form of crime affecting the UK, accounting for 40% of offences in England and Wales, and 80% of authorised push payment (APP) fraud thought to originate online, the charter has been warmly welcomed across the sector, and by consumer rights groups.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, commented: “We are in the midst of an epidemic of scams, which not only devastate people’s financial lives, but their mental health and sense of self-esteem too.
“I’ve long called for regulation and law changes to make these big tech firms step up to the plate and deny these scammers the oxygen of publicity. So I am pleased at the signing of this voluntary agreement, which is adopting many of the scam ad protection measures we’ve been calling for – such as two click reporting, and advertiser and site destination verification.
“We will be watching closely to check these companies work hard, and work together to make good on their promises,” said Lewis.
Which? policy and advocacy director Rocio Concha added: “Online fraud has a devastating financial and emotional impact on victims and has been allowed to run rife in recent years.
“It’s positive that the government is at last progressing its strategy to tackle the problem, but we are concerned that these measures are voluntary and still sector specific. It is vital that the government works quickly to open up more public sources of data to strengthen fraud intelligence and to stop fraudsters jumping across channels attacking consumers.
“The government must also now utilise their central role and facilitate tech giants and financial institutions to share fraud data generated in their environments. It must not only ensure all signatories are held to account but look at the opportunity to bring big tech together with banks, telcos and internet infrastructure providers to create an impenetrable barrier to protect consumers from online organised crime,” she said.
“The next government must prioritise the glaring need for regulation in the domains and online advertising sectors or fraudsters will continue to flourish. In the end, consumers will judge the success of this strategy by whether they end up with better fraud prevention, detection, support and redress,” added Concha.
Paul Davis, director of fraud prevention at TSB, which has been an outspoken advocate for bringing pressure to bear on tech firms in regard to tacking fraud, also welcomed the Charter.
“We’ve campaigned for years for tech companies to do far more to prevent the fraud that’s become rife on social media platforms,” he said. “Now we have the charter, it’s down to all signatories to match their commitment with meaningful concerted action – putting the right protections in place to reduce fraud and take responsibility to protect millions of consumers on their platforms.”