Social media scams added to safety bill

The government has announced an update to draft legislation that will give regulators power to tackle “harmful and misleading” adverts on social media and search engines.

Under the new rules, which will be included in the Online Safety Bill, the biggest tech companies – including Facebook, Instagram, and Google – will be required to prevent paid-for fraudulent adverts featuring on their platforms.

UK Finance, which has long been calling for the change, welcomed the move. The trade association, representing around 300 UK-based financial services firms, said that the update was particularly important because the majority of authorised push payment (APP) fraud begins online, with criminals often posting fake adverts to try and trick victims.

“The banking and finance industry is leading the fight against fraud, but the scale of the threat means it's vital that all sectors, including online firms, do more to help protect the public,” said David Postings, chief executive of the organisation. “We look forward to working with the government and tech companies, including through the Online Fraud Steering Group, on further measures to tackle economic crime.”

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that the new changes will help stop fraudsters using fake online adverts from “conning people out of their hard-earned cash” and enable people to trust what they see advertised.

“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,” said Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, whose face is among the most used by scammers in the UK. “Until now, only user-generated scams were covered – which risked pushing more scam ads, incentivising criminals to shift strategy.

“Yet it is a complex area. Now we and others need to analyse all elements of this new part of the Bill, and work with Government and Parliament to close down the hiding places or gaps scammers can exploit.”

The government is also launching a new consultation on new rules for the online advertising
industry.

It said that 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.

Influencers that don’t make clear they are being paid to promote products on social media could also be subject to stronger penalties.

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