Bronwen Dalley Smith, Senior External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

A(nother) step towards tackling online scammers

21 June 2022

There’s no denying that pieces of good news seem to be few and far between at the moment. So when the government recently announced an important update on our fight to tackle online scams, we clung to it with both hands. 

This nugget of good news came in the form of a government commitment to improve the Online Safety Bill (OSB) — its flagship legislation on online harms — by increasing the stringency of requirements for search engines to tackle fraudulent online ads. 

In the original Bill, its requirements for search engines to tackle scams were not as strict as social media platforms, which created a loophole in protections that scammers could exploit (which we blogged about in April). But following action from Money and Mental Health and other campaigners, the government announced a change to the Bill earlier this month. This will mean that both social media platforms and search engines will have an equal duty to prevent people from encountering scam ads on their services, minimise the length of time this content is online and, once made aware of such content, swiftly take it down. 

Our coalition in the Commons

Last month our Chair and Founder, Martin Lewis, called on the government to address this gap in the legislation by giving evidence in Parliament. Alongside our coalition partners Which? and PIMFA, Martin was invited to share his thoughts with the committee responsible for debating the Bill (which you can read more about here).

We’re delighted that the government has since heeded the advice of the coalition and taken this step to better protect people online. Here at Money and Mental Health, we often hear of the crippling psychological and financial impact scams can have — and as the cost of living crisis intensifies, we know people need support now more than ever.

Plugging the gaps

Since publishing our early research on online scams nearly 18 months ago, our battle against online scams has travelled a long and winding road. But we’re pleased that the government is listening and progress is being made. There’s still some way to go with the Bill and we acknowledge other areas require more care and attention — for example, debates surrounding Ofcom’s power and resources — so we’ll be keeping a watchful eye on its progress.

Celebrating the small (but vital) wins

While the fight against scams isn’t over, the team here at Money and Mental Health is really pleased that we’re able to help bring about change for victims of online fraud. And we are very grateful for the colleagues, coalition partners and experts by experience who are carrying the torch too.

I like to think that even in the most difficult times, there is always something to feel hopeful about. And this time for Money and Mental Health, it’s that we’re gaining ground on online scammers, one incremental policy change at a time.