“Put scams in the Online Safety Bill, or leave millions of vulnerable people at risk of financial harm”, warns Martin Lewis charity
- The government is leaving millions of people with mental health problems exposed to online scams and fraud, by failing to combat financial crime in its forthcoming Online Safety Bill.
- That is the message of a new report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, a research charity set up by Martin Lewis.
- It highlights gaping holes in the UK’s online consumer protections, and warns that people with mental health problems are facing financial misery as a result.
- The government’s Online Safety Bill will give Ofcom new powers to tackle offensive online content — but will do nothing to protect people from online financial crime.
- Money and Mental Health is calling on government to address this gap, by giving Ofcom powers to force online platforms to crack down on online scams and fraud.
- And the charity’s research shows strong consumer support for government to do more. Six in ten UK adults say that the government needs to step up online protections against financial harm — with only 1 in 10 disagreeing.
The new Money and Mental Health research (published today) shows 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.
This is in part due to the impact of common symptoms of mental health problems — such as low mood, reduced concentration or impulsivity — which can make it harder for people to control online sending or spot potential scams online.
Nationally representative Opinium polling of 2,000 UK adults published in the report shows that:
- People with mental health problems are three times more likely to have been victim of an online scam, compared to the wider population (23% compared to 8%). If reflected nationally, this would amount to 4.6m people with mental health problems who have been victims of an online scam (1).
- People with mental health problems are also twice as likely to feel under pressure to spend whenever they go online (22% versus 11% of those without a mental health problem). In particular, people say that pushy, personalised notifications and adverts drive them to spend more than they can afford online (2).
- And people with mental health problems are twice as likely to say that easy access to credit online led them to spend more than they could afford (46% versus 24%). Many people with mental health problems said that online lenders did not provide them with the support and information they needed to make informed choices about taking out credit (3).
Money and Mental Health’s research also warns that the risk of financial harm that people with mental health problems face is being compounded by the UK’s inadequate online consumer protections — and that the government’s current plans to tackle online harms do not go far enough.
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”. However, while the Bill will give Ofcom (the communications regulators) more powers to crack down on offensive social media content, the government has explicitly ruled out giving Ofcom powers to tackle online scams and other financial harms.
Money and Mental Health is calling for the government to urgently rethink its plans, and to give Ofcom new powers to force online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to take stronger action on user-generated scams (for example, scam content which is made to resemble a social media post from a friend).
And the charity’s research shows there is strong consumer appetite for government to go further. Opinium polling shows that six in ten UK adults (59%) want the government to do more to protect people from financial problems when they go online, with just one in ten (9%) disagreeing.
Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, as well as MoneySavingExpert.com — who has campaigned against scam adverts using his image and name, including suing Facebook — 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.
“The government has promised to set world-beating standards for online safety, but as it stands the Online Safety Bill will utterly fail to protect people from the growing threat posed by online scammers, especially to vulnerable people.
“I’ve been campaigning for action on online scams for three years, but UK consumer protections and fraud investigations remain hopelessly inadequate and out of date. That’s leaving vulnerable people exposed to increasingly sophisticated online criminals, and causing grave distress in the middle of this global crisis.
“The Online Safety 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.
“We are urging the government to rethink this plan. Failing to include scams in the Bill will not only make a mockery of its promise to create world-leading online protections, it will also leave vulnerable people defenceless against crime.”
To set up an interview, or for any other media enquiries, please contact Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at Money and Mental Health, on 07935 216 804 or [email protected]
Notes to Editors
(1) Online survey of 2,000 UK adults, carried out by Opinium between 25-28 August 2020. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.
(2) Online survey of 2,000 UK adults, carried out by Opinium between 2-6 October 2020. Data is weighted to be nationally representative..
(3) Opinium online survey of 2,000 people, carried out 5-9 February 2021. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.
About the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is an independent charity set up by Martin Lewis, and committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems. We conduct research, develop practical policy solutions and work in partnership with both those providing services and those using them to find what really works. www.moneyandmentalhealth.org