Government must add scams to Online Harms Bill – as charity warns vulnerable people are being left as ‘easy prey’ for scammers

9 December 2020


  • The government is not planning to include scam protection in its forthcoming Online Harms Bill – but the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is warning that this a mistake, and that government should give its new online watchdog the powers to prevent firms enabling this criminal activity.
  • New research by the charity shows that a lack of consumer protections against online scams has left vulnerable people as “easy prey” for fraudsters.
  • In particular, it shows that over 4.5m people with mental health problems have been victims of online scams — causing crippling financial harm and distress.
  • The pandemic has made this risk more acute — with nearly 2 million UK adults falling victim to online scams in the six months after lockdown began.

The new Money and Mental Health research shows that experiencing common symptoms of mental health problems — such as impaired decision-making and reduced concentration —  can make it much harder for people to identify and avoid online scams (1).

As a result, people with mental health problems are significantly more likely to have lost money or personal data to online scammers compared to the rest of the population. New Opinium polling (2) of 2,000 UK adults published in the report shows that:

  • People who have experienced mental health problems are three times more likely to have fallen victim to an online scam than the wider population (23% compared to 8%). In total, 4.6 million people with mental health problems across the UK have been the victim of an online scam over the course of their lifetimes.
  • This group also account for three in five (61%) of all online scams victims in the UK — despite making up only 38% of the UK’s population — illustrating how people with experience of mental health problems are disproportionately affected by online scams. 
  • This threat has become more acute during lockdown — with 4% of people who took part in the poll saying that they had been scammed online in the six months after lockdown measures began in March. If reflected nationally, that amounts to 1.9m people who have been victim of an online scam in this period.
  • In particular, people with mental health problems say that during lockdown they have encountered online scams specifically related to the pandemic, including fraudulent adverts for cures, testing kits and masks (3).

Money and Mental Health’s research warns that while the risks posed by online scammers is growing, consumer protections in the UK have failed to keep up — and there is currently no regulator charged with cracking down on online scams. 

The charity is urging the government to remedy this issue in its forthcoming Online Harms Bill (expected next year). In particular, it is calling on government to include scams in the Bill and to give the new online harms regulator the powers to clamp down on online scammers — for example, by forcing online platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter to take greater action to prevent them appearing on their sites.


Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, — and who has himself campaigned against scam adverts using his image and name — said:

The UK already faced an epidemic of scams, but now lockdown has accelerated it, especially online. These vicious criminals are exploiting the fact that more people are stuck at home, spending more time online, and potentially struggling with their mental health — all of which increase the risk of falling victim to these schemes.

To add insult to injury, the fraudsters are getting away with it. I’ve been campaigning against online scams for three years, but UK consumer protections remain hopelessly inadequate — leaving vulnerable people as easy prey for online criminals, and causing trauma and crippling money problems in the middle of this global crisis.

Now we are to have an Online Harms bill and watchdog, and it would of course be unthinkable if they didn’t include scams. Yet perversely, laughably, embarrassingly that seems to be exactly what the government is planning. We need MPs to take up a clarion call to ‘Add Scams to The Bill’ to ensure the new regulator has the power to tackle it.

Failing to act now will leave vulnerable people defenceless at the hands of scammers, who everyday are coming up with more sophisticated ways to con people out of money and data.”



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]


  1. Scams are defined here as criminal attempts to encourage people to part with money or personal data online.
  2. Online survey of 2,000 UK adults, carried out by Opinium between 25-28 August 2020. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.
  3. Based on a survey of 340 people with personal experience of mental health problems, undertaken by Money and Mental Health in July 2020.

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.