Tech giants should do more to protect users from online scams, warns Which?

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Social media users are seriously underestimating their chances of falling victim to online scams and face devastating emotional and financial consequences because tech giants are not doing enough to warn and protect them, Which? claims.

The consumer watchdog’s latest research showed that a majority of Facebook users were lulled into a false sense of security by the platform’s social nature. They mistakenly assumed they could spot fraud and that the company’s systems would protect them effectively. 

However Which? found a third of participants did not know that fake products might be advertised on the site – putting them at risk of falling victim to purchase scams. A quarter did not spot an investment scam advert with a fake endorsement from a celebrity.

The financial consequences for those tricked by these fraudsters as well as those who post scam adverts on websites and search engines like Google can be devastating. Which? has heard from many victims of these types of scams  – including a man who lost almost £100,000 after clicking on an online investment advert featuring fake endorsements from MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis and Deborah Meaden from BBC show Dragons’ Den. 

Scam victims told Which? that it had shaken their confidence in themselves and their ability to trust other people. A woman who lost £30,000 to an investment scam which featured prominently on Google said she still feels shame and despair 15 months on from her ordeal, adding: “It breaks you as a person.”

Which? is calling on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to act now and include online scams in the upcoming Online Harms Bill so that consumers are protected from this huge and growing problem. 

Which? carried out in-depth research with an online community of Facebook users over 10 days, and also conducted a nationally representative online survey including 1,700 Facebook users, as part of its new policy report ‘Connecting the world to fraudsters? Protecting social media users from scams’. 

The research found that older social media users are often more concerned about scams, and perceived as being at greater risk by their fellow users. But the findings suggested that younger people may actually be more susceptible to scams as they are more persuadable and more likely to take risks, such as taking part in online shopping and quizzes used by some fraudsters.

Just three in 10 (30%) respondents to Which?’s online survey of Facebook users said they were aware of the scam ad reporting tool introduced by the site in 2019. And only a third of these, 10 per cent overall, said they had used the tool themselves.

The amount of money lost to fraud every year is huge. In the year to June 2020,  Action Fraud received 822,276 fraud reports, and the value of losses from reported incidents was £2.3 billion. Action Fraud estimates that 85 per cent of all fraud in the year to June 2020 was carried out digitally.

Which? is calling for online platforms, including social media sites, to be given greater responsibility to prevent scam content appearing on their platforms. 

Says Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?, said:

“The financial and emotional toll of scams can be devastating and it is clear that social media firms such as Facebook are failing to step up and properly protect users from fraudsters on their sites. 

“The time for serious action on online scams is now. If the government doesn’t grasp the opportunity to deliver this in the upcoming online harms bill, it must urgently come forward with new proposals to stem the growing tide of sophisticated scams by criminals online.” 

 

Chris Price
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