Wednesday, December 8

MoneySavingExpert and Which? urge minister to share’legal advice’ preventing Government from including scam ads in the Online Safety Bill

Last week, Nadine Dorries MP told members of the joint committee for the draft Bill that she “would love to” include paid-for scam advertising in the Bill, but was prevented from doing so on “legal advice” received. When asked to share details, the Secretary of State said it “may not be possible”. Her department told MoneySavingExpert afterwards that Ms Dorries couldn’t share the advice as it was “privileged”.

Ms Dorries told the committee: “What Martin Lewis is campaigning on, I would love to put in here, but legal advice is that it wouldn’t work… It would extend the scope of the Bill in a way which would not be appropriate and would not meet the objectives of the Bill (which protects children). That’s the only reason I’m not including it. And it needs its own bill.”

In a letter today to the Secretary of State, Martin and Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha, asked Ms Dorries to publish this advice, arguing that it will provide a vital understanding of why paid-for scam ads are currently excluded from the draft Bill. The letter adds that it will allow campaigners to work with it to help effectively combat scammers, saying that without it, “our hands are tied”.

If you’re worried about what to look out for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you’re the victim of a scam, see our 25+ ways to stop scams guide.

Consumers must be protected from the devastating impact of fraud

Campaigners have long been calling for inclusion of paid-for scam ads in the Bill’s scope, in order to protect consumers from the devastating financial, physical and mental health impact of scams. Both Martin and Ms Concha recently gave evidence to the joint committee on the Online Safety Bill, calling for paid-for scam ads to be included in the legislation.

In May this year, MSE, Money and Mental Health and Which?, in coalition with 14 other organisations, sent a joint letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP, calling on the Government to use the upcoming Bill to help protect people from an avalanche of online scams.

The group renewed its calls in June after the Government failed to include fraud carried out via online advertising in the draft version of the Bill. The view that paid-for scam ads should be included has also been backed by the Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England, City of London Police, Work and Pensions Committee and Treasury Committee.

In April 2018, Martin took legal action against Facebook after 1,000 scam adverts abusing his name or image appeared on the social networking site. As part of its settlement, Facebook agreed in January 2019 to launch a dedicated tool to report scam ads, which it has done, as well as to donate £3 million to Citizens Advice to help tackle them via its Scams Action service.

The Online Safety Bill is only due to cover user-generated scams

Currently, the scope of the Bill only includes user-generated content, scams that might appear in’organic’ search results – results seen below any ads on an online search engine – and most user-generated and brand-generated social media posts.

Yet paid-for adverts that appear in internet search results and on social media, as well as promoted posts on social media, and scams promoted via profiles on dating sites are NOT covered by the draft Bill.

We have contacted the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for further comment and will update this story once we hear back.