Martin Lewis hits out at tech giants over ‘epidemic of scams’

·3-min read
Martin Lewis
Martin Lewis

Big Tech companies have been accused of failing to stop an “epidemic of scams” that has caused some victims to consider taking their own lives.

Martin Lewis, the founder of consumer advice website MoneySavingExpert, told MPs the proliferation of scam adverts on social media had resulted in some people being defrauded of tens of thousands of pounds.

Mr Lewis said: “People take their own lives, or consider taking their own lives, because they blame themselves for the scams they have fallen to.

“I blame legislators and regulators who do not put enough practices in place. I blame the online platforms who do not deny the oxygen of publicity to those doing the adverts, and of course I blame the criminals themselves.”

Mr Lewis was giving evidence to MPs scrutinising the Online Safety Bill, the Government’s flagship legislation for social media companies that will threaten fines for failing to take down illegal or harmful posts.

However, scam adverts are being dealt with under a separate consultation, due to start later this year, and will not be outlawed by the Online Safety Bill.

Mr Lewis, along with consumer charities, investment groups and the Financial Conduct Authority have said that scam adverts should be brought under the scope of the new legislation.

The consumer campaigner took Facebook to court for defamation after his likeness was used in thousands of scam adverts without his permission, securing a £3m settlement for Citizens’ Advice.

An emotional Mr Lewis told MPs that solutions could include forcing technology giants to manually review adverts as they are uploaded or creating a database of known scam adverts to protect consumers.

He added he had been left “bloody furious” after his complaints were ignored by the Government following a meeting with ministers.

Mr Lewis detailed victims, including a woman who had lost thousands of pounds for her daughter’s wedding, after responding to an investment scam using Mr Lewis’s likeness.

This summer the Government said the Online Safety Bill would “not tackle fraud facilitated through paid-for advertising”.

It added the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport was considering how they could be regulated through its advertising regime.

A Facebook spokesman said: “We continue to dedicate significant resources to detect and reject scam ads on our apps, block advertisers, and at times take them to court.”

A Government spokesman said: "We have brought user-generated fraud into the scope of our new online laws to increase people's protection from the devastating impact of scams.

"The move is just one part of our plan to tackle fraud in all its forms. We continue to pursue fraudsters and close down the vulnerabilities they exploit, are helping people spot and report scams, and we will shortly be considering whether tougher regulation on online advertising is also needed."

MPs also heard from Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist, who said she had to wait months for action on inauthentic activity being conducted in overseas countries after alerting senior staff.

People in smaller countries were at particular risk of falling victim to hate speech or political disinformation due to a lack of resources.

Ms Zhang said: “Everyone agreed the situation was terrible, but no agreement on what action should be taken.”

Separately, Facebook plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to help build the “metaverse” - a new computing platform that promises to connect people virtually using augmented and virtual reality but may raise privacy concerns.

Facebook's recruiters are targeting highly skilled workers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland for the hiring drive - but no the UK.

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