The consumer champion said the UK was still “a long way from seeing the back of scam adverts” despite plans to tackle the issue in the Government’s Online Safety Bill.
A campaign by Mr Lewis saw the Government update its draft of the Online Safety Bill in March 2022 to require online platforms to protect users from fraudulent, paid-for adverts.
Let me be plain as I'm giving evidence, I do not trust any of these companies to have the user and consumer interest at heart
But Mr Lewis told MPs discussing the Bill on Thursday that the success of new laws would depend on enforcement, describing the current enforcement of laws governing online content as “flaccid”.
He said: “There are many things that would improve that, certainly including far better resourcing for policing so people who do actually scam individuals at least get arrested and possibly even punished and sentenced for doing so, which of course doesn’t happen at the moment because scamming is a crime you can do with near impunity.”
Mr Lewis added that the Bill did nothing to tackle scam emails, which he said were “one of the biggest routes of scams”, and urged MPs not to rely on self-regulation to solve the problem.
He said: “Let me be plain as I’m giving evidence, I do not trust any of these companies to have the user and consumer interest at heart.
“When it comes to advertising, what they have at heart is making their own profits so if we want to stop them we have to make sure that this Bill is robust enough to stop them because that’s the only way it will stop.
“Don’t rely on them only trying to do good because they are trying to make profit and they will err on the side of that over erring on the side of protecting individuals from scam adverts.”
Tech and digital economy minister Chris Philp said he agreed that self-regulation could not be trusted, pointing to new clauses in the Bill that required companies to act on scam adverts.
Mr Lewis said he welcomed the clauses that were introduced in response to his campaign, but added it would be important to set out “what counts as doing everything they can” as scam adverts could not be eliminated entirely.