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Online scams come in many forms and through different channels. Advances in technology have enabled scammers to become increasingly sophisticated in their online methods. For example, phishing emails and copycat websites can trick individuals into giving out their personal bank details. Although anyone can be the victim of a scam, vulnerable people (such as the elderly and those with learning difficulties or dementia) are especially susceptible. All scams should be reported to Action Fraud and to Trading Standards (via the Citizens Advice online portal). However, many scams go unreported due to the victim’s embarrassment or shame.

On 28 April 2021, during a Westminster Hall debate on online scams, Victoria Atkins, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, said that the Government recognised the impact that fraud can have and is having on victims:

“According to the latest figures, fraud accounted for over a third of all estimated crime in the year ending September 2020 and, […], behind the statistics there is the trail of misery that these losses can encompass. Victims suffer both financial loss and emotional harm. There can be consequences for their livelihoods, their homes and their families’ futures. We also know that the money that has been stolen from them can often go on to fund other serious and organised crimes.”

The Government had previously not intended to include financial harms in its upcoming regulatory framework for online safety. However, regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), called on the Government to extend the scope of the Bill. It was argued that failing to tackle online scams would leave gaping holes in consumer protection, impacting on some of the most vulnerable people in society.

On 12 May 2021, the draft Online Safety Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, was published. Crucially, it has been widened in scope to include user-generated fraud.

This Commons Library briefing paper is concerned with online scams. In addition to looking at the scale of the problem, it considers the different types of scams, who are the targeted victims, and what is being done to combat them.

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