Financial services giant Aviva has called on the UK government to act now to stop the rise in the number of financial scams, insisting that it uses its powers to stop search engines promoting such scams.
The scale of fraud has accelerated through the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in a deluge of opportunities for fraudsters over the last year. Aviva's research found two-in-five (42%) people have been targeted by a covid scam.
This is a 91% increase over the last year in the number of people who reported receiving emails, texts, phone calls and other communications mentioning coronavirus, and which were suspected to be a financial scam, Aviva said in a statement announcing it's findings
It’s clear we’re a long way from the Government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online," Rob Lee, director of fraud prevention at Aviva.
The findings come in The Aviva Fraud Report, which found consumer confidence in online services remain low amongst high levels of deception. The new research finds just over half of internet users do not believe financial services ads on search engines are legitimate.
Over-55s were the least likely to trust online adverts for financial services, with only 29% believing proper checks had taken place, whilst 59% of 16- to 24-year-olds said they did have trust in what they were shown.
Rob Lee, director of fraud prevention at Aviva, said: "There is a clear mistrust of financial services adverts online. However, there is no legal responsibility for technology firms to verify the legitimacy of the companies which pay them to publish adverts on their platforms.
"This potentially leaves millions of internet users exposed to unscrupulous adverts. Of those surveyed, 87% said they believe the government should legislate to ensure search engines and social media sites do not mislead consumers or promote financial scams. And 85% of people think search engines should be responsible for advertising content on their platforms so that it is not misleading.
"We believe the Online Safety Bill presents an opportunity to protect financial services consumers at every stage of their online journey," Lee added. "We welcome the recent inclusion of user-generated fraud - such as that promoted on social media sites - within the scope of the regulatory framework. We support the financial services industry in calling for the legislation to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts."
The report found that lockdown has transformed spending habits in the UK and accelerated adoption of the internet, with half (50%) of people saying they used the internet more - either significantly or a little - to search for products and services over the last year.
"The challenges posed by lockdown conditions has shifted the mindset of millions, opening the door to more people buying financial services and products online," Lee said. "While this brings opportunities for making it easier to buy products, it does also open the door to fraudsters looking to prey on the vulnerable."
While the types of financial scams are generally the same as those before the pandemic, coronavirus has been used as the hook to lure victims. Being in lockdown has meant more people using the internet to search for, and buy, financial services and products.
"It's clear we're a long way from the government's commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online," Lee said. "The current online environment combined with challenging economic conditions and increased financial strain on consumers is creating the perfect storm for fraudsters to exploit the most vulnerable.
The [UK] government must act quickly to protect more consumers from becoming the victim of online fraud, by ensuring financial scams are included in the Online Safety Bill."