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Consumers group calls for return of Online Safety Bill

The UK’s consumer rights group has demanded the online safety bill is kept to cut fraud.

Tech firms should be forced to tackle fraudsters and not leave forces to pick up the pieces, according to consumer group Which?

The government was urged not to let the Online Safety Bill drop when the new Prime Minister is in place.

The group warned scammers are able to rip off unsuspecting people because tech firms are not taking down bogus websites, failing to stop fake e-mail campaigns or halt fake investment videos.

Which? highlighted a report by UK Finance last month that revealed £1.3bn was stolen through fraud last year.

It concluded fake bank transfers had cost victims £500m while £171m had been lost to bogus investments.

The group warned the figures would only go up unless legislation was put in place setting legal responsibility with web firms.

The Online Safety Bill was dropped in the final days of Parliament because there wasn’t enough time to debate it.

Freedom of Speech campaigners say the legislation would have impacted on human rights.

But Which? said the thousands of fraud victims across the UK deserved better protection.

Rocio Concha, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which?, said: “We have heard from countless victims over the last few years, many of whom have lost life-changing sums of money in the time it takes to make just a few checks.

“That’s why legislation to tackle this explosion of fraud by making tech firms take greater responsibility is so necessary. Something must be done to shut down the free-for-all that criminals currently enjoy online.”

City of London Police is working with the group to tighten the law.

It revealed how one scam alone has cost victims over £1.5m so far this year.

Fraudsters are using WhatsApp and pretending to a friend or a family member with messages beginning 'Hello Mum' before asking for money.

UK Finance, the trade body for the banking sector, said tech firms and its members can do more.

New AI software, called Deep Learning Technology, should be used more often, it argued.

The fraud detection software works similarly to natural language processing to understand sentences and predict upcoming words. It can scan the web faster than human investigator.

It said: “It is now more important than ever for banks to understand the benefits of automation to predict their customers’ behaviours and mitigate fraudulent transactions.” 

But at the moment, campaigners say there is nothing to compel firms to use the software or implement any other counter-fraud measures.

The City of London Corporation, which is lobbying the government on behalf of its force, backed the call by Which? For ministers to act.

A spokesman said: “It is vital that this Bill becomes law as quickly as possible to protect the public.

 “We must urgently ensure that social media and technology firms prevent their platforms from being used to commit fraud, and are pro-active in tackling it.”

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