Consumer rights campaigner Martin Lewis has revealed that a senior official said it was easier for him to tackle Big Tech scams than it was for the government to regulate it.
Speaking at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sub-committee this morning, the financial journalist-turned-consumer champion discussed his legal battle with Facebook after over 1,000 scam ad abusing his name and image appeared on the site.
He settled out of court in 2019, with the tech giant, now called Meta, agreeing to donate £3m to an anti-scam charity and launch a new scam ads reporting button.
Scam ads allow bad actors to trick users out of huge sums of money, and have seen a huge spike since the pandemic.
“Look, I am one person, and I met a very senior member of government about this, who said to me before this: ‘We’re very glad you’re taking on this case because we think it’s easier for you to do that than it is forus to regulate on how to stop this [scams],” he told the committee.
The government confirmed that ads appearing on social media platforms, and those on search engines, including Google, would now fall under the remit of the new online safety bill, which is due to return to parliament next week.
And while Lewis said this was a step forward, it wouldn’t cover all scams and faces delays.
“How many people will be scammed in the meantime?” he asked.
“This house and parliament is still dilly dallying about getting something that is transparently in the public interest– stopping scam adverts for vulnerable people – and it still hasn’t been done three years later and probably won’t be done for another two years”.
DCMS have been contacted for comment.
He also took aim at the Silicon Valley giants and told MPs that he had been “very disappointed” at the number of scam adverts that are still appearing on Facebook.
He said he believed “the resources haven’t been put in” to support the Citizens Advice Scams Action scheme since then.
“I think Citizens Advice Scams Action is going to end up with no funding soon because I have met the other big tech companies and frankly they are not interested in funding the victims of scams, which they are culpable parties to, in my view,” he said.
“The number of those scams, the torrent of scams that are consistently out there… the number of IT experts who say they could write code in five seconds to get rid of them.
“It is simply a question of resource. These are multi billion-pound companies.”
Meta were not immediately available for comment.