News, Culture & Society

MAGGIE PAGANO: Tech giants must take responsibility for online scams

Over the weekend I received two so-called called ‘smishing’ texts that claimed to be from Royal Mail.

They demanded payment of £1.19p otherwise a parcel would not be delivered, unless I clicked on the link and paid. It’s a clever trick precisely because the amount was so small.

Then, a phishing email from HSBC landed in my inbox claiming a payment had been attempted on my account.

Fraud fight: Over the last year, the City of London police report more than 416,000 incidents of cyber crime, have made around 150 fraud related arrests 

The fraudsters got that wrong. I don’t have an HSBC account. Yesterday morning a young chap called claiming to be from an insurer for our household appliances. 

We don’t have any warranties so he was sent packing. At lunchtime came another two calls – an hour apart – from HM Revenue and Customs declaring there is a tax fraud claim on my account. 

Like the calls from scammers pretending to be from the NHS or National Insurance, these claims are not only menacing but distressing.

Most people are canny enough to ignore them but millions don’t.

Unfortunately, many of those who are caught out are the most vulnerable, the elderly and retired, but increasingly these bogus scams are catching youngsters in their 20s. These scammers are just the tip of the cyber iceberg. 

The truly bad fraudsters are those behind fake websites trying to sell customers financial products, from bonds to bitcoin. 

Sadly, lockdown has seen financial fraud rocket. More scams have been taken down this year alone than the previous three years combined.

Over the last year, the City of London Police report more than 416,000 incidents of cyber crime, have made around 150 fraud related arrests and taken down 2,000 fake websites, phone numbers and email addresses.

As I write, news has landed that eight men have been arrested in a dawn raid for sending fake messages, mainly posing as Royal Mail. If found guilty, I hope they get walloped.

Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud, reckons that more than £78million was paid out to crooks over the last year – £45,000 lost per person. 

Many of the schemes are so clever they even use the same celebrities who adorn adverts by firms like Lloyds Bank and Hargreaves Lansdown.

Which is why the Daily Mail is stepping up the Stamp Out Investment Fraud campaign to persuade the Government to include internet fraud in the upcoming Online Safety Bill, and crack down on the telecoms and social media giants.

Our campaign wants the tech giants of Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be forced to verify whether these sites are legitimate or not. 

At present, there is little incentive for them to do so because the criminals pay Google and other platforms a fortune for their ads.

What’s ironic is that the FCA, as well as carrying warnings on its own website, pays for ads on Google to warn people off these high-risk investment firms and scammers. Talk about a vicious circle. Google wins both ways.

Sensibly, the FCA has been putting pressure directly on Google, asking for its teams to be tougher in the way they weed out the bad guys. 

So far, Google has said it will do what it can to protect consumers from the worst excesses, like locking down on those firms advertising sky-high rates of return.

That does not go far enough. As we have seen in every sphere of life from terrorism to pornography, the greedy tech giants only respond to the iron fist. They must be forced to take legal responsibility for what they carry on their websites.

Rabbit hole

There’s nothing better than hiding from the rain with a dose of Beatrix Potter. Cineworld reports that Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway drew packed audiences in the first weekend its cinemas have opened since last December.

Nor did the rain dampen getting back inside our pubs and cafes. About £1.2billion was spent over the weekend by around 46.4m people. 

Yet spending is still 30 per cent down on this time in 2019. That’s hardly a surprise. It will take consumers time to adjust to semi-normality while many will choose to squirrel away their pandemic savings.

The big question is what is the new normal. Will it be inflationary as feared? 

As thousands who have been spending lockdown doing up their houses well know, the price of concrete, wood and many other raw materials as well as the cost of labour is shooting up. 

Is this a short-term uptick or here to stay? Even the Bank of England’s gurus couldn’t give a satisfactory answer yesterday when grilled by MPs. 

As Andy Haldane joked, the only price going down is bitcoin.

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