Fraud conducted online is a devastating and pernicious crime, causing financial and emotional harm to victims. I understand from my constituency correspondence just how much this impacts individuals, leaving them feeling insecure and sometimes even ashamed. However, it is important to remember that cyber fraudsters have become extremely sophisticated in their methods and, moreover, are indiscriminate. We are all vulnerable to fraud at different points in our lives; sadly, all it takes is a momentary lapse in vigilance.
The Government is undertaking ground-breaking work to tackle this depressing trend in a variety of ways. The Online Safety Bill will require regulated companies to confront user-generated fraud on their platforms. This will impact some of the most harmful types of online fraud such as investment and romance scams. Notably, fraud is included as priority offence on the face of the Bill. This means that companies will have to take robust, proactive action to ensure that user-generated fraud is not readily published or exposed to users on their platforms. To be absolutely clear, the legislation has not been withdrawn and I know my colleagues in Government are working hard to ensure it completes its passage through Parliament as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, the Online Safety Bill includes a legal duty requiring the largest and most popular social media platforms and search engines to prevent paid-for fraudulent adverts appearing on their services. The change will improve protections for internet users from the potentially devastating impact of fake ads, including where criminals impersonate celebrities or companies to steal people’s personal data, peddle dodgy financial investments or break into bank accounts.
In addition, the Online Advertising Programme will look at the entire online advertising ecosystem in relation to fraud, as well as other harms caused by online advertising. It will consider the role of all actors not currently covered by regulation. The Online Advertising Programme consultation closed on 8 June, and the Government will set out its response in due course.
The Government continues to work with the National Cyber Security Centre on the Suspicious Email Reporting Service. This has already led to over 11 million reports received and the removal of over 78,000 scams and 144,000 harmful websites to date. Members of the public can forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and suspicious texts to 7726, free of charge.
However, the Government and public sector cannot tackle online fraud alone, and I welcome that in October 2021, the Joint Fraud Taskforce (JFT) was relaunched under the Security Minister's chairmanship. The JFT encourages collaboration between government, private sector organisations, regulators, law enforcement and victim groups to keep the public safe from these crimes.
Furthermore, funding delivered through the current Spending Review period, which will provide c.£400 million to tackle economic crime, will be used to replace and upgrade Action Fraud with a new national Fraud and Cyber Reporting and Analysis Service. This new Service will gather better analysis to improve the number, quality and timeliness of information packages given to police and expand fraud investigation teams across all Regional Organised Crime Units and increase investigative capacity in the City of London Police. This funding will also support the National Crime Agency to increase their capabilities on fraud.
If you would like to make a complaint about Action Fraud, in the first instance, please see the guidance contained in the Action Fraud Complaints Policy. If, having read the guidance, you are still not satisfied with the service you have received, you can make a complaint via: https://www.cityoflondon.police.uk/fo/feedback/tc/thanks-and-complaints/ or https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/complaints-and-appeals/make-complaint
It is welcome that the Government remains fully committed to ensuring the legislative framework that underpins the UK's efforts to address cyber-crime remains relevant and effective. That is why in May 2021, the Home Secretary announced a review of the Computer Misuse Act. The Home Office subsequently launched a call for information, which marked the first step in that process. The purpose of the call for information was to seek views of interested stakeholders across the piece, including in industry, academia and the agencies, on the Act and the associated investigative powers available to law enforcement.
I believe that now is the right time to consider whether there are legislative gaps in response to cyber-dependent crime, and in particular if there is a need to make changes to the Computer Misuse Act to improve law enforcement's ability to protect society from the threat posed by cyber-dependent crime. I have been informed that the Home Office is considering the feedback submitted and continues to engage with partners to determine whether changes are needed.