Telephone firms that allow customers to be deluged with texts and calls from scammers should be prosecuted, a House of Lords committee has said.
The UK has become a “lucrative market” for international criminals with no fear of justice, a damning report published today found.
It took aim at “chronically underfunded” law enforcement that had failed to investigate and prosecute scammers, and the tech giants that had escaped scrutiny for their part in the fraud epidemic “for too long”.
Baroness Nicky Morgan, chairman of the Fraud Act 2006 and Digital Fraud committee, said the Government could not “keep on sticking its head in the sand” in the hope that the problem would go away.
She added: “If people were being routinely mugged in broad daylight, every organisation involved in allowing it to happen would have no choice but to deal with it swiftly, and the perpetrators would be brought to justice.”
Someone aged 16 or above was more likely to become a victim of fraud than any other type of crime, including burglary or violence, according to official statistics published in October.
More than three quarters of scams take place on social media, auction sites or dating apps, according to data collected by Barclays bank. Baroness Morgan warned fraudsters “walked away without fear of repercussions” because most fraud occured online.
The committee has publicly called for a new corporate criminal offence which would prosecute and heavily fine companies which failed to prevent fraud on their watch.
The report insisted it was time for “less carrot and more stick” to ensure telecoms giants and internet providers took responsibility for victims targeted by criminals on their platforms.
Baroness Morgan added: “Telecom companies in particular have avoided responsibility for far too long when it comes to scam texts and calls. A corporate criminal offence should have been introduced a long time ago.”
The prevalence of malicious text messages exploded during the pandemic, with scammers posing as the NHS, HM Revenue and Customs and delivery companies to steal millions from households amid the uncertainty of lockdown.
Criminals have since changed tack as the cost of living crisis unfolds and target victims with bogus offers of energy rebates and the prolific “Mum and Dad” scam, in which fraudsters convince parents they are a family member in need of urgent funds to pay debts.
Compensation for victims is currently predominantly funded by banks, with many highstreet names signed up to a voluntary code to reimburse those who lose their life savings and the money cannot be recovered.
But refund rates are low and less than half of the £583m lost to scammers via so-called authorised push payment fraud – where a victim is tricked into sending money directly to criminals – last year was refunded to customers, according to figures from UK Finance.
Banks have argued that telecom giants and social media platforms should be paying their fair share into a compensation war chest for victims.
The House of Lords committee also criticised the high-speed nature of banking in the UK, which it warned meant banks did not have sufficient time to spot suspicious transactions. It called for a delay “lasting no more than several hours” on high-risk payments to allow banks more time to analyse fraudulent payments.
The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.
A Government spokesman said: “We remain absolutely committed to preventing callous predators from stealing cash from hard-working families.
“We will shortly publish our fraud strategy which details how we will stop fraud attempts at source, empower potential victims to recognise and avoid fraud, and prosecute more perpetrators.”