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‘Complete rethink’ needed to tackle social media fraud

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 19 Apr 2021

The Fraud Advisory Panel has outlined five key recommendations to combat social media fraud as online scammer statistics continue to surge.

Social media has featured in at least 61,000 crime reports to Action Fraud in 2020-2021, with losses of more than £120m recorded. More generally, computer misuse offences were up last year by 36% to 1.7m – mostly driven by the hacking of social media and email. 

The Fraud Advisory Panel (FAP) warns that current remedies, including the Online Safety Bill, must be broad-based and future-proofed to focus on the harms done, not just the technology used to deliver them.

This has led the FAP to call for a “complete re-think of our online defences” in their Joint Position Statement April 2021: Preventing fraud on social media.

“Fraudsters are immersed in social media just like the rest of us”, the statement says. “They use it extensively to plan and commit crime because it is fast, convenient and low-risk. It lets them locate, research and groom their victims with near impunity, hidden behind a veil of anonymity. They can also contact, recruit, network and conspire with other criminals openly, without fear of reprisals.”

The panel explains that policing of online fraud and cybercrime remains under-prioritised and under-funded, just as it always has been. There are so few successful investigations and prosecutions that criminal justice outcomes are barely any deterrent, even though they could be.

Five ways to stop fraud on social media

The joint position statement sets out five recommendations for consideration by the government to stop fraud on social media:

1) Include fraud and cybercrime (as well as the harms done to businesses) in the forthcoming online safety bill

Much financial, emotional and psychological harm is indivisible. Lying and bullying online often have an economic motive. Psychological and emotional pain is frequently a long-lasting consequence of fraud. 96% of UK businesses have fewer than ten employees and are often ‘vulnerable’ in their own way.

2) Create a voluntary fraud charter for social media providers

Set out their duty of care to users. Ideally, this should include: on-screen warnings, reporting mechanisms for all fraudulent, misleading and harmful material, standards for timely removal of suspect material and a means for users to seek redress.

3) Encourage voluntary adoption of verified IDs

Users should be able to have confidence in businesses that have undergone enhanced due diligence checks. In the longer term, consider verified IDs for all users.

4) Review the domestic legal framework concerning online fraud and cybercrime

Pay particular attention to the Computer Misuse Act, now out-of-date and unfit for modern times.

5) Launching a public awareness campaign

This should be well-funded and sustained – and evaluated carefully – to help users think more critically about what they see and experience online. Facebook has already done this for COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. The Panel sees no reason why it can’t be replicated for other forms of online abuse and deception, and by other social media providers.

Members can help each other and their clients by sharing a link to the position statement with their wider networks to spread awareness of the damage social media fraud can cause. 

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