The unusual alliance of big banks and telecommunications companies is trying to convince the tech giant to fight UK financial scams, putting pressure as MPs, police and regulators all demand the industry to do more.
The online marketplace eBay has become the first major technology group to join Stop Scams UK, a new group backed by all large banking and telecommunications groups, including Vodafone and BT, as the sector has increased its legislative threat. Forces you to take action.
According to figures released last month by trading group UK Finance, UK consumers lost more than £1.2 billion in scams in 2020.
The surge in activity puts a special burden on the bank. NatWest, for example, currently spends as much on fraud detection and compensation for victims as it runs an entire branch office network, the two explained.
Stop Scams UK said it is taking steps, including a way for customers to securely contact the bank if they suspect a fraudulent message or phone call, “phishing,” but said support from the technical group is important.
SSUK Chairman Ruth Evans said: “It is very important to have a shared responsibility and commitment to combat fraud. . . We’ve now started a fantastic cross-sector collaboration, but if major tech companies get involved, we can do a lot more.
Criminals quickly took advantage of social media and other technical channels. The most common scam reported to Lloyds Banking Group involves customers paying for items in online stores like Facebook Marketplace via bank transfer. The seller disappeared after payment.
Much attention has been focused on encouraging banks to compensate victims, but banks are concerned about rising costs and believe that other companies, especially those that make money from scammers advertised on the platform, should share some of the burden.
One senior banker said, “If you’ve been scammed on the Facebook Marketplace, why can’t Facebook help you get those customers right?”
“There’s a big debate about reimbursements, but by reducing the amount of fraud that happens in the first place, the discussion will be settled to make everyone happy,” said Ashley Hart, SSUK Board Director and TSB Fraud Head.
Executives of some of the UK’s largest banks have run private lobby groups, including Amazon, over the past year, but little progress has been made. However, they hope that broader groups like SSUK will encourage them to change.
When SSUK was first established last year, it had contact with several technology companies, but none of them were involved in the initiative. However, Evans said he had received positive responses from several companies after writing again last month.
EBay told the Financial Times that it was “open to UK anti-fraud aid,” but stressed that the conversation is in its infancy. “We met Stop Scams UK and we’re continuing to be involved,” Facebook said, highlighting a recent internal fraud prevention project.
Google also pointed to its own internal initiatives, but did not mention any talks with SSUK. Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.
Technology companies are under pressure from many aspects of having to change their approach to scams. Last Sunday, lawmakers from the Labor and Pensions Commission complained that regulators “looked helpless” to be held accountable for them.
A senior police officer told the commission this year that online safety legislation should include online fraud, which risks fines tech companies if they don’t remove illegal content quickly.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey backed up this approach in a letter last month, and weighted SSUK as well. Bailey attended a recent SSUK roundtable with the heads of several banks and telecommunications companies, saying, “Scams today are a major problem for our society and economy. Changing the tide requires significant cross-sectoral effort. . . So I look forward to the progress we can make through full participation in the technology sector.”
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