Covid-19: Online Fraud

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on tackling online fraud during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The Government are concerned about online fraud and are very much aware that criminals and fraudsters are attempting to exploit the concern around covid-19. My officials have been working closely with the Home Office, as well as with the National Cyber Security Centre and the National Crime Agency, throughout the covid-19 outbreak. We have published official Government advice to help the public to stay safe and secure online, and we launched the new Cyber Aware campaign in April, offering the public online security advice.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Pre-covid, local councillors in Tettenhall Regis in Wolverhampton launched online and social media training for over-65s. What is my right hon. Friend going to do to upskill those with little or no online skills?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the councillors in Tettenhall Regis on that initiative. It is absolutely right that during this crisis, more and more people have been carrying out tasks such as shopping, banking and keeping in touch online. We are very much aware that it has now become all the more essential to tackle the digital divide that already existed. The Government are funding the future digital inclusion programme to give people the skills that they need to participate in this increasingly digital world. Since 2014, the programme has supported more than 1.4 million adult learners to develop their basic skills. We have also delivered a £400,000 digital inclusion innovation fund, which is designed to tackle digital exclusion among older and disabled people.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

When the Public Accounts Committee last looked at online fraud, we raised serious concerns about what happens when fraud is reported and the inaction on most of the cases that are reported. The Minister has given us some warm words, but in the middle of a pandemic, with a lot of communication from Government to the people, how will he make sure that the key players, such as the banks, are sharing real-time information with each other and making sure that we catch the scammers before they raid our constituents’ bank accounts?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that online fraud is an increasing problem and there needs to be much more co-ordinated action to tackle it. However, a great deal has been done. A persistent stream of coronavirus frauds has been reported to Action Fraud—2,057 have been reported in the past few months, making up around 3% of all fraud reports. The National Cyber Security Centre has launched a major campaign called Cyber Aware to provide practical advice to the public, and has also launched a groundbreaking suspicious-email-reporting service, which allows members of the public to forward any suspicious emails to Cyber Aware to be analysed, and if they are found to be fraudulent, the harmful sites will be taken down—