The insurer is calling on the UK government to update its Online Safety Bill

More than half (53%) of internet users don’t trust that the adverts on search engines are placed by a legitimate financial services company or provider, according to the latest fraud report from insurer Aviva, published today (24 August 2021).

The report, which surveyed 2,995 respondents between 30 June and 5 July 2021, also found that 56% of internet users don’t believe that search engines verify the authenticity of the financial product, service or provider that they allow to advertise on their platform.

As a result, 87% of respondents think the UK government should legislate to ensure search engines and social media sites do not mislead consumers or promote financial scams.

Aviva is therefore urging the government to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts in the scope of the Online Safety Bill.

Rob Lee, director of fraud prevention at Aviva, said: “There is a clear mistrust of financial services adverts online - however, there is no legal responsibility for technology firms to verify the legitimacy of the companies which pay them to publish adverts on their platforms.

“This potentially leaves millions of internet users exposed to unscrupulous adverts.”

‘Perfect storm’

The report further revealed that the Covid-19-related lockdowns have transformed spending habits in the UK and accelerated adoption of the world wide web, with 50% of respondents admitting that they have used the internet more to search for products and services over the last year.

Among those surveyed, however, there was a significant difference in credence by age – only 29% of those aged over 55s were likely to trust the results of a search engine, compared to 59% of 16 to 24-year-olds.

Lee continued: “The challenges posed by lockdown conditions has shifted the mindset of millions, opening the door to more people buying financial services and products online.

“While this brings opportunities for making it easier to buy products, it does also open the door to fraudsters looking to prey on the vulnerable.”

Aviva’s research found that 42% of respondents had been targeted by a Covid-related scam – this is a 91% increase over the last year.

Almost 85% of victims said the fraudsters pretended to be from a company they already dealt with.

Lee added: “It’s clear we’re a long way from the government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

“The current online environment combined with challenging economic conditions and increased financial strain on consumers is creating the perfect storm for fraudsters to exploit the most vulnerable.

“[The] government must act quickly to protect more consumers from becoming the victim of online fraud, by ensuring financial scams are included in the Online Safety Bill.”