On 11 July 2023 the joint Fraud Taskforce (“JFT”), a partnership between the private sector, government and law enforcement, met to discuss the Government’s Fraud Strategy and “drive forward delivery of the commitments” made. This was the first meeting of the JFT since the publication of the Strategy in May.
Attendees discussed the development of an online fraud charter which would place obligations on tech companies to take action to block scams, remove fraudulent content, and make it easier to report fraudulent activity. Such a charter was identified in the Strategy as a priority; it was stated that the government was, at the time of publication, already working with the tech sector on the charter and committed to agreeing it by the end of the summer of 2023. The Strategy indicated that the tech industry had been asked to:
- Improve data sharing with government and other private sector partners to identify and block frauds
- Ensure all advertisers of financial promotions are cross-referenced against the FCA authorised list before being published.
- Set out what more they can do to support law enforcement’s efforts to tackle online fraud such as investing in a specialist online fraud unit in law enforcement, and
- Streamline and boost counter-fraud education to the public to help them better spot and avoid frauds and seek support when needed.
The potential pitfalls of such a charter being voluntary in nature were widely noted and discussed, but in a landscape where fraud accounts for 40% of all crime and over £1.2 billion was stolen through fraud in 2022, it could be argued that anything is better than nothing and we have to start somewhere. However, the press release for the recent meeting of the JFT reports disappointingly vague progress on this front, stating only that the development of an online fraud charter was “discussed” at the meeting, giving no concrete updates as to the development of the charter, nor any indication as to whether the deadline of the end of the summer was still achievable. Anti-Fraud Champion Anthony Browne (whose appointment represents one of the few commitments in the Strategy that have been realised) stated that he planned to “continue this conversation with tech sector bosses”. Beyond this, the press release seems limited to repeating commitments made in the Strategy.
Attendees also discussed the development of a cross-government anti-fraud public awareness campaign. Whilst this was identified as an objective in the Strategy, no timetable was set for the implementation of the same. As such, little criticism can be made of the absence of any firm targets or reports of realised progress; one cannot miss a target that was never set. The remainder of the press release limits itself to repeating other measures set out in the Strategy.
On one view, it has only been three months since the Strategy was announced, and that tackling a problem as colossal as the fraud epidemic in the UK will take time. However, given that the Strategy itself stated: “It is imperative we take urgent action to crack down on the ruthless criminals behind these cold-hearted crimes. Bank accounts can be emptied in minutes and life savings lost – victims reported losing £2.35 billion in 2021. Fraud also causes enormous emotional harm and, in some heart-rending cases, results in people taking their own lives.” perhaps it is not unreasonable to hope that going forward we will see a little more action.
 Ibidparagraph 117