Joe Lycett says online platforms could do more to combat fraud

TV presenter and comedian Joe Lycett has said checks on online platforms should be improved to combat scams.

The presenter of consumer rights show Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back also said it is potentially a “little bit too easy” to open a bank account without too many questions being asked.

He was quizzed on which sectors could do more, during an evidence session of the House of Lords Committee on the Fraud Act 2006 and Digital Fraud.

Lycett said: “I think the biggest sector that we think could do better are the platforms.”

He said he was referring to social media platforms as well as websites offering themselves as intermediaries to obtain a service.

“They’ve definitely improved but a lot of the time they go ‘Well, it’s nothing to do with us, we’ve just offered the platform on which you meet and find these businesses. But actually if you get scammed it’s nothing to do with us’.”

He said the banking sector has improved a lot, “but it is kind of at their discretion whether they refund their customers who have been scammed”.

Many banks have signed up to a voluntary code which reimburses blameless victims who are tricked into transferring money to a fraudster, but consumer campaigners and others have raised concerns about the code being applied inconsistently.

Lycett told the hearing: “We also think that it’s potentially a little bit too easy to open a bank account and, to not go into too much detail, I managed to open a bank account in someone else’s name, with their permission.

“And that felt concerning to me that you could open accounts without too much… too many questions being asked. So I think it’s quite easy to funnel money in that way.”

Asked if he would like to see an obligation on platforms to check the people who come on to them, he said: “Yes. Improved checks on those platforms seems to me to be a relatively simple thing to do, a reasonable request of these platforms and not something that is beyond their resources.

“These platforms are often making a lot of money… they should be obliged to do more in that area.”

Lycett also said more information in schools about scams and other financial matters could help.

He was also asked about the telecoms sector, and referred to fraudsters’ use of phone number spoofing, where scam texts can appear to be from a legitimate body and even sometimes appear within a thread of genuine messages.

Lycett said: “It seemed mad to me that it was possible for somebody to text you from a number that is not theirs.”

He also spoke of the life-changing impacts of scams on victims, saying: “It absolutely ruins people’s lives, to the point where people have lost their lives because of the depression and the shame that come with being scammed in these ways.”

He said scams are “something that anyone could fall victim to at any point and could completely change the course of your life… Anyone can be caught out by it and it can completely ruin your life.”

Lycett said he has been surprised by both the volume and the sophistication of scams.

He told the hearing he is “very proud” of his show, adding: “It can shine a light on it and it does it in a fun and light-hearted way, but at the core of it is a very serious thing, which is that people are being wronged on a kind of massive scale by these fraudsters and scammers.”

“It’s only really Channel 4 that would have commissioned the show and it’s, I think, an important part of the ecosystem of shows that help people with being scammed,” he said.

Describing how scammers are often anonymous and unlikely to be caught, Lycett said: “We know that there are sort of farms of scammers, people that are based abroad, that do this all the time, and very successfully.

“So I think it’s unfortunately just the nature of the ability to get into contact with people across different platforms, social media, and then obviously texts and all the other things that it just makes it a viable business model.”

Discussing “sucker lists” which contain people’s details on the dark web, show producer Michelle Cox told the hearing: “I know that you can buy people’s data for about 20 pence per person.

“And it can have loads of information, such as their telephone numbers, addresses, or it can just have partial information.

“But even that tiny little nugget can be enough for a fraudster to go ahead and commit their scam.

“We did do some research where we bought a sucker list, with all the compliance and legal parameters in place, and we did try to contact a lot of people on the list to inform them that their data was for sale.”

She added that, because there is so much data, it is difficult to stop it being sold, “particularly because it’s so cheap – but where there’s a will, there’s a way”.