The government is to set up a new ‘cyber enforcement team' with an investment of £4.3 million over the next three years in an effort to combat online fraud.
Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan said: "The internet is rapidly transforming the way we shop. It presents massive opportunities for consumers, but unfortunately it also harbours fraudsters who can leave consumers upset and out of pocket.
“So as they get more sophisticated, we need to stay one step ahead. Our investment will help the Office of Fair Trading and Trading Standards to put in place the new specialist teams, training and technology required to take the fight to these criminals.”
Following research from the OFT which showed that email is now the most common scam approach – with 73 per cent of adults having received a scam email in the past year – the government is to invest £4.3 million over three years in a fully equipped laboratory with specialist equipment and is being trained by an international expert. New highly-trained trading standards enforcers with specialist equipment will also be placed in every region of England and in Scotland and Wales.
The service will focus on: fake products and traders who try to hide their identity to avoid giving consumer redress; ticket scams where tickets sold for concerts, festivals, football games and other events are either counterfeit or non-existent; and scam websites purporting to sell goods that dupe consumers into making what appear to be bargain purchases, but consumers receive either nothing at all or counterfeit products.
Heather Clayton, OFT senior director, said: “Online consumer protection is a key priority for the OFT. The enforcement team will be looking at the activities of a wide range of commercial websites and taking action in cases where consumers' rights are being abused.
“Ultimately, giving the public even greater confidence to shop online is what drives the activities of our enforcement team.”
Mel Morris, CEO of Prevx, said: “A big part of trust in online shopping comes from consumer confidence that the government is taking action to protect them both in their virtual and physical worlds. However, online fraud has many faces and doesn't end with counterfeit tickets or fake products.
"People are also worried about threats such as identify fraud, which can result in vast sums of money being stolen from bank accounts or through credit cards transactions. In this instance, the onus is very much on business and consumers taking action to protect themselves. Here the goal should be to cut these scams off at the source, meaning the second someone goes online they are protected against an attack."
Carl Leonard, security research manager EMEA at Websense Security Labs, said: “Websense feels that any move to intensify the fight against online crime is a good one and a step in the right direction. We commend the government for taking this action to help protect people against fraudulent online activity.
“The sophistication of internet security threats increases in line with the advancement of technology, making the ability to detect and stop dynamic embedded threats crucial. Modern threats are often able to elude traditional anti-virus and legacy security solutions. Business has changed, cyber crime has changed, it is time security changed.”