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Fourteen celebrities sign up to Martin Lewis’ letter to PM to put scam adverts into Online Safety Bill

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A group of trusted household names, public figures and celebrities, including Martin Lewis OBE, Sir Richard Branson, Deborah Meaden, Duncan Bannatyne OBE, Peter Jones CBE, Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby, Dawn French and Robbie Williams, have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for paid-for scam advertising to urgently be included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.

Led by Martin Lewis – founder of campaigning consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute – the signees of the letter have all had their names and faces used by scammers in online advertising, often thousands of times, luring victims into fraudulent financial schemes or ‘selling’ fake health cures.

Currently, there are few meaningful powers to prevent scam adverts from appearing online, and regulators are unable to punish the big tech platforms that get paid to publish them. Some victims have lost life-changing amounts of money, even their life savings (sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of pounds), because they trusted the reputations of the people used on the adverts.

Lewis, Branson and Meaden are among some of the most-used faces in online fraud according to Action Fraud and the National Cyber Security Centre. Alongside them, those who have also been used by scammers and who have signed the letter are Duncan Bannatyne OBE, Rob Brydon MBE, Dawn French, Bear Grylls OBE, Peter Jones CBE, Lorraine Kelly CBE, Davina McCall, Phillip Schofield, Bradley Walsh, Robbie Williams and Holly Willoughby.

Martin Lewis, MSE and Money and Mental Health, among other consumer and industry organisations, have been campaigning to protect the public from an avalanche of scam adverts, and in the face of inaction from tech firms, have been calling on the Government to include paid-for scam advertising in its flagship Online Safety Bill.

To date, the Home Secretary and current and former Culture Secretaries have said the Government wants to tackle online advertising fraud separately to this piece of legislation. Meanwhile, huge swathes of people will continue to see their financial, physical and mental health destroyed after falling victim to scams they see through online advertising. This letter is urging the Prime Minister to change this position and finally put paid-for scam advertising in the Bill.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “Right now, the Government’s planned Online Safety Bill isn’t just blindly ignoring the epidemic of scam adverts that the UK faces – it’s actually going to make it worse. By making big tech responsible for user-generated scams but not paid-for scam adverts, it creates an incentive for criminal scammers to switch to advertising. To say it will look at scam ads regulation later, likely years away, when this regulation will make it worse, is simply perverse. We can’t wait. 

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“Scams don’t just steal people’s money, they can take their self-respect too, and those with mental health problems are three times more likely to be affected.

“After hearing excuse after excuse from the Government departments responsible for this legislation, I now turn to the Prime Minister and plead with him to take this opportunity to put paid-for scam ads in the Online Safety Bill – so big tech is responsible for what they’re paid to publish. Only then will they take it seriously and deny scammers the airtime.

“In some ways I regret the fact his face isn’t being used as well as mine and the other signatories of this letter. If it was, I doubt we’d be having such a difficulty persuading the Government of the importance of this.

“Failure to tackle this, and tackle it now, will betray his Government’s promise to create world-leading online protection and, more importantly, will cost more people their livelihoods, and their physical and mental health too.”

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder, said: “We know there has been a sharp rise in scams since the start of the pandemic, and it’s deeply concerning that people may be tricked into parting with their money by someone pretending to be me. This is a global issue, and we are doing all we can to unmask scammers, but we can only do this by working together and ensuring the public are protected from these terrifyingly deceptive tactics. The Online Safety Bill is a positive step forward for the UK, but it’s essential that paid-for scam advertising is included as part of this new legislation.”

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Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden said: “With the growing sophistication of online fraud, it has becoming glaringly obvious that the Government needs to now step in to stop criminals taking advantage of people and destroying their finances. 

“For too long, people have fallen victim to scams because they trusted that myself and others were behind these false ads. It’s not enough for us to warn people through the press and media, something needs to be done to stop the ads appearing in the first place. Online scam advertising must be regulated and it must be included in the Online Safety Bill.”

Duncan Bannatyne OBE said: “Back in 2016, my name was used to promote a high-risk currency investment. This carried on for a while and then the scammers moved on to other celebrities, reportedly including Richard Branson, Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones.

“It is outrageous that there are few regulatory powers to curb this type of criminal behaviour and I fully support the call to the Prime Minister for paid-for scam advertising to be urgently included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill. Too many innocent people have lost money and too many well-known people have had their identities used in this erroneous way.”

(Lead image: Virgin Group)

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Barclays confirms closure of bank branches in Gorseinon and Port Talbot

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Barclays has confirmed the permanent closure of its Gorseinon and Port Talbot bank branches as part of its swath of almost 50 branch closures across the UK.

The bank has said the closures are largely due to changes in customer banking habits, and more use of online banking.

The Gorseinon branch is due to close on Friday 11 February 2022.

Barclays say the number of counter transactions at the Gorseinon branch has gone down in the two years to March 2020, with 83% of branch customers also using other ways to do their banking such as online and by telephone – something which has increased by 12% since 2015.

The bank also says that in the past 12 months 38% of Gorseinon branch customers have been using other nearby branches, with only 83 customers use this branch exclusively for their banking.

Barclays Bank, Port Talbot (Image: Geograph / Jaggery)

The last day of trading for the Port Talbot branch of Barclays will be on Friday 25 February 2022.

Once it closes, the nearest Barclays branch for people living in Port Talbot will be five miles away on The Parade in Neath, or eight miles away at the Enterprise Park in Llansamlet. Customers can also do some banking services at the nearest post office on Station Road in Port Talbot.

Barclays says the Port Talbot branch is closing as, similarly to to Gorseinon, counter transactions have gone down in the two years to March 2020 and 85% of branch customers also use other ways to do their banking such as online and by telephone.

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In the past 12 months 22% of this branch’s customers have been using other nearby branches, with only 153 customers use this branch exclusively for their banking.

Lead image: Barclays Gorseinon (Image: Geograph / Jaggery)

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£2.7bn council pension fund aims to cut its carbon footprint to zero

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Swansea Council’s award-winning pension fund has cut its carbon footprint by almost 60% and aims to go all the way to net carbon zero in the coming years.

The £2.7bn fund looks after the retirement funds of 47,000 members has already taken major steps to going net carbon zero by cutting the amount of cash invested in oil companies and other organisations with similarly-high carbon footprints.

And its main committee this week agreed that the fund would go net carbon zero by 2037, 13 years ahead of the UK as a whole.

Since 2017, the pension fund has managed to cut its carbon footprint by 58% thanks to a mix of disinvestment in carbon-rich businesses and investment in green and environment-friendly initiatives.

Now it has set out a plan to materially increase the proportion of investments that have a positive focus on the climate.

Currently just 7% of the fund’s investments has direct ties to fossil fuels and that will be cut to nil before 2037.

Clive Lloyd, chair of the Swansea Pension Fund committee, said: “The fund is delivering for its 47,000 members, it is delivering for the future of the planet.

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“We were the first local government pension scheme in Wales – and among only a small number in the world – to commission a review of our equity investment portfolio to find out the exact extent of our carbon and fossil fuel related investments.

“Since then we have moved £0.5bn of assets into low carbon index tracking funds which has reduced further what was already a low level of investments in carbon-related industries.” 

The Swansea fund – which Swansea Council manages for Swansea, Neath Port Talbot as well as a number of other employers in the area – has already been recognised at the LAPF Investments Awards, which celebrate outstanding achievement by pension funds and service providers.

Swansea won the award for the fund with the Best Approach to Sustainable Investment in the UK in 2019. It’s also been nominated for Local Authority Pension Fund of The Year Best Climate Change Investment Strategy and Best Investment Innovation in this year’s awards, thanks to an equity protection programme that saved the fund £9m when the global equity market fell by -20% earlier this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak and also its carbon reduction total return swap programme which further reduced the portfolio’s carbon exposure.

Cllr Lloyd added: “In 2019 we passed a motion in Swansea declaring a Climate Emergency and we urged the UK government to do the same.

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“We are making decisions and taking practical steps every day that are making a real difference but we know we can and we will do more. We are determined to make Swansea the most green and energy efficient council in Wales.”

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Swansea-based accountancy firm handles more than £100m in transactions in 18 months

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Wales’ largest independent accountancy firm, Bevan Buckland LLP, has advised on a record number of transactions in the last 18 months, worth in total over £100m. 

The deals include a broad range of business sales and purchases, demergers, partial sales, fundraising and refinancing activities. 

Managing Partner Alison Vickers said: “We are pleased to report that we have seen an increase in the number of transactions we have been involved in, boosted by strong activity in Enterprise Investment Scheme funding and a record-breaking number of sales and purchases of online FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon) businesses by our clients. 

“We have also been involved in some sizeable whole business sales and exits.  Advising clients on business growth, fundraising and exit strategies is a core part of what we do and where good accountants can add value to their clients. Of course, this increase in activity isn’t just good news for us, it also illustrates that the economy here in Wales is buoyant and active, despite the challenges of the past 18 months.”

Bevan Buckland LLP expects fundraising and deal activities to continue to grow next year as the various impacts of the pandemic start to roll off.   

Some businesses have performed well over the last 18 months and will be looking to take advantage of their strengthened position.   

The pandemic has also seen significant fundraising activity from businesses in Wales, driven by the availability of CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) and other loan and grant options that have been open to SMEs. 

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While many businesses are now in a strong cash position post-pandemic, those government-backed funding opportunities are disappearing and repayments will start to become due, coupled with expected interest rates rises. So businesses must assess their balance sheets and cash flow and plan accordingly.   

Recent reports from the Development Bank of Wales also show that in some aspects Wales is leading the UK in early-stage funding for new business start-ups and is seeing increasing levels of equity investment, particularly in high growth sectors. Their research showed that 1 in 10 of those high growth start-ups in Wales is based in Swansea, which is a positive indicator for the economic potential of the region. 

Harri Lloyd Davies, Partner, adds: “We expect all these factors to feed into future transaction activity and we are gearing up to support our clients.  We’re particularly proud that we have supported clients to sell or exit their businesses.  Less than 20% of small business owners manage to successfully sell their businesses, and only 5% of those achieve their expected selling price, so if you are planning to sell or exit your business it’s important to have a clear view of your businesses value and a good strategy, which is where having a good accountant helps.”

Tax is an important consideration in every transaction.

Matthew Denney, Tax Partner, says: “The differential between income tax and capital gains tax rates is still significant, despite the reduction to the lifetime allowance in respect of what was called Entrepreneurs’ Relief. It is critical to consider the structure of any deal carefully and to submit the appropriate tax clearances to HMRC.

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“With the breadth and complexity of tax legislation increasing, take for example IR35 in the private sector, we are seeing that it is increasingly important to understand your businesses tax profile and compliance processes before your company is subjected to any due diligence.  Everyone expects to take advantage of the 10% tax rate, however, it is rarely that simple.  If you plan to sell your business you should review your tax position and speak with your accountant before the sales process begins.”

Lead image: (l to r) Harri Lloyd Davies, Alison Vickers, Matthew Denney

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