Written evidence submitted by Somerset Bridge Group Ltd (OSB0004)
About Somerset Bridge
Somerset Bridge provides insurance services in the UK specialising in private motor and commercial insurance. We are one of the fastest growing insurance and claims handling businesses employing 320 staff servicing 490,000 live polices and 27,000 claims every year.
- The insurance industry is increasingly concerned about “Google Ad Spoofing” which refers to fake adverts on search engines. It is one of the fastest growing aspects of online fraud and has been identified as an industry strategic threat. We are concerned the Draft Online Safety Bill does not sufficiently address this escalating problem.
- Scammers are impersonating insurers in the aftermath of road traffic accidents, they are able to put claimants in costly credit hire vehicles and provide a range of other services at a hugely-inflated cost, with major consequences for consumers’ insurance premiums as well as causing consumers direct financial and emotional harm.
- Tackling the issue is difficult, complicated and long-winded. Insurers must currently negotiate with search engines to remove the offending ads on an individual basis, but in the process of doing so dozens of others spring up to take their place.
- Provision should therefore be made within the Online Safety Bill to protect consumers, helping them to recognise fake ads and mandating search engines to apply greater due diligence to the credentials of advertisers on its platforms.
- Somerset Bridge believe that an amendment must be brought forward within the Bill to achieve this.
The “Ad Spoofing” Problem
- An individual involved in a road traffic accident will often do an online search to find their insurer’s contact details so that they can get roadside assistance and submit a claim.
- Scammers are impersonating insurer’s adverts and providing fake telephone numbers. They are also impersonating a “claims department” when unsuspecting claimants call them on these fake numbers.
- This “claims department” then signs callers up to a financial agreement and puts them into a credit hire vehicle (a vastly more expensive version of a courtesy car) without the claimant’s knowledge. Often, services such as vehicle recovery and storage are added, all at an inflated cost.
- The scammer does this in the expectation that the insurer of the party at fault for the accident will pay for these services. The claimant remains under the impression that the services are provided free of charge by their own or the third party insurance company.
- The claimant may never discover they’ve been scammed however if the insurance company challenges the claim for these services the unsuspecting claimant can be left to pay the bill.
- Scammers have also utilised search engine optimisation, to make sure that their fake ads appear above those of genuine businesses.
- Insurers have to negotiate with search engine providers to have the fake adverts removed however the volume of ads and the simplicity with which they can be replaced by the scammers means the problem cannot be effectively tackled.
Online Safety Bill
- Action must be taken at a more overarching level to help protect consumers and reduce the cases of fraud by mandating search engine companies to perform more due diligence of their advertising customers.
- The Online Safety Bill presents a key opportunity for the Government to take action to do this and Somerset Bridge are calling for an amendment to be included within the Bill to tackle this fraud.
- Enacting these changes will:
- Protect consumers from fraudulent ads that are resulting in them suffering financial harm directly and through increasing insurance premiums
- Free up resource within the insurance industry dealing with these cases and assisting consumers who have been duped
- Prevent costly and time-consuming court litigation of those cases that make it to court, particularly relevant at a time when court capacity is hugely under strain
3 September 2021