Platforms that connect buyers and sellers such as Airbnb and eBay must do more to protect consumers from scams, according to the comedian and TV presenter Joe Lycett, who accused them of pocketing the revenue but refusing to take responsibility for fraud.
The presenter of Channel 4 consumer rights show Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back told peers that regulation, including the introduction of more rigorous checks, should pressure lucrative social media and sales platforms into helping customers who regularly lose thousands of pounds in transactions with fake sellers.
Speaking to the House of Lords digital fraud committee, he said: “I think the biggest sector that we think could do better are the platforms.
“These platforms are often making a lot of money … they should be obliged to do more in that area.”
He described the typical response from platforms as: “Well, it’s kind of nothing to do with us, we’ve just offered the platform on which you meet and find these businesses, but if you get scammed it’s nothing to do with us.”
Lycett said his TV show’s team had set up a fake account for the chief executive of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, and a fraudulent listing for the Airbnb offices in London.
“They didn’t check and they didn’t stop it. We turned up with the paperwork, and they didn’t like to see us, didn’t let us in,” he said.
He also criticized banks for failing to protect consumers from increasingly sophisticated scams, citing the example of one woman who lost thousands of pounds after scammers texted her from NatWest’s official phone number, meaning messages arrived within an existing thread with her bank, a scam also replicated in phone calls from legitimate numbers.
“[NatWest’s] argument was, ‘We can’t stop people pretending to be something they’re not because they were very sophisticated in how they did it,’” he said.
Many banks have signed up to a voluntary code that indemnifies blameless victims who are tricked into transferring money, but critics say this is applied inconsistently.
Lycett said: “It is kind of at [the banks’] discretion whether they refund their customers who have been scammed.”
He added it was a “little bit too easy” to open a bank account without too many questions being asked, and that personal data was widely available online to buy for as little as 20p.
Lycett also told peers his TV program would never have been commissioned if Channel 4 had not existed, because most commercial broadcasters would consider it too risky from a legal perspective.
Asked what he had been most surprised by in the three years since the show started, he said the volume and sophistication of scams, with the cases that appear on the show representing a tiny fraction of the stories the producers receive.
He added that although the stereotypical scammed victim was an older person less familiar with modern technology, in reality rates were much higher for younger people aged 16 to 34.
Complex romantic scams in which victims are groomed over a period of months, such as the fraud depicted in the Netflix series The Tinder Swindler, are also on the rise, he said.
Lycett said it was crucial that more was done to stop scammers – who often operate abroad and are difficult for police to track down and prosecute – because fraud “absolutely ruins people’s lives”.