Consumer and business groups have called on Priti Patel to do more to protect people from online scams.

Some 17 organisations - including Which?, MoneySavingExpert and Age UK - wrote to the Home Secretary and Digital Minister Caroline Dineage, urging them to use next week's Queen's Speech to better protect the public from the devastating financial and emotional harm caused by these crimes.

Some £1.7 billion is thought to have been lost to scams in the last year, according to figures from Action Fraud.

And research suggests vulnerable people, including those experiencing mental health problems, are more at risk of falling victim to these crimes online.

Anabel Hoult, CEO of Which?, said: “The time for self-regulation is over, as clearly it has not worked.

”The case for including scams in the Online Safety Bill is overwhelming and the government must take the opportunity to act now.

“Online platforms must be given a legal responsibility to prevent, identify and remove fake and fraudulent content on their sites so that their users are better protected.”

MoneySavingExpert's Martin Lewis
MoneySavingExpert's Martin Lewis said failing to put scams in the Queen's speech would be a betrayal of the Government's promises

And Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “I plead on bended knee for the government to take that opportunity, by putting scams in the Online Safety Bill.

“Failing to do so will betray its promise to create world-leading online protection and will leave vulnerable people defenceless against online crime in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Maria Teresa Jackson, a 63-year-old teacher, was a victim of one of many online scams.

Ms Jackson was tricked by an advert she saw on a social media site, featuring a fake news story with fake quotes from celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls, who supposedly told how he had become a millionaire by trading in Bitcoin.

She clicked the button and put in her details and soon received a phone call from a “financial advisor” who showed her around a professional looking website, and was very knowledgeable about trading.

Over time she was persuaded to transfer increasing amounts of money to the scammer. It later became clear that the Bitcoin did not exist.

The group wrote to Priti Patel, urging her to act
The group wrote to Priti Patel, urging her to act

Scammers stole nearly £120,000 and First Direct, her bank, has so far refunded her half that amount.

She said: “I felt completely sick. I’m overall better now but often I get flashbacks of certain events and that upsets me a lot. I usually get them at night when I’m in bed and when that happens, it sets the tone for a bad night’s sleep.”

David Postings, Chief Executive at UK Finance, said: “Fraud has a devastating emotional impact on victims and even when the victim is reimbursed, the stolen cash is used to fund serious organised crimes which damage our society, including terrorism, drug trafficking, and child sexual exploitation.”

A spokesperson for First Direct said: “We would like to offer our sincerest sympathies to Ms Jackson, and fully appreciate how the situation has impacted her. Sadly, there are unscrupulous individuals who carry out criminal activities without any regard for the effect this will have on their victims.

“Although we believe Ms Jackson could have exercised more caution and carried out further checks before making the payments, we could also have offered more effective fraud warnings. So on that basis we've refunded 50% of the payments made.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is working closely with industry, regulators, law enforcement and consumer groups to tackle online fraud.

“This includes our Online Advertising Programme, which will consider further regulation relating to online advertising to reduce online harms, recruiting more police with specialist skills as part of our commitment to recruit 20,000 new officers, and providing scam reporting and takedown services to remove malicious or fraudulent websites.”

The list of firms backing the letter includes: