Government moves to tackle phishing

An update to the UK's fraud laws has been proposed, with online scammers finding themselves in the firing line of the new Bill

The UK government is proposing changes to a fraud law that would mean scammers behind phishing attacks could face up to 10 years in jail.

The Home Office has published the government's Fraud Bill in which it suggests a new offence of fraud to close loop holes in the current law.

Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart said: "The introduction of a general fraud offence will improve the criminal law in a number of respects. It will simplify the law, making it clearer to juries and the general public as well as making the prosecution process more effective by providing a clear definition of fraud. Our aim is to encompass all forms of fraudulent conduct, with a law that is flexible enough to deal with developing technology, allowing us to bring more offenders to justice."

Under the proposal, the offence could be committed in three ways: by false representation, such as phishing scams; by failing to disclose information for financial gain; or by abuse of position. The Home Office is also planning to criminalise obtaining services dishonestly, possessing articles for use in fraud and participating in fraudulent business.

The Home Office said it was aiming to clarify the definition of current offences, which were allowing some defendants to escape prosecution through ambiguity of wording.

But some security experts are not convinced that the proposals will work. Paul Wood, a chief analyst at security company MessageLabs, said the government needed to focus on technology problems around fraud: "Any measure taken to update the law to address this form of criminal activity is to be welcomed. However, while legislative measures will act as a deterrent, it does not remove the need for technology solutions."

The Fraud Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on Thursday.