Scammers impersonating investment firms ING Bank and Interactive Investor are targeting unsuspecting victims with cloned websites and fake documents, Which? Money can reveal.
A Which? report last month revealed how easily investment scammers can use paid-for adverts on search engines such as Google and Microsoft’s Bing to find victims. Which? has spoken to people who lost their entire life savings to investment scams.
Fraudsters repeatedly pose as legitimate companies, creating convincing websites and application forms to trick investors. The latest financial firms being spoofed include online investment platform Interactive Investor, and global bank ING.
Losses to fraudulent investments rose by 27% to £55.2m in the first half of 2020, by far the largest across all authorised push payment fraud categories tracked by UK Finance.
The true figure is likely to be much higher as many scams go unreported – 20% of recent investment scam victims told Which? they didn’t tell their bank.
A closer look at the fakes
A Which? member received an email and follow-up phone call from someone claiming to be from Interactive Investor shortly after entering his details on an investment comparison site that he found via Google in March 2021.
The website provided in the email – www.ii-trade.co.uk – was an exact copy of the genuine Interactive Investor website but not fully functional. The real website is www.ii.co.uk. This clone site was taken down but another quickly popped up at www.iipro.co.uk (see image below) directing people to a fake sign up page asking for personal data to ‘open an account’.
Others have been reported by the FCA, which adds details of unauthorised or scam activity on its warning list – a database of firms the FCA has identified as operating without permission or running scams.
Only a few weeks later, another scam attempt was reported to Which? – this time fraudsters were pretending to be from a Netherlands-based bank called ING Bank N.V.
Someone using the email address <firstname.lastname@example.org> sent seemingly professional application forms (see below), brochures, and an annual report. All were unlawfully using ING’s branding and logos.
The bank sold ‘ING Direct UK’ in 2013 and this brand no longer exists so anyone selling investments using this name is a scammer.
Which? has seen copies of these emails, which asked potential investors to supply photo ID and address verification (a recent bill or bank statement) to apply for the non-existent investments, putting them at serious risk of identity fraud.
- Find out more: how to get your money back after a scam
Is the FCA Register failing to protect investors?
Investors are told to check the FCA Register before investing but less than half of investors (46%) are confident using the register and 18% have never heard of it, according to our December 2020 survey of 626 adults who have invested in the past two years. Even fewer investors (37%) are confident using the FCA warning list. Worryingly, 29% had never heard of it.
We’re concerned that the register is of little use in its current form when criminals impersonate a genuine firm.
In most cases we come across, victims are reassured when they see that the firm being impersonated is regulated and don’t always check the web address and phone number match exactly – details which are sometimes missing from the register or out of date.
For example, any investors who searched for Interactive Investor on the FCA Register before it was updated on 30 March 2021 would have found an inactive premium-rate phone number and no website listed. At the time of writing there was no website listed for ING Bank N.V. either (it does use www.ing.com).
The FCA told us that it continues to make improvements to the register and has increased awareness through its ScamSmart campaign. Last year it issued over 1,180 warnings of potentially fraudulent firms. It also works with The Pensions Regulator and multi-agency Project Bloom to tackle pension scams.
What do the genuine firms say?
A spokesperson for Interactive Investor confirmed to Which? that it recently added details of its website (www.ii.co.uk) and updated the telephone number that appeared on the FCA Register, as it was still showing an old, inactive number, rather than the correct number (0345 607 6001):
‘Consumers are facing an avalanche of scam attempts and clone websites aping some of the UK’s best known financial services companies are becoming all too common. We notified the FCA about the recent clone of our website, and frequently remind our customers that we will only ever ask for their ii log-in details on our ii.co.uk website and on our mobile app. We reminded our entire email customer base of this in mid-April.’
‘We also strongly advise people to follow the FCA guidance on how to avoid scams, and indeed we publish some of our own guidance too. So far this year, our news hub has also featured four articles on scams, including a piece on clone firms. We have a monitoring system in place scanning the internet, and we have a process we follow to ensure these sites are taken down.’
A spokesperson for ING Bank told us: ‘We are aware of fraudulent investments being offered using the ING Direct UK name. We wish to make clear that in the UK ING Bank N.V. is a Wholesale Bank only, serving large corporate customers. We do not offer any retail investment products in the UK. ING no longer uses “ING Direct” as a brand name. ING Direct UK was sold by ING in 2013, was closed down by the purchaser shortly afterward and no longer exists.’
‘We take all fraud matters extremely seriously and are working with the appropriate authorities, including Action Fraud and the FCA, to investigate this issue. We have also posted a warning statement on the UK page of INGWB.com. We strongly discourage investing any funds with ING Direct UK. Any investments marketed under that name in the UK are fraudulent.’
The FCA Register entry for ING Bank N.V. will soon be updated to include its website (www.ing.com).
Investors must be better protected
Which? is calling for the government to include fake and fraudulent content that leads to scams in the scope of its proposed Online Safety Bill. Online platforms must be given a legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content on their sites.
In a joint letter to the Home Secretary and Digital Secretary, Which? has joined a coalition of organisations to warn that the UK has an opportunity to use the new laws to protect people from an avalanche of online scams.
The organisations that have signed the letter include Which?, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Carnegie UK Trust, UK Finance, the Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (PIMFA), the City of London Corporation, City of London Police, The Investment Association, Association of British Insurers (ABI), MoneySavingExpert and Age UK.
Which? Chief Executive Anabel Hoult explains more in her piece why scams must be included in the Online Safety Bill.
- Stay one step ahead of some of the latest scam threats by signing up for our free scam alert service.
How to stay safe from online investment scams
You can watch the video below for our tips or scroll down for more.
- Ignore unexpected offers Opportunities that come to you out of the blue, whether via a cold call, online advert or through the post, are likely to be either very high-risk or an outright scam. Even if you initiated the contact yourself, don’t assume you’re dealing with a legitimate firm.
- Check the FCA warning list This can be found at fca.org.uk/scamsmart/warning-list and it’s where the regulator records details of firms it knows are operating without permission or running scams. But even if a firm isn’t on the list, this doesn’t mean it’s not a scam.
- Check the Financial Services Register This can be found at fca.org.uk/register and it will help you to see if you’re dealing with a genuine, authorised firm. Access the register via the FCA website, rather than via an email link or website of a firm you’ve been dealing with. Check the firm’s permissions match the service you’re being offered and only use the contact details listed on the register, not the ones you’re given. If there are no contact details on the register or the firm claims they’re out of date, call the FCA on 0800 111 6768.
- Consider getting independent financial advice or guidance A financial adviser can recommend specific investments to you based on your situation and goals. They must be regulated by the FCA. For more general information about your investment options, you can use free guidance services, such as the Money Advice Service.
- Be careful with your personal details Avoid entering contact details on unknown sites, particularly those advertising on search engines and social media, as you risk being targeted with endless scams.