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3 Sep 2020

£30m lost to pension scams since 2017: how to keep your savings safe

Scammers have targeted pots ranging from under £1,000 to as much as £500,000

More than £30m has been lost to pension scammers since 2017, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) have revealed.

The data - provided by Action Fraud - shows that scammers have targeted pots ranging from under £1,000 to as much as £500,000.

The FCA says the total amount of money lost is likely to be much higher, as savers 'fail to spot the signs of a scam and don't know how much is in their pots'.

Here, Which? explains how scammers might target victims, and how to keep your savings safe.

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Why do scammers target pension savers?

Since the pension freedoms were introduced in April 2015, over-55s have been able to withdraw cash flexibly from their company and personal pensions.

But with millions of pounds now accessible that previously weren't, scammers may use the freedoms as an opportunity to con people out of their life savings.

Pension scams are not a new thing. But they are likely to be more prevalent now people have more options available to them when it comes to investing or spending their money.

According to the FCA and TPR, men in their fifties have been targeted most often, which could be because they may be keen to extend their investments before retirement and may have bigger pension pots.

Fraudsters promise high returns and low risk but, in reality, pension savers who are scammed can be left with nothing.

What are regulators doing to combat scams?

The FCA and TPR have been trying to tackle pension scams for some time.

The regulators are members of Project Bloom, which was created in 2012 and brings together government departments, agencies, regulators, law enforcement bodies and representatives of the pension industry to tackle pension scams.

On the legal front, a ban on pension cold calling came into force last year. Firms that break the rules could face penalties of up to £500,000.

The FCA and TPR have also been trying to raise awareness of pension scams.

They joined forces in 2018 and launched a ScamSmart website to give consumers tips on how to spot the techniques used by fraudsters. The website also hosts the FCA warning list, which includes firms and individuals it knows are operating without its authorisation.

The web tool helps members of the public search this list, find out more about the risks associated with an investment or pension opportunity, and the steps they can take to avoid scams.

'Much better support and protections needed'

However, fraudsters are using sophisticated ways to con people out of their money. With the internet and advances in digital communications, these kinds of scams are getting more common and harder to identify.

Which? head of money Gareth Shaw says: 'Pension scams can result in savers losing their entire retirement income in an instant, so people need to be on their guard against scammers and the sophisticated tactics they use to commit this crime.

'There needs to be much better support in place to ensure that the huge financial decisions that people are making with their pensions are the right ones.

'Regulators must put greater protections in place to prevent consumers from being ripped off by bad products and fraudsters.'

How to spot a pension scam

Even if you feel you're confident in spotting a scam, the FCA says 'overconfidence' could be a factor that decides how likely you are to get scammed.

Its new research shows that nearly 65% of 'football fans' approaching retirement think they'd be confident in spotting a scam. But 39% would put themselves at risk unknowingly by engaging with a common scam tactic.

A lifetime of your savings can be lost in just minutes, so it's really important to spot the warning signs.

For example, scammers may attempt to sell you a too-good-to-be-true, 'one-off' or 'limited time only' investment, usually via an unsolicited phone call, text message or email, or even in person after calling at your door.

They may attempt to entice you with upfront cash payments, or offer a 'free pension review' to give the impression that they're honest and independent advisers.

Some scammers also advise you to 'liberate' your pension into one of these too-good-to-be-true schemes before you turn 55, which isn't permitted under the freedoms rules.

Where you're forced to make a quick decision, are pressured into doing so, or are encouraged to transfer your pension quickly and send documents by courier, you could be at risk of being scammed.

The FCA's ScamSmart website has a tool to help you check if an investment or pension opportunity is a scam.

How to protect yourself from pension scams

The FCA and TPR recommend four simple steps to protect yourself from pension scams:

  • Don't be rushed or pressured into making any decision about your pension.
  • Reject unexpected pension offers, whether made online, on social media or over the phone.
  • Check who you're dealing with before changing your pension arrangements - check the Financial Services Register or call the FCA helpline on 0800 111 6768 to see whether the firm you are dealing with is authorised by the FCA.
  • Consider getting impartial information and advice.

Before you sign anything, you can also call the Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047 for information and guidance.

If you think you or someone you know may have fallen victim to a scam, you can report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Sign our petition for better pensions

Pension reforms mean people have more options than ever before on how to use their pension pot.

The Which? 'Better Pensions' campaign is calling for action to make sure everyone can benefit from the freedom and choices available to them.

We want the government to deliver a fully functioning pensions dashboard and the FCA to introduce better safeguards and protections for pension savers when they reach retirement.

Sign up to join our Better Pensions campaign.