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12 Nov 2019

Life savings lost in less than 24 hours to pension scammers: are you at risk?

Victims lost an average of £82,000 to pension scams in 2018

A new report has revealed that pension scammers stole an average of £82,000 per person in 2018, with many getting their hands on the money in less than 24 hours.

£82,000 happens to be the size of the average pension pot, which takes most savers around 22 years to build up.

One in four people said they took less than 24 hours to make a decision on a new pension offer, meaning some scammers will have successfully swindled a victim's life savings in less than a day.

The figures were released as part of the ScamSmart campaign, from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and The Pensions Regulator (TPR), which surveyed 4,017 pension holders aged 45-65 earlier this year.

Here, Which? explains who is most at risk from pension scams, and how to protect your hard-earned retirement savings.

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Who is the most at risk from pension scams?

Perhaps surprisingly, the report found that highly educated people were most likely to fall for a pension scam.

Those with university degrees were found to be 40% more likely to accept a free pension review from a company they hadn't dealt with before, and were 21% more likely to take up the offer of early access to their pension pots. Both of these are common scam tactics.

The report suggests that 'overconfidence' could be a factor that decides how likely you are to get scammed.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they felt confident making decisions about their pension, yet the same proportion said they would trust someone who offered them pension advice out of the blue.

How to spot a pension scam

Since the pension freedom reforms came into force in April 2015, over-55s have enjoyed the ability to cash in their company and personal pensions.

But this new opportunity has attracted hundreds of scammers trying to trick savers into letting them access those pension pots.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself against fraudsters. You should be cautious of anyone:

  • who approaches you out of the blue over the phone, via text messages or in person at the door and wants to talk about your pension options
  • who uses phrases such as 'one-off investment opportunity', 'free pension review', 'legal loopholes', 'cash bonus' and 'government endorsement'
  • who asks you to transfer money overseas
  • who promises you access to your pension before you reach 55
  • who doesn't provide copies of any documentation
  • who encourages you to speed up the transfer of your money into a new scheme.

If you're not sure whether a company is legitimate, do some basic checks.

Pension cold-calling has been illegal since the start of the year, meaning you can assume any such approach is fraudulent, unless you previously consented to being contacted by that company.

You should also check the FCA's register of regulated financial service providers - if you can't find the company, or see that they're being investigated, don't trust them with your money.

Before you sign anything or transfer any money, it's best to talk to an independent professional about your pension options. You can book a free appointment with Pension Wise, or call the Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047.

How to report a pension scam

If you think you've been scammed, or contacted by scammers, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Join the Which? Better pensions campaign

Pension freedoms mean people have more options than ever before on how to use the money saved in their pension pot.

The Which? 'Better pensions' campaign is calling for everyone to be able to benefit from the freedom and choices available to them.

We want a government-backed scheme to be established that will give everyone access to a good value, low-cost pension product - regardless of their pension provider.