Pension scams are evolving

21 April 2016

A new report from Citizens Advice, ‘Too good to be true’, reveals a mismatch between people’s confidence in spotting a scam and their ability to do so. Three in four (76%) said they are confident they can identify a pension scam but just 12% were actually able to do so when a scam was presented to them.

The new research highlights how scammers’ tactics are shifting away from pension liberation schemes offering high rewards and moving towards free pension reviews and advice as a first step towards tricking people out of their pension pots.

A 59 year old man sought help from Citizens Advice after a near miss with a pension scam. He was cold called by a company offering a 'free pension review' which recommended he invest his retirement savings in Hong Kong. The man was offered an appointment the next day but when documents were couriered to his home, he realised something was amiss and refused to sign. He has since been helped by Citizens Advice to stop the company from contacting him again.

The report also reveals people are particularly at risk of scams from phone calls, post and emails which come out of the blue. As many as 10.9 million consumers have received unsolicited contact about their pension in the last year.

Almost two thirds of consumers (64%) say they would consider an unsolicited offer about their pension and many would only consult informal sources about whether the approach is genuine.

When asked how they would check whether a pension offer was legitimate, almost half of those who would consider an unsolicited offer about their pension (45%) say they would look up a company’s website and over a third (36%) would discuss with family.

Only one third of people (33%) say they would make sure the company is listed on the Financial Conduct Authority’s online register, which is the best place to check whether a company is authorised to give regulated advice.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice said:

“Fraudsters have shifted their tactics to rob people of a retirement income. It’s difficult for consumers to stay ahead of pension scams as they evolve. Many scammers use professional looking websites and leaflets to fool their victims into signing up to free pensions advice or cold call with offers of unusually high investment returns.

Before considering any kind of pension offer, you should check the Financial Conduct Authority’s website to make sure the company is legitimate. If you are worried that you may have been targeted by scammers you can get help and support from Citizens Advice.

If you are over 50, Pension Wise guidance can equip you with the knowledge of what to look out for to avoid falling victim to scams.”

Top tips for identifying a pension scam

1. Ignore any contact you receive out of the blue about your pension. This could be in person, online, on the phone or in the post

2. Watch out for any promotion offering you more than 8% return on your pension investment

3. Be wary of any offer to access your pension before 55. Accessing your pension early can mean you are hit with a high tax bill of 55%, as well as losing any pension savings in a scam.

4. Don’t feel pressured to make a decision about your pension straight away, instead take your time

5. Watch out for extravagant sounding investments based overseas

6. Check the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) online register to make sure the company approaching you is legitimate. Anyone giving financial advice should be registered

7. If you are making an investment, check the FCA ScamSmart warning list for known investment scams

8. If you are transferring a pension, ask your current pension provider to check the HMRC registration of the new scheme to check it is legitimate.