Five million Britons are at risk of losing their retirement savings to fraudsters and pension scams.
This was the alarming figure published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) this summer in a bid to prevent more people joining the millions who have already seen their savings disappear overnight. In 2018, the average individual loss amounted to £82,000.
Pension scams are nothing new, but they have escalated in number in recent years thanks to the freedom and choice legislation which came into force in April 2015. This allows people with defined contribution or money purchase scheme to spend their pension with impunity from age 55.
Members of defined benefit schemes are not afforded such freedom and so in response many have been tempted to leave the relatively safety of a final salary plan, in favour of accessing the cash or investing it elsewhere.
These two factors have combined to create a fraudster feeding frenzy, in which they offer unsuspecting people, with huge, accessible pots of cash, all manner of weird and wonderful investment ‘opportunities’.
The FCA/TPR research found pension savers were tempted by offers of high returns in investments such as overseas property, renewable energy bonds, forestry, storage units or biofuels. Nearly a quarter (23%) of the 45-65-year-olds questioned said they would be likely to pursue these exotic opportunities if offered them.
However, the FCA says such unusual investments are ‘high-risk and unlikely to be suitable for pension savings’.
If the offer of an exotic investment fails to tempt a potential victim, the FCA says fraudsters offer to access pensions before age 55 – this is also known as pension liberation. One in six (17%) 45 to 54-year-old pension savers said they would be interested in an offer from a company offering early access, despite the reality that taking such action almost invariably results in a crippling tax bill.
Pension scam warning: the cold call
Most scams are born from cold calls and these are incredibly common; Citizens Advice says nearly 11 million calls were made last year. In January this year, the UK finally outlawed unsolicited pensions cold calls, and anyone caught doing so is liable to a £50,000 fine.
However, the ban could prove futile if the FCA’s research is anything to go by.
The watchdog says nearly one quarter (23%) of all those surveyed would talk with a pensions cold caller. A similar amount said they would ask for website details, request further information or find out what the cold caller is offering.
Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon, says no one is immune from scammers, adding: “There’s no point dismissing this as an issue that only happens to other people; being duped by pension scammers can happen to anyone. The number of scams that have been prevented is a drop in the ocean to the potential five million at risk of being scammed. Much more still needs to be done to get the message out there.
Pension scam warning signs
Source: The Pensions Regulator
How to protect yourself from pension scam
Source: Financial Conduct Authority