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Avoid and report pension scams

Fraudsters promise high returns and low risk. In reality, pension savers who are scammed are usually left with nothing. Many lose their life savings.

Don't let scammers enjoy a pension saver's retirement. Find out the warning signs of a scam and how you can stop pension savers from being scammed.

If you suspect a scam, you should report it to the authorities so that they can investigate.

Spot it. Discuss it. Report it.

Warning signs of a pension scam

Awareness and education around the warning signs of a pension scam is vital in helping protect savers’ retirements. Industry is best placed to identify suspicious activity and to ensure members are alert to the latest tactics.

Warn your members

Anyone can be the victim of a pension scam, no matter how financially savvy they think they are. It’s important that everyone can spot the warning signs.

Scammers are often convincingly professional, with credible websites, testimonials and materials that are hard to distinguish from the real thing. Their aim is to persuade pension savers to either transfer their entire pension savings, or release funds from it. This is often to a scheme the scammer controls.

Cold calling about pensions is illegal and likely a sign of a scam.

Some scammers have moved to sophisticated online models, making contact through social media or by using friends and family to reach clusters of people. Others rely on established practices like offering a 'free pensions review'.

Common signs of pension scams include:

  • phrases like 'pension liberation', 'loan', 'loophole', 'savings advance', 'one-off investment', 'cashback'
  • guarantees they can get better returns on pension savings
  • help to release cash from a pension before the age of 55, with no mention of the tax bill that can arise
  • high pressure sales tactics – time limited offers to get the best deal; using couriers to send documents, who wait until they're signed
  • unusual high-risk investments, like property, renewable energy bonds and forestry, many of which tend to be overseas, making it difficult to check ownership or even whether the investment exists
  • complicated investment structures
  • fixed-term pension investments which often mean people do not realise something is wrong for several years

Check for known scams or find an authorised financial adviser on the ScamSmart website.

Red and amber flags

Many of the same warning signs members should look out for are considered red and amber flags, which could be reason for a transfer being refused. Read more about the flags when dealing with transfer requests.

Report a scam

You should report any knowledge or suspicions of pension scams and those involved. This allows authorities to investigate and prosecute scammers. It also allows law and policy makers to get a clearer picture of the effect that scams have on pensions.

You should report if:

  • you believe a scam has already happened
  • a red flag is raised when making a transfer
  • you suspect that a pension scam could be taking place or are suspicious of those involved: this may be because of other risks you have noticed such as amber flags in a transfer request

You should report any relevant information including the name and contact information of those involved, and related materials such as websites and brochures.

Fraud, cyber crime and potential scams

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales you should report fraud, cyber crime or concerns about a potential scam by submitting a crime report or an information report to Action Fraud. Register as a business user and then submit your report.

If you are making multiple reports, you can request access to an Expert Reporting Tool by emailing City of London Police. Your request will be reviewed to ensure the tool is appropriate for the reports you wish to make before access is given.

You should encourage victims to report scams online to Action Fraud or by phone on 0300 123 2040. If they live in Scotland, you should ask them to call Police Scotland on 101 or Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000.

Once you have reported to Action Fraud, you should also report to the FCA and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) where relevant.

Unauthorised financial advice and transfer concerns

You can check a financial adviser is authorised on the FCA Financial Services Register.

Report individuals who provide unauthorised advice on pension transfers to the FCA.

Report concerning pension transfer requests to the FCA.

Report significant increases in the volume of transfers advised by the same adviser to the FCA.

Whistleblowing and breaches of the law

You should also report concerns to TPR if:

  • you feel you have to refuse a statutory transfer payment even though all of the requirements are met and you consider the request valid but the warning signs of a scam are too strong for you to be comfortable with any other course of action
  • there is a breach of the law, as set out in the reporting breaches code of practice

What happens after you report a scam

Once you have reported a scam the authority will review it for opportunities to investigate further. It is unlikely that they will be able to comment on ongoing investigations due to legal reasons.

Trustee and administrator responsibilities

Trustees must:

First line of defence

Trustees often delegate these duties to administrators. As a result, administrators may have a broader picture of the pensions landscape including, for example, an increase in transfer requests to a particular scheme or handled by a particular third party. Administrators can help by reporting these to their trustee clients to give them a better picture of the risks.

Trustees and administrators – collectively, you are the first line of defence against scammers. The more you report your suspicions, the more effective our industry can be at defending savers against scammers.

Scams pledge

You should also make the pledge to combat pension scams – a commitment to follow higher standards of anti-scam practice for your scheme.

Employer and business adviser responsibilities

Your staff or clients may look to you for support. Your help can keep them away from pension scams.

You should share our booklet (PDF, 122kb, 2 pages) on the signs of a scam.

You should also make staff or clients aware of four important steps to avoid pension scams.

  1. Reject unexpected pension offers, whether in person, over the phone, online or through social media.
  2. Check who they’re dealing with before changing their pension arrangements. Visit ScamSmart or call the FCA on 0800 111 6768 to see if the firm is authorised.
  3. Don’t be rushed or pressured into making any decision about their pension.
  4. Consider getting impartial information and advice.

Pension saver responsibilities

If you save into a pension scheme, don’t let a scammer enjoy your retirement. Visit ScamSmart to find out more about known scams or to find an authorised financial adviser.

In partnership with Action Fraud, City of London Police, Financial Conduct Authority, HM Revenue & Customs, Money & Pensions Service, National Crime Agency and Serious Fraud Office