Pension scams hit a record £8 million in a month

Pension scams hit record high

An astonishing £8 million of pension savings was lost to scammers in March. This represents people's life savings - lost forever - dooming them to a retirement that's very different from the one they had imagined.

It's a record amount of money stolen by pension scammers in any month in history, and demonstrates how vulnerable pensioners are to professional criminals.

See also: How divorce can destroy your retirement

See also: Younger people resigned to working beyond retirement age

See also: Do we need to be stressed into saving for the future?

Andrew Tully, pensions technical director of Retirement Advantage, says a major part of the problem is that pension freedoms have allowed retirees to get their hands on their savings far more easily - which made them a target for crooks. He says it has " opened up the market to conmen and fraudsters who prey on the vulnerable and those hoping for early access to their pensions".

The government was supposed to be taking steps to crack down on conmen who cold-call pensioners and sweet-talk them into parting with their cash. Unfortunately, legislation banning cold calling has been shelved because of the General Election, so it's up to all of us to do what we can to protect ourselves.

Protect yourself

Tully says there are five warning signs that an approach may be from a scammer who is after your money.

1. They offer to help you get your hands on your pension savings before the age of 55
It is only possible to do this in rare situations, for instance if you are very ill, so be careful and always check with your pension provider.

2. They recommend you take a large amount of money, or your whole pension pot, in a lump sum and invest it
There are significant tax implications if you take lots of your savings in one go, so check the tax position before you make any decisions.

3. They warn you that the deal is limited and you must act now
Choosing the right retirement income products is a big decision, and shouldn't be done quickly or under pressure.

4. They discourage you from seeking professional financial advice or talking to Pension Wise or The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS)
An adviser would be able to explain the rules and tax implications of different options and help you make the best choices for your personal circumstances, so be very suspicious if this is discouraged.

5. They aren't on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Register
The Register is a public record of all the regulated firms and individuals in the financial services industry, including retirement income providers and investment companies.

The best approach

By far the best way to protect yourself is to take your retirement financial planning into your own hands. It's essential to understand what you have saved for your retirement, what you will need to retire on, and what your options are.

How much income will you have in retirement?

There are plenty of resources out there, which enable you to read up on pensions freedoms and the right choice for you. Pensions Wise and The Pensions Advisory Service are great places to start, but given the impact on your financial future, there's every chance that this is also a time when it's worth paying for regulated financial advice.

Gaining an understanding of your needs, and putting a strategy in place, is the best defence against scammers. That way, if someone calls you out of the blue, offering an investment that's too good to be true, you don't need to know whether it's a scam or not (and there's a good chance it is), because you know you're already doing the right thing.

Victims of scams and fraud
See Gallery
Victims of scams and fraud
Susan Tollefsen, Britain's oldest first time mother, was scammed out of £160,000 by a fraudster she met on an online dating site. A man claiming to be an Italian gold and diamond dealer told her he was in the middle of a land deal but couldn't access cash. Tollefsen felt sorry for him and started wiring him money, eventually selling her jewellery, her flat and borrowing £32,000 from friends to give him. Read the full story here.
In March 2015 an American woman who was only identified as 'Sarah' went on the popular US television programme the Dr Phil Show to reveal she had sent $1.4 million to a man that she had never met. Although she was certain she wasn't being scammed, her cousin made her go on the programme because she was convinced it was a scam. Find out more about the story here.
Maggie Surridge employed Lee Slocombe to lay a £350 deck in her garden in March 2015. However Slocombe used a combination of lies to scam Surridge out of thousands of pounds. He told Surridge that the front and back walls were dangerous and needed rebuilding and also conned her into building a porch, all for the cost of £8,500. Read the full story here.
It's not just individuals who can be the victims of scams, big corporations can also fall foul of these fraudulent practices. In 2015 Claire Dunleavy repeatedly used a 7p 'reduced' sticker to get significant amounts of money off her shopping at an Asda store in Burslem, ending up with her paying just £15.66 for a shop that should have cost £69.02. Read the full story here.
Sylvia Kneller, 76, was conned out of £200,000 over the space of 56 years thanks to scam mail. The pensioner became addicted to responding to the fraudsters, convinced that she would one day win a fortune. Ms Kneller would receive letters claiming she had won large sums of money but she needed to send processing fees to claim her prize. Learn about the full story here
Leslie Jubb, 103, became Britain's oldest scam victim in August last year when he was conned out of £60,000 after being sent an endless stream of catalogues promising prizes in return for purchasing overpriced goods. The extent of this con was discovered when Mr Jubb temporarily moved into a care home and his family discovered what he had lost. Find out more about this story here
Stephen Cox won more than £100,000 on the National Lottery in 2003 but has been left with nothing after falling victim to two conmen. The 63-year-old was pressured into handing over £60,000 to the men who told him his roof needed fixing. They walked him into banks and building societies persuading him to part with £80,000 of cash while doing no work in return. See the full story here
Last year the Metropolitan Police released CCTV footage of a woman who had £250 stolen at a cash machine in Dagenham. The scam involved two men distracting the woman at the machine, pressing the button for £250 then taking the money and running away. Read about the full story here.
Rebecca Ferguson shot to fame as a runner up on the X-Factor in 2010 but fell victim to a scam artist last year when someone she had believed to be a friend conned her out of £43,000. Rachel Taylor befriended the singer in 2012 and claimed to be a qualified accountant, so Ferguson allowed her to look after her finances. Instead of doing this Taylor stole £43,000 from the Liverpudlian singer. Read more here
When Rebecca Lewis discovered her fiance had started a relationship with a woman he met online she packed her bags to leave. But that didn't stop her checking out the mystery woman, Rebecca quickly realised Paul Rusher's new love was actually part of a romance scam. She told Paul just before he sent the scammers £2,000 which was supposed to bring his new girlfriend to England. Find the full story here.

Read Full Story