Pension scams hit a record £8 million in a month

Sarah Coles
Pension scams hit record high
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.

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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.