Pension rules will trigger barrage of spam text

Unsolicited messages about pension reforms could be the "next PPI

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People could find themselves being bombarded with a fresh wave of spam texts and calls about the new pension freedoms - just as they have received nuisance messages in the past about payment protection insurance, the privacy watchdog has warned.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) fears that the new retirement flexibilities, which will start on April 6 and give people aged 55 and over more freedom over how they access their pension pot, could prompt a spate of "snake oil salesmen" seeking to get their hands on people's cash.

It warned that unsolicited messages about the reforms could be the "next PPI", with people finding themselves receiving spam urging them to take part in pension schemes.

The ICO said that it has warned a Swansea-based financial services call centre, called Help Direct UK, to stop sending spam texts asking people if they want a review of their pension.

How to stop nuisance text messaging

An enforcement notice has been issued after 659 complaints were made. The ICO discovered that nearly 188,000 texts were sent by the company over nine months covering subjects such as PPI, payday loans, pension reviews and debt management.

People said they had received the unsolicited marketing text: "As you have over 10k in your pension, your pension has lost £3219.43 over the last few years, to get back & find out your payout reply REVIEW."

It is a breach of the privacy and electronic communications regulations to send text messages to people for marketing purposes without their prior consent. The ICO said that anyone who receives and unsolicited message should avoid replying and report it to the ICO.

Spam texts can also be reported to the network operator by sending them free of charge to 7726. The ICO said that the networks are working to block the worst offenders.

Andy Curry, enforcement group manager at the ICO, said: "This enforcement notice should send out a strong message to all companies who use unsolicited marketing text messages to stop and think about what they are doing."

How to stop nuisance text messaging

The government's reforms mean that instead of being forced to buy a retirement annuity with their pot, older people will be able to take money out in one go or in a series of slices. People using the new freedoms will be charged their marginal rate of income tax.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has already said that it is alert to the possibility of scams as the first tranche of pension savers look to take up the freedoms.

Meanwhile, the Pensions Regulator has refreshed its "scorpion" campaign to alert retirement savers and pension scheme trustees to the risks of people being targeted by cold calls and texts promising a "free pension review" or mentioning a "legal loophole".

The campaign warns that people could be flattered, tempted and pressured into transferring their pension fund into an investment with attractive and often unrealistic returns.

Once someone has signed the forms and the transfer has gone through, they are unlikely to see their money again and they could be left with a hefty tax bill.

Free, impartial guidance will be provided to help people understand the pension reforms. The guidance, which is being provided by Citizens Advice and the Pensions Advisory Service, goes under the banner Pension Wise.

As well as using the Pension Wise service, pension savers are advised that if they are approached, they should check that their adviser is registered with the FCA.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb has urged people to "put the phone down" on cold callers offering a free pensions review.

If people are concerned about a possible scam, they can contact the Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047 or if they have already accepted an offer, they can report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk.

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