How to spot pension scammers

Be alert to the dangers of scammers offering opportunities that are too good to be true

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The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is warning pensioners to beware of scammers exploiting the forthcoming pension freedoms.

The new pension flexibilities allow over-55s to access their entire lifetime savings from next month, leaving them vulnerable to fraudsters offering investments with apparently high returns.

"The new pension flexibilities will offer people the freedom to make choices that suit their plans for retirement," says FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley.

"But this is exactly the time when people need to alert to the dangers of scammers offering opportunities that are too good to be true."

The biggest thing to beware of, says the FCA, is cold-callers - FCA-regulated firms are highly unlikely to do this. If you get such a call, it says, just hang up. They may refer to brochures you've received in the post.

Calculate your pension income options

Be particularly cautious if you're urged to act quickly, perhaps to gain a bonus or discount. And, as always, beware of anything that sounds too good to be true.

If in doubt, says the FCA, refer to its warning list of known scammers or find a legitimate financial adviser: lists are available through unbiased.co.uk, Find an adviser, VouchedFor and the Wealth Management Association.

Alternatively, the government is launching a guidance service, Pension Wise, to help savers make decisions about their pension pots. However, there are concerns that this guidance will be overly-general and that savers could still make mistakes.

There's evidence that scammers are already setting their sights on savers in the run-up to the changes. Recent research from MetLife revealed that almost one in ten pensioners has been targeted by fraudsters.

Calculate your pension income options

Even pensions minister Steve Webb has admitted there's a problem.

"You can spend years saving into a pension only to find yourself tricked out of your money in the blink of an eye by these unscrupulous crooks," he said last week.

"We are taking tough action along with our partners to tackle this scourge, but people must be vigilant. To get genuine guidance on your options, people should contact the free and impartial Pension Wise service. If you are cold-called by someone offering you a free pensions review, it's probably a scam so put the phone down."

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee has called for savers to be blocked from accessing their cash until they reach the age of 57 or 60. However, the government is going the other way, with George Osborne announcing in last week's budget that annuity holders, too, would be allowed to cash them in for a lump sum instead.

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