Fraudster families ‘running multimillion pound pension scams’

Pension holders are being targeted by “fraudster families” trying to steal their savings pots, according to intelligence gathered by those tackling scams.

Project Bloom, which was set up in 2012 to tackle pension fraud, said organised crime groups led by married couples or families are running pension scams worth millions of pounds.

Criminal investigations involving regulators, government agencies and police forces are ongoing into several gangs, those involved in Project Bloom said.

They have found evidence of criminal behaviour worth tens of millions of pounds, involving siblings, married couples, and parents and their adult children.

Some people linked to scams have also been put out of action.

In some cases, families have hired “professional enablers” to make the scams work.

They are rogue financial experts with specialist pension knowledge, including accountants, advisers and trustees.

Victims of pension scams lost an average of £91,000 each to fraudsters in 2017 but some people have lost much more, according to Project Bloom.

They reported receiving cold calls, offers of “free pension reviews” and promises that they would get high rates of return – all of which are key warning signs of scams.

A ban on pensions cold calling recently came into force. Firms that break the rules could face penalties of up to half a million pounds.

Guy Opperman, Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, said: “Scammers who siphon off savings built up over decades are the lowest of the low.”

He continued: “We’re determined to put a stop to the misery these callous crooks inflict, which is why we’re supporting the work being done to stamp out pension theft.”

Project Bloom brings together government departments, agencies, regulators, law enforcement bodies and representatives of the pension industry to tackle pension scams.

Partners include the Pensions Regulator (TPR), the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Department for Work and Pensions, the Treasury, the Serious Fraud Office, City of London Police, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, Action Fraud, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Insolvency Service, Pension Wise, National Trading Standards and the National Crime Agency.

Partners met last month to discuss working more closely to target those responsible.

Representatives of the Pensions Scams Industry Group (PSIG), an industry initiative which is also part of Project Bloom, also reported that pension providers are identifying growing numbers of suspect transfer requests and are alerting members to what they believe could be scams.

Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation, said: “Working together we can target those trying to plunder people’s pension pots and bring them to justice.”

Margaret Snowdon, the chairman of PSIG, said: “We will continue to do everything we can to spot possible scams early so we can help consumers to avoid becoming victims.”

Those considering transferring their pension can visit www.fca.org.uk/ScamSmart for more help to understand the signs of a scam.

If you think you have been a victim of a pension scam, report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk.

Here are four steps to protect yourself from pension scams from Project Bloom:

1. Reject unexpected pension offers, whether made online, on social media or over the phone.
2. Check who you are dealing with before changing your pension arrangements – check the FCA register or call the FCA to see if the firm you are dealing with is authorised by the FCA.
3. Do not be rushed or pressured into making any decision about your pension.
4. Consider getting impartial information and guidance from the Pensions Advisory Service.

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