The Pensions Regulator (TPR), which protects workplace pensions in the UK, reports that pension scams are posing a greater risk than previously, particularly in the current climate as many savers are more susceptible to believing too-good-to-be-true promises of early pension access or higher investment returns.
Pension scams can take many forms but usually appear to be a legitimate investment opportunity. Victims can lose more than £50,000 on average, according to Action Fraud data from 2021.
Here are some common cyber-fraud techniques relating to pensions:
- Investment fraud – this is when scammers misrepresent high-risk or false investments to pension savers. Criminals can try to persuade victims to transfer part or all of their entire pension savings, by making attractive promises of high returns and great investment opportunities that are usually false. The advertised investment opportunity tends to be in unusual high-risk investments such as overseas property, renewable energy bonds, storage units and parking.
- Pension liberation – pension freedom rules allow individuals to take a tax-free sum from their pension when they reach (currently) age 55 – if they have a defined contribution (DC) pension, they can withdraw up to 25% of the pension. If they access these pension savings before turning 55, however, they will be faced with a 55% tax bill, but some scammers promise they can get individuals early access through bogus loans and loopholes. These ‘early access’ services often come with fees of up to 30% of the withdrawal amount and may invest whatever is left into dubious high-risk schemes. The only instances where anyone can access their pension before the age of 55 are if they are in poor health or work in an occupation that traditionally has early retirement ages – such as athletes.
- Scam pension schemes and providers – there are some cases where pension schemes and providers are set up to deceive victims. They may not exist at all, or if they do exist, are fraudulent. Emails or adverts often claim they can offer ‘better returns on pension savings’. These scam schemes often use high-pressure sales tactics to provoke unthinking reactions from victims such as limited time click offers or sending couriers to your doorstep who wait while you sign the documents.
How to avoid falling for this scam:
- Check the full address any suspicious emails originated from – scammers can easily ‘spoof’ organisations using an email display name of their choice. Make sure to read the full email address of the sender and check for any spelling mistakes.
- Check if the firm is authorised – if the call concerns any financial product such as a loan, insurance, investment or pension you can check the firm that person is calling from is authorised by consulting the Financial Services Register
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – be very wary of potentially grandiose investment claims, especially any that invite you to click a link within an email.
- Be cautious of any urgency – scams are designed to trigger anxiety by demanding you act immediately or claiming any offers are available for a limited time only. This encourages people to act without thinking. Take time to think logically about what you are being asked to do – legitimate companies will never demand immediate action.
- Never sign any documents from a doorstep encounter.
What action should you take?
- You can report suspicious texts you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.
- You can report suspicious emails you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you have provided personal or financial details as a result of a suspicious message, or lost money because of a scam, you should report it to Action Fraud at police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.
If you think you may have handed over your bank details to scammers, please contact us immediately.