FCA research has found that a quarter of consumers would consider withdrawing pensions savings to cover cost of living in the current crisis. According to the FCA, this renders consumers vulnerable to ‘misdirection’ scam tactics.
The findings are backed up by retirement income market data which shows that the number of pension plans accessed for the first time has increased by 18% in 2021-2022 compared with 2020-2021.
Preying on money worries and lack of confidence that pension savings will last through retirement, the FCA is warning that a pattern is emerging of scammers using ‘misdirection’ tactics to con victims. The FCA compared these tactics to those used by magicians to divert attentions of the victim.
Following a survey of 1,000 people over the age of 40 with workplace and private pensions, it was found that 44% of respondents would take up the offer of a free pension review, which the FCA warns is one of these distraction tactics. Once engaged with scammers, victims are vulnerable to being scammed out of their pensions due to a lack of understanding about their pension savings.
More than half of those surveyed, 54%, said they were not confident in how to grow their pension pot. Further, 38% said they did not feel confident in their understandings of how pensions work.
One woman, Pauline Padden, received a text offering her a better deal on her pension and some cash for transferring her pot. She was promised higher returns if her pension was invested in a long-term hotel build in the Caribbean, but six months later was told she was the victim of a scam and had lost £45,000 in pension savings.
Padden commented: “At the time I was incredibly vulnerable. I was busy looking after my terminally ill mother and my three children. The scammers capitalised on my vulnerability and robbed me of the prospect of ever retiring. I was only trying to make my retirement easier but instead these scammers ruined my life.
"I still don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get my savings back and will probably have to keep working until I am no longer fit to do so. I just hope I can help to raise awareness of the signs to look out for so that others never have to go through what I’ve had to deal with over the last nine years."
Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA, said: "The rising cost of living is affecting people at all savings levels, and pension scammers are taking advantage of this. Pension scammers are tricking victims with false promises of a better lifestyle in retirement, more money to support a better life in hard times.”
Many victims are reassured by increasingly sophisticated verifications from third parties, such as positive reviews. The FCA warns of some common tactics to be aware of:
- The offer of a free pension review
- Higher returns, where they will guarantee they can get you better returns on your pension savings
- Help to release cash from your pension even though you’re under 55. An offer to release funds before age 55 is highly likely to be a scam, and has major tax implications
- High-pressure sales tactics, where the scammers may try to pressure you with ‘time-limited offers’ or even send a courier to your door to wait while you sign documents
- Unusual investments – which tend to be unregulated and high risk, and may be difficult to sell if you need access to your money
- Complicated structures where it isn’t clear where your money will end up
- Arrangements where there are several parties involved (some of which may be based overseas) all taking a fee, which means the total amount deducted from your pension is significant
- Long-term pension investments – which mean it could be several years before you realise something is wrong