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Today marks the launch of Citizens Advice’s 2019 Scams Awareness campaign which aims to create a network of confident, alert consumers who “stop, report and talk” when they see a scam.

Buck supports this campaign, which this year has two target groups: the “life-established” (those in the 40s-60s age range) and older people (over 75 years old), lending itself well to messaging around pensions and investment scams.

Scams are mechanisms by which people and / or wider organisations try to steal money, personal information or data from you.   The National Audit Office recently estimated that in 2016, individuals lost £10bn to fraud, and the Crime Survey for England and Wales calculated that there are around 3.5m incidents of fraud a year, with only about 13% reported. This low level of reporting is despite Citizens Advice’s findings that 72% of people have been targeted by scammers in the last 2 years, via mail, phone calls, text messages, e-mails, online and face-to-face.

Approximately a third (34.3%) of all scam victims are in the 41-60 age bracket. They are particularly vulnerable to investment and pension liberation scams, though of course they can be subjected to other types as well. Unfortunately these retirement-related targets make sense when this age bracket is usually most focused on building and structuring their pension pots.

It’s important that we try to get rid of the stigma around scams and encourage people to talk to each other about the risk.  Anyone can get caught out by a scam, as some of them can be incredibly sophisticated and catch out even the most clued-up people – a recent Pensions Ombudsman case featured a serving policeman who had been duped. But remember that the old saying, ‘if it sounds too good to be true it probably is,’ is certainly worth bearing in mind.

Since the beginning of the year it’s been a criminal offence to cold call someone about pensions, and that’s not just confined to phone calls but includes unsolicited social media communications as well.  So if you are contacted out of the blue by someone offering help you with your pension, know that it is illegitimate. It is also important to remember that it could be a friend, who themselves has been scammed, who unwittingly tries to put you in touch with a scammer.

Scammers may also tell you that your existing pension provider will try and stop you transferring your benefits. This simply isn’t true – they will not do this unless they believe you are making a big mistake and are transferring to a scam arrangement, and are fulfilling their obligations as reputable advisors by trying to protect you.

You can do a number of things to help yourself and reduce the risk of getting caught.  Using an adviser who is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rather than an unauthorised adviser is an obvious first step.  The FCA has an online register (www.fca.org.uk/register) where you can check that your adviser is actually registered.  You can also call Citizens Advice on 0345 050506, or go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/scams/scams. Free advice is also available from the Pensions Advisory Service at (www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk) or by telephoning 0300 123 1047. Choose one of these resources before you leap into the unknown and transfer or invest your pension benefits into some unusual or overseas scheme(s). It could save you a lot of stress and, most importantly, your pension itself.

If you are unlucky enough to lose your pension by transferring your benefits to a scam arrangement, and your current scheme didn’t ask any questions, what would your view of them be? Probably nothing too fantastic…but if a serving policeman can be scammed, so can you. At the end of the day we have to use our own good sense as well as listening to the experts. Stop when you are made what sounds like a good offer (especially too good an offer) and look for warning signs of a scam. One of the biggest red flags to look for is a sense of urgency, with the suggestion you have to sign up today, or some similar level of pressure. Report suspicious activity to the police, your current pension scheme or others in authority. Talk to Citizens Advice, the Pensions Advisory Service, your family and an FCA regulated adviser – talk to all of these people before you go chasing that pot of gold which is on offer at the end of the rainbow.

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