How to keep yourself safe from scams this winter

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the rise in scams was well documented. The BBC reports that from 1 to 24 of March, £34.5 million was stolen through Covid-based scams alone.

Unscrupulous fraudsters took advantage of our anxiety and confusion, offering non-existent face masks and vaccines, and issuing fines for supposed lockdown breaches.

While the increase in scam activity in 2020 was significant, UK Finance has recently used its half-year fraud report for 2021 to confirm that the situation is only worsening.

The report, in part, points to the pandemic as a catalyst for an evolution in scam tactics, as criminals look for new – and increasingly sophisticated – ways to defraud victims.

These tactics have seen criminals steal £753.9 million through fraud in the first half of 2021, a 30% increase compared to the same period last year.

Here’s your guide to the latest scam tactics and how to avoid falling victim.

Be alert to impersonation scams

What are impersonation scams?

From “fraud alert” text messages to HMRC emails and cold-calls, you have likely been on the receiving end of a scam attempt.

During the onset of the pandemic, scammers used text messages purporting to be from the government or the police to issue Covid lockdown fines. Fake HMRC communications, meanwhile, requested bank details in order to furnish you with a one-off “coronavirus grant”.

While scammers are most likely to target younger victims using “phishing” and “smishing” scams (fake emails and text messages, respectively), older Brits should be warier about the telephone calls they receive.

A call will often come at an intentionally inconvenient time when you are either tired or busy, with the hope your preoccupied mind will make you more susceptible.

What can I do to protect myself?

Remember that neither HMRC, the police, nor your bank will ask for personal information or bank details over the phone.

If you suspect a telephone call you receive is a scam, simply hang up. Even if the caller gives you a number to call back on – “in case you are worried this might be a scam” – find a number for the company yourself and call back from a different phone.

If you receive a text message or email, don’t respond, or click on any links. The email address might appear official, but a link could redirect you to a cloned site. These sites might look genuine but are designed to look this way, to harvest your personal information.

You can forward suspect HMRC emails to and should also visit the FCA’s ScamSmart site for more information.

Pension and investment scams are on the rise

What pension scams are out there?

Pension cold-calling was banned in 2019. This means that if you receive a communication out of the blue regarding your pension, it is highly likely to be a scam. This applies whether the communication is via email, text message, or telephone call.

Action Fraud reports that pension scams for the first quarter of 2021 were up 45% on the same period in 2020. Investment scams, meanwhile, are up 84% on last year.

The commonest form of pension and investment scam is known as “pension liberation”.

What red flags should I look out for?

If you receive a call unexpectedly about your pension or a “once in a lifetime” investment opportunity, be immediately wary. Other red flags to watch out for include:

  • Promises of higher returns on pension savings that include terms like “guarantee,” “free pension review,” and “loophole”, or suggest that you can access your pension early
  • Time-limited, “once in a lifetime” offers that are designed to rush you into making a poor decision
  • Unusual and high-risk investments that might be overseas and so fall outside of UK regulation.

Remember that accessing your pension before the current minimum retirement age of 55 (rising to 57 in 2028) is classed as an unauthorised payment. You will be subject to HMRC charges up to 55% on top of the fees the scammers charge.

It is also possible that the overseas investment opportunity never existed, in which case, all of your pension funds could already be in the hands of the scammers. This is known as an “authorised push payment (APP) scam”.

If an investment seems too good to be true, it probably is. You should always seek professional financial advice before making any big financial decision.

What can I do to protect myself?

The FCA register allows you to check if a firm is regulated by the FCA. You can also use the site to check if a company is specifically authorised to carry out the process it is requesting to do on your behalf, such as the authority to complete pension transfers.

If you think you have been the victim of a scam visit or call 0300 123 2040.

Get in touch

If you would like help making tough decisions about your retirement or investments, we can help. Get in touch and speak to one of our Chartered financial planners today.

Get in touch

Please fill in the form and a member of our team will get back to you shortly.

West Wing, The Old Dairy,
High Cogges Farm,
Witney, Oxfordshire,
OX29 6UN