What you need to know about scams and how you could better protect yourself from criminals

May 2021

The TSB Bank claims it reports thousands of illegal adverts for investment scams every month, but many remain live for weeks before being removed. That’s according to the Telegraph, which goes on to claim that fake sites offering investment scams cost savers £135 million in 2020 alone.

It also reveals that TSB has called on web hosting companies to vet advertisers and report how quickly they remove scam adverts.

It’s a welcome move by the bank, considering how sophisticated criminals have become and how difficult it can be to identify scams. The bank has also called on high street competitors to declare how often they reimburse people who have fallen victim to fraudsters.

But it’s not just fake advertising that’s the problem. Criminals are finding ever more inventive ways to approach people. In 2021, millions of people received a text message that looked as if it had come from Royal Mail, when in fact it was a scam that took people to a website that asked for personal information.

That information is used later to try to steal your money.

A recent report in the Independent revealed criminals are using a similar approach, but this time using texts claiming to be from Asda and Morrisons to confirm a shopping delivery. Again, the message takes you to a fake “tracker” website that asks for personal details.

So, against this backdrop, discover five ways criminals may try to steal your money, how you could better protect yourself and potentially identify a scam if you’re approached.

1. Search engines can provide excellent hunting ground for criminals

Criminals use paid-for adverts and comparison sites that can be difficult to tell apart from genuine ones.

In 2020, the Guardian reported the capture of more than 200 fake “traders” in the Ukraine who were using fake adverts on Facebook to trick savers out of their money. To add credibility to their scam, they featured trusted celebrities who had no idea their names were being used.

Consumer watchdog Which? claims many bogus investment companies pay money to appear at the top of search results.

Criminals often offer returns that are slightly higher than bona fide companies, as this is attractive enough to tempt you but not high enough to raise suspicion.

If you have seen such offers, always discuss them with your financial planner before taking action, as they can help confirm the validity of any product you’re interested in.

Always treat any advert offering “best bonds” and/or “best fixed-rate bonds” with extreme caution.

2. Criminals set up a bogus investment company

Criminals now create fake companies that offer products that either don’t exist or invest your money into high-risk funds that pay the culprits handsomely.

To make it more difficult for potential victims to identify a bogus firm from the real ones, fraudsters typically:

  • Provide a number that matches a legitimate firm on the FCA register, and use the same address in emails and correspondence
  • Provide realistic-looking fact sheets or prospectuses
  • Follow compliance procedures similar to reputable companies, so will ask for copies of ID and personal documents as well as setting up a fake online account.

Although you have your financial planner to discuss investments with, if you have seen an advert you should check against the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) warning list, as it names companies the FCA suspects could be running investment scams.

In 2020 it listed 1,184 companies – double the 573 it had listed in 2019.

Even if the company is not on the warning list, you should double check against the FCA register to confirm the advice company exists and is authorised to offer the investment being discussed. Once the company has been found on the register, contact them to confirm that the adviser you are speaking to works for them.

Double check that the address provided on the register marries with the address and telephone on a company website you are looking at.

If contact is made with a company and the English, spelling or grammar is poor, it may be a scam.

Your financial planner will always be happy to speak with you and your friends and family to clarify the validity of an investment product.

3. Beware of messages that could be linked to phishing sites

As with the Royal Mail, Asda and Morrisons scams, any message or email should be treated with suspicion. These include messages claiming to be from your bank or official bodies such as HMRC, as they could be linked to “phishing” sites designed to capture information.

If you receive a text, social media message or email, always contact the bank, company, or official body directly to check whether the message is genuine. Do not use the contact details provided on the message you receive – find a bona fide contact number and use that.

Increasingly, criminals are using information from phishing sites to pose as victims and take over their accounts.

Known as “account takeover”, one media report claims criminals will then make unauthorised transactions or sell your account on. It also claims there was a 282% rise takeover attempts between 2019 and 2020.

Using biometric security such as touch ID or fingerprint locks can help provide some defence against an account takeover.

4. Beware of schemes to access your pension early

While you may regularly speak to your financial planner about your pension, that does not mean to say fraudsters will not try to contact you. The high value of pensions often attracts unscrupulous criminals.

Fraudsters are very skilled at offering attractive alternatives that can hide unusual and high-risk investments, which could result in heavy tax bills, excessive charges or your pension being stolen altogether.

One claim you should always avoid is the ability to release money from your pension before the age of 55. Often sold as “pension liberation” or a “pension loan”, they are highly likely to be a scam that could result in heavy losses and a bill of 55% of what you withdraw.

Always contact your planner to discuss any approach that has been made, as they can confirm its validity and assess whether it is right for you.

5. Fraudsters use tricks that could help you identify them

While spotting scam messages and bogus officials when they make contact is now increasingly difficult, fraudsters have tricks they use to appear more genuine or panic you into action.

The government’s National Cyber Security Centre lists the tricks, which include:

  • Authority – criminals pretend to be someone in authority to increase the chances of convincing you.
  • Urgency – usually the fraudsters claim you have a limited time to respond and may threaten you with fines or other negative consequences if you don’t act.
  • Emotion – the message or caller will aim to create panic, fear, hope or curiosity. Beware of threatening language or false claims of support to make the scam feel more real.
  • Scarcity – like urgency, criminals will claim their offer is in short supply in the hope you will not want to miss out.
  • Current events – criminals exploit current news stories or big events and may send a message that you would be expecting anyway. Always check the validity of a message or call.

Get in touch

If you have been contacted regarding your finances, speak to your financial planner to confirm its validity and determine whether it is right for you.

In addition, if you have family or friends who would also like to check how genuine an investment opportunity is, and whether it is the best thing for them, they can also speak with your financial planner. Please contact us below.

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