Staying safe from scammers
Scams are sadly very common. They can come in the form of an email, a website, a letter, a phone call or even by someone knocking on your door. Scammers can be very clever, but there are many ways you can spot their tricks and avoid being conned.
How to spot a scam
If someone new contacts you, you can judge whether they're genuine by considering these questions:
If you've never heard of the person or the organisation, and haven't been in touch with them before, you should be suspicious.
...then it probably is. You should be sceptical of claims of easy money and big prizes, especially if you're approached without ever having signed up for a service or entered a competition.
If you're contacted by an organisation that has your details legitimately they'll usually use your first name or surname, rather than an impersonal 'dear sir' or 'hello madam'. They would never use a nickname or username you only use online.
Don't give personal details to anyone if you're not sure who they are, especially if they're asking for bank details. Anyone contacting you should have some details already - ask them what they know and how they got that information.
Organisations shouldn't hesitate to offer a phone number or address. They should have a landline, not a mobile number (beginning 07) or premium rate number (beginning 09). Be wary of PO Box addresses - that won't give you their location. If someone shows up at your door, ask for ID.
A common scammer's tactic is to ask for some money upfront with greater rewards following later. This is a sure sign it's a con.
No organisation should require an answer straight away. If they put you on the spot, refuse. If it's legitimate, they'll be happy to wait.
Ignore any mail, emails or websites with lots of errors. Legitimate organisations know better.
Organisations normally want publicity for a competition or special offer. They'd never ask you to keep secrets from friends and family.
If you're receiving too many nuisance calls, you could invest in a special call blocker telephone, which can recognise and block up to 100% of unsolicited calls.
If you think you've received a scam email, what should you do?
The best thing is to just delete it. Never reply or click on any links in the email and don't open any attachments.
Many scam emails will try to persuade you to act immediately by using a message that's meant to make you panic, like an account being closed or money leaving your account.
But organisations who need to contact you urgently will almost never do that by email. If you really want to be sure, get contact details from their website (don't use any links in the email) and get in touch directly via phone.
If you do click on a link, check the website carefully. If it looks badly designed, badly written or has a strange web address (most organisation chose a very obvious web address) then close the tab immediately.
How to spot a bank or money scam?
When it comes to money, organisations will take steps to contact you formerly, almost always over the phone and sometimes by mail, rarely ever by email.
You might receive statements, bills or marketing via email, but if something requires immediate action, an organisation will phone you. They certainly won't ask you to provide personal details over email. The same is true of government agencies, such as HMRC.
If your bank does phone you
If you are phoned by your bank, they will ask you some security questions. Security questions don't require you to reveal all your details. For example, you might be asked to provide certain characters from a password or answer a special question you already agreed to.
Banks won't ask you for your account numbers - they have that information already and they're not part of their security questions. Never give out a pin number, a bank will never ask you to do that.
If a caller keeps asking for more and more details, or details they shouldn't need, hang up the phone. If you want to be sure it's really your bank, call them back using an official number you know and trust.
The options available for anyone over 55 with a pension has greatly increased since 2015. You are now able to withdraw some or all of your pension money if you choose to. Unfortunately, scammers have very quickly begun to find ways to exploit these new rules.
As with many scams, they may contact you out of the blue to offer you what appears to be a great offer and then pressure you to make a decision quickly. They may even have papers and brochures sent to you overnight via courier to impress you and rush you into signing up to their fake services.
Typically, scammers will claim to:
- Offer a free pension review, a 'one-off' investment opportunity or ways to take advantage of a legal loophole.
- Offer higher returns of over 8% from creative investments of investments overseas.
- Offer a loan, cashback or savings advances from your pension.
- Suggest you put all your money in one investment (financial advisers almost always advise investing in several schemes).
- To be able to access your pension pot before the age of 55 (few real schemes support this).
Don't ever allow yourself to be pressured - legitimate organisations won't do this. Always take your time when making decision about your pension.
If you are approached with an offer you want to consider, contact the Pension Advisory Service first to talk through the pros and cons of any deal. Even legitimate schemes can sometimes carry a sting in the tail, such as a large tax bill.
Any pension advisor must be registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. You can easily check that any advisor you speak to is registered - don't just take their word for it.