Faux financial advisers: The online menace

Iona Bain

Post-RDR, ‘independent financial adviser’ has rightly become a highly protected brand that cannot be misused. But what happens if we chop off the word ‘independent’? Well, just about anybody can call themselves a ‘financial adviser’.

We all know what a bizarre and harmful anomaly this is. Surely all bona fide advisers, whether they are independent or not, deserve unique ownership of their job title? After all, only they have the skills, qualifications and solid character, built up through years of dealing with complex financial situations, to carry out the weighty responsibilities associated with this profession.

However, the internet is giving an army of imposters the perfect opportunity to pass themselves off as the real deal – and tackling them is easier said than done.

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What is particularly strange is that scammers and short term credit providers call themselves financial advisers as they proceed to advertise their services on networking sites such as Linkedin and ask to ‘connect’ with real financial advisers. They also attempt (albeit without much luck) to hijack online forums targeted at financial advisers in the hope that some of the profession’s respectability will rub off on them. For instance a broker called “Loans for Poor People” recently posted information on the Linkedin forum for Panacea Adviser, one of the industry’s best-known hubs for advisers. (If somebody has come across a more dehumanising name for a financial services outfit, I would like to hear it.)

This strategy will, of course, never wash with advisers. They will have no truck with the mindless, scattergun approach adopted by many of these online firms, who also pester financial bloggers with offers to write barely-literate ‘guest posts’.

However, these spammers are, at best, becoming a real nuisance for the administrators of these forums and blogs, who are forced to spend time deleting posts and flagging up individuals. At worst, they are slowly getting into a position where they can promote products, which may be completely unsuitable to consumers, under the auspices of financial advice. History has told us that the public is not necessarily alive to false marketing, mis-selling and poor advice – far from it. And the number of people from all social backgrounds who are going online for financial information cannot be underestimated. It is a recipe for disaster.

It is hard to see what the regulators could do about the uncontrollable jungle that is the internet. But you are not totally powerless. You can call the Office of Fair Trading consumer helpline if you have grave concerns. And the next time one of these ‘financial advisers’ contacts you on a social media site, do not just ignore them. Keep reporting them to the site’s moderators and, soon enough, they will not be sitting in the same space as you. At least you can say you have done your bit.