In Focus: Vulnerability  

"Nobody is safe": the In Focus Q&A on pension scams

Helen Morrissey, pensions specialist for Royal London: "The scary thing is, nobody is safe."

FTA: Who is most at risk of scams?

HM: The scary thing is nobody is safe. As I said earlier, I was in my 30s and getting messages about pensions reviews. If I didn't know what the hallmarks of a scam were, I might have picked up the phone to those people. 

With pension scams, we think it is the elderly who are affected - and indeed they will be if they are over 55 - but younger people cannot think they are not at risk.

What I would like to hope is that the advised population, if they are being approached by people offering investments, will discuss any activity like this with their advisers. 

FTA: What is the industry and the government doing?

HM: There are enormous things going on. The WPC is focusing on this heavily right now. Law enforcement and the regulators are combating scams, and there is the pensions bill going through parliament now, which is looking at powers to stop pension transfers, for example. There is a lot going on in the background to protect people but we also need to be aware of two particular things. 

One, we need to be more co-ordinated in our response. The regulator has done some great work but the scope for information sharing to really support the whole effort is great. 

Two, industry, the government and law enforcement have been doing great work [to tackle scams], but the general public do not really know what is going on. So while much work has been done, there are still too many people who don't know what the hallmarks of a scam are, so we need to promote these key messages.

FTA: What more can providers and advisers do?

HM: There has been a lot of work in the pensions schemes bill and elsewhere to provide safeguards. For example it aims to give providers the right to hold up a transfer and look into it, but people might not realise that, if we are holding a transfer up, we are actually looking to protect them, not to keep hold of their money. That's a difficulty as well.

Royal London is stepping in where there are concerns, and to work with advisers to make sure the transfers that go through are going to reputable sources, but in the future we all need to work together more.

These scammers are not just targeting our customers: they are targeting the customers of other providers, so we need to work together and share information with each other to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect people.