Majority of suspect scams involve advisers

Majority of suspect scams involve advisers

The quality of advice to pension clients has been flagged as a top concern among schemes looking to prevent scams.

A survey from the Pension Scams Industry Group (PSIG) found advice made up the majority of red flags raised by pension schemes in their due diligence.

The industry body, which relaunched its pension scams code last June, had conducted a pilot survey among three providers - Phoenix Life, Standard Life and XPS Pensions Group - throughout 2018.

The research covered more than 27,000 pension transfers, from defined benefit and defined contribution schemes, worth £1.33bn in total.

It found 52 per cent of due diligences cases that were carried out due to suspicions of a transfer being a scam involved an unregulated introducer, an adviser in a different country from the member, or an adviser who appeared on an internal watch list because of previous concerns.

Another significant concern was member awareness of advice, PSIG stated, after if found in almost half (49 per cent) of cases the member had limited understanding or appeared to be unaware who was providing the advice, the fees being charged, or the receiving scheme to which the transfer would be made.

According to Margaret Snowdon, chairwoman of PSIG, the research highlighted some of the preconceptions about pension scams were not necessarily true and law makers might need to review the way they addressed these scams.

On January 9 the government enforced a so-called cold-calling ban, meaning unsolicited calls about pensions became illegal and companies which break these rules can face fines of up to £500,000.

But Ms Snowden said: "The number of transfers originating from a cold call amounted to only 6 per cent, whilst the number of suspicious cases involving unregulated advisers or introducers was far higher.

"This shows that our efforts to convince individuals about the dangers of scams cannot simply focus on the cold-calling ban, as perpetrators are already using other means of contact – like email and online advertising, as well as word of mouth and factory-gating."

Earlier this month regulators, government agencies and police forces warned of fraudster families running pension scams worth millions of pounds.

In some cases, they stated, the families had hired rogue financial experts with specialist pension knowledge, including accountants, advisers and trustees, to run large-scale scams for them.

PSIG found about 20 per cent of red flags identified by schemes related to the terms of the transfer including investment returns, guarantees made or the ability to access funds.

Regarding the destination of the transferred funds, self-invested personal pension (Sipp) providers, including international firms, account for 95 per cent of the transfer requests.

Of the remaining transfers about 3 per cent of trust-based transfers were made to authorised occupational pension schemes, while 2 per cent of payments were made to a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme (Qrops).

Ms Snowdon also noted the survey had shown that "the more in-depth due diligence undertaken by administrators where a request has been made, the greater the likelihood of finding red flags".