Playing hide and seek with the scammers

James Coney

James Coney

Wanted: someone at the Financial Conduct Authority who knows how to use Google.

Okay, the job advert that popped up for the City regulator in December did not quite say that, but it may as well have done.

The FCA is looking for a head of investment intermediaries and scams, a job advert that prompted outrage among some in the financial adviser community because it lumped one perfectly reputable activity with one that is not (insert your own joke here).

There is a good reason these two are combined, however.

That is because rather than have some knee-jerk reaction about this, what this advert actually reveals is the gaping hole at the top of the FCA at a time when it is only just starting to regulate the promotion of mini-bonds – which are largely a scam operated by intermediaries, though not regulated ones.

You see why this job spec is suddenly relevant. 

The head of investment intermediaries and scams is clearly a senior role at the regulator, but what the position seems to be missing is the very thing that would help stop scams: the ability to use Google.

My 12-year-old niece does not meet many, indeed any, of the job requirements, but I bet you she would be more effective than the FCA has recently been at regulating this area.

That is because she is absolutely hooked on her new mobile phone and is already far more proficient on the internet and how to use social media than anything I have ever seen from the watchdog.

On the day the mini-bonds regulation came in, it took about 15 seconds on Google to find about a dozen scams still flagrantly being advertised on the search engine.

Yet the FCA seemed oblivious to it. If it knew, it had done nothing.

Google, of course, did not seem to be properly monitoring these adverts.

They were taken down once the FCA was alerted, but the question is: why was no one at the regulator doing it?

Surely it must be someone’s job to switch on their computer in the morning and type ‘investment bond’ or ‘savings bond’ into a search engine?

Are they also looking on Instagram, Snapchat and the latest craze among young web users, TikTok? I bet they aren’t.

Every young person I know seems to stumble across investment scams on the web all the time.

It cannot be that hard for the FCA to find them.

This, however, is just the start. Quite clearly, those people behind the mini-bonds are utterly brazen.

Breaches of the Financial Services and Markets Act should come with a two-year jail sentence, but so rare is any conviction that those running these websites are seemingly unconcerned about the consequences.

When you think about the layers of regulation legitimate advice businesses face, it is quite flabbergasting that those causing genuine financial harm can seem to find a void where they remain untouched.