Pension scams becoming investment scams, says Citizens Advice

Individuals are typically told they should invest their pension money in fine wines or overseas property.

But many of the companies involved are not regulated and are not qualified to give financial advice.

The BBC reports that the fraudsters may be capitalising on the new pension freedoms, introduced in April. Those freedoms allow people over the age of 55 to access their cash, subject to income tax.

Citizens Advice – which offers official guidance through Pension Wise – said that emerging scams include:Unspecified financial products. Fraudsters offer to invest pension money in other products, without explaining what those products are; Free pension reviews. Fraudsters posing as independent financial advisers offer to visit victims at home, in an attempt to access their pensions; Investment schemes. Victims are persuaded to invest money in property, or in fine wine.

“Opportunistic fraudsters are finding new ways to go after people’s pension pots, including offering free pension reviews and promising to invest in funds that don’t necessarily exist,” said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.

A number of sites on the internet advise investors to transfer pension money into fine wine.

Most are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

They typically suggest that investors can achieve long-term average returns of 12-15 per cent a year, or that wine is a better investment than shares.

One pension advisory firm, Portal Financial, has reported 11 such websites to Google this year, to try to get their adverts removed.

“Unless you know that it is a legitimate investment, you should be very careful,” said Jamie Smith-Thompson, the managing director of Portal Financial.

He said other investment scams included land banks and carbon credit schemes.

Previously, so-called pension liberation scams have targeted the cash in a pension pot, charging a fee for “liberating” it.

But victims can lose more than half their money in such scams, as anyone under the age of 55 is liable for tax at 55 per cent, while others may have to pay 45 per cent.

Action Fraud – part of the City of London Police – said that cases of liberation fraud tripled in May, the month after the reforms were introduced.

However, the pensions minister, Ros Altmann, said she was not convinced that fraud was increasing as a direct result of the pension freedoms.