Pension scams increase amid lockdown; investment fraud remains prominent threat

Pension-related scams made up 16 per cent of all suspicious communications reported throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, according to analysis by Aviva, representing a 3 per cent increase since 1 March.

More broadly, the Aviva Fraud Report found that one in five people report had received suspicious communications during the lockdown, equating to around 11.7 million people in the UK.

The report explained that as stock markets have fallen in value, people with investments have become “much more vulnerable” to falling victim to scammers offering unrealistically high rates of return.

Investment-related communications were the second most common type of suspicious communication received since the 1 March, behind health insurance, with further increases also recorded in both life insurance, and annuity scams.

In particular, the report reiterated concerns around new savings bond fraud, also known as “impersonation fraud”, where scammers set-up imitation websites that look like well-known financial services brands.

The Investment Association (IA) recently published warnings around this form of fraud, after 300 incidences of this scam were reported, with an estimated total loss to savers of approximately £4m.

Aviva warned that fake comparison-style websites have also been set-up, which encourage consumers to provide information about themselves and the bonds they are interested in buying.

The IA explained that reports of this scam have recently spiked as savers approached firms to report concerns about not receiving their expected quarterly interest payment, only realising upon contact with the genuine firm that they had been the victims of fraud.

Furthermore, Aviva’s report has since revealed that as many as four in five (78 per cent) of victims stated that fraudsters had pretended to be from a company they already deal with.

Both the IA and Aviva have urged investment managers and customers alike to be vigilant to the risk of fraud and are working with regulators and law enforcement to tackle this scam.

Industry experts have warned of a heightened risk of pension scams since the start of the pandemic, with The Pensions Regulator stressing last month that scammers were “thriving” amid the lockdown, as ActionFraud figures showed that £5.1m had been lost to fraud since February alone.

However, Aviva’s findings may suggest that the threat of pension scams throughout the pandemic has been lower than expected, with the report ranking pension scams as the fifth most common type of scam during the pandemic, despite the recent 3 per cent increase.

The compares to previous research by Canada Life, which found pension scams to be the third most common financial scam, making up 19 per cent of scams in a survey of fraud victims.

However, the report emphasised that almost half (46 per cent) of people failed to report coronavirus-related scams, with 41 per cent stating that this was purely because they were unsure who to report it to.

The Aviva Fraud Report also found that accountants were the most likely profession to have fallen victim to a scam during the pandemic, representing 22 per cent of those impacted.

Key workers such as those in customer service and teachers were also amongst those most likely to fall victim to a scam during the pandemic, making up 11 per cent and 5 per cent of reported cases in the report.

This echoes recent findings by APJ Solicitors, which revealed that there had been an uptick in the number of key workers being targeted by scammers to transfer their pensions into high-risk self-invested personal pensions during the pandemic.

Commenting on the findings of the Aviva Fraud Report, Aviva group financial crime risk director, Peter Hazlewood, stated that whilst the types of financial scams are generally the same as before the pandemic, scammers have looked to exploiting the pandemic to “take advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable”.

He continued: “They are using coronavirus as a pretext to lure potential victims. The scams range from attempts to sell people unsuitable insurance to, at worst, stealing their entire retirement savings.

“The impact on victims is not just financial either, it has a detrimental effect on people’s mental wellbeing too.”

Hazlewood emphasised that as lockdown measures are eased it’s “inevitable” that fraudsters will change tactics again to develop beyond coronavirus, arguing that it’s “more important than ever that people remain vigilant”.

He added: “The best chance we have of catching these criminals is through better information sharing. The industry needs to work together with the authorities to support each other in protecting the public and our customers.”

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