Pensioners warned over fraudster danger
Pension savers are being warned by the Government, regulators and financial services bodies about the danger of fraudsters trying to trick them out of their lifetime's savings.
People are being urged to arm themselves with information so that they can recognise the hallmarks of scams.
Fraudsters will often contact victims out of the blue offering them early access to their cash, or promises of get-rich-quick schemes, but the reality is they are nothing more than elaborate hoaxes, the task force said.
The hidden nature of pension scams is such that it is difficult to calculate exactly how much money has been lost, although recent estimates suggest it is close to £1 billion.
New freedoms were introduced in April this year to give people aged 55 and over more flexible access to their pension savings, but it is thought that some criminals may use this as an additional opportunity to trick some people out of their money.
Minister for pensions Baroness Altmann said: "The criminals behind this illegal activity often lay a sophisticated trap complete with glossy brochures and professional websites that make them look highly credible. Don't fall for it.
"Their aim is to catch you off your guard so they can steal your hard-earned savings. Scammers wreck people's lives; it really is as plain and simple as that.
"If you suspect a scam, please report it to Action Fraud or contact the Pensions Advisory Service."
One man came within a whisker of handing over his entire pension pot of £90,000, but avoided doing so after checking with official government services.
He was contacted in 2014 and offered a free pension review. After persuading him to sign a form authorising the release of his pension information, he was then paid a visit by someone posing as an independent financial advisor who offered him the chance of investing his money in overseas property.
Suspecting a scam he passed on details to Action Fraud, the hotline for reporting pensions and financial scams. He also called the Pensions Advisory Service who were aware of the scammers.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Fraudsters aren't just trying to tempt people's pension pots away with offers of pension schemes; they also try to entice people to hand over their money with big investment opportunities such as property abroad and fine wines.
"Think twice before responding to a cold call or an advert offering a free 'pension review', or high-return investment. If you think you've been targeted by a scammer, report them to the authorities."
Project Bloom, a Government-led task force, was set up to tackle pension fraud. Several police raids have taken place, 15 scam websites have been suspended, and the National Crime Agency has snapped up 70 domain names to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals.
The Pensions Regulator, which is investigating nine cases of suspected pension scams, is also refreshing its on-going Scorpion campaign to help safeguard savers.
Chief executive of the Pensions Regulator Lesley Titcomb said: "Check the facts before you make an irreversible decision. A lifetime's savings could be lost in a moment."
Frauds can be reported to the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, Action Fraud on 0300 1232040.