One of the most common things you hear from those who have been ripped-off is a sense of personal guilt. Often this is a stronger emotion than anger.
Why people should feel guilty about their gullibility cannot be answered using logic. The people I meet who have been scammed are neither stupid or ignorant, they are decent people who take others at their word. There is more than personal guilt in their regret, there is a sense of hopelessness as those who have scammed them have undermined the value system underpinning their lives.
This is, of course, not unique to being scammed. Any violation of property – physical or intellectual, can induce a similar regret that manifests itself both in guilt and anger, but most sadly in the former.
The trust in a value system (often based in a religious faith) is both a solace and a vulnerability. It is a theme explored extensively by Shakespeare, one day I would like to write about the collective breakdowns of Shakespeare’s heroes – Timon, Lear, Othello – good men; Ophelia , Hermione – good women. For all the inexplicability of the breakdown of their value sets is explored in terms of behaviours.
Sadly, the behaviours of those who are scammed, mirrors the behaviours of Shakespeare’s character. Typically they react to the breakdown of their values by violent self-harm though there are occasions – (such as that of Hermione in the Winter’s Tale) that characters win through.
News that the Government is once again tackling cold-calling, is good. Cutting off the root of the problem – the unsolicited approach, either through email, telephone or text – is a first step. I was recently sent a list of 22,000 names, addresses, email addresses and telephones that has been circulating. I hope that the Pensions Regulator will be able to contact those on this risk – if not to warn them, to get first hand experience of how they’ve been treated.
The lead generation business is filthy, unregulated and the source of joy only for scammers. It should be throttled.
The scammers cannot be stopped, even in prison you can scam. We can only make the rewards of scamming less easy and the penalties, more exacting.
Those who are most easily scammed are those with strong value systems and a high degree of trust. They are also people who do not properly understand the value of their pension.
The scammer preys upon the intangibility of pensions and on the irrational fear people have that a pension promise will not be met. Undermining our pension system with the scaremongering that has surrounded many recent pension cases, has made the scammers task immeasurably easier.
The concept of liberation has precisely the connotations that the scammer thrive on; pensions are not in captivity, though inaccessible they are very real. We have a duty to emphasise the reality of a wage to life.
Some may say that I am taking the situation too seriously. The people who I speak to at FCA and HMRC point to the £43m reported to have been stolen since April 2015 as a drop in the ocean to what has survived intact. I don’t believe the £43m figure (being a gross under-estimate) but even were it correct, we cannot relegate scamming to the accidental calamity cupboard.
The point is that scamming impacts all with pension rights, it reduces confident and creates further vulnerability on which the scammers feed. It must be stopped, for it is causing untold misery to those who lose and great uncertainty to the rest of us.
Thanks to Angie Brooks, I have been involved a little, but it is Angie and her brilliant team who are doing most. They now have support of the Pensions Regulator and the Pensions Advisory Service, but they need general support throughout the pensions world.
Thanks too to Darren Cooke who has made this cold-calling ban happen.
There is much ordinary pension people like us can do – awareness is important , but sensitivity is critical too.
Above all, we must look kindly on the scammed and not foster their sense of self-loathing. All too often, they are victims of their own decency.