TPR needs to look above and abroad to stop pension fraud

We must be clear about what is a scam and what is not.

The Pensions Regulator is rolling out another iteration of Project Bloom, now known as the “Pension Scams Action Group” which is certainly a better name.

We’re told that the new scam-fighting plan from The Pensions Regulator (TPR) aims to protect savers as increases in the cost of living may leave them potentially more vulnerable to scammers.

TPR is warning that

savers may be lured by offers to access their pension savings early to cover essential household bills or be attracted by fake investments offering high returns that never materialise.

There are two quite different messages in this statement and I think both are confusing.

Let’s deal with “fake investments” first. For instance, this morning’s cold approach to me from Colorado based –

Founder, Business Professional, Author, Speaker
  • Charlie Stivers
    2nd degree connection
    Founder, Business Professional, Author, Speaker
  • Charlie Stivers sent the following message at 1:46 AM

    View Charlie’s profileCharlie Stivers

Charlie’s sent me a linked in email which he has paid money to have delivered to my personal mail and to my linked in messages feed. He’s all over me like a rash.

Any kind of response to Charlie would be foolish as it would trigger further conversations that at best would waste time and at worst , draw me into what is undoubtedly an investment scams.

Is this a financial promotion? You bet it is!  Is it a regulated investment – no way! Is it a scam – 99% likely.

I get these cold approaches every week and have been ignoring them for years. But that won’t worry Charlie Stivers, he only needs one person in 1000 to respond positively and he’s in business.

And he has probably sent out 20-30,000 of these in mails so far. Linked in should not be taking money from Charlie Stivers.

I’m grateful to John Belgrove for this nugget

Re your latest blog. The dictionary definition of Stiver is a very small or insignificant amount. What you’d be fortunate to get back after investing with Charlie! Lol.

Charlie is unlikely to ever be apprehended.  If he exists – as Charlie Stivers – he is probably unaware that his picture is being used. But he is most likely one of millions of bogus identities on social media, operated by bots. That someone is paying linked in to promote Charlie – tells you that people do take this kind of message seriously.

Is it the job of a regulator or linked in to stop Charlie Stivers ?

The answer’s Linked in. But the Regulator’s job is to make sure that linked in doesn’t become accomplice to scams by  profiting from scammers.

Here’s what Nicola Parish of tPR has to say

“Our new scams combat plan sets out to make savers aware of the risk of scams, encourage schemes to adopt higher standards of protection for savers’ pots and secure the intelligence we need to work with others to pursue and punish criminals.

“But this task is not ours alone. We expect industry to lead the way in thinking of innovative ways to protect savers now and in the future.”

I totally agree with that and I will be speaking with tPR about measures we can take to improve awareness. But the problem is not within the fold , it is without. The innovation needed is to identify false players and eliminate their accounts. This is something social media platforms are  reluctant to do.

TPR may argue that its powers do not extend beyond a narrow regulatory perimeter and that calling out Linked In is beyond its scope. I totally disagree, TPR was set up to protect members of occupational schemes – wherever the threat comes from.

Wherever the threat comes from..

TPR also needs to get to grips with the unauthorised advisers in Spain and UAE and elsewhere  whose standards of behavior can be shocking. This morning gives us an example of a client who apparently signed a document four days after he died.

And there must also be a recognition from regulators that those who are authorised and co-operating are distinct from the cowboys who prey on expatriates and the more financially incapable UK investors.  The sooner action is taken on the diaspora of overseas advisers the better- this will take co-ordination and determination , but it is not beyond the scope of the Pension Scams Action Group. There are plenty of readers of this blog who know where fraud is starting from and would be happy to co-operate to stop it.

So why are we so worked up about UK authorised consolidators?

Contrast the torpor with which we deal with overseas advisors with the draconian way the industry has reacted to onshore SIPPs which reward savers who refer a friend.

In an article in today’s Professional Pensions, Romi Savova of Pension Bee argues that trustees are simply missing the point.

Surely anti-scam legislation cannot be used to block transfers to so many personal pension providers? If this were to happen across the board, the industry would grind to a complete halt, which is not in anyone’s best interests.

Improving awareness of pension scams need not mean putting obstacles in the way of  organisations acting in the spirit of the law – see recent blogs. Holding up transfers to regulated SIPPs who run marketing incentives to attract new business has nothing to do with scam-busting.  We must be proportionate and apply common sense. We need white lists.

And it’s legal industry pedantry that drives savers who are trying to combine their pensions the right way towards bots like Charlie Stivers and real-life advisers in Dubai, Spain and Eastern Europe who appeal to those  frustrated with needless red-tape.

The majority of pure pension scams are happening through unregulated advisers fronted by seemingly authorised entities. Many are happening abroad and targeting ex-pat communities. . TPR and FCA should know the fraudsters for websites like Pension Life provide the intelligence. Are TPR and FCA prepared to confront UK registered financial services companies about their overseas subsidiaries? It is one thing to call for co-operation but another to look co-operation in the mouth and ignore it!

Fraud often uses UK authorised SIPPs and workplace pensions is rare and hopefully getting rarer (RIP Hartley Pensions). Regulators need to look beyond the regulatory perimeter and be imaginative in its use of the powers they have. The Consumer Duty and Treating Customers Fairly, apply to all customers!

As for social media fraud, TPR has no way of stopping this kind of advertising without the co-operation of Linked In and other social media companies who are currently taking the money from “in mails” and other advertising and clearly doing nothing about vetting what is being peddled.

Frankly, we are closing the door on the legitimate financial transaction and ignoring the open door offered by Linked In to Charlie and his business associates, who are given direct access to me because of the £1.50 this in mail cost.

Is it the job of the Pensions Regulator to prevent me taking cash out of my pension?

Now let’s move on to the second perceived threat of scamming. Apart from worrying about fake investment teams, TPR is also worried about people using their pensions to “meet household bills”.

This is not something that TPR should be worried about, it is something it should be encouraging.

If the only way you have to pay your upcoming food and fuel bills is the money in your pension – and if you are over 55, what is wrong with using your pension to stop you getting cut off, to keep you from the food bank Better off people will today see their mortgages go up, and so will people who cannot afford another £50 a month going out on their mortgage. There are many people over 55 who need cash now.

Fuel bills, despite help from the Government , have rocketed and are set to go higher. People are not getting cost of living pay-rises, many over 50’s are out of work . we think suffering from long-Covid and from other post-pandemic malaises.  People aren’t being scammed into taking their pension pots early, they are doing so because they believe they have no alternative.

It is actually quite hard to get money paid into your bank account from your pension pot from many occupational schemes.

Far from discouraging people to use pensions to pay household bills, the Pensions Regulator should be helping those over 55 to stave off CCJs and malnutrition by using the money they have built up in workplace pensions to cover their cost of living crisis.

Once again , we should not be confusing the rights of people to manage their money as they chose with scamming.

Looking to the future – not the past

The Pension Regulator’s Pension Scam Threat Assessment  is a good  document, but it is backward looking. The scams that have happened have been around pension liberation for the under 55s, the promotion of offshore SIPPs with unregulated charges and the sale of unauthorised investments – often through high charging offshore SIPPs.

The promotion of the scams is happening with the collusion of the social media companies and the Pensions Regulator, FCA and others have got to explain to linked in and others that they have a duty to spot scams and throw red flags.

We all need to be vigilant, call out bad practice and report obvious fraud.

I have had to kick out a number of peddlers of crap from the AgeWage and Pension PlayPen linked in group. Several members are on final warnings and if we get any aggressive marketing of unregulated pension products on my site, there is no second chance.

I agree with TPR that we all have a responsibility , but I’d like to see TPR and the FCA be clear. People have a right to their money and the right to manage their pension pots as they choose, within the rules.

But scams happen outside the regulatory perimeter , which typically means in cyberspace and controlled from an offshore location. The scams that happen today are successful because they aren’t using the tactics of yesterday.

TPR and the FCA must focus on how ordinary people are coming across these non-regulated activities and cut off the supply. Chasing after Charlie Stivers will get you nowhere, stopping Linkedin letting him send in mails, will get you somewhere.

Meanwhile, we should think seriously about the use of pension pots over the next 12 months and ensure that people understand their pension pot is there to help.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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