You don’t hear much about bank robberies these days.
Generations of people grew up on cop shows like The Sweeney and movies like Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, watching criminals carefully plan the next job and the authorities mercilessly hunt them down.
But these days, I’d guess that any self-respecting criminal would laugh at the idea of putting tights on their head and holding up the local NatWest. Partly because near-total CCTV coverage and other security developments mean they’re no longer in a fair fight with Flying Squad or the FBI, but also because there’s easier money to be made elsewhere.
As recently as 1994, there were 693 bank branch robberies in the UK, according to the British Bankers’ Association. By 2014 this has fallen almost 90% to just 89. Taken in isolation, that’s a good thing (even if it makes for less interesting TV), but the decline of face-to-face, “this-is-a-stick-up” robberies has coincided with something far more financially, if not physically, dangerous.
Fraud, scams and cybercrime have risen up to take their place, and while banks and other financial services companies invest millions to design systems to foil them, the increasingly online nature of our lives and financial transactions mean the criminals have no shortage of opportunities to exploit.
Some of the most damaging, and heart-breaking, cases involve older victims. Figures from the Financial Conduct Authority, as reported by The Times this week, confirm that almost £200million has been stolen by investment fraudsters in the past year alone.
The latest ruse involves fraudsters “cloning” the facades of well-known banks and asset managers to promote fake shares and other investment opportunities with cold-calls. Cases of losses exceeding £250,000 have been reported. The oldest victim was 98, and the average age of victims was 61.
An unexpected downside of the expanded pension flexibility that arrived in 2015 - which gave savers far more options for accessing their savings from age 55 - has been criminals targeting retirees for their newly-released money. Sometimes victims are offered a free “pension review” to open a line of communication that can be exploited.
And don’t think this is restricted to over-trusting elderly people. Professionally produced, but fraudulent, websites and emails can be practically impossible to spot.
There are, however, ways to protect yourself - and elderly loved-ones who may be less familiar with modern phone and online security processes.
A vital step to take before retirement savings are accessed to is to seek out the official help that is available. The Government’s Pension Wise service offers free, impartial guidance to help you understand your options at retirement. You can access the guidance online at https://www.pensionwise.gov.uk/ or over the telephone on 0800 138 3944.
1. Treat all unsolicited contact by companies with caution, even if you’ve been a customer for years and the call, text or email confirms basic information about you.
2. If you are unsure about a company that has contacted you, break off and attempt to re-contact the company by other channels. Use contact details you find for yourself, rather than relying on the details you’ve been given.
3. You can check the authenticity of financial companies on the Financial Conduct Authority’s online register, where there will also be certified contact details for genuine companies.
4. If asked, never give up security details such as telephone banking passcodes, PINs or login details. Your bank will never ask for these.
5. Don’t be rushed into action. A common tactic is to push victims into handing over details or transferring money with the threat that failing to act will mean a bigger fraud will take place, or perhaps that a great investment opportunity will be missed. If in doubt, stop and take measures to verify the circumstances.
6. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Investments offered without a proper presentation of the risks attached are, at the least, breaking regulations and may be entirely fraudulent.
The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up, so you may not get back what you invest. This information does not constitute investment advice and should not be used as the basis for any investment decision nor should it be treated as a recommendation for any investment. Fidelity Personal Investing does not give personal recommendations. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment, you should speak to an authorised financial adviser.
Combining your pensions into a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP) can make it easier to manage your savings - and it could be cheaper, with lower fees than you’re currently paying.