Written by Kim
All pension and investment scams have one thing in common: if the pension scam victims had asked the offshore advisers some or all of these 10 essential questions, they might not have lost their life savings to the scammers.
Here at Pension Life, we are working hard to help educate the masses and stop pension scammers in their tracks worldwide. By arming and informing the public, and teaching them how to spot the scammers and avoid being scammed, we can help put a stop to these crimes.
With the scammers outsmarted, there will hopefully be fewer pension scam victims!
We have put together this cartoon which provides you, the investor, with 10 essential questions to ask your offshore adviser before you sign your precious pension fund over. Knowing what questions to ask could mean you do not become the next pension scam victim.
1. Pension Life has covered what qualifications your adviser needs to give pension advice. The adviser should also be able to show you their certificates and be registered with the governing body that awarded them – typically CII or CISI qualifications. We have created a series of blogs “firm name – qualified and registered?” which cover many offshore advisory firms and their team members. They show the firms that list employees who claim qualifications but are not registered and have failed to supplied proof and which firms are transparent. Some firms are happy to work with us and be 100% transparent and demonstrate that their team of advisers are fully qualified and registered.
2. Many offshore companies are regulated with an insurance licence ONLY and this is not sufficient to give pension and investment advice. They must have a licence to give advice on pensions and investments.
3. We have seen many companies with flash websites posing as financial advisory firms. Their spiel gives the impression they are a large company, but when you dig deeper you find they are a one-man band like the Imperius Group, and often unqualified AND unregulated like Callaghan QROPS.
4. Insurance bonds are an expensive and unnecessary double wrapper on your pension. If it has already been invested in a SIPPS or a QROPS, insurance bonds are not needed. Insurance bonds are another way for the scammers to skim more commissions from your fund, putting a dent in your start and end value. Life offices such as Old Mutual International, Generali and RL360 are among the firms (known as life offices) to be avoided.
5. Structured note providers such as Leonteq, Nomura, Royal Bank of Canada and Commerzbank should be avoided. These companies are linked to previous pension scams and many victims have seen their pension funds destroyed with these high-risk, fixed-term notes, that are totally unsuitable for a pension fund. Often these structured notes have high commissions that make the ‘adviser’ big bucks.
6. Holding a DB pension puts you in good stead for your retirement. With a pension fund like this you are often better to ‘just do nothing’ and leave it as it is. Transferring it can lead to heavy charges and fees, meaning your fund becomes worth much less than before.
7. A pension is classed as a retail investment and needs to be invested in low to medium risk investments with a steady increase in value. Offers of high returns, especially in investments that use words like “renewable energies” or “property”, are illiquid and high risk. These types of investments are not safe for your pension. An example of this is the Elysian bio-fuels pension scam, facilitated by James Hay and Dolphin Trust – a German housing investment scheme – promoted to British steelworkers.
8. Time and time again, we see pension scam victims receiving the paperwork on the pension transfer ‘deal’ they have signed, only to realise that large fees and charges have been applied. The scammers are experts at hiding the charges and often quote the term: ‘free pension review’. Whilst they do not charge for all their visits and advice before you sign on the dotted line, they make up for this in transfer fees, commissions and often quarterly charges too! The quarterly charges will be applied no matter how your fund is doing. We have seen pension scam victims´ funds end up in negative equity due to being placed into an inappropriate fund which causes losses and second, continuing fees being applied. (Fees are normally based on the start value of the fund).
9. With the technology we have today, like smart phone apps, many firms are offering instant access to the progress of your pension fund through their own app. Options exist to add funds or change your investments and total transparency of investments and progress; a company that offers this service is Pension Bee. You should also get quarterly statements and annual reviews so you can track the progress of your fund.
10. We have seen pension scam victims repeatedly contacting their so-called advisers to try to get information on the demise of their fund, only to meet dead end after dead end. Again, ensure you are using a fully licensed firm that has an admin, compliance and support team. Ensure you are able to get a set of contact details (if not two!) and that there is a ‘real’ address and a landline – scammers often use PO boxes and mobile numbers.
Remember, it is your pension and your investment; you are entitled to ask as many questions as you like. These essential questions to ask offshore advisers should be simple for any trustworthy and transparent adviser to answer quickly and effortlessly. If your adviser is in any way cagey, vague or tries to avoid the question altogether, just walk away. An adviser who is unwilling to be totally transparent could well be a scammer.