‘…………..By David Leask Chief Reporter
PENSIONERS and savers are being targeted by Scottish organised crime groups that are pioneering frauds which police fear could leave thousands of people penniless in old age.
Senior law enforcement figures have warned gangsters are moving to capitalise on UK Government pension release reforms by offering savings packages and lump sums that are “too good to be true”.
Scottish criminals are playing a key role by tapping into existing expertise that exists within the country’s multi-billion pension industry to defraud people across the UK.
Now police and business groups are urging the industry to keep monitor their customers – and their employees – as the scams spread.
Detective Chief Superintendent John Cuddihy said: “We have Scottish organised crime groups who are specifically involved in pension liberation frauds. It is a further sign of organised crime diversifying.
“As soon as they heard they news that could could liberate your pension early, they seized the opportunity.
“They brigaded specialists with the knowledge from the industry and then they gave themselves a veneer of respectability.”
Police sources warn that hundreds of people have already been hit by such scams.
In some cases entire workplaces are approached and told they could take a lump sum from their pension but that they would be no worse off in retirement because of some high-return investment.
More often that not, they are given the lump sum but the rest of their money is lost – although they may be left with a tax liability.
Mr Cuddihy warned people face being ruined and left to a future of poverty after working hard and contributing to a pension all their lives.
“In the financial climate we are in, individuals are desperate to realise the money, sometimes they may not exercise the due diligence.
“When the fraud then comes to light, we investigate but the money has already gone to organised crime. Some of this is being done online. “Some of the companies will have to have a front of office and that veneer of respectability.”
Mr Cuddihy’s superior, Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson, begged anyone looking to liberate their pension to be careful. He said: “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
The Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) – which advices firms on how to stay secure – has urged companies with occupational pension schemes and pension providers to be vigilant.
Its director, Mandy Haeburn-Little, said: “This is a really time critical matter which requires addressing now.
“The reality is that we may not know the scale of pension release fraud for another five or ten years or more.
“The imperative for all of us is to communicate clearly and consistently on the types of scams and fraud offers that are emerging and that includes pension providers, police, fraud agencies and independent financial advisers.”
Ms Haeburn-Little stressed that pension savers had to understand that if they give their money to the wrong person they may never see it again.
Some of the pension release scams have included car parking space sales, self-storage unit sales and a host of pop-up offers where the returns appear to be very generous.
Ms Haeburn-Little said: “Recently we heard of an individual who, despite being repeatedly asked by their pension provider to get realistic advice, withdrew all £360,000 in their pension fund and they lost all of that money.”
She added: “Employers have a role to play here too – where a company has employees over the age of 55 who could, in theory, be drawing money down from their pension, then they should also be reminding those employees about only taking advice from a trusted, known source.”
Police Scotland and its partners, including the SBRC, refreshed the national organised crime strategy to reflect some of the new threats in Scotland, such as pensions liberation.
Ms Haeburn-Little’s organisation later this year will host a conference for specialists on the fraud.
Some unscrupulous operators are telling savers that they can unlock their pensions even before they are 55. This is not possible. The new freedoms introduced by the UK government in April only apply to over-55s.
Anyone under that age will be liable to pay an “unauthorised withdrawal” tax penalty to the HMRC. ………’