Thursday, March 7, 2013

UK Financial Scams: A Growth Industry

"Trust me, I'm a financial adviser!"

The Financial Scams is one industry that is still growing rapidly, showing no sign of reccession. These range from the sophisticated to the downright weird – but all have the same aim: to relieve you of your money.

Recent figures from the National Fraud Authority show that the total lost to individuals from fraud and other scams is more than £6bn a year.

Here are the top 10 scams to watch out for this year (beware, there are more!);

1 Rare metals
Rare earth metals are chemical elements such as scandium and yttrium which are used in the manufacture of computers and phones.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) warns that companies are using high-pressure sales tactics and are targeting vulnerable customers out of the blue who are often told that supply of these metals is falling, causing prices to rise.

The FSA said it had “yet to see any convincing evidence that there is a viable market for investors to make money from investments in rare earth metals”.

It says that manufacturers using these metals buy in quantity: so they are not likely to want to buy from small independent companies.

2 Pension liberation fraud
Victims are told they can release their pension funds built up before they reach 55 years old. The Pensions Regulator warns that accessing pension savings before minimum pension age is only possible in rare cases, such as terminal illness.

It says that entering into a pension liberation scheme “can be fraudulent where individuals are not informed, or are misled, as to the consequences of entering into one of these schemes”.

It says these schemes can result in tax charges and penalties of more than half the value of a member’s pension savings – and victims are seldom told about these costs.

In the UK it is possible to get 25pc from your pension as tax-free cash. For more information check with your pension provider or a legitimate and FSA registered financial adviser.

3 Mobility aids
Scams targeting elderly people have raked in more than £28m in three years. The Insolvency Service said that around 2,000 elderly people were victims of scams ranging from dodgy investments to companies selling unsuitable or overpriced mobility scooters and stairlifts.

The scam involves selling these aids on the telephone or at home to elderly people with salesmen not coming off the phone until the sale is closed.

These scams can be avoided by only dealing with reputable companies which do not pressurise clients and allow them the chance to consider a deal before paying up.

4 Dodgy job offers
This scam involves victims being attracted by fake job offers which effectively turn them into money launderers.

Financial Fraud Action UK says the offers use titles such as “money transfer agent” or “payment processing agent”.

Those who succumb become part of a money-laundering scheme and are known to authorities as “money mules”.

They are told to receive money into their bank accounts and to transfer it to another, taking a cut themselves.

The money involved is often stolen or the proceeds of drug dealing and extortion. The mules are used to move the money offshore into overseas accounts.

5 Lotteries
Lottery scams remain common, according to Which?, the consumer group. One of the scams seen by Which? purported to come from the International Monetary Fund, which promised the recipient $8m if they paid £960 to release the funds.

It’s easy to tell a lottery scam. You have to buy a ticket to have a chance of winning a lottery. If you haven’t, you can’t win.

6 Truancy fraud
Essex County Council warned last month that a parent of a pupil in one of its schools received a phone call purporting to be from the Education Welfare Service.

The parent was told that as their child had not attended school that day they would be fined £340 and they were asked to give their card details over the phone.

The council pointed out that the Education Welfare Service does not phone parents demanding payment over the phone: it sends penalty notices by post and it would not phone parents demanding immediate payment.

7 Wine scams
These are a growing concern, says the Insolvency Service. According to Decanter magazine, scammers posing as buyers have attempted to defraud suppliers of around £1.6m since May 2011.

Individuals have also been hit by scammers selling en-primeur wine. This is wine that is sold while it is still in the barrel.

Victims are told they are buying wine at this stage because it will rise in value, by fraudsters posing as wine merchants.

Unfortunately, the wine doesn’t exist, and the victims are left out of pocket.

8 Love
According to Action Fraud, there is an increase in romance scams. It has had more than 1,000 reports in the past 12 months from those who believe they have found love online but have actually become victims of criminals who want to relieve them of their money.

The typical victim has been conned out of £21,600. This scam works when those involved hand over useful personal and financial details about themselves to people they have fallen for online.

Anyone looking for love online should watch out for basic warning signs. Be cautious of unsolicited advances, especially if they have too much interest in your personal details and bank accounts.

9 Landbanking
This involves companies which divide land up into smaller plots to sell to cold-called investors on the basis that once the land becomes available for development, it will rise in value but the FSA said the land is often in areas of natural beauty or historical interest and there is little chance of it ever being given permission for developers to build on.

One plot of land recently sold was on a site of special scientific interest; another was on a slope too steep to be built on. The FSA said landbanking schemes had cost investors up to £200m.

In extreme forms scammers can sell plots of land anywhere in the world and have also been known to sell plots on the Moon!

10 Carbon credit trading
Carbon credits are certificates or permits which represent the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide, and they can be traded. They are little understood by the general public, even when they are legitimately traded among corporations.

This Carbon credit trading scam involves cold callers targeting investors to buy into the “new big thing” in commodity trading because industries have to offset their emissions.

Carbon credits can be sold and traded legitimately, and the FSA pointed out that there were many reputable firms operating in the sector.

Investors might find they cannot sell their investment or get a competitive rate because they only have a few credits to trade.

Never trade in any commodity or venture that you do not understand or have not 'fully' studied and researched. Get references, visit sites and talk to existing customers. Caveat Emptor!

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