BEN WILKINSON: Something must be done to protect savers from scams

Scammers surely cannot believe their luck. A simple phone call is now all it takes to steal a pension saver’s life’s work.

What’s more, as we reveal here, pension firms and financial regulators don’t have the power to intervene. And the police are not likely to investigate. It’s a win-win for fraudsters.

It’s dreadful to know that criminals are scheming to get their hands on your pension. But to think they are often acting with impunity, or that simple measures could prevent a fraud in the first place, is galling.

Crisis point: The sheer volume of pension money being lost to scammers shows something needs to happen urgently

Crisis point: The sheer volume of pension money being lost to scammers shows something needs to happen urgently

Crisis point: The sheer volume of pension money being lost to scammers shows something needs to happen urgently

This is the unsatisfactory position we are in today. Pension providers can only sit back and watch as customers hand over their retirement savings to scammers.

I’ve written in this column before about how pensions are unnecessarily complex. It is this confusion that is helping scammers to thrive.

Surely it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to have a simple system in place to stop pension money being handed over to blatant scams?

Financial advisers will probably object, claiming providers will use the powers to slow the transfer process and deter savers from moving their money away.

However, the sheer volume of pension money being lost to crooks shows something needs to happen urgently.

We shouldn’t forget that these scams are hitting the public purse, too. Generous pension tax relief means around a quarter of money lost came from the taxpayer.

Pensioners cheated out of their life savings will have to rely more on the State in retirement, too. The pension freedoms introduced five years ago empowered savers to do what they want with their money. But these savers need to be taught how to exercise this power without being defrauded.

In the meantime, the Government, regulators and providers have a duty to step in.

It is no good to rely on simply raising awareness about scams. Fraud is far too sophisticated. We need a foolproof way of protecting our pensions.

Reader power

Today, Britain’s biggest building society is 50 years old — although its roots go back to the mid-1800s, when it started life as The Provident Union Building Society in the village of Ramsbury, in Wiltshire.

But Nationwide might not be celebrating this milestone if it weren’t for Money Mail readers.

This newspaper fought hard to stop the carpetbaggers looking to make a quick buck from turning the mutual into a stock-exchanged listed bank in the late 1990s.

We campaigned to encourage members to vote to keep it as a mutual. And the result was close. After more than two million votes, Nationwide remained a building society with a majority vote of only 33,700.

But our instincts proved correct, as one after another mutuals that had been turned into banks failed, leaving shares worthless.

Bradford & Bingley had to be nationalised, Halifax was bailed out by Lloyds, and Northern Rock was killed off by the 2008 financial crisis.

It’s a timely reminder that our readers can make a difference — and often know best.

You vs Goliath

Finally, Pam Watts’s court victory against British Airways is great news for the humble consumer. Pam felt wronged when the airline cancelled her flight with no warning, and she refused to accept that it was OK just because the clause responsible was buried in thousands of words of small print.

Pam had spent a lot of money with the firm, but BA did not even have the courtesy to let her know her ticket had been sold on.

Airlines are facing an uncertain future, but customer care should not be forgotten.

After all, it will be loyal passengers that help keep them in business when the world returns to normal.

The customer is often right, but it’s a shame that it takes a costly court case for a firm like BA to realise this.

If you’ve taken on a big company and won, email us at moneymail@dailymail.co.uk — we’d love to hear from you.

b.wilkinson@dailymail.co.uk

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