The Facebook data scandal has got a lot of people thinking for the first time about what we share with organisations and how it will be used.
The idea that information you innocently give to a private company could be used to direct how you think, act or vote will spark concerns for some.
For those of us working to tackle pension scams, the heightened public awareness of data sharing is a positive.
For several years it has been clear to law enforcement agencies that pension fraudsters have been using a database of past and potential victims that criminals think are ripe for further plucking – what some have described as a “suckers list”.
That database will keep growing if people continue to hand over their details to organisations or individuals they don’t know and shouldn’t trust. You wouldn’t share your PIN number with someone you didn’t know. But unfortunately some people are still willing to trust their pensions to strangers.
I’ve used the word trust repeatedly to emphasise its importance when any of us are making decisions about our finances.
As examples, in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen two high-profile prosecutions involving abuse of trust come to a close. Four fraudsters have lost their liberty as a result, and quite rightly.
In Dorset, Anthony Locke and Ray King conned 16 vulnerable people out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. They persuaded their victims, including people who were unable to work because of ill health, that they should trust them to invest their pension funds. But Locke and King then blew the money on flash cars, gambling and holidays.
A deception in Norfolk was possibly even crueller. Alan and Russell Taylor took over their father’s company and cheated 239 of his former clients out of £17 million. Their victims had placed their trust in the men’s father, which the Taylors took full advantage of to get their hands on their pension savings.
In both the Dorset and Norfolk cases, the offenders profited by making themselves appear trustworthy. It is easy with hindsight to see that they were anything but.
Yet the lesson is clear. If we take “too good to be true” pension promises at face value – whether they come backed with fancy websites, glossy brochures or the offer of high rewards – we gamble with our financial futures.
Our data is our financial DNA. Our pensions are vital for a secure retirement. We must all be vigilant to protect both.
For advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of a pension scam, visit fca.org.uk/ScamSmart. If you are considering transferring your pension, first visit Pension Wise for information.
By Mike Broomfield
Head of Intelligence