It can be a dangerous world when it comes to our personal finances.  Sadly, scammers and fraudsters are widespread, always looking for their next unsuspecting victim.

New figures highlighted by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) show nearly £200 million was lost to reported investment scams last year.  The average victim lost £29,000 in 2018, with common scams reported involving investments in shares and bonds, foreign currency exchange trading (forex) and cryptocurrencies.

The data comes from Action Fraud, which revealed more than £197 million of reported investment scam losses last year.  They also pointed out that scammers are resorting to increasingly sophisticated tactics in order to persuade their victims to give up their cash.

According to the FCA and data from their call centre, it’s investments from unregulated firms that are most commonly reported as scams. These include investments in shares and bonds, forex and cryptocurrencies, all from firms that are not FCA authorised.  These investment scams represent 85% of all suspected investment scams reported last year.

With the first quarter of the year considered to be a peak season for investing, with end of the tax year approaching, investors are being warned to be particularly vigilant.  The FCA warned that the profile of investment scams is changing, with more of these taking place online.  It means scammers are increasingly moving away from traditional cold calling on the telephone to find victims, although this approach does continue to exist.

Fraudsters are now contacting people through emails, professional looking websites, and social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram.

Research carried out by the FCA found that, last year, more than half of potential fraud victims did the right thing by checking first with the FCA Warnings List at www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart/warning-list.  This is a tool that helps users to find out more about the risks associated with an investment and search a list of firms the FCA knows are operating without its authorisation.

The FCA is urging investors to consider the following six warning signs when making investment decisions:

  1. Unexpected contact – Traditionally scammers cold-call but contact can also come from online sources e.g. email or social media, post, word of mouth or even in person at a seminar or exhibition.
  2. Time pressure – They might offer you a bonus or discount if you invest before a set date or say the opportunity is only available for a short period.
  3. Social proof – They may share fake reviews and claim other clients have invested or want in on the deal.
  4. Unrealistic returns – Fraudsters often promise tempting returns that sound too good to be true, such as much better interest rates than elsewhere.
  5. False authority – Using convincing literature and websites, claiming to be regulated, speaking with authority on investment products.
  6. Flattery – Building a friendship with you to lull you into a false sense of security.

Mark Steward, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight, FCA, said:

“Investment scams are becoming more and more sophisticated and fraudsters are using fake credentials to make themselves look legitimate.  The FCA is working harder than ever to help protect the public against this threat.  Last year we published over 360 warnings about potentially fraudulent firms.  And we want to spread the message so we can all better protect ourselves from investment scams.”

Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said:

“We are working with the FCA to raise awareness of investment fraud and would urge anyone who is considering in investing to check with the FCA before parting with their money.

“If you think you have been a victim of investment fraud, report it to Action Fraud.”

The FCA is advising investors to reduce their chances of falling victim to investment fraud by carrying out three simple steps. You should always reject unsolicited investment offers, whether these are made

online, via social media, or over the telephone. The recent introduction of new legislation makes it illegal for anyone to cold call you about pensions.  This should serve as a strong warning that any investment-related cold calling is likely to be an attempted scam, as legitimate firms do not cold call prospect customers.

Before investing any money, always check the FCA Register to make sure that the individual or firm involved is authorised.  You should also check the FCA Warning List to make sure the firm you are dealing with is not listed there.

And finally, you should seek impartial advice before investing.  There is never any harm in seeking a second opinion before investing your money.

There are more tips at the FCA’s ScamSmart website, which can be found at www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart.

If you’ve lost money in a scam, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit their website at www.actionfraud.police.uk.