Revealed: The £200m pension pot raiders who target the needy

  • Mail on  Sunday investigation uncovers cold-calling firms who target Britons to release  money from their pensions
  • Schemes  promise high return through unregulated and offshore investments for price of  agent’s commission
  • Financial  watchdog warns they can be a scam – victims face tax bill of 55 per cent on  their savings

A Mail on Sunday investigation today reveals  how unscrupulous cold-calling firms target hard-pressed  Britons and entice them to release money from their pensions, without warning  them of the risks.

An undercover MoS reporter obtained a job in  a telemarketing company which texts and cold-calls thousands of Britons each  week, encouraging them to release their pensions early in what the taxman  describes as an abuse of the pensions tax rules. The firm passes on details to  pushy salesmen who try to complete the deal. 

Tens of thousands of Britons have already  been persuaded to release £200 million worth of savings through so-called  ‘pension liberation schemes’ since the beginning of the recession in 2008,  figures obtained by this newspaper show.

Consumers are called up and told they can  liberate the money before the legal age of 55 and promised high returns by  investing in unregulated funds and offshore schemes – for the price of an  agent’s commission. 

But the financial watchdogs warn that people  can easily become unwitting victims of a scam, as anyone who  releases their  pension early could face a hefty tax bill of up to  55  per cent on the  value of their savings. Some have been left feeling  suicidal or forced to sell  their family homes as a result. 

Last night, Pensions Minister Steve Webb  said: ‘If a deal looks too good to  be true, it probably is. People should think  extremely carefully before  they give up their valuable pension rights. Money in  a pension is there  for retirement and should not be released before at least  the age of 55. Accessing money in a pension before you are 55 will also lead to  serious tax penalties.

‘Firms like these are preying on people when  times are tight. The Government  is investigating a number of these schemes and  I am working closely with the Pensions Regulator to make sure the rules that  already exist for  good reason are enforced.’

Earlier this month, the Pensions Regulator  and Revenue & Customs announced a new warning on pension-release schemes and  the firms that offer them.

But days after the announcement, an  undercover reporter for this newspaper obtained a job calling the mobile numbers  of hundreds of people a day in just such a scheme. 

The directors of the company, Lead  Performance Limited, told the reporter they knew the pension release schemes  were ‘not ethical’, with authorities trying to put an end to them. But they said  they were entering the market as it offered the opportunity to earn hundreds of  thousands of pounds in commission per year – and set up a meeting at their  offices to introduce the reporter to an investment firm, City Bay Consultants,  which operates pension release schemes.

LPL is one of the biggest telemarketing firms  in the UK, cold-calling more than two million Britons each month from 15 call  centres around the world, and offices in Nottingham and Northampton, on behalf  of companies that include British Gas and TalkTalk.

The firm, which has headquarters in Watford,  Hertfordshire, rings homes and mobile phones from midday to 8 pm daily and  conducts fake surveys to gain information, much to the irritation of most  householders.

Details are then sold on to their client  companies to follow up as potential leads. Our  reporter was encouraged to work hard at his new job and promised the opportunity  to earn up to £4,000 a month in commission, on top of his basic salary. He was  told that if he could find one individual who would invest a pension pot of more  than £100,000 through pension release schemes, he could earn up to £1,000  commission. 

LPL was co-founded by Bill Burey, 47, and  Troy Attwood, 34. Discussing the pension-release schemes, Mr Attwood admitted it  was not ethical. He told our reporter on his first day: ‘I think the Government  do not want people taking cash out [of their pensions] is the bottom line, but  there are people that are going to do it.’

David Fernandes, another LPL director, said  the schemes offered could be a lucrative source of business, as the recession  was leading people to raid their own pensions for cash. He  said: ‘We’re just really conversational [on the phone] .  .  . and then people  sit there and tell us their life story, just going, “I lost everything and you  know, I need this money, and my wife died .  .  .”.’

Once the reporter began work, LPL directors  provided him with databases of more than 300 mobile phone numbers. The people he  called had supposedly responded to a spam marketing text message offering  consumers cash lump sums from releasing their frozen company or private  pensions. In reality, many said they had not responded and were angry to be  called out of the blue.

Read more:–make-million-nuisance-calls-MONTH.html#ixzz2JAxe11tJ

By  Abul Taher and Martin Delgado

PUBLISHED: 01:58, 27 January  2013 |  UPDATED: 01:58,  27 January 2013

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