A single text cost me my £45,000 pension

Pauline standing on a bridge over a river, lots of trees in the background, after a single text cost her a £45,000 pension
Looking back, I now know I should have been more cautious, says Pauline (Picture: Pauline Padden)

Unlocking my phone, I clicked on the text that had just come in from an unknown number.

‘Do you have old frozen pensions? Would you like to transfer them into a high-return investment and receive an immediate cash gift?’

I must have re-read it 10 times over and even though it was unusual to get this kind of message about my pension out of the blue, all I felt was relief. It felt like a lifeline.

Looking back, of course, I now know I should have been more cautious.

Had I ignored that text, just deleted it straight away, maybe none of this would have happened.

But I didn’t do that. Instead I trusted that I was doing the right thing. And that’s how, in 2013 I had my full pension pot, a grand total of £45,000, stolen from me.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would you trust someone you don’t know promising you something that sounds too good to be true? But it wasn’t as simple as that.

Back then, life was busy, and I was under a lot of pressure financially.

I was approaching my 50th birthday, working a full-time job as a nurse with the NHS and raising three teenage children.

To make matters worse, my parents were seriously ill. My mum had recently been diagnosed with terminal heart failure with only weeks to live and my dad had Alzheimer’s.

So, to receive a message that was essentially offering me an immediate cash bonus to transfer my pension pots into a high-return investment seemed like the answer to my prayers.

Some extra money – which would turn out to be £4,400 made up of two transfers – would allow me to take some time off work to care for my mum in her final weeks.

Pauline taking a selfie in a restaurant
Pauline gradually learned that the company she’d invested in didn’t exist (Picture: Pauline Padden)

Plus, the high-return investment promised to transform my retirement – I’d be able to reduce my hours sooner and ease myself out of work gradually.

Before I got carried away with myself though, I needed to know more. So I followed up with the ‘company’ that contacted me.

Speaking to ‘Tony’ over the phone I was immediately put at ease. ‘These pensions are clearly not working for you. You could get a good return for this money,’ he said.

When I asked questions, he didn’t hesitate to answer them and there was no vagueness in his responses. He seemed smart, genuine, and importantly, trustworthy. So that’s exactly what I did – I trusted him.

In February 2013, two weeks after receiving the initial text, I transferred money from one of my workplace pensions into the scheme. It was easy enough to do, all I had to do was contact my two pension providers for the paperwork and I could send it on.

Low and behold, within a week I received a cheque as promised for £2,500 – 10% of my initial £25,000 transfer – and I immediately felt the pressure begin to ease.

While it wouldn’t be enough to tide me over for a long time, I knew it could help me keep things afloat and pay my mortgage while taking time off to care for Mum.

How to protect yourself from fraud

  1. Know the fraud signs: Common tactics can include impersonating an authority or ‘trusted’ voice or using language that evokes powerful emotions such as fear or even hope, promising you great financial gains if you ‘act now’.
  2. Protect yourself: While you can’t stop a criminal attempting to defraud you, you can make yourself a harder target. If you feel at risk, break contact by closing a text, email or conversation. You could also try changing your online passwords.
  3. Report it: If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, you should always report it. If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and have been defrauded report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040. In Scotland, all reports of fraudshould be reported to Police Scotland by calling 101.
  4. Don’t be afraid to seek help: If you’ve been affected by fraud, remember support is available. It’s important that we all feel empowered to ask for help when we are a victim of fraud, as it’s by calling it out that we ultimately take back control.

Convinced I was dealing with a reputable company and enrolled into a genuine investment scheme, I then decided to transfer a second pension pot. This time I invested £19,000 and received £1,900.

Sadly, Mum died just a few weeks after that but the jobs didn’t stop. I still had to care for Dad and my children, all the while organising her funeral. After that, life just went on, and to be honest, I almost entirely forgot about the scheme and the money I’d invested.

Then over a year later, I received a letter saying The Pensions Regulator – a public body that protects workplace pensions in the UK – had appointed professional trustees to take over my pension scheme.

The Pensions Regulator investigated, and I gradually learned that the company I’d invested in didn’t exist. Instead, I’d fallen victim to a pensions liberation scam and my £45,000 was lost. Forever.

I felt sick.

I’d been a nurse for 40 years and worked my entire life to provide for my family and ensure I had enough saved up to enjoy a relatively comfortable retirement. Now, I had nothing.

Pauline leaning against a tree in a wooded area, standing in front of a lake with a fountain in the middle
You never think it will happen to you, explains Pauline (Picture: Pauline Padden)

I felt so ashamed and foolish for believing these criminals. They’d taken my money, my future, and my hope. I felt powerless, gripped by fear and anxiety.

But the worst part was telling my children what had happened. Understandably concerned, they asked me: ‘But what will you do when you retire?’

I told them the truth: I was going to have to work until I was physically unable to do so.

You hear of people falling victim to scams all the time, but you never think it will happen to you. I always thought I was too smart; too savvy; they wouldn’t be able to trick me. But no one is immune from fraud.

And as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one to fall victim to this scam.

Alan Barratt and Susan Dalton, the scammers behind it all, also stole from 245 other pensioners across the country, stealing over £13million in total.

Following the investigation, the Pensions Regulator began, first, a civil, and then a criminal prosecution against them, and they were both convicted of fraud and jailed in 2022.

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Barrett was sentenced to five years and seven months, while Dalton received a sentence of four years and eight months and both were ordered to repay the money they stole, with interest.

A claim for compensation is being progressed with the Government’s Fraud Compensation Fund. I’ll get the compensation via the pension scheme through pension benefits, but it’s uncertain what I will receive yet and when.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a lot less trusting of people nowadays, and every day I wish I’d never trusted that text message. But I have to keep moving forward, especially because, if I stop working, I may not be able to live.

My advice to anyone that’s thinking about transferring their pension pot is please, stop and think. Never respond to any unsolicited messages and do as much research as possible before making any big financial decisions.

Taking five minutes to think things through might just save your future.

This article was first published on May 18, 2024 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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