£2.6bn lost to investment scams between 2020 and 2023, Pensions Management Institute finds

Investment scammers stole an average of £13m a week over the four-year period, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Investment scams represented by someone looking at a bank card while on their laptop
Investment scams have taken £2.6bn in just three years - new research has found
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Investment scams have conned almost 100,000 people into handing over £2.6bn to fraudsters since 2020, new research by the Pensions Management Institute (PMI) has found.

Between January 2020 and December 2023, an average of £13m a week was stolen by criminals, with boiler room fraud and Ponzi schemes claiming the largest totals. The figures mean victims lost £26,773 on average.

The PMI’s findings have come from data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the City of London Police - the UK’s premier anti-fraud agency. The professional body for pension experts has urged people to follow FCA advice on how to avoid being scammed.

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It comes after a series of fraud warnings in recent months. In February, Action Fraud - which is part of the City of London Police force - urged holidaymakers to be on the lookout after £12.3m was stolen by con artists in 2023. Last month, the crime squad reported there had been an eightfold increase in the incidences of recruitment scams.

PMI: ‘Investment scams claim £500m+ in 2023’

The data PMI has released breaks down how many people fell victim to each type of investment scam, and how much was stolen, in each of the four years to December 2023.

It found boiler room fraud - where fake stockbrokers cold call victims to try to convince them to buy shares or bonds in non-existent, or worthless companies - conned the most people and stole the highest amount of money overall. It claimed £553m over the period, with almost 21,000 people getting scammed.

Ponzi schemes came second, with more than 12,000 people losing £499m over the three years. This type of scam recruits people to hand over their money to access investments offering abnormally high profits. However, no investment is made, with early victims of the scam receiving the money later investors have put in, until the scheme collapses.

Other forms of scam the City of London Police recorded included:

  • Fraud recovery schemes - defrauded people are targeted by scammers offering to get them their money back. These scams generated £163m from 10,000 victims.
  • Pension liberation fraud - scammers seek to persuade you to access your pension pot before you turn 55, or to move it to an unregulated scheme. This type of scam claimed £19m from 1,500 people.
  • Timeshare and holiday club fraud - fraudsters claiming to represent bona fide holiday home administration firms contact owners of timeshares to try to get them to hand over their bank details. This type of crime generated £3m from 445 people

Other, less common, types of fraud managed to con more than 53,000 people out of over £1.4bn.

2023 was a particularly bad year in terms of the number of people being scammed. Overall, 26,740 people had £527m stolen from them - the equivalent of almost £20,000 per victim. The worst year in cash-terms was 2022, when a total of £855m was stolen.

Reacting to the findings, PMI president Robert Wakefield said: “Our research shows that a shocking number of people are falling victim to investment fraud. It is concerning that every year thousands of people are losing millions of pounds to financial scams in the UK. The number and sophistication of investment scams is ever-growing.

“By maintaining a healthy dose of scepticism and training yourself to spot some common red flags, you may be able to protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming victims. Increasing the amount of financial education provided in schools could also help to make people more aware of the risks of investment scams.”

Common red flags include an offer that sounds too good to be true, and pressure from someone to act quickly to take advantage of the deal they’re offering. The FCA has compiled a list of scam warning signs for people to look out for.

Metro Bank sees £4m+ in fraud so far in 2024

Metro Bank has also revealed the most common types of scam it is seeing. It said its customers have lost £4m so far in 2024, with almost one in five of the cases involving its business or commercial customers.

The scams it has seen the most of are: fraudsters impersonating genuine investment companies; cryptocurrency scams; and fraud involving valuable jewellery, gems or metals.

Its head of fraud and investigations, Baz Thompson, said: “These are some of the hardest and most sophisticated scams to detect because of the large amounts of money at stake.

“Investors need to be super cautious as scammers will go to extraordinary lengths to persuade, entice and defraud investors using sophisticated techniques from fake websites to posing as financial advisers to create credible investment scenarios. We would encourage anyone thinking of investing to first check the FCA warning list before starting.”

Henry Sandercock
Staff Writer

Henry Sandercock has spent more than eight years as a journalist covering a wide variety of beats. Having studied for an MA in journalism at the University of Kent, he started his career in the garden of England as a reporter for local TV channel KMTV. 

Henry then worked at the BBC for three years as a radio producer - mostly on BBC Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine, but also on major BBC Radio 4 programmes like The World at One, PM and Broadcasting House. Switching to print media, he covered fresh foods for respected magazine The Grocer for two years. 

After moving to NationalWorld.com - a national news site run by the publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post - Henry began reporting on the cost of living crisis, becoming the title’s money editor in early 2023. He covered everything from the energy crisis to scams, and inflation. You will now find him writing for MoneyWeek. Away from work, Henry lives in Edinburgh with his partner and their whippet Whisper.