The last week or so seems to have contained little else but signs or further signs of human duplicity and deceit.  Some time ago, Pensions News (PN) promised you, the reader, that he would try to be positive in this series of articles.  Listening to and reading the news over the past week or so has made this promise especially difficult to keep but PN will try.

First there was PN’s own depressing experiences.  PN was phoned (not for the first time) at his home on a Saturday morning by an individual whose voice was so indistinct and blurred that PN was convinced that he was auditioning for the part of a British Rail platform announcer, circa 1990.  Announcing himself at speed as “phnerrrr-nawwwwww” (or so it seemed) of the “sszzzallllll-bbrrrraah data protection gnnnnnnnint”, he proceeded to tell PN that he was checking on problems with PN’s home computer and that he needed to confirm PN’s address and the number of computers in his, PN’s, house along with their location.  When PN asked the man from the organisation (let’s call him Mr Vague and save some consonants) to repeat his name and job title, Mr Vague did so at increased speed but with no improvement in clarity.  Mr Vague then repeated his demand that PN provide him with details of the number of computers in PN’s house and their location.  When PN asked Mr Vague what problems he needed to check on, Mr Vague hung up abruptly. 

PN was called on his employer’s (note that) mobile number earlier this week by someone announcing herself as “Kirsty” from what sounded like “sllladdinnggbot partners”.  Kirsty told PN that she understood that he, PN, had “been in a car accident which wasn’t your fault”.  PN asked Kirsty how she had called him on this particular number and to tell him, PN, about the accident she was referring to. Kirsty abruptly hung up and PN later established that the number from which Kirsty had called him was not in service. 

In between the two calls referred to above, PN read the detail about how this country’s national health service (NHS) had been attacked by the sort of criminal who regards the postponement of an individual’s operation within the NHS as not-very-regrettable, legitimate collateral damage and the sort of person who would be one of the first to complain to the NHS if his or her operation had to be postponed by that organisation.  As he has done in previous editions of PN, PN thought about the sort of mind that regards “Nigerian scam” numbers I and II not as things to be deplored but as models on which to build other scams and he wondered what the solution to such things was.  PN did not wonder for long; PN thought and thinks that the answer lies in the same technology that was exploited in the first place and, though he cannot do much about it himself, he relies on the brains that came up with the original technology to come up with a device to defeat the cyber criminals.  In this regard, PN has been reassured by previous technological advances which have solved problems caused by technology itself.  PN used to experience depression at evidence of society’s apathy towards its environment when it was evidenced by abandoned supermarket shopping trolleys – often protruding from otherwise attractive streams, brooks, rivers and canals.  What, PN asked himself, made an individual care so little about his/ her surroundings that (s)he would wheel his/ her shopping trolley out of the supermarket, away from said supermarket to his/ her dwelling and then abandon said trolley by pushing it into the nearest stream?  PN thought of solutions which involved trolleys which would explode suddenly if  pushed to a certain area and death rays which would eviscerate miscreants if they attempted to (let’s say) push a shopping trolley up a public highway.  Such would-be solutions have their own consequences including, possibly, the cost of the funerals of deceased trolley thieves and so it should not surprise the reader to read that PN has not proposed any of his “solutions” to the UK’s supermarkets.  PN has been both impressed and relieved to observe that the solution to the shopping trolley problem has not been, for instance, to abolish shopping trolleys or kill the perpetrators of what might be called environmental crime but to produce a generation of new, improved shopping trolley fitted with computer chips to ensure that a shopping trolley refuses to be pushed beyond a certain line marking the boundary of a supermarket’s car park.  The technological solution means that any would-be vandal would need to carry his or her fully laden trolley from the supermarket’s boundary back to his/ her dwelling – not the sort of thing someone too lazy to carry a few shopping bags would do.   The same principle applies to a number of solutions just as it was the advance of industry rather than the abandonment of it that enabled places such as London Docks and Salford Quays to be cleaned up so that, in the case of the latter, individuals can swim in the water and see where they are swimming whereas to attempt such a thing before would be to ensure a lengthy period in a NHS hospital.

PN hopes that the same technological principles can be applied to pensions.  Earlier this week, more depressing news broke in relation to pension scams.  The City of London Police disclosed (to the Financial Times) that losses from pension scams reached a record high of £8.6m (reported by 24 victims) in March (only) this year.  The increase looks particularly stark when contrasted to the figure of £779,000 in relation to 12 individuals for February 2017.   The City of London Police has reported that, since the so-called pension freedoms / flexibilities were introduced in April 2014, a total of £42m has been lost to what is referred to as “pension liberation fraud”.  PN has reported on this crime before but, to give you a short summary, a fraudster will typically telephone a potential victim to tell him/ her that (s)he is entitled to a “free pension review”.  Many recipients of such calls will hang up immediately as, in reality, nothing is free however a depressing number of individuals will stay on the line long enough to be convinced that (a) they can have their pension savings “unlocked” by the pleasant sounding fraudster and (b) funds can be paid in cash with the remainder being invested into the sort of high interest, double-downdraught, fiscal disappearance scheme that Mr Bernard Madoff so nearly perfected about 10 years ago (Mr Madoff pleaded guilty to establishing and the administering a giant Ponzi scheme in March 2009.  He is 8 years into a 150 year prison sentence and is currently known as inmate #61727-054).  

The immediate solution put forward (and supported by the current Government) to deal with the sort of pension scam referred to is to ban cold calling.  The proposed ban has been delayed until after the General Election but, if it is enacted into legislation, it is likely to help in the immediate term. PN feels, however, that there is probably a more effective, long term, technological solution to be found to deal with the fraudsters.  PN also feels that he is not the one to provide it, even though he has given the matter some consideration.  PN feels that his own solution of a telephone which produces a hypodermic syringe which injects a fraudster with truth serum on the uttering of the words “unlock your savings” (or words to that effect) is probably too complex and expensive to implement.  PN is therefore ready to leave the solution to persons more technically minded than he is. 

Finally, PN is able to report on something which he said, several issues ago, would be or continue to be a story.  According to several newspapers this week, the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) has reached an agreement with Tata Steel.  Several months ago, talks started between the trustees of the BSPS, Tata, the Pensions Regulator (TPR) and the Pension Protection Fund (at this point, the reader is asked to keep to him or herself feelings as to how interesting those meetings would have been).  A deal appears finally to have been agreed between the parties which includes Tata giving a 33% stake to the BSPS to enable it to merge with German company, ThyssenKrupp.  The story is not finished yet; not least because the chief executive of TPR has told newspapers that there are “still important details to be finalised” however a conclusion which includes a new pension scheme sponsored by the new owners of the business will be set up.  Members will, PN understands, then be given the change to move to the new scheme.  PN was particularly struck by the announcement of the establishment of a new occupational pension scheme.  PN thought that such things no longer happened and started to feel positive about his discipline.  Perhaps the new scheme will even be designed with the sort of technological features that will spell “the end” for the fraudsters.

Until next time……….