Avoid scams and unauthorised firms

Follow our 9 steps to make sure you are dealing with an authorised firm, and to protect yourself from scams, fraud and unauthorised activity.

Firms and individuals can only conduct regulated financial services activities in the UK if they are authorised by us or registered to do so, or are otherwise exempt. Yet some act without our authorisation or knowingly run scams.

If you deal with an unauthorised firm you will not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if things go wrong.

But there are steps you can take to make sure you are dealing with an authorised firm, and to protect yourself from fraud and unauthorised activity.

9 steps to avoid unauthorised firms

Step 1: Reject cold calls

If you've been cold called about an investment opportunity, chances are it's a high risk investment or a scam. You should treat the call with extreme caution. The safest thing to do is to hang up.

There are ways that callers can pretend they aren’t cold calling you. They may refer to a brochure or an email that they have sent you. That’s why it’s important you know the other tell-tale signs that suggest the investment opportunity is likely to be high risk or a scam.

You can reduce the number of unsolicited mailings and cold calls you receive by registering with the Telephone Preference Service and Mailing Preference Service.

Step 2: Stop sending money

If you think you have been scammed you should stop sending money to the firm and individuals involved straight away.

If you have given them your bank account details, tell your bank immediately.

Step 3: Check if a firm is authorised or registered

Almost all financial services firms and individuals must be authorised by us. But certain types of firms may instead be registered with us, including some payment services providers and electronic money (e-money) institutions, mutual societies like credit unions, friendly societies, cooperative societies, working men's clubs and building societies.

Check the Register to see whether a firm or individual is authorised by us or registered. You should access the Register from our website, rather than through links in emails or on the website of a firm offering you an investment. Also check the address of our website is correct and there are not subtle changes that mean it is a fake.

Beware that registered firms do not have to provide us with as much detail about their business and we have less power to check on the firm.

To confirm the identity of an authorised firm on the Register, ask for their ‘firm reference number’ (FRN) and contact details, but always call them back on the switchboard number given on the Register rather than a direct line they might give you.

Contact us

If there are no contact details on the Register or the firm claims they are out of date, or if you have any other questions contact us:

Step 4: Search our list of unauthorised firms

You can look through our list of unauthorised firms to avoid doing business with, although their names are likely to change regularly. This is a list of firms and individuals that are currently targeting UK investors and we have received complaints about.

We add new names to this list as soon as possible, but if the firm which has approached you does not appear on our list, do not assume it is legitimate – it may not have been reported to us yet.

If you have been unexpectedly contacted about an investment opportunity you can use the FCA Warning List to check the investment and the firm that’s offered it to you.

Step 5: Beware of cloned firms

Beware of fraudsters pretending to be from a firm authorised by us, as it could be what we call a 'cloned firm'.

These scammers often claim to be from overseas firms that appear on the Register as these firms do not always have their full contact and website details listed.

Step 6: Make additional checks

With fraudsters adapting their tactics you should make additional checks to confirm you are dealing with the financial services firm in question and have the correct contact details – especially if you have been cold-called.

You might want to check the details on the firm’s website, with directory enquiries or Companies House.

Step 7: See warnings from abroad

If you are dealing with an overseas firm or scheme you should check how it is regulated and follow similar steps to these.

We also have warnings from foreign regulators about firms conducting unauthorised business.

Step 8: Report an unauthorised firm

If you think you have been approached by an unauthorised firm contact our Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768.

Please fill in our reporting form, to tell us about an unauthorised firm or broker involved in certain business areas, such as consumer credit, mortgages, insurance products, payment services, pensions and share fraud.

Step 9: Beware of further scams

If you have lost money to a scam, fraudsters may try to take advantage of the fact that you want to recover your money and might offer to help you get some or all of it back.

You may be contacted by a new individual or group, as it is likely your name and details appear on a list their group and others are using to target people.

You may be:

  • reassured that your original investment is genuine and encouraged not to pull out of the deal
  • threatened with legal action if you stop sending money, or if you ask for your money back
  • told you can swap your investment for another deal, with a transfer fee involved, or asked to pay a capital gains tax bill before the large profit you were promised can be released to you, even if it does not exist
  • told the firm will buy back the shares or investment that you have lost money on
  • told by the scammers that they know you have been a victim of fraud and offer to recover your money for you
  • asked for your bank account details so they can pay the recovered money into it -  instead of getting your money back, the fraudsters may try to empty your bank account.