Find out how share and bond scams work, how to avoid scams and what to do if you are scammed.
Share and bond scams are often run from ‘boiler rooms’ where fraudsters cold-call investors offering them worthless, overpriced or even non-existent shares or bonds.
Boiler rooms use increasingly sophisticated tactics to approach investors, offering to buy or sell shares in a way that will bring a huge return.
But victims are often left out of pocket – sometimes losing all of their savings or even their family home.
Even seasoned investors have been caught out, with the biggest individual loss recorded by the police being £6m.
We are aware that scammers are targeting consumers searching for investments online, in particular through search engines like Google and Bing. Although some scammers offer high returns to tempt you into investing, they may also offer realistic returns to make their offer appear more legitimate. Those offering or promoting products or investment opportunities found through search engines are not necessarily authorised or regulated by the FCA. You can check the FCA Warning List for firms to avoid.
How share and bond scams work
Share and bond fraud usually comes out of the blue, with scammers cold-calling investors after taking their phone number from publicly available shareholder lists.
The high-pressure sales tactics can also come by email, post, word of mouth or at a seminar.
These scams are sometimes advertised in newspapers, magazines or online as genuine investment opportunities. They may even offer a free research report into a company, or a free gift or discount on their dealing charges.
You will often be told that you need to make a quick decision or miss out on the deal.
The scammers might also try to sell you shares or bonds in a company that doesn’t exist.
If you already own shares in a company, you may receive a call from someone offering to buy them at a higher price than their market value.
The scam will request the money upfront as a bond or other form of security, which they say they’ll pay back if the sale doesn’t go ahead – but you’ll never hear from them again.
Beware of clone firms
Many bogus trading and brokerage firms will use the name, ‘firm registration number’ (FRN) and address of firms and individuals who are FCA authorised. This is called a ‘clone firm’.
The scammers then give their own phone number, address and website details, sometimes claiming that a firm's contact details on the Register are out of date.
Scammers might also claim to be an overseas firm, which don’t always have their full contact and website details listed on the Register.
Scammers may even copy the website of an authorised firm, making subtle changes such as the phone number.
How to protect yourself
FCA-authorised firms are unlikely to contact you out of the blue with an offer to buy or sell shares or bonds.
You should check the firm isn’t a clone firm by asking for their firm reference number (FRN) and contact details and then calling them back on the switchboard number on our Register – never use a link in an email or website from the firm offering you an investment.
If you use an unauthorised firm, you won’t have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if things go wrong – and you’re unlikely to get your money back.
Buying bonds may not be protected by the FSCS, unless there has been misconduct by an authorised adviser or arranger. This includes mini-bonds, which are generally risky investments.
Always be wary if you’re contacted out of the blue, pressured to invest quickly or promised returns that sound too good to be true. Generally, the higher the return promised, the more likely it’s a high-risk investment or a scam.
You should seriously consider seeking financial advice or guidance before investing. You should make sure that any firm you deal with is regulated by us and never take investment advice from the company that contacted you, as this may be part of the scam.
The Money Advice Service has information on investing and about how to find a financial adviser. Alternatively, you could get further information from a group that represents advisers such as PIMFA.
Read more about how to find an adviser.
If you have been scammed
If you have already invested in a scam, fraudsters are likely to target you again or sell your details to other criminals.
The follow-up scam may be completely separate or related to the previous fraud, such as an offer to get your money back or to buy back the investment after you pay a fee.
If you have any concerns at all about a potential scam, contact us immediately.