Online fraud is a considerable problem, with sophisticated scams used to trick individuals into signing up for costly subscriptions, taking out unethical borrowing products, or even losing their life savings.
There is no end to the number of fraudulent activities out there, whether through an SMS scam, emails purporting to be from the tax authorities, or cold calls on your mobile.
One of the crucial ways to combat this tide of criminal activity is to ensure you have an accomplished professional on your side when you need to make legal or financial decisions – but how can you verify that the advice you listen to is authentic?
Here we’ll explore some of the resources available to help you establish that any adviser you hire is suitably qualified, regulated and experienced to offer guidance.
Choosing a Professional Financial Adviser
The first step is to consider where you need support, whether that’s with a specific issue or general ongoing advice.
For example, financial advisers offer a range of specialisms and skills, so you must seek assistance from a firm with the proper knowledge to help you make informed choices.
Particularly for expats, or individuals with property or investments overseas, it’s tricky to know from a website or social media page who that organisation is registered with – and whether it’s legitimate.
Some of your options include:
- Check the Financial Services Register to see if the Financial Conduct Authority authorises a UK provider.
- Ask which accreditations your adviser holds – that could be Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), as a few examples. You can search online for the awarding body and check their membership registry to confirm the information.
- If you’re outside of the UK, make sure to ask where your adviser is registered and that they have the requisite regulatory approval to provide independent advice.
Financial service providers offering advisory assistance across borders may also publish information about ways to protect yourself from unregulated advice, such as The Little Book of Scams published in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police.
Verifying Your Solicitor or Legal Adviser
Verification is just as crucial when seeking legal advice since any choices you make need to be backed by an understanding of the points of law.
For example, you may need a Conveyancing Lawyer for support handling a property dispute or Family Law Solicitors if you are dealing with a separation, estate or child custody matter.
There are similar tools and resources available to ensure your legal adviser or solicitor is fully accredited and qualified:
- Look for an accreditation from the Law Society (and visit the register to confirm validity).
- Check whether your solicitor is regulated and approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
- Establish if an expert in Family Law is a participant in the Family Law Accreditation Scheme.
- Ask your adviser if they have the quality mark from the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme.
With any of these verifications, it’s crucial you check the regulator’s website or the awarding body without taking any logos on an adviser’s documentation at face value.
How to Protect Yourself From Unregulated Advice
Spending time checking on the background of your solicitor or financial adviser might seem laborious – but it’s well spent if you’re keen to steer clear of scams or bad advice.
Unauthorised firms, whether in the guise of an advisory professional or consultancy service, are not protected. That means:
- You are not covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service and can’t contact them for support if something goes wrong.
- The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) doesn’t apply, so any money you spend or investments you make are at risk.
When you use an adequately accredited adviser, these protections mean that you have a level of insurance.
For example, the FSCS covers up to £85,000 of your funds in any bank or financial institution.
The Ombudsman will also investigate if you have been given bad advice or believe you have been mis-sold a product. Unfortunately, none of these services apply to fraud.
If you come across an adviser offering services, which claims to be a registered firm but doesn’t appear online, you can report this to the FCA or the appropriate body for them to investigate.
Clone firms are also typical, whereby a fraudster will pretend to be authorised by an established regulator but has copied the name and accreditation number from an authentic business.
Warning Signs that an Advisory Service is a Scam
There are also lots of things you can watch out for, which are red flags that something isn’t above board:
- Unexpected calls, emails, or text messages that you haven’t requested or consented to – never assume they’re genuine, even if a caller seems to know some of your details.
- Pressure to make quick decisions or transfer a payment without having time to look into it or seek independent advice.
- Any correspondence that asks for credit or debit card details or your bank account information.
- Suspicious URLs for an adviser’s website – these can be very convincing, but a strange website path is a warning sign. You can also Google the firm’s name if you have found it on the regulator’s register or click on a direct link to check you are being sent to a trustworthy site.
- Never grant access to your device; this is a common way for a scammer to control your mobile, laptop or desktop computer and access your bank account.
Any advice you receive that sounds too good to be true probably is.
A trusted adviser won’t ever make recommendations on any essential matters without a full consultation to understand your circumstances.
Remain cautious, and do your research when appointing any professional – and you’ll have the peace of mind that you are protected if anything doesn’t go to plan.