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Regulator acts to protect investors and consumers

Written by: Emma Lunn
A Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) report has revealed the uphill struggle it faces in stopping dodgy investment firms from operating and taking action against scammers.

The report explained the action the FCA took in the first 10 months of 2020, when many people found their finances under pressure as a result of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

During this 10-month period the FCA stopped 343 applications for authorisation from financial services firms and individuals, where the potential for consumer harm was identified. This equates to almost one in 10 applications.

It also opened more than 1,500 supervisory cases involving scams or higher risk investments.

The FCA received more than 24,000 reports of unauthorised activity and published more than 1,000 consumer alerts in the 10-month period – an 82% increase on the previous year.

The FCA pursued 47 enforcement investigations against unauthorised businesses in 2020, securing almost £6m to be refunded to consumers, and obtaining court orders ordering that more than £14m be returned to consumers.

It also issued fines totalling more than £80m to regulated firms and individuals over the course of 2019 and 2020.

Sheldon Mills, executive director of consumers and competition at the FCA, said: “The UK has one of the world’s leading financial services industries, offering consumers access to a wide range of investment products.

“In some areas however, the consumer investment market is not working as well as it should and too often consumers are offered unsuitable products or advice. Protecting consumers and ensuring they have confidence in the suitability of advice they receive is a key priority for the FCA and today’s report highlights some of the work we are undertaking to achieve this.”

The FCA has also launched the next phase of its ScamSmart Investment campaign which warns consumers of the increased threat of clone investment fraud.

The ScamSmart campaign was launched in 2014 to arm consumers with the knowledge and tools to help prevent them falling victim to investment and pension scams.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “This latest report shows that the FCA is facing an uphill struggle in tackling a flood of online investment scams and that in some cases the regulator is not able to take action.

“It’s vital that online platforms including Facebook and Google step up and do more to protect people from these scams that can cause such devastating financial and emotional harm.

“The government has acknowledged the serious impact of scams but has not included them within the scope of its online safety bill. It must urgently come forward with new proposals to give platforms more legal responsibility to prevent fraudulent content from appearing on their sites in the first place.”

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