People hunting for financial products online should be wary of some paid-for search engine adverts that appear at the top of listing results.
This is Money was recently contacted by reader Linda Henriksen asking if products called ‘Fisher Income Bonds’ were a genuine place to put her cash after a house sale.
She had found the bonds, offering a top-tier level of interest of 7.75 per cent fixed for five years, via a simple Google search for ‘fixed-rate bonds’.
Too good to be true? The professional looking website offers rates up to 7.75% and uses the FSCS logo
In the Google blurb, it said ‘capital protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’.
This scheme protects savers to the tune of £85,000 per bank, building society or financial firm that is signed up to it.
Furthermore, the website claims to be on the Financial Conduct Authority register.
However, we are not convinced that a fixed-rate bond offering such high rates in current market conditions would really be covered by the FSCS – and some of the language used on the website is suspect.
Also, the listed contact number doesn’t lead anywhere while the e-mail address provided didn’t prompt any response after we sent correspondence to it.
Unclear: Both the FSCS and FCA told This is Money the website is a clone – but it remained online for weeks
We contacted FSCS at the end of August with our concerns that hard-pressed savers may be tempted to part with their cash under the false illusion money was protected by the scheme via these Fisher Income Bonds.
The same day, it ascertained that the website was a ‘spoof’ but it would continue to investigate.
Later, the FSCS told us that it had contacted the FCA about it and also alerted the genuine Fisher Investment firm to the fact that fraudsters had mimicked their website with a convincing-looking copy.
An FSCS spokesman said: ‘If we ascertain that someone is using FSCS’s logo and FSCS protection is not applicable or they are not authorised, we will write to them asserting our intellectual property rights over the use of our logo.’
Investigating and taking criminal action against unregulated firms and fraudsters is the responsibility of the FCA.
We contacted the FCA soon after. It told This is Money that it was aware of the website and is currently looking into what action it should take.
It also says that the website is a clone. It says: ‘Fraudsters look for new ways to scam consumers, but one scam increasingly reported to us involves share scammers pretending to be from firms we authorise.’
You can find out more about clone firms here.
However, despite this, the website remained accessible until today, when after enquiries from This is Money it appears to have shut down, some three weeks after we first reported it.
The FCA advises any customers that are concerned by these bonds, and any other financial products that do not appear legitimate, to call 0800 111 6768.
Search engine: The Fisher Income Bonds were found as a paid-for link on Google by our reader
It adds that the bonds appear to relate to an Irish-based firm who are authorised by the Central Bank of Ireland.
We asked whether the city watchdog believes more should be done by search engines to stop these types of paid-for adverts from being listed and whether it is seeing a rise in this kind of fraud.
However, it chose not to give an answer to these points.
Companies can pay search engines to have ads at the top of certain results – including this one.
The phony website found by our reader says that the bonds can only be opened with a minimum of £15,000, meaning that if people do or did fall for it, large sums could be in jeopardy.
The top rate of interest it claims to offer over a year is 7.75 per cent.
This compares to a best buy five year fixed-rate bond of 2.51 per cent in the independent This is Money savings tables.
BE ON YOUR GUARD
Fraudsters are attempting a number of ways to steal your savings.
In this case, the reader was correct to check that this product was legitimate rather than ploughing in thousands of pounds.
If something is too good to be true, the likelihood is that it will be.
Our advice is this: if you use search engines for financial products like this, triple-check it is not fake and don’t take it verbatim that is covered under a scheme such as the FSCS because it has the logo.
If you have spotted something similar, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org