Avoiding the debt advice scammers

The Financial Conduct Authority has issued a warning to consumers about a “clone” firm impersonating StepChange Debt Charity using the names “Step to Change” and “Step Changing”. The regulator has reiterated its advice to consumers on how to avoid such scams. This is welcome. At the same time, there is more that needs to be done to prevent commercial firms cynically impersonating legitimate charities and attempting to hoodwink people seeking help with their debt.

The debt advice charities are working with regulators and the internet search engines to spot and act against scams, which affect all the debt advice charities, not just StepChange. StepChange adopts a zero-tolerance approach when it discovers impersonation, and always takes action against it.

StepChange urges anyone looking for debt advice to follow the FCA’s advice on avoiding scams. If using internet search engines, be careful to check any website links appearing in results. The correct web address is www.stepchange.org and the phone number for people seeking first-time debt advice is 0800 138 1111. For a full reference guide to all StepChange’s contact methods see https://www.stepchange.org/contact-us.aspx.

StepChange External Affairs Director Richard Lane says: “Scams are a scourge of modern life. Many people will be shocked to learn that scammers are active even in the debt advice sector. It’s unconscionable that there are firms out there trying to hoodwink people in the most cynical way, for commercial gain, at a time when they need free and impartial help, not a sales pitch. We will never ask you to share your personal information through WhatsApp or other social media, and debt charities don’t share or pass on your details to commercial firms. If you have any suspicions, don’t share personal information, and report your concerns. This isn’t something you should have to worry about, but be alert and be assured that debt charities take firm action against anyone trying to impersonate us.”