The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued a warning about a ‘clone firm’ impersonating the free debt advice service National Debtline using the name ‘National Debt Helpline’ online.
The warning is part of a wider issue of commercial firms impersonating legitimate debt advice charities. Three weeks ago the regulator issued a similar warning about a ‘clone firm’ impersonating StepChange Debt Charity.
Unlike National Debtline and other charitable debt advice services, these firms are not registered with the FCA and may provide inaccurate and unsuitable advice for people seeking debt advice.
Anyone seeking debt advice should follow the FCA’s advice on avoiding scams and how to protect yourself from clone firms. If searching online this includes checking the search results provided before clicking on the links.
The Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, is working with other debt advice charities to urge regulators and search engines take action on these kinds of scams.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said: “This warning from the FCA is welcome and shows that the regulator is taking the issue of scammers impersonating free debt advice providers seriously.
“However, there is more that needs to be done to address this issue. The government should give the FCA powers to regulate the wider activity of ‘lead generators’ for debt advice. These lead generators often use paid ads that appear at the top of online searches, diverting people away from free charity debt advice providers, and onto commercial firms who may include fee-charging debt management companies.
“These ‘lead generator’ companies that masquerade as National Debtline and other free debt advice providers make it more challenging for people in financial difficulty to get the free, impartial advice they need. Our concern is that these impersonators can lead people into receiving unsuitable and wrong advice at a time when they are most in need of support.
“If you are seeking advice, check the details of any links you are clicking on to make sure they are those of the genuine organisation. If you have suspicions, report your concerns.”