What are the telltale signs I’m on an imposter site?
If you’re looking for help from us, but aren’t sure if you’ve reached the right place, then there are a few quick checks you can do to make sure you’ve found the real site.
Firstly, check their URL: Does it match the one given out elsewhere? Then, check the logo – many firms won’t have access to an organisation’s proper logo, and will use something else, or a distorted version. These are two potential red flags.
Finally, take a look around the website itself. Do they provide full contact information? Are they registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)? They’ll also probably use phrases like ‘Government-backed debt advice scheme to write off your debts’? Legitimate debt advice charities don’t use phrases like this.
If you’re looking for a debt advice charity, it will be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and will list its authorisation number – you can check onthe Financial Services Register to be sure. If there are any alarm bells ringing, then it’s possible you’re on an imposter firm’s website.
Where does the scam lead?
For people who give their details to an imposter firm, they’ll likely be sold on. These imposter firms operate as lead generators (people who search out potential customers for other companies and get paid in return). Yet people may not even realise they aren’t dealing with a real debt advice charity until much later.
The first problem is that this may end up with you getting poor quality advice, or paying for a service that you could have got free of charge, or both.
Secondly, you may end up being sent to a company primarily dealing in Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVA). An IVA is a type of debt solution that is a formal and legally binding agreement between an individual and the creditor. While they can be an excellent solution for the right people (and StepChange recommends them to some clients), they are not suitable for everyone, so you should get proper advice about which solution is best for you. IVAs have risks attached to them, and if they fail they can leave you in worse financial position than you started.
With some IVA providers, a concern is whether they are acting more in their own interests than their clients’. Because the payments into an IVA will include fairly significant fees for administering the IVA, some seemingly maximise the numbers they sign up, whether right for a person’s situation or not. We get a stream of reports from people who thought they were dealing with StepChange only to receive a hard sell for an IVA and become suspicious – at which point it becomes clear that they have been in contact with imposter firm.
The costs of falling for an imposter firms are something many can’t afford to pay – especially when struggling with problem debt. The moment someone searches for debt advice is a big step in their journey to becoming debt free, but being fooled by an imposter firm can send people straight back to square one – or worse.
So please, if you’re ever looking for debt advice – or know someone who is going to – help us beat the imposter firms and make sure you’re talking to a legitimate debt advice organisation. As far as StepChange goes, if it isn’t stepchange.org, then it isn’t us.