Protecting vulnerable financial consumers with the FCA Warning List

Every year, thousands of people in the UK fall prey to financial scams. For the last six months, mySociety has been working with the Financial Conduct Authority to create an online tool, the FCA Warning List, to try and help potentially vulnerable financial consumers avoid scams.

The tool launched on Wednesday last week as part of a wider communications campaign aimed at educating the public on the typical characteristics of scams.


The homepage of the FCA Warning List

The sophistication of financial scams

When I’ve mentioned this project to people, they invariably think of emails from extravagantly-named lawyers in far-flung countries identifying you as the lucky beneficiary of a lost inheritance. These scams seem, to most people, obvious and the people who fall prey easy to ridicule: how can people possibly think this stuff is real?

But many scams are actually incredibly sophisticated and work on people over a long period of time, with even the most experienced investors at risk of being taken in.

An introductory approach is made by someone who knows your name on a realistic pretext. Might you be interested in this investment? No? Well, John, it was good to chat and I’ll call again in a few months. A few months later another call. Did you know that if you’d invested you’d have made 20% by now? I have another investment here that I think might interest you, let me introduce you to my colleague who knows the director at this firm personally.

Scammers work their victim as a team, they lure us in and use our cognitive flaws and emotional weaknesses to ensnare us.

Disconcertingly informative user research

During this project, we interviewed 15 or so potential users, recruited as having the characteristics of people likely to be targeted by scammers. About half of these people had come in contact with a scam. As far as we know, none of them had fallen victim but only one of them reported their experience to the authorities.

Almost all of them thought that a website to help them research investment opportunities—provided by an independent third party like the FCA—would be useful for them.

The product

We’ve built an online tool that we hope will help investors avoid scams. A person using it gives it some basic facts about an investment opportunity (what is it an investment in? how did you hear about it?) and it gives them back some guidance specific to them.

For example, did you know that if you’re cold called about an investment opportunity, in all likelihood it’s a scam? Just that simple message alone has the potential to be very disruptive to scams.

The tool also allows users to search a list of firms that the FCA knows to be operating without their permission: if someone’s talking to a firm on that list about an investment, that’s probably a pretty bad idea.

Finally, it gives people other suggested actions at the end of the process. Been cold called? You should report it. Considering an investment in an unregulated commodity like bamboo? You should research further before investing.


We also made a widgetty version of the tool homepage that can be easily embedded into other websites.

Scammers rob people of cash, but they can also take people’s self-respect and damage their personal relationships, often at a time of life when they are particularly vulnerable.

We’re excited about the launch of the Warning List and are proud to be supporting the FCA in its mission to protect consumers by disrupting more of the scams that have such a destructive effect on people’s lives.


  1. Great stuff. Really simple but hopefully effective idea.

    Get Google to sponsor an adwords campaign around searches for dubious company names?

    Also, one final thought is to be aware of potential pitfalls of relying on select tags (aka drop downdown menus).

    They come with downsides for less confident users – see

    Mainly though – well done you and FCA.

    • Thanks for the comments Tom. The FCA also publishes a unique page for each dubious company (these pages are actually the source of much of the data in our tool) which ranks pretty highly in organic search results (see:, so they probably don’t need to buy Adwords for this.

      Interesting point about select tags. In our usability testing (16 people all in the 55 – 70 age range) we didn’t see any issues with select boxes – all our users managed to navigate them ok. It might be a coincidence, it might be that the other attributes that we were recruiting people by (e.g. having money to invest) led to us having more confident participants or it might be that the data here fits a select box better than a date of birth does.

      We’ll keep an eye on the usage data though with this in mind though.