Changes to pension rules mean more flexibility, but new scams to steal from the unwary. Find out how to stay safe.

In the old days, pensions schemes were simple. You paid in all your life, you bought your annuity (probably from the same provider you saved with), then you died. That all changed in April last year, though - and things got a lot more interesting. People retiring these days have a lot more options over what to do with their money. You can take up to 25% of it out in a lump without worrying about getting a major tax sting. You can even cash in the whole thing at once, if you don't mind tossing a chunk of it to the taxman. There are mix-and-match options as far as the eye can see, with exciting names like "flexi access drawdown".

In general, this is all good news - but it does comes with a few extra risks. When you're planning your well funded shuffle to the grave, keep an eye out for vultures circling overhead. If you're not careful, they'll be picking your pension clean before you know it.

Don't get us wrong. You're not reading an advert here. RIFT doesn't offer pension advice, and we're not here to tell you how to spend your own money. What we ARE here for is to look out for you. Just because we don't have a dog in the pensions advice fight doesn't mean we're going to leave you to the hyenas. The new rules and choices have drawn the attention of some very bad people, and they're coming for your pension pot. Here's how to stay safe:

Get independent advice.

Far too few people are talking to the experts before making big money decisions. In fact, almost half of over 55s don't talk to anyone at all. Only about 14% even use the government's own free Pension Wise service. Pension Wise only offers pretty basic advice, but it's still a lot better than going it completely alone. There are plenty of options for more detailed and specialised help, too. They charge for the service, but it's much cheaper than getting scammed.

Know who you're talking to.

Unexpected phone calls, emails and text messages. We all know to be wary of them, right? Well, apparently not. This is one of the pension fraudster's favourite ways to hook in a victim. They might tell you they're from Pension Wise or another service. They just need a few details to give you a free review of your pension plans. Coincidentally, those same details could put you well on the way to losing it all.

If it sounds dodgy, it probably is.

Watch out for promises of guaranteed returns on investments. That's just not how investments work. Overblown promises don't necessarily mean your new friend's a scammer, of course. There's always the possibility he just doesn't have a clue what he's doing. Either way, don't get suckered into a bad gamble.

Take your time deciding.

Whether it's exciting limited offers or good old-fashioned high-pressure salesmanship, don't rush in. If your "advisor" doesn't want you to shop around or look into the offer he's making, that's a big red flag. Never sign anything you haven't read and double-checked just because there's a guy at your door looking impatient.

Know the common scams.

A lot of fraudsters will try to dazzle you with unmissable overseas investment opportunities. Good investment is about spreading your risk around. If you're being asked to dump all your eggs in one basket, then back away fast. You can see some of the most common scams at the Financial Conduct Authority's Scamsmart site.

Seriously: know who you're talking to.

We said it before, but there's more to cover. If you're considering taking financial advice, you need to know who you're dealing with. If they're on the level, you'll find them on the FCA register. They've even got a list of known scammers there. Check before you sign anything, and understand that scammers sometimes pose as legitimate advisors.

The point of the new rules is give you back control. If you want to blow your entire pension pot on a flashy car, that's your choice and you've earned it. The thing is, there are predators out there trying to snatch your money and they're not always easy to spot. Some of them even wear smart suits and have flashy adverts and brochures. There are ways to protect yourself, and good advice from a registered professional is always a smart move.

Of course, there's a lot more to planning your retirement than dodging the scams. You've also got to keep an eye on the taxman. That's where RIFT comes in. From sorting out tax refunds to handling Self Assessment, there's a lot we can do to help keep HMRC honest. Whatever tax problems or questions you've got, get in touch to see how we can help.