"I don’t…believe it"

Looking at the latest attacks on our money, Richard Wright feels a touch of the Victor Meldrews coming on

I’m beginning to feel more and more sympathy with Richard Wilson as Victor Meldrew, for his protestations of “I don’t bloody believe it” in One Foot in the Grave. It seems more and more people are out to take our money – some through fraud, which is bad enough, but even worse are the legitimate businesses that take us for mugs. I’ve just had to renew two insurances – one for the house and another for a boat. In both cases I have dealt with the companies for years, but with each I had to go through the weary ‘I can get a better quote elsewhere’ discussion for them to cut the premium – in one case by nearly a quarter.

On the same theme, it’s all but impossible to read a newspaper without coming across another report of a victim of fraud. The latest, timed to coincide with the rush to return tax forms, are commercial sites that look like official government sites. They charge you to do something you could do free on the government site. This is sharp practice rather than illegal, and has been used for tax and VAT returns and passport applications. These companies take considerable amounts from the unwary by acting as unofficial agents for government departments and then using the official site on your behalf. It’s a small step from that to fraud, since you give your bank details. The way to avoid this is to check the site has a .gov.uk name or URL.

Another increasingly common fraud is phone calls trying to get information about bank accounts and passwords. These often suggest you phone your bank to check the call is legitimate, but when you do so they have not disengaged their call, and it is not your bank on the line. Your bank or credit card company will never, ever ask for information about passwords or other means of accessing your account.

As proof that even the biggest are not immune to their systems being compromised, people are being urged to check their Tesco Clubcard points. A year after the first reports of the activity, people are still losing out from criminals printing off vouchers using their points. This is not because the database has been attacked again, but because people use their points infrequently and so do not notice the theft.

Then there are the banks. We’ve seen them spending billions to compensate people wrongly sold payment protection insurance (PPI), being fined for trying to rig interest rates, and compensating businesses for wrongly sold interest rate protection. Now another compensation fiasco is looming. This is for packaged or premium accounts, where people pay a fee for ‘free’ insurance and other services and access to a private banking adviser. About a fifth of people now have these accounts, and the first compensation has been paid to those sold accounts with services they could never use, because of their personal circumstances. Again, what is being highlighted is the sell-anything commission-earning mentality of some bank staff.

If you’re offered one of these accounts, add up what the so-called benefits are really worth. If you do so, you may well mumble the immortal words “I don’t bloody believe it”.

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