Money fraud could make your debt problem a whole lot worse

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Disease Called Debt

It happened to us!

Well, to Mr P to be precise. Last year he bought something with his debit card from a website he hadn’t heard of before, and a few days later I noticed that our bank balance was about £120 less than it should be. I checked the statement and there were about 30 withdrawals that had started the previous day; one from a shop, five from an online betting site, and the rest were small sums for computer gaming.

We contacted the bank straight away and Mr P’s card was stopped. He was asked a few things about his security of his card and when his answers satisfied the bank, they agreed to investigate and refund the money. Fortunately they could see from our prior transactions that we don’t indulge in gaming or betting. The missing sums reappeared in our account about three days later and Mr P later had a declaration in the post to sign and return to say that he had not made those payments.

I have taken a keen interest in financial fraud scams and preventative measures that we can all take ever since.

It’s a good job that we weren’t close to the edge

It didn’t cause us any hardship as there were no big expenses coming out of our account imminently and we had an emergency fund. This could cause someone a major problem though if money goes missing from their account close to their mortgage, rent or Council Tax payment; if there would not be enough money in the account to pay it, the bank would not do so and this would be classed as a payment in arrears.

It could mean that you have to borrow to tide you over

Unless you have an emergency fund, it could mean that you might need to borrow in order to make your essential payments until it is sorted out by the bank – if they do agree to return the money to your account, which they don’t always do now. You might end up incurring interest if you can’t pay it back quickly.

It all changed earlier this year

In March, the chief of the Metropolitan Police suggested that banks should not be responsible for fraud that could be the result of poor computer security. Consumer groups criticised his remarks as they saw it as a way of banks to absolve themselves of responsibility and the Met backpedalled on the comments, but I have heard since that the Financial Ombudsman Service has reported a rise in complaints about the banks’ handling of fraud losses by customers.

“Cybercrime Overtakes Traditional Crime in UK”

That was the conclusion of a recent report by the National Crime Agency, which stated that “the speed of criminal capability development is currently outpacing our response as a community”. In other words, the crooks are getting cleverer and more innovative all the time.

Is online/phone banking a good thing?

It’s convenient, that’s true. But – you have to weigh up the risk of having your bank accounts emptied though smishing and other frauds. I do use online banking but as little as possible, and only on my MacBook after deleting my browser history and using a private window. Read why a cyber crime expert won’t use online banking; https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/nov/21/safe-internet-banking-cyber-security-online

Furthermore, the more we use electronic banking, we are putting bank branches at risk and the jobs of people who work there are in jeopardy. I do prefer to deal with people than a computer screen.

Make sure that you have strong passwords

An unbelievable number of people use ‘password’ or ‘123456’ as their password. A hacker could crack those blindfold.

It is also a bad idea to use the same password for every account that you have; if your details are hacked from a shopping site, the same password could be used to hack into your email account. Apparently 12 character passwords are the most difficult to crack, especially if they’re made up a combination of letters, numbers and other characters. Identifiable words such as ‘birthday’ or ‘coolbabe’ made up only of letters are easier to crack.

Try using a phrase to help you remember it, for example:

?%mbJia20ts!

(“my brother Jack is a 20 ton softie”, with the beginning and end characters added to make it harder to crack.)

A few tips for keeping your money safe

NEVER disclose your bank account details and passwords to a caller.

If you’re phoned out of the blue and asked for bank/card details and/or any passwords, hang up.

Create strong passwords.

Call your bank to check suspicious calls on a different phone. If you call your bank from the same phone, fraudsters will stay on the line after you have hung up and listen to everything you say, including your bank account details.

Get the best antivirus software that you can afford.

Run the update notifications on your computer regularly.

Delete your browser history frequently.

Run malware scans regularly.

Beware of using shopping websites that you don’t know – use Paypal where possible rather than your card. Check review sites for shopping websites that you haven’t used before.

Never open emails with attachments from people that you don’t know.

If you see a USB stick lying on the ground, never pick it up and use it; this is a recent scam of dropping malicious USBs for people to pick up. Bin it or hand it in to the police.

Disease Called Debt

Further reading

If you’re a victim of fraud, take a look at this advice from the Money Advice Service:

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/identity-theft-and-scams-what-you-are-liable-for

Types of scam, also from the Money Advice Service:

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/beginners-guide-to-scams

The scale of the problem:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/one-in-people-now-victims-of-cyber-crime/

Photo attribution – By BrackezMassimo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Struggling to budget? Team up with a buddy.

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I know how hard it is to struggle alone with a budget. Years ago I would carry a little notebook with me to record every daily expense, but I always lapsed within a few days. I would find shopping around for the best deals tiresome – of course, the internet has changed everything and now it is much easier.

Group support is powerful

Think of slimming clubs. You try to diet alone, then one day you’re fed up and you think that one cream scone won’t do any harm, but that’s the start of the slippery slope and then your diet is down the pan. If you join a slimming club though it gives you an extra incentive to stick to it, as you want to be seen to succeed when you go along to your weekly meeting. Everyone there is rooting for you and willing you to lose those extra pounds.

Team up with a friend or relative 

More people are in debt than you think and struggling to manage their money. Ask around if anyone is interested in teaming up to look at ways to save money. If you team up with someone else, you will then have the moral support to keep going in your money-saving endeavour. You could even form a group and get together on a regular basis and compare your progress.

There’s no need for anyone to know that you are in debt

If your need to reduce your expenditure is because of your debt problems, your money-saving buddy (or buddies) don’t need to know the reason. It’s your business alone. There are many reasons that you could give for wanting to save money, here are just a few:

  • You want to increase your savings
  • You want to save up for birthdays, Christmas or a holiday
  • You want to replace your old car
  • You want to build up a fund for emergencies
  • You want to save for a house deposit

Let your imagination run wild and think up an explanation if you feel that you need one – though if you say it’s for something like a trip to Florida, they’ll wonder later why you haven’t gone. Make it plausible!

You can find a suitable budget tool together

Maybe if one of you feels hopeless at preparing a budget, you could work through the method of preparing a budget together. There are many online tools for preparing a budget that will help you. You could look at the online tools for budgeting, here are a few:

StepChange – https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/how-to-make-a-budget.aspx

The Money Advice Service – https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/budget-planner

Citizens Advice – https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/budgeting/budgeting/work-out-your-budget/

Money Saving Expert – http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/banking/Budget-planning

You could also share the cost of budgeting software to load on your PC if you prefer. Have a look for budget planner CD-Roms in charity shops, you might find one there.

You can share the research

List all the areas that you both want to research, for example cheaper insurance, sources for price comparison, money saving tips, how to decrease the interest on loans and credit cards. Divvy up the list so that the  time spent on the research is shared, and each of you can report back on your findings.

If you don’t want to do this with someone you know

You can look at ways in which you can get help and advice elsewhere. There are forums such as Money Saving Expert where you can engage with other users anonymously. There are also various debt support groups throughout the country that can help you to get out of debt and help you to budget. Unfortunately there are not groups in every town (though it seems that an increasing number of groups are being formed to tackle such a widespread problem), but Debtors Anonymous UK hold Skype meetings.

However you do it – do tackle your debt

It does take effort and determination, but tackling your debt now will place you in a much stronger position in the future. You never know if some calamity might be round the corner; this is what happened to me, an unforeseen crisis tipped my debt problem into insolvency and believe me, it is an awful position to be in and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Once you get out of debt, you realise how trapped and burdened you once were by debt and you will relish the liberty. Enjoy the journey to debt freedom!

6 uses for ice lolly sticks

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It’s summer again! Here are some ideas for low-cost ways to keep both kids and adults amused, inspired by an Italian supermarket magazine article that a friend sent to me, as she knows I like making things.

Save up used ice lolly sticks rather than throw them away; here are 4 craft uses, one use for the garden and one money-making idea. Save your lolly sticks, get them off your family and friends or you could even sneakily get them from an ice cream van’s bin when they’re not looking.

Instead of the ideas that use paint, if you like pyrography you could also use that to decorate the sticks.

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1. Earring holder

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You need 11 lolly sticks for this, paint and glue.

Paint your 2 base sticks and the 5 for the horizontal sticks and leave to dry. Glue the 4 vertical sticks to the 2 base sticks and then glue at the top of each triangle; once dry, glue the horizontal sticks to the front vertical ones leaving an even gap between each stick.

2. Bird feeder

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This one’s a bit more complicated! For instructions, see http://www.tonyastaab.com/2011/06/x-treme-bird-feeders.html

3. Photo frame 

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You need 8 lolly sticks, paint and glue. Glue the sticks together in pairs on their thin sides so that you have 4 pairs stuck together. Paint your design onto the sticks and once dry, place 2 pairs horizontally and glue one of the other pairs over them at the bottom, the other pair at the top.

Glue a matching short piece of ribbon to the back of the top of the frame if you want to hang it up. Centre your photo in the middle of the frame, place a piece of stiff paper at the back cut to the widths of the inner sticks and secure it with sticky tape to the outer sticks.

4. Bookmarks 

Let your imagination run riot!  This is a great way to keep kids amused. All you need is paint, artistic license and a bit of spare time.

5. Seed and plant markers

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Just so that you’re sure what you’ve planted – write the name on a lolly stick (or paint it to look more decorative) and stick it at the end of the seed row or in the container.

6. Collect a load and sell them to crafters 

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If you get 100+, sell them on eBay, Gumtree or similar sites, or advertise them on a local notice board. A lot of the ones on eBay are unused, but as long as they’re thoroughly cleaned you could sell them as recycled. I’ve seen a listing of 250 used lolly sticks, cleaned in a dishwasher for £4.20 plus postage. I think you wouldn’t get very good feedback if you sent a pack of sticky, gooey lolly sticks…

For even more craft ideas, check out https://www.pinterest.com/scrapstore/lolly-sticks/

 

How did I get into debt when I hate shopping? 

 

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My idea of hell.

Shopaholics – they’re women who buy too many clothes and shoes, right? And those are the people who get into debt?

Well, that wasn’t true in my case. I hate clothes and shoes shopping, maybe because of distant memories of my mother’s hand firmly clutching mine, to prevent my escape, as we trudged around Marks and Spencer looking at everything in the store (so it seemed). It didn’t help in later years that I never had any sense of style; I could buy the most gorgeous clothes and they would make me look like a sack of potatoes. To rub it in even more, my best friend could have worn hessian sacking and look fantastic. She had style oozing out of every pore.

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I was never destined to be a fashion icon.

I don’t like crowds either, shops attract too many people for my liking. Put me on a 10 mile hike across a desolate moor and I’m in heaven.

Looking back at my debt-ridden years, I find it hard to think where the money went. I think that the answer is that I loved knowledge and experiences – I’m bored the second I walk into a clothes shop, but put me in a bookshop and I’m happy as a pig in clover. If I wanted a book, I’d buy it. I loved travelling; can’t afford a holiday, Jen? Stick it on the plastic! Heavens knows how many courses, workshops and seminars I attended over the years and some of those weren’t cheap.

I think I can say that at least I broadened my mind, even though it put me into debt. At least I have something to show for it, rather than having spent a lot of money on things that are now landfill. That said, if I could turn back the clock I would have used the library more, not jumped at every single course that took my fancy on a whim and had more budget holidays. I wouldn’t wish debt problems on my worst enemy, it was the cause of the darkest and most traumatic period of my life.

The truth is, people get into debt for a myriad of reasons and it’s not always about excessive shopping. Men are just as likely to overspend as women, sometimes on different things like cars, sport and nights out with the lads. The people on the lowest incomes in Britain struggle to obtain basic necessities, and then the doorstep lender comes along – and before you know it, that small loan has turned into a massive debt with extortionate interest.

It doesn’t really matter how you got into debt; it’s all in the past now, but I know from experience that it adds a great burden to your life, harms your mental and emotional well being and can cause problems in your relationships. An unexpected calamity in your life can turn the problem into a nightmare, so if you haven’t reached that point yet – do something about it now and start the path to debt freedom.

Get Out of Debt Hell – on sale 9 July on Amazon.

Photo credits:

http://dailycupofjojo.blogspot.com2014/11/beat-black-black-friday-madness.html

http://thehistoryanorak.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-history-of-scarecrow.html, attributed to the Daily Telegraph

How Brexit could affect your debt problem

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This is a non-partisan view!

First of all, I would like to make it clear that I am not going to take sides in this post. The campaign leading up to the EU referendum has been highly emotive for many people and there has been too much abuse hurled about by both sides, but for this article I intend to take a logical and rational view here to look at the facts. Please don’t ask me how I voted – it was a secret ballot and it’s going to stay that way.  🙂

I’m not a global finance expert, I did Economics O Level (that’s a GCSE if you’re a lot younger than I am), I found it as dull as dishwater but did scrape a pass. I do follow global and finance news in the broadsheets, I don’t understand the complexities of it all (who does?) but I have a fairly reasonable gist of what is going on. I read both the Guardian and the Telegraph so that I get a rounded view and avoid ‘confirmation bias’ (looking only at sources that tie in with your own beliefs).

What is going to happen to the economy?

I don’t know. In fact, nobody knows. There are plenty of experts who tell us that the economy is heading towards doom and disaster, and plenty of others who say all will be fine and dandy.

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Breaking news: Economy plunging into Mordor (that’s what some would have you believe, anyway)

However, if you read these news stories closely, they are all expressing opinions. Newspapers always love a sensational headline too (“House Price Shock!!”). It’s important to remember that these are only opinions, and even the economists disagree amongst themselves. So whichever way the economy goes, only one side will have their “I told you so” moment.

The result has sent shockwaves through the financial markets, this is true. Political change always does that, the markets will undoubtedly react when the result of the US presidential election is known next November. This referendum in the UK has been quite a unique event and it is of great significance to the whole of Europe, so it is not surprising that the financial markets have reacted so drastically – but it will probably be back on a even keel at some point. The question is when that even keel will be reached.

Read the news carefully!

Take a look at a news story about the economy and read it analytically. If you see a headline like this:

House prices ‘set to crash’

… the words in quote marks are an opinion of someone else. Look carefully for these words – ‘might’, ‘could’ ‘possibly’ and words in a similar vein. This gives you a clue that this is what they believe and not what they know for certain.

Why I take economic experts with a pinch of salt

They didn’t see the 2008 crash coming, did they? Maybe some did, but if they warned about it, it was well off the radar for most people and it was a shock for all of us. Now we know that the crash was caused by financiers making a lot of profit by buying high-risk sub-prime mortgage debt, surely economists should have known how the scale of this trading was putting the economy at a huge risk?

Brexit isn’t the only risk

There are also other things that could knock the economy sideways: geopolitical turmoil, disruption to gas and oil supplies, and instability in economies such as the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to name a few.

(Update, 3 July – I’ve just read that Deutsche Bank is in serious trouble – https://geopoliticalfutures.com/signs-of-trouble-for-deutsche-bank/)

Just in case – tackle your debt!

Of course, economic instability puts jobs at risk and higher prices put household incomes under strain. We simply don’t know what’s round the corner, so it is a wise move to tackle your debt NOW. Whatever may hit us, you will be in a stronger position to deal with it if your debt reduction is well under way. If the economy takes a turn for the worse, you will be better prepared to cope. If it takes a turn for the better – you’ll have one less thing to worry about in your life, and hopefully more spare cash to tackle your dwindling debt total. Once you have got into the habit of tackling your debt and curbing your expenditure, it becomes addictive and second nature, and a habit that you will never want to quit!

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My new book, Get Out of Debt Hell

 

Now available on all Amazon sites as ebook and paperback.

Get Out of Debt Hell_eBook

“How could I have been so stupid?”

That was my overwhelming thought when reflecting on too many years of living on the edge with overspending and juggling credit payments. It all collapsed when an unexpected crisis happened in my life. This is a familiar story for many people, and I will help to guide you out of the debt problems that have blighted your life with practical solutions and ways to save money. I will help you to think more deeply about what led you into overspending, by casting a critical eye on the insecurities in modern British life and the subtle and insidious forces that seduce customers into spending on things that they don’t need. This is a call to everyone struggling with debt to break free of this hell – becoming debt-free will liberate you, improve your life and you will never look back. No matter how much you owe, you can do it!

It is a book written from a British perspective with a view on life and resources for debt help within Britain, but I’m sure that readers outside Britain will find the principles to be universal. Many countries are also experiencing the insecurities and mayhem that are currently happening in Britain; they are all being blighted by global trends.

There are many books on debt help, so why is this one different?

Well, many are concerned with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of budgeting, cutting back on your expenditure and working out a solution with your creditors. Some also provide excellent advice for the emotional difficulty of facing your debt crisis and overspending habits.

What I look at in my book is the influences in society and culture that have led to overspending habits, as it is difficult to address your emotional responses if you don’t have a clear idea of what has led you to them in the first place. Advertising methods, celebrity culture, peer pressure and the triumph of emotion over reason all conspire to induce you to desire what you can’t afford. Once you understand how these forces work, it is much easier to switch off from them. I hope that this will help you to think more deeply about perspectives that might not have occurred to you before and to develop your own ideas and thoughts.

In addition you will find lots of practical advice to help you start to become debt-free, ways to save money and there is a *bonus free recipe* too!