Money Mail stands ready to go into battle on your behalf. But wouldn’t it be better if we could avoid those scams and pitfalls that dog our everyday activities?
We’ve put together 50 tips to equip you with the 2020 vision needed to avoid traps that catch less wary consumers.
Here we highlight the worst internet scams, the nastiest criminal phone calls and the indefensible holiday rip-offs.
Beware of free internet offers; look out for clone internet sites and be cautious of websites that appear at the top of any searches or claim to be sponsored are just some pieces of advice
Our tips will also put you on the front foot in dealing with consumer disputes, handling your bank and understanding your rights.
ALWAYS THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK
1) Beware of free internet offers. Small print can sign you up for regular monthly payments in exchange for cut-price goods or vouchers. If a firm asks for payment details when you sign up, alarm bells should ring.
2) Look out for clone internet sites. These can look similar to genuine ones but will charge you extra for their services, such as replacing your driving licence or European Health Insurance Card.
3) Be cautious of websites that appear at the top of any searches or claim to be sponsored. They may be adverts or they could be using sophisticated algorithms to get to top position.
4) Check phone numbers you find online because they may charge to connect you. The danger numbers start with 09 or 087. The worst are 09, which can have a £6 connection charge and cost up to £3.60 per minute. Look in the search bar at the top of the internet page to see if the web address corresponds to the organisation you want. Any government website should finish with gov.uk.
5) Take extra care when buying insurance on the internet. Top results may look cheap to buy but could prove very expensive if they don’t provide the cover you need. Make sure you are comparing like with like and that key elements you need are included.
6) Some firms ask for your mother’s maiden name or your date of birth to prove your identity. But this information could be used to access your bank account if it falls into the wrong hands. You can enter your parents’ names as Rhubarb and Custard and your children as Bleep and Booster as long as nobody else knows these secret names.
HANG UP ON PHONE CROOKS
Beware of any call you are not expecting. Scam calls will often have a pause before the person starts speaking (perhaps in a foreign accent) and they may not know your name (though this is not always the case). Always hang up
7) Beware of any call you are not expecting. Scam calls will often have a pause before the person starts speaking (perhaps in a foreign accent) and they may not know your name (though this is not always the case). Always hang up. Scam callers make many claims to get at your money but here are some common ones:
8) There’s something wrong with your Amazon Prime subscription. The call is not from Amazon and criminals are after your bank details. Ignore it.
9) Criminal activity or a problem has been detected on your broadband account and it is about to be shut down. The caller will often claim to be from BT or Openreach. They are not.
10) HMRC has issued a warrant for your arrest because of unpaid VAT or income tax. You will be told police are on the way to your house. It’s a scam.
11) Your bank account has been compromised and you should move your money to a new one, which they will suggest. Hang up and phone your bank, using the number that is on the back of your debit or credit card. Try to use a different phone because criminals sometimes try to keep your phone line open after you have hung up.
12) If you are left feeling scared by a phone call — particularly if the caller tells you not to speak to someone else — then immediately contact a friend or neighbour.
13) Use BT Call Minder or similar services provided by other companies to screen calls.
PLAY YOUR BANK CARDS RIGHT
14) When making an internet payment to a new person or business, always send £1 first. Don’t send the rest until they have confirmed receipt, ideally by phone.
heck before you press. Many mistakes with internet banking occur because people do not read carefully the bank details they have entered
15) If a business you are dealing with emails you saying its bank details have changed or that it provided the wrong details, phone them on a number you already hold (not any new one that may be on the email) to confirm this before sending any money. A common scam involves getting into an email account and sending out fraudulent invoices.
16) Check before you press. Many mistakes with internet banking occur because people do not read carefully the bank details they have entered.
17) Try using Paym or similar services which allow you to send payments from your phone using the recipient’s mobile phone number. These cross-check the number you have in your phone book and also show you the name of the payee’s bank account.
18) Use your banking rights in disputes with companies. Your bank or credit card provider is jointly liable under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act for any purchase you make between £100 and £30,000.
19) The Consumer Credit Act protects you even if you pay only a £1 deposit with your credit card, if the total purchase price is more than £100. It’s worth doing this even if you pay for the rest of the purchase by other means.
20) Chargeback covers debit and prepaid cards and there is no £100 minimum. This means you can use it as an alternative to the Consumer Credit Act and get your money back for small purchases.
21) If you have a problem with a direct debit, you can ask your bank to step in under the direct debit guarantee rules. It must refund you and resolve the issue if a company takes a direct debit without permission or alters the amount without telling you.
22) If you are tricked into transferring money to a criminal, banks should refund you if you have taken reasonable care to protect yourself.
DANGERS ON THE DOORSTEP
23) Protect internet passwords and PINs. We can’t be expected to remember them all but be very careful. PINs can be disguised as phone numbers in address books, for example. Sadly, quite a lot of internet fraud is committed by family and friends — so if you leave a password on show you are putting yourself at risk.
24) Photograph all your valuables, so you have evidence if anything is stolen from your home.
25) Beware of anyone selling things door to door. They may pretend to be selling things but in fact be looking over your shoulder to assess whether there is anything worth stealing later. Try picking up the phone before answering the door and pretend to be talking to someone. If you don’t know the person at the door, point at the phone, smile politely and shut the door.
26) Never buy from a salesman who comes to your home offering a ‘today-only’ discount. This is a form of pressure selling and may even be illegal.
HOW TO BE A SHARP SHOPPER
27) Keep receipts to ensure that returning faulty goods is straightforward. A folder for each month can help with digging them out.
28) The Consumer Rights Act states that your contract is with the retailer who sells you goods. So if they are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described, then the firm must resolve the issue. If a retailer (online or not) sends you back to a manufacturer, inform your local Trading Standards office.
When shopping on eBay, make sure you know what is covered by its money-back guarantee. For example, vehicles and digital items are not
29) If you buy online, you have 14 days to return items if you change your mind, according to the Consumer Contracts Regulations. If you order multiple goods, the 14 days start when you get the last of those. You may have to pay the return postage but not if an item is faulty or not as described.
30) The retailer can deduct some value if you have handled the goods too much.
31) When shopping on eBay, make sure you know what is covered by its money-back guarantee. For example, vehicles and digital items are not.
32) Don’t sign up for a store card unless you know you can clear the whole balance when the bill comes through. Their interest rates tend to be much higher than those of credit cards.
33) There must be a direct relationship between you, your bank and the retailer for you to be protected by the Consumer Credit Act. If the money is taken by a different organisation (e.g. PayPal), then passed to the retailer, the protection vanishes.
34) When shopping on sites such as eBay, keep communication between yourself and the seller on the platform’s messaging service. Don’t email them separately or you could be out of pocket if something goes wrong.
COVER UP ON HOLIDAY
35) If you misspell somebody’s name or even enter a shortened version of it on an airline booking, you may have to pay to have it altered. Overseas car hire firms may also refuse to honour a booking with an abbreviated name that does not match the one on the driving licence.
36) Buy travel insurance as soon as you book a holiday, to cover anything that might go wrong before you fly.
37) Travel insurance covers you if you are forced to cancel a holiday because of your own illness or that of a close family member. Without it, you could lose your deposit.
38) Make a note of the time limits for making a claim. For example, if you have been the victim of a crime, you need to report it to the police first — and get a police report. Some insurers may not cover you if you fail to do so within 24 hours.
39) Share your luggage around your family when packing for a holiday, rather than taking a case each. Then if one case is lost by the airline you will still have some clothes to wear.
If you misspell somebody’s name or even enter a shortened version of it on an airline booking, you may have to pay to have it altered. Overseas car hire firms may also refuse to honour a booking with an abbreviated name hat does not match the one on the driving licence
40) Car hire firms get to the top of Best Buy tables by offering vehicles for next to nothing but racking up the add-ons such as insurance and extra drivers. Make sure you know the total cost before you sign up and be wary of any firm that says extra charges are payable locally. You can buy full insurance cover far more cheaply online before you fly.
41) When picking up a hire car, check it carefully for scrapes and marks. Then photograph or video the whole car. This is your evidence if the company tries to claim you damaged it.
42) When using a credit card abroad, be wary of any business that tries to change the currency to sterling. They will be taking a big margin, especially if you have one of the credit or currency cards that provides a fair exchange rate, such as Post Office, Halifax Clarity or Aqua. Debit cards without exchange fees include Starling Bank, Bo and Monzo.
STILL NOT SATISFIED?
43) Give the firm one chance to put something right. On the second, tell them you want to make an official complaint that you want recorded on their complaints data. This gives financial firms an added impetus to resolve your complaint, as they must publish this data.
44) If you still don’t succeed, use an Ombudsman or arbitration service.
45) The Financial Ombudsman Service will investigate most problems involving financial firms and services. Tel: 0800 023 4567 or see financial-ombudsman.org.uk
46) Ombudsman Services cover most energy companies and many telecoms firms. ombudsman-services.org
47) You can go to the Consumer Ombudsman to deal with complaints about retailers involving issues such as faulty goods, returning goods, missing parts, delivery, misrepresentation and customer service. Tel: 020 3540 8063 or retailadr.org.uk
48) Resolver is a free website which can help you track down the right people to complain to and provide some help along the way. resolver.co.uk
49) The Pensions Advisory Service can help with pension problems. Tel: 0800 011 3797 or pensions advisoryservice.org.uk
50) If all else fails, write to me at email@example.com. I expect you to tell me if you have complained to an ombudsman, and you must provide written permission for the company to discuss every detail of your case in full with me.