As Britain hits the shops ahead of Christmas and Government figures show one in 12 of us is falling victim to scams, Nationwide Building Society has just released its 12 top tips to avoid fraudsters during the busy festive period, as follows:

  1. Trust your instincts – is that must-have toy back in stock on an unusual website? If an offer’s too good to be true, it usually is.
  2. Don’t be fooled by phony websites – make sure a website begins ‘https’ rather than ‘http’ and that it has the padlock icon in the address bar before you enter your card details.
  3. Think twice before clicking – jokey emails and videos are a Christmas staple, but think twice before clicking a link. If asked to upgrade to the latest software – don’t! It’s almost certainly malware.
  4. Don’t listen to fake IT support – bought a laptop? Got a phone call from IT support wanting to fix your router or upgrade your software? Hang up – it’s likely to be a fraudster after your personal details.
  5. Keep your details up-to-date – always ensure your building society or bank has current contact numbers so they can get in touch if they spot unusual activity.
  6. Shoulder surfing – ensure no one can see your pin when using a card at a cashpoint or till. It’s an easy target for pickpockets.
  7. Party time – at the office party, don’t be tempted to leave your card behind the bar. A heavy bar tab is one thing, but a cloned card isn’t worth the hangover.
  8. Avoid paying by money transfers – money transfers aren’t secure, and reputable sellers won’t ask you to do this. Use an online payment option such as PayPal, or a credit card which offers greater protection.
  9. Delete unsolicited emails – and don’t follow links. Fake websites with great-sounding offers can look convincing, so don’t be tempted.
  10. Keep your security software and firewall up-to-date – banks often offer free virus and firewall software via their online security centres, so make sure you’re protected.
  11. Keep receipts and check your statement – if you spot an unrecognised transaction, speak to your building society or bank straightaway.
  12. Never give out your account details – no building society or bank will ask for your personal banking details and information. If you’re being asked for them, it’s likely to be a scam.

 

Allan Clare, Nationwide’s Financial Crime Director, said: “Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate after a long year, but it’s also open season and a prime opportunity for canny fraudsters to take advantage of our goodwill.

“The good news is that by knowing what to look out for, we can protect ourselves. Fake emails, websites and offers are tactics commonly used by fraudsters, but can be easily avoided by deleting anything unsolicited.

“Protecting yourself against fraudulent phone calls is important too – no building society or bank will ever ask for your personal details or PIN code. If you’re being asked to provide this, hang up.

 

Tesco Bank customers with its credit building Foundation Credit Card are to receive free access to their credit score and be alerted every time there is a change to their credit report.

The service is free for 3 years and is available to the Bank’s existing Foundation Credit Card customers immediately and to new card customers from 11th December.

This is a responsible move from Tesco Bank and it would be good to see this adopted as the norm rather than the exception by all personal finance providers.

It’s important that people are encouraged to understand and take control of their credit record – by seeing their score increase it encourages people to manage their money more responsibility.

Not having to pay for their credit report will be a major plus point for many people – particularly those already managing on a tight budget as it will enable them to keep an even closer eye on their finances

The government’s latest bid to boost UK home ownership and get more people on the housing ladder is officially launched on 1st December.

Details of the new ‘Help to Buy ISA’ initiative which rewards people saving for a first home with a 25% bonus have been patchy and there’s been some confusion about how the scheme works, so here are a few pointers to clarify some of the more common misconceptions.

I can’t take out a HTB ISA if I’ve already taken out a Cash ISA in the 2015/16 tax year

This is not necessarily the case as at least one provider; Nationwide Building Society, will allow you to have both a Cash ISA and HTB ISA within the same ISA wrapper as long as your total savings don’t exceed the annual tax free savings limit of £15,240.

I’ve only got 3-6 months until I purchase my first home so it’s not worth taking out a HTB ISA

Even if you’ve only got three months this gives you time to put in the initial £1000 maximum lump sum and three £200 monthly payments – so you’ll have a £1600 balance which entitles you to a £400 bonus contribution from the government. If there are two of you buying for the first time and you save £1600 each then your bonus will be £800 – that’s got to be worth it!

I’m not sure when the HTB ISA bonus get paid into my account

The bonus won’t appear in your account, instead when the time comes to purchase your first home, the conveyancing solicitor acting on your behalf will claim the bonus directly from the government and use it as part payment towards the purchase price of your home.

I have to start my HTB ISA on 1st December 2015

You can open your account any time within four years of 1st December 2015 – the maximum term you can save for is four years and you must claim your bonus by 2030.

Saving £200 per month (or £400 per month for joint buyers) will take too long to build the deposit required.

This is the situation that some savers will face, particularly in London and the South East where prices (and required deposits) are much higher than the national average. However the bonus structure is far more rewarding than any interest bearing savings account, so it’s worth saving the maximum in an HTB ISA while simultaneously saving the remainder in a separate savings account.

Savings interest rates have slowly begun to pick up over the last few months, particularly with regards to fixed rate bonds.

Paragon Bank, Shawbrook Bank, Secure Trust Bank and Charter Savings Bank have been jostling for best buy top spots with the latter being the most consistent player for fixed rate savings deals this year

You may not yet be familiar with some of these names but they are fully regulated and offer the same level of Financial Savings Compensation Scheme protection as you’d get from your high street bank.

The best fixed savings rates at present include the 2.15% AER 1 year and 2.35% AER 18 month bonds from Shawbrook Bank, alternatively you can earn 2.55% AER with Charter Savings Bank if you are comfortable with a longer term 3 year lock in.

The recent competition has seen some better deals appearing for those who want to stick with an FSCS protected provider, even though the level of protection is to be cut from £85,000 per person per authorised provider to £75,000 per person from next January.

If you’re prepared to take a calculated risk to secure a far higher interest rate, retail focused Peer to Peer firms Lending Works, Zopa and RateSetter are worthy of closer inspection.

It’s a well-known fact that people over 50 are savvy with their money and it seems they are making the most of technology to keep track of their finances. Research shows that eight out of ten over 50s have used the internet in the last 12 months and half of these people use the internet to do online banking.

An online survey by Saga Personal Finance shows that one in five over 50s say they check their bank account online every day and one in three look at their balance two or three times a week.

In fact, the over 50s like online banking so much that six out of ten say they couldn’t live without it now. This is because they say it’s convenient to check their bank balance from the comfort of their own home and it stops them worrying about their money.

Seven out of ten over 50s say they hardly ever visit their local branch anymore, which could be a combination of banks closing smaller branches and because over 50s like to be able to transfer money online at any time of the day. However, our research shows that one in eight over 50s are still traditional bank users and one in ten say they don’t trust online banking.

Men keep the closest eye on their account as one in five log in to their online banking daily, compared to one in seven women. Furthermore, the online survey by Saga shows that its people aged 80 to 89 who are the most likely to log in to online banking every day with one in five turning to the internet at home instead of their savings book to see how much money they have.

 

Shoppers will have more time to enjoy the festivities this year, as when it comes to buying Christmas presents  for loved ones, more than two in five will have everything ‘wrapped up’ by mid-November (22nd), according to new figures from Co-operative Insurance

A further third will be hitting the shops between 23 November and 6 December – the most popular time to pick up presents – meaning they won’t be on the last minute either.  The average amount consumers will spend on gifts is £437, however up to one in twenty people expect to spend over £1000 on gifts this Christmas.

To help people keep their valuable presents safe this Christmas, Co-op Insurance spoke to ex-burglars to find out what put them off when it came to targeting homes in the past as thefts are most prevalent in the winter months, increasing by 38%.

Motion activated security lights are most likely to put would-be burglars off with 26% steering clear of homes with these installed.

CCTV cameras are also a useful deterrent with over a fifth (22%) of potential thieves wanting to avoid houses with these in place.  A total of 15% are fearful of Fido, with a dog’s bark making them walk away, whilst professionally monitored burglar alarms were avoided by 11%.

However, noisy gravel driveways and ‘Beware of the Dog’ stickers aren’t a successful turn off for brazen burglars who are more likely to try their luck than turn around.

While the majority of people will be storing their presents for friends and family in their house, (92%) many may worry about having additional expensive items under their roof.

A spokesman for Co-op Insurance, said: “As Christmas approaches houses begin to fill up with valuable items, all of which are desirable to thieves, which many people have saved up for months to afford.

“Many people will be visiting their nearest and dearest over the holidays but nobody should have to deal with somebody entering their home and stealing their possessions.  Our research has shown that simply installing a security light outside the home can deter burglars from targeting properties.  If you are going away you could ask a family member or neighbour to visit your property whilst you are away to keep a check on things.

“Whilst insurers such as ourselves increase cover limits on the items in your home by 10% at Christmastime and during other religious festivals, prevention is always better than cure and a few simple steps can ensure that nobody has a ‘Blue Christmas’ this year.”

The clock is ticking for customers looking for a market leading switching offer. Customers have just two weeks left to switch their current account to Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks and benefit from a £150 switching offer.

A deadline of 30th November has been set for customers to take advantage of the offer when they complete a full current account switch to Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks using the Current Account Switch Service (CASS).

Customers must have applied to switch either by phone by 8pm or in branch by close of business on Monday 30th November 2015 in order to qualify for the offer and the full switch must be completed within 31 days.

It is available to new customers who hold a current account with another bank or building society as well as existing Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks customers who meet the qualifying criteria, and use the Current Account Switch Service to transfer in an account held elsewhere.

Steve Fletcher, Director, Retail Banking, said: “Time is running out for customers to take advantage of the £150 switching offer and we would urge people to act quickly to make sure they don’t miss out.

“We have already had a very positive response with tens of thousands of customers benefitting from the offer and we would like to thank them for switching to Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks.”

For more information, customers can visit their local branch, call the Banks on 0800 028 1512 or visit www.cbonline.co.uk orwww.ybonline.co.uk.

New European rules mean that credit card companies now receive a much smaller kick back from retailers, forcing some card companies scrap or dilute their card reward programmes.

However it’s not the end of the road for these schemes just yet as two new promotions have just been launched.

Sainsbury’s Bank which currently offers one of the more lucrative reward schemes via its range of Nectar credit cards is doubling the reward rate for new customers to 4 Nectar points per £1 spent on Sainsbury’s shopping or fuel in the first three months.

A brand new rewards card has also just been unveiled by AA credit cards, targeted mainly at motorists.

The AA Fuel Save credit card comes with a fee of £3.50 per month so you need to use it frequently to ensure you benefit from the rewards.

You can earn 4% cashback on fuel purchases and 0.5% on other purchases if you spend more than £500 in total (not just on fuel) during the month.

If you spend £200 per month on fuel and £400 elsewhere – you would earn £8 for the fuel £2 for spend elsewhere – so once the £3.50 fee is accounted for you’ll be £6.50 better off each month.

New analysis from MBNA, one of the UK’s leading credit card providers, shows Fridays and Mondays have become the most popular shopping days for their customers. The online revolution now sees Sunday and Saturday as the least popular days for consumers to do their holiday shopping.

In light of this shift and ahead of this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, MBNA has looked back at over 20 years’ worth of spending data of their millions of customers to see how our spending habits have changed. This year’s Black Friday will be taking place on 27 November. Cyber Monday will be 30 November. 

Originating in the United States, Black Friday follows the Thanksgiving holiday (the fourth Thursday in November) where holiday shoppers descend on stores, hoping to save on their Christmas shopping. Cyber Monday later emerged as a way of persuading the same shoppers to find the same bargains online a few days later. The statistics reflect that the US trend has reached UK shores with Britons taking advantage of promotions as well.  

In 2014, UK shoppers spent a total of £810 million on Black Friday, while Cyber Monday generated £720 million. Based on previous years’ data, if trends continue, then spending may surpass the £1 billion mark on Black Friday.

MBNA data shows Black Friday first started to appear in the UK in 2012, developing to become a prominent feature in 2013. In 2014, Britons increased their spending on the previous year by 17 per cent. Cyber Monday emerged in 2013, but 2014 was the year when it became visible in our spending habits. The data reflects an increasing amount of concentrated spending on these two days, compared to the weeks before and after. The increased amount of activity on these two days has consequently seen a drop in the spending in the weeks leading up to and following these days.

The trends are also reflected by age and gender. Since 2012, the under-30s have seen a 37 per cent increase in spend proportion on Black Friday, compared to a 9 per cent increase in the 60+ age group. On Cyber Monday, it is the 60+ age group that continues to have the highest proportional spend, but the under-30s are catching up fast by increasing their spend on this day.

 

Winter sports enthusiasts are being encouraged to make sure they have adequate travel insurance before heading off to the slopes, and not to wrongly assume that they’re automatically covered if they have annual travel insurance or travel insurance attached to their bank account or credit card.

Standard and packaged travel insurance products are unlikely to cover skiing or snowboarding.  Most (78%) single trip travel insurance policies* only offer winter sports cover as an optional extra, for which an additional fee is payable.  A minority (7%) of policies cover winter sports as standard, while 15% exclude this cover.

Following a review of over 600 travel insurance policies, Gocompare.com has drawn-up a list of 10 things winter sports enthusiasts need to consider when buying travel insurance:

 

  1. Medical cover – look at policies that offer a higher level of cover

Snow sports can be dangerous and there is a greater risk of injury than for other types of holidays.  Medical insurance can cover mountain rescue, medical treatment abroad and, if needed, repatriation by a staffed air ambulance.  Medical costs can quickly mount up, so look for a policy with a generous amount of cover, particularly if you’re holidaying in the USA or Canada where medical bills are higher.  In Europe, an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) will only entitle you to state-provided healthcare, not care in a private clinic, which may be the only option in some resorts.  Nor does the EHIC cover the costs of rescue or repatriation to the UK.  So, if you’re unlucky enough to have an accident without travel insurance, you could be left thousands of pounds out of pocket.

 

  1. Cancellation cover – cover limits should reflect the cost of your holiday

As soon as possible after you book your holiday, make sure you have travel insurance in place just in case you have to unexpectedly cancel your trip, for example, as a result of illness or redundancy.  Policy limits for cancellation vary significantly (£500 to unlimited cover) so check the policy wording carefully to make sure the cost of your trip is covered. Also familiarise yourself with any exclusions that apply, as some policies may have different interpretations of what constitutes a valid reason for cancelling a trip.

 

  1. Skis and other winter sports equipment – check limits and restrictions

Winter sports clothing and equipment is expensive to buy or hire, so it’s important to make sure it’s covered against damage or theft.  Most policies charge an extra premium for winter sports baggage.  Of those policies providing cover, 55% provide cover of £500 to £800 for winter sports equipment, just over a fifth (22%) have policy limits of £1,000 or over, while six winter sports policies exclude cover.  If you have especially expensive gear, check the small print to make sure you’ve got adequate cover.

 

Fewer policies provide cover for equipment which is hired as opposed to owned.  Of those that do, cover limits are generally lower.  For owned equipment policies typically (61%) provide cover of £300 to £500.  For hired equipment only 35% offer this amount of cover, generally policies (53%) limit pay-outs to £100 to £275.  Whether you own or hire equipment, insurers will expect you to take reasonable care of it and report any losses to the police and any damage caused while in transit to the transport company.

 

  1. Ski packs and passes – check you have adequate cover

The cost of lessons, hiring skis and lift passes can run into hundreds of pounds so it’s sensible to insure against not being able to use them because of illness, injury, loss or theft.  Most winter sports policies provide ski pack cover but cover limits vary significantly (£100 to £10,000).

 

  1. Off-piste and other winter sports – check the small print or risk invalidating your cover

Most (83%) winter sports policies allow you to ski off-piste subject to certain conditions such as being accompanied by a qualified guide and skiing only on recognised paths.  10% of policies cover off-piste skiing as standard, 7% exclude cover.  If you fancy taking part in other winter sports activities – dog-sledding or glacier walking for example – check that these are covered, otherwise you could invalidate your insurance.

 

  1. Piste closures – check dates of travel to make sure your trip is covered

Most winter sports policies provide cover if all the pistes at the resort you are booked on are closed due to a lack of snow, excessive snow or high winds.  Total cover for piste closures range from £60 to £10,000 but typically (44%) pay-out limits are £300 to £500.  However, you need to check the policy wording against your date of travel.  Some policies only provide cover between specific dates e.g. 15 November to 15 April or 1 December to 30 April.

 

  1. Avalanche delays 

Winter sports policies will often compensate you for the costs of extra travel and accommodation if an avalanche delays your arrival at or departure from you booked resort.  Cover limits range from £50 to £1,000, but most (62%) policies will pay-out £200 to £500.

 

  1. Personal liability – look for policies with £1m worth of cover

If while skiing or snowboarding you accidently injure someone else, or damage someone else’s property, you may be sued.  Look for a travel policy with £1m personal liability insurance.

 

  1. Take care not to invalidate your cover – read the small print

Insurers require you to take reasonable care of yourself and your belongings. Make sure you follow safety instructions, take notice of local official warnings and keep your belongings secure.  Check what sporting activities you can and can’t do – otherwise you risk invalidating your insurance.   For example, some insurers may insist on you wearing a helmet when skiing, and participation in professional or competitive sports is generally excluded.   Most insurers will refuse a medical claim if they deem that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident occurred.

 

  1. Claims – get official reports and keep receipts 

If disaster strikes and you need to make a claim, contact your insurer straightaway for advice on what to do.  If you’ve been a victim of crime (e.g. theft) get a written report from the police. Likewise, if your snow sports equipment is damaged in transit, report it to the transport provider.  You will need to provide evidence to support your claim so keep receipts to show proof of purchase and/or expenditure.