Friday, 30 November 2018

Avoid Scam Phone Calls

There is a huge industry that is scamming people all over the world out of their hard-earned money. One of the methods is cold calling people on the telephone to obtain money or information that can lead to money being taken later. Many of the calls originate from India and Pakistan but are not limited to these countries.

Here are a few examples of what are currently popular scams in the UK.

The Microsoft Scam Phone Call

This has been an extremely popular scam and I used to get regular calls to my phone, even daily. The caller would tell me that they were from Microsoft and that my computer has informed them that it has a problem. Now that is very strange as my computer is an Apple Mac! However, it did not stop their patter when I told them that my computer was a Mac as the callers invariably did not seem to know what a Mac is.

The intention of the caller is to gain access to your PC and charge you a considerable amount of money to remove a virus. Those that have fallen for this scam have 2 issues. Firstly the scammer can install malware that gives them access to the PC and details stored on it and secondly they come back for another round of payments later when you need to upgrade their original work. The amounts they charge are enormous and in many cases, they are so greedy they exceed the cost of a new computer.

The BT Router / IP address Scam Phone Call

It would seem that the Microsoft call is being adapted to the callers saying they are from BT (British Telecom - the main UK provider of phone lines) and that your router has an issue or your IP address is going to be blocked. The whole point of this is once again to gain access to your computer and obtain payments.

Bank Scam

The caller is claiming to be from your bank or credit card company and is trying to get your pin number. Your card details are most likely already with the scammer. They will ask you for a couple of the digits as a so-called security test then put you through to another department who will randomly request the remaining digits. Genuine banks never ask for any part of your pin number. If you get such a call put the phone down and call the fraud line of your bank or credit company immediately. It might be time to change the card number if it's being targeted.

Some of these callers will ask you to call your bank directly but will keep the line open and then pretend you have just dialled in. Remember if they ask you to do this put the phone down and either, use a completely separate line or wait a while for the line to clear. Only dial a number that you can see displayed by your own bank on the card or their official website or paper statements.

Investment Scam Phone Calls

Here is the UK many older people are targeted who might have pension funds stored away and the caller will sell them worthless shares or simply get the person to transfer money to the scammer. These scammers will often come back for a second attempt pretending to be a company that can get your money back for a fee.

You Have Won a Competition

Great news! You have won a super prize but to get it paid or delivered to you an administration fee or taxes have to be paid. There is, of course, no prize. As in the scam above, quite often the scammer will come back promising to get your lost money back or there is a little more still to pay to get your winnings.

The object of all these calls is to scam you out of your money. So the question is, 'How can you protect yourself or your loved ones from the scammers?'

Rule 1

Is to listen carefully to the caller. A genuine computer company will never call you to inform you have a problem out of the blue. Your broadband provider will not do so either and ask for payments.
Have you ever won a competition that you have not entered? No, of course not, so any call like this is going to be a scam. In the scam, it is nearly always going to be winnings that are in another country and hence justify the fees the scammer is asking for. A similar email and postal scam have been running for years. Therefore hang up immediately with the word - scammer.

Rule 2

Do not give any personal details even if you feel like winding up the caller. It is best to tell them you don't believe them and don't call again. Some recommend avoiding saying 'yes' to questions in case they are going to patch in your words to something they can use later on. I am not sure if this is being done but prevention is better than cure.

Rule 3

Use a call blocker on the line so that callers leave a message such as their name and company before you answer. Many scammers are put off by this but it is not 100% guaranteed to do so. If you don't recognise the company or caller be very aware. Such things as we have here the UK as The Telephone Preference Service can cut out genuine sales calls but will not stop the scammers. These scammers will also often use what appear to be local phone numbers on your phone display so banning international calls is also no way to prevent them from calling.

Some scammers like voicemail and it has been used widely in the scam plaguing the USA where scammers are pretending to collect IRS payments with threats of arrest to get the money. They are happy to leave voicemails and get people to call them back. Most of the scammers will have Asian accents but use an English name, a warning in itself.

Rule 4

Elderly people who can be more easily confused and often trusting are a target. The scammers love these as getting them to hand over money and banking details is much more successful. Talk to your family and warn them. Protect them by installing call blockers on the phone and maybe having funds in accounts that can't be accessed immediately. If an elderly relative is struggling with dementia or confusion, see if you can take responsibility for their money using appropriate legal ways to do so. Above all speak regularly to them and see if they have been getting any calls such as those mentioned here and encourage them to always call you or another responsible family member if they do.

Rule 5

If a call does not fall into one of the above scenarios and you are not sure, then err on the safe side and treat it as a scam call. If people want to access your computer, personal details, saying they are your bank and wanting security information and are asking for money over the phone it will be a scam.

Sadly there are lots of scammers who are operating around the world and the telephone has become a tool that they have been very adept at using. Be careful and avoid being scammed.

I hope that you have found this post helpful and please do leave a comment and tell us about any phone scams that you have come across.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

How to Choose an Estate Agent

For most people moving home can be quite a stressful event. When you already own your own home you will invariably need to sell it in order to be able to purchase another one. Most of us will decide to use an estate agent, although there is no obligation to do so, generally, it makes finding a buyer more convenient. The estate agent should also be trying to obtain the best price for you as well as making sure that the buyer will proceed to completion.

Every town in Britain seems to have a large number of estate agents, so this raises the question; How to Choose an Estate Agent?"

Firstly, you need to think about the type of property you own. If it is a little outside the normal such as a country mansion, chocolate box cottage in a rural retreat or a small holding you would be better with an agent that specialises in such properties. For properties that are in neglect and require lots of renovation, an estate agent that has a regular auction could well achieve better results for you.

In the main, most of us will have a property type and situated in a location that 99% of estate agents will market and will, therefore, have a larger number of estate agents to choose from. Here are some things to consider and how to test the estate agent for yourself to see if they are the right one for you to market your home.

Reputation and Recommendation

As with many businesses, their reputation is key. Talk to people you know and ask them about their knowledge of the estate agents in your area and if they or their friends have used them. Find out what they were like to both sell with and to buy from. Did they try to get people to pay more or were they quick to get the price reduced? Did they accompany viewings, feedback on viewings and keep vendors clearly informed? It's good to speak to as many people as possible as well as check online for any reviews.

How Do They Market Properties?

Check out the estate agents website. Is it up to date with an easy way to search for properties being sold? Do they also advertise on the major portals such as Rightmove and Primelocation? Is there office in a good position with up to date window displays that are actually trying to sell homes rather than plastered with 'sold' ones to try and get more vendors to sell with them? If they are more interested in taking on property rather than selling then beware. It could be that they are really good at selling and need more homes but it may also be the other way around that they can't attract vendors or properties are taken off them and given to someone else to sell.

Visit the Estate Agents

When you visit the estate agents office check out how you are greeted. Are they welcoming and attentive? Initially, go to buy and not to ask them to sell your home. They will soon ask you if you have a property to sell and will pitch their service to you. If they concentrate on selling you their service rather than a property, beware. Also be careful if they are not interested in letting you have property details or view if you're property is not on the market. Many buyers today will go out and view homes before committing to sell. If an agent is not interested in that segment of the market it is hugely detrimental to their vendors.

If you are buying in the same area go and view a few properties that you would be interested in and see how the estate agent handles that. Did they go with you to the viewing? Did they follow up and ask if you would like to make an offer? Offers can be made even if you have not sold your property.

To test the agent out and not waste any vendors time on 'test offers' simply say to the agent that you are thinking of making an offer and see how they react. If an estate agent says that they don't put offers forward as you haven't sold there might see an issue. It could be that a vendor has instructed them not to put such offers forward, but that is very rare.

Personally, I would not offer until I had sold otherwise someone else can come along and top your offer and create a bidding war. However, the test here is not for that reason as a bidding war would be good for the vendor and the agent! It's to test the agent on their willingness to get offers and more money. They might just be too lazy to want to do more than the minimum and offers that can't immediately proceed might not be to their liking.

The Contract

When you decide to sell your property the fee, of course, is an important consideration along with the length of the agreement you sign. Estate agents prefer to be the only one trying to sell your property and this is a sole agency contract. If you were to sell the property yourself, for example to a friend, you will still be liable for the fee even if the estate agent has nothing to do with the sale. If you believe there is someone you know that is likely to buy your home but has not yet been able to make an offer, make sure that you have a contract that allows you to sell to that person without paying the agent unless you are prepared to pay them for nothing.

Check carefully how much the agent is charging and if there will be any additional fees, for example, newspaper advertising. A sole agency fee should be lower than multiple agencies. Of course, as with everything in life, if you pay less you might not be getting a better deal.

Check carefully how long you will be committed to the agent because if you switch agents during this period you could be liable to 2 fees when the property sells. You will really need to read the small print carefully before you sign. This can take quite a while, therefore, if an estate agent is trying to get you to sign in a hurry be prepared to walk away.

When the time comes for you to find an estate agent to sell your home I wish you well and hope that you have found this blog post helpful. Your comments are always appreciated, so do feel free to leave one in the box below.