5 Important Tips to Keep You Safe From Fraud

Cybercrime incidences have increased drastically over the past decade. According to the Financial Fraud Action UK, online fraud incidences have increased by 53% over the past year alone. The latest statics show that someone is scammed online, in the UK, every 15 seconds. Most of these cases are affecting credit and debit card users who divulge their personal/bank details online making it easier for scammers to use this information in cases of data breaches. Short term loan borrowers like payday loan borrowers have also been victims of online fraud in the UK since such loans are acquired online.

There are a few quick steps you can take to avoid being part of this shocking statistic. One, you must trust your gut feeling when selecting offers or submitting personal information online. If an offer seems dodgy or too good to be true, it probably is. Two, you should never open unsolicited emails. Lastly, keep your pin/s and passwords secret/safe. Never divulge pin/password information online. Here’s a more in-depth discussion avoiding fraudsters.

Create ”perfect” passwords

You can’t afford to use regular words or obvious number combinations as passwords today. Hackers can ”break” such passwords. You should never use obvious words as passwords, i.e. your middle name, children’s names, etc. as name passwords are the easiest to crack. The ”perfect” password today consists of; random words that are unrelated to your life. The password should also have many digits preferably six or more that are random but easy for you to remember. Stay away from birth dates. Your ”perfect” password should also include symbols such as $, #, %, etc. Ideally, the symbols should be inserted randomly between the numbers and letters/words that make up your password. Lastly, use both capital and small letters. A great example of a perfect password would be You1r7Kin9gSh88ip05$$!! You can use password testing tools to analyse the strength of your password.

Maintain unmatched social media safety/privacy

Social media has made it easy to acquire a person’s personal information without their consent. If you don’t set the appropriate security/privacy setting on all your social media accounts, you don’t have control over who views your personal information such as; your real names, date of birth, personal address, etc. which can be used to hack your online accounts. Don’t add people you don’t know to your social media profiles or disclose too much personal information on social media. Disclosing your pet’s name for instance can make your online accounts vulnerable if you have used your pet’s name as a security question.

Maintain unmatched email safety

Anyone can send you an email provided they know your email address. Considering emails are used to send viruses/malicious software, you should never open unsolicited emails as well as unknown attachments or click on links whose source can’t be verified. You should also be wary of emails sent from sources you assume to know, i.e., your bank. Many people have fallen for spear phishing in the UK where fraudsters send automated emails appearing to originate from people/institutions you know such as your bank/credit card company. If you open and click on links on such emails by mistake, change applicable passwords immediately. You should also pay attention to the email safety information your bank sends to you as well as familiarise yourself with the official email address of your bank/credit card company.

Invest in a good anti-virus software

You can save yourself from all the trouble of keeping up-to-date with the latest online scams by investing in the best anti-virus software you can get. A good anti-virus will offer you all kinds of protection online giving you a stress-free experience. Never use free anti-virus software if you use your computer to do online banking transactions among other online transactions involving sensitive personal information. Free anti-virus software offers basic protection which isn’t enough to detect and deal with threats effectively.

Don’t forget to protect your phone

You should also invest in a good Smartphone anti-virus. Smartphones have substituted personal computers and laptops. Many people make payments and submit sensitive personal information over their phones. To avoid exposing yourself to fraudsters, make sure you Smartphone has an anti-virus. You should also restrict the data/information you share with websites. It’s also advisable to disable features such as autofill and unsolicited notifications. You should also avoid performing sensitive transactions over your Smartphone. Lastly, make sure your phone has a strong password/passcode. Your personal information should not be at risk if you lose your phone.

Facebook is Planning to Crackdown on Deceptive Payday Loan Advertisers

The hunt for payday loan advertisers isn’t over. After Google’s May 2016 announcement that they were going to ban payday loan ads that met certain criteria, Facebook has decided to do the same.

Facebook has announced that it is going to trace and punish advertisers who bypass its review policies, particularly those advertisers who encourage Facebook users to click on ”phony” links. Facebook intends to use AI and human review processes to get rid of ads which create ”disruptive or negative experiences” for its users. The social media giant has already banned thousands of advertisers guilty of the practice popularly referred to as ”cloaking”.

This financially-motivated marketing technique has seen many bad actors disguise the actual destination of their ads or post links as well as the real URL content taking users to unrelated pages. These actors then generate income from views or clicks with affiliate deals. What’s more is; these unrelated pages host shocking content or scams.

Facebook cloaking is easy. A simple search on Google reveals countless tutorials on how to do it. Cloakers have been getting away with this unethical practice by showing Facebook’s approval team one ad and another totally different ad to the audience that clicks on the ad. Facebook’s new AI and human review processes will help it get rid of this malpractice that usually leaves its users shortchanged in most cases.

According to a blog post co-written by Rob Leathern, Facebook’s product director alongside software engineer, Bobbie Chang, ”we can now observe differences in the kind of content offered to people using apps compared to Facebook’s internal systems. In the recent past, these new efforts have allowed us to take down thousands of offenders misleading Facebook users.”

Facebook has also been on the record threatening to remove all Facebook pages found to be engaging in cloaking. The company has also initiated collaborative efforts with other companies in the industry to discover new and more effective ways of finding and punishing bad actors. These efforts come in the midst of a spam content and fake news crackdown within its walls.

There are also ongoing efforts to make the global digital ecosystem more transparent. Many global tech leaders are also focusing on improving digital experiences for their users. The largest marketing spenders in the world such as P&G and Unilever have also been calling for tech giants to tackle ad fraud.

What motivates cloaking?

There is a clear link between cloaking and making money from clicks as well as page views originating from Facebook ads. Facebook is at the forefront of this problem given the social media site has over 2 billion active users every month which accounts for 42% of the total monthly social media visits globally.

Similar actions

Google had to deal with a similar problem being the biggest search engine in the world. Google’s efforts were, however, more targeted, i.e., the search engine giant was focused on getting rid of payday loan ads which featured high-interest rates (36%+ APR) as well as tight repayment periods (i.e., 60 days from date of issue).

Starting 13th June 2016, Google banned all payday loan ads meeting these criteria. This was a follow-up for a similar ban that saw Google disable approximately 780 million ads back in 2015 for reasons such as counterfeiting, phishing, and obscenity. Google has been hunting for ”questionable” service/product ads for a while now. After getting rid of porn ads, the search engine giant turned its attention to payday loan ads and other high-interest financial product/service ads.

Google has been on a mission to protect its users from harmful or deceptive ads according to David Graff, Director of Global Product Policy at Google. The search engine has already terminated 1,300 advertiser accounts guilty of cloaking. Like Facebook, the search engine’s actions were motivated by external pressure (from consumer privacy and protection groups).

In 2016, Google banned 1.7 billion ”bad ads” for a number of offenses. This included 68 million ads featuring unapproved pharmaceuticals, 80 million ads deemed to be misleading or shocking to users as well as 5 million payday loan ads.

Facebook stopped showing payday loan ads back in 2015. Advertisers have however become smarter using tactics like cloaking which have forced the social media giant back to the drawing board. Any payday loan advertisers among other deceptive advertisers on Facebook today have their days numbered. The new AI and human review process are effective enough to deal with cloaking once and for all.

How Do Calendar Events Affect Our Spending

Our new infographic is here, and reveals some major home truths about the country’s spending! Do you ever feel pressure to overspend on big calendar events such as Mother’s/Father’s Day, Easter or Christmas? You might not be alone, with over half of Brits going over their intended budget! #OccasionalSpending

How Do Calendar Events Affect Our Spending
How Do Calendar Events Affect Our Spending

How Falls in Real Wages Could Increase Demand for Payday Loans

People use payday loans as a means to tide them over to their next pay cheque in a wide range of situations. For example, they may rely on this type of credit if they are short of money to cover expenses such as rent or mortgage payments and food costs, or if they encounter unexpected expenses like car or property repair bills.

More people may be turning to these short-term loans as the pressures on consumers’ finances continue to rise.

Official statistics

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, when adjusted for inflation regular pay dropped by 0.5 per cent year-on-year in the three months to May. This came after a fall of 0.6 per cent in real pay in the three months to April and a 0.4 per cent year-on-year decrease over the three months before that.

Rising levels of inflation and stagnating wages mean many households now have less, if any, money to spare each month. Inflation hit 2.9 per cent in June, which was up from 2.7 per cent the previous month and was considerably above the Bank of England’s target of two per cent.

With the prices of goods and services increasing relative to pay, more people may struggle to balance their budgets and this could result in an increase in applications for payday loans in the UK.

Public sector workers under strain

Workers in the public sector may be among those who are especially likely to need short term loans. There has been a lot of attention on public sector pay restrictions over recent weeks, with the government under pressure to lift pay limits first imposed in 2011-12. Since a two-year pay freeze starting in 2011-12, rises have been limited to one per cent.

According to an analysis conducted by the Trades Union Congress, firefighters, nurses and border guards may all see their real wages decline by more than £2,500 over the next three years if the pay restrictions remain in place. Meanwhile, the National Union of Teachers suggested that teacher pay has dropped by around 15 per cent in real terms since 2010.

Decreases in inflation adjusted earnings like this could make people more likely to approach payday lenders seeking short-term loans.

Could a payday loan be the right option for you?

Regardless of the sector you work in, if you’re short of money, you might be considering taking out a payday loan. Whether you need cash to cover a particular expense such as a bill or you simply need some extra money to help you meet your general living costs, these loans could offer a solution. One of the benefits of these products is the fact that they can be easy and quick to access, even if you have a bad credit history. If your application is approved, you may be able to receive the money the same day.

However, it’s important to realise that these financial agreements are only suitable if you want to borrow small sums of money. If you’re applying for a loan through Swift Money, you can request up to £1,000. If you require a larger sum than this, you will have to consider other options, for example taking out a personal loan. Also, bear in mind that payday loans tend to have higher interest rates than alternatives such as personal loans and the repayment terms are shorter.

Before you sign up to one of these products, make sure you have shopped around to find the best payday loans on the market. It’s also important that you’re confident you can meet the repayment terms set by the lender.

Sources: 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jul/12/uk-pay-squeeze-real-wages-tuc-unemployment-ons-figures
https://www.tuc.org.uk/economic-issues/government-must-act-after-three-months-falling-real-wages-says-tuc
https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/public-sector-pay
https://swiftmoney.com/
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/payday-loans-what-you-need-to-know
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40259392

What Happens After the Child Support Agency (CSA) Closes its Doors?

The CSA is set to be replaced by CMS (Child Maintenance Service) in a process expected to take until 2018. A number of changes have taken place. For instance, you can no longer claim child maintenance via CSA. All child maintenance claims must be made through the CMS instead going forward. Cases involving child maintenance i.e. if you receive child maintenance via the CSA currently, your case will be terminated before 2018 when the CMS replaces the CSA fully. In such an instance, you must apply via the CMS to continue receiving payments.

You are supposed to receive two letters from the CSA notifying you that your case is being closed. The first letter is sent 6 months before a CSA case is closed. The second letter is sent a month before the case closes. You should act immediately i.e. when you get your first letter.

If you haven’t received a letter yet, don’t worry. The CSA is still in the process of closing cases, a process expected to last until 2018.

Delays

There may be a delay of 6 or more weeks on child maintenance payments during the transition. The delay is expected even in cases where you act fast and/or ask the CMS to expedite your case. The reason for this delay is simple i.e. the CMS recalculates and begins administering child maintenance after closing CSA cases which can take up to 6 weeks.

The CMS difference

You will be required to pay £20 as an application fee to utilise the service. There are however exceptions to this. For instance, you don’t need to pay this fee if you are under 18 years or if you have been a victim of domestic violence.

The charge is applicable for catering for expenses related to CMS checks on the income of your child/children’s other parent with the HMRC. You also get maintenance calculations, a payment schedule as well as information on arranging payments. The fee also gives you online access to your child maintenance account, an annual review of the income of your child’s/children’s other parent and lastly a collections service if you aren’t receiving payments (an extra charge may be applicable for this).

Collection charges are applicable if the CMS steps in to collect money on your behalf. The paying parent must pay 20% above the child maintenance amount. The receiving parent also gets 96% of the child maintenance amount. If the paying parent sends money directly to the other parent, no collection charge is incurred.

Arrears

If you have arrears with the CSA, they will still stand and be enforceable with the CMS. The same applies in cases of family-based arrangements or if you still owe the arrears even if your child is an adult now. It’s also worth noting that the CMS is expected to be much better than the CSA at collecting arrears.

Universal Credit Explained – How it Differs From Existing Benefits? 

Universal Credit (UC) is a new benefit aimed at supporting UK citizens who are either out of work or receiving a low income. UC replaces; Housing Benefit, Income support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Jobseekers allowance and income related employment & support allowance. You can get Universal Credit if you live in; England, Wales or Scotland. The benefit was introduced in Northern Ireland just recently (in September 2017).

Key UC facts

As of now, most claims are arising from newly-unemployed single individuals. Couples and families also make claims. If you usually receive assistance with your rent, you will continue getting the same assistance. If you have a spouse and you are all entitled to Universal Credit, you will receive one joint payment monthly paid directly into one bank account.

It’s also worth noting UC is paid every month in arrears. For this reason, it can take 6 weeks for you to receive your first payment after you launch your claim. Also, there are no limits on working hours when you are claiming UC. However, the amount you receive reduces as you earn more. Lastly, UC benefit claims can be made online.

When will you be paid?

There is a waiting period after making a new UC claim. Typically, you won’t be paid for the first week (7 days). This should stop you from claiming. You should apply immediately because it takes 6 weeks for you to get your first payment. The 7th day after making a claim becomes your assessment date i.e. the date you will be receiving your UC payment every month.

How much is UC?

UC is comprised of a standard allowance as well as an element for; housing, being a carer, childcare costs as well as elements for disabled children and an ill/disabled adults. A person’s maximum UC award is composed of one standard household allowance plus elements covering your family circumstances. Individuals get the most if their household has no other income and savings or capital is £6,000 or less.

How working affects universal credit

UC doesn’t put restrictions on working hours as is the case with benefits like Income Support and Working Tax Credits. Individuals who are in paid work can be entitled to receive a work allowance.

Work allowance

Work allowance is simply the money you are allowed to make before your UC payment is affected. You are entitled to receive a work allowance if you are responsible for a dependent child/children or you can’t work normally due to disability or illness. If you qualify for a work allowance, your earnings are restricted by the threshold present in relation to your circumstance. Your UC payment then goes down 63p for every extra pound you earn above the threshold.

How other income affects Universal Credit

Income that you don’t get from working can be deducted. This income is known as unearned income. Examples of such income taken off UC payments include; pension income, statutory sick pay, statutory maternity/paternity/adoption pay as well as some benefits which are not replaced by UC. Typically, a pound is deducted for every pound of unearned income. Examples of unearned income that isn’t taken from a person’s UC payment include; maintenance payments, child benefit, personal independence payment, disability living allowance as well as income from lodgers and boarders.

Effects of savings on Universal Credit

Having capital (from investments or shares) and savings can affect the amount of UC you get. Household savings or capital amounting to £6,000 or less is ignored when calculating UC payment. If you/your spouse have savings falling between £6,000 and £16,000, £6,000 is deducted, and then the remainder is considered as an investment which provides a return of £4.35 for every £250. Households with savings or capital exceeding £16,000 aren’t entitled to UC.

The effect on savings when moving from Tax credits to UC

Under Tax credit rules, savings or capital over £6,000 was ignored although some income i.e. from savings was considered. Moving to UC when you have capital or savings exceeding £6,000 won’t make you worse off since you will still be entitled to receive transitional protection (a top-up payment) meant to make sure you are not worse off.

Applying for Universal Credit

You can claim UC online by visiting the official Universal Credit Website:

https://www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit

Here is a link to all the information you need to start your claim:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-an-introduction

Couples can make a joint claim. In such a case, you or your partner should complete the claim form although you/your partner’s details have to be provided.

From more information, call the Universal Credit helpline: 0345 600 0723

Welfare Reform in the UK – How Is It Changing? 

Welfare reform started in the UK back in 2013. Numerous benefits have been abolished and replaced. Below is all you need to know on the new benefits system.

Universal Credit has replaced most existing benefits

Universal Credit (UC) has replaced most mean-tested benefits such as Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), Housing Benefit, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. UC will be paid to working people in place of the above means-tested benefits.

The Universal Credit pilot scheme started in Tameside, North of England in April 2013. The benefit was introduced to other parts of the UK for new claims in October 2013. All people who are already getting benefits must have been transferred to UC today.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

PIP has replaced DLA for individuals aged between 16 and 64 years. The benefit is for individuals with disability or long-term health conditions. Individuals who were getting DLA must make new claims to be transferred to PIP. PIP pilot schemes began in April 2013 in England before moving to other areas in the UK in June 2013. In October 2015, the DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) started contacting everyone who was still getting DLA to invite them to claim PIP. The benefit is fully active now.

Local schemes have replaced Council Tax Benefit

Before April 2013, UK citizens got Council Tax Benefits calculated using a standard national formula which was the same everywhere. Local authorities now run Council Tax Reduction Schemes fully. Although the elderly have been protected against cuts to the benefit, individuals who are under the recommended age for receiving Pension Credit are unlikely to receive the full rebate. Such individuals are required to pay some money towards their Council Tax bill.

Benefit cap changes

A limit has been placed on the total a person is supposed to receive from certain benefits if you are of working age. This cap affects individuals who have been getting housing benefit in the past. From April 2013, such individuals have been getting less money going towards offsetting their rent bill.

Benefit appeal rights changes

Benefit appeal rights have also changed. Going forward you are required to ask for a decision to be reviewed before appealing to a tribunal. This change affects Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit.

New conditions for job searching

Since the introduction of Universal Credit, individuals who are unemployed or employed with a low income must sign new claimant commitments. The new claimant commitment highlights work-related requirements that must be met before a person gets their benefit.

If you happen to be working, you must get a job with better pay. Alternatively, you can work for more hours to boost your income. The new conditions apply to spouses too. The claimant commitment is also applicable to you if you receive a Jobseeker’s Allowance, income support, and employment & support allowance prior to transferring your claim to UC.

Social fund changes

Sections of the social fund have been abolished. Social fund changes began in April 2013. Individuals getting certain benefits may be eligible for a loan or payment from the social fund. This benefit can be used to fund one-off or unexpected expenses. Sections of the social fund have been abolished including Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants. Local authorities also have money now to use on replacement schemes or other things like local food banks and schemes offering subsidised goods.

Child benefit has seized for high earners

UK households with one parent earning £50,000 or more a year will receive less money as Child Benefit. This change has been in effect since 7th January 2013.

Has income from benefits lowered?

The welfare reform in the UK hasn’t lowered all income from benefits. Many people have received special protection. For instance, individuals are now protected against drops in income with Universal Credit. This protection is known as transitional protection. It is however reserved for individuals who weren’t getting Housing Benefit and Disability Living Allowance. For this reason, individuals getting such benefits have seen their income reduce as they transition to the new system.

How to Get Help with Child Care Costs In the UK 

Child care costs can take up a huge percentage of a family’s income. Luckily in the UK, families can get help from their employer as well as the government in many forms from free childcare to tax credits. If your child care costs are high, here’s how you can get help.

1. Working Tax Credit (the childcare element)

You can cover approximately 70% of your total childcare costs if you qualify for a working tax credit. You can be eligible for a working tax credit if you usually pay for registered/approved childcare and work for 16 hours+ a week (at least 24 hours a week for couples). You also need to meet specific income threshold. If your total household income annually is £6,420 or less, you are entitled to the maximum working tax credit you qualify for. The more you earn, the less you get. Individuals whose household earnings surpass the annual household income limit for qualification don’t qualify for a working tax credit.

If you have one child and pay up to £175 per week in childcare costs, you can get up to £122.5 per week. If you have two children and pay up to £300 per week in childcare costs, you can get up to £210 per week. You can’t be able to claim if you pay more than the above for childcare. It’s also worth noting that you are not assured of getting the whole amount if you qualify to make a claim. The tax credit you receive depends on factors such as income, childcare costs and the number of hours you work. Furthermore, you must receive childcare from a government approved/registered childcare provider to be able to claim.

2. Free early years childcare and education

You can also get assistance with childcare costs in the UK in the form of free early years childcare and education. 3 and 4-year olds are entitled to free early education/childcare. The amount you get depends on factors such as location.

In England for instance, 3 and 4-year olds are eligible for free early years childcare/education if parents/guardians claim certain benefits of if you have a disability. This benefit is usually 15 hours per week for 38 weeks. The free hours can be used at Ofsted-registered childcare providers like; playgroups and pre-schools, registered childminders, nurseries and nursery classes as well as Sure Start Children Centres. Each parent must earn at least 16 hours per week ( at minimum wage). The earnings must also be £100,000 or less per year.

In Scotland, 3 and 4-year olds are eligible for 600 hours of free education/childcare per year. Families with 2-year olds also qualify for some benefits in Scotland. In Wales, 3 and 4-year olds are eligible for 10 hours of free education per week for 38 weeks. Northern Ireland offers 12.5+ hours of free pre-school education weekly for 38 weeks a year before children begin Primary One.

3. Direct payment

This type of help comes from employers in the UK. As the name suggests, payments are made by employers directly to approved or registered childcare providers. Employers pay depending on your tax profile. Basic rate taxpayers (individuals who pay 20%) get £243 per month. Higher rate taxpayers (40%) get £124 per month while additional rate taxpayers (45%) get £110 per month.

If your employer chooses to pay more than the above to your childcare provider, you will be required to pay tax on the amount unless you make less than £8,500 per year.

4. Childcare vouchers

You can also receive childcare vouchers from your employer in the UK as assistance for child care costs. Beneficiaries can choose childcare providers provided they are approved or registered with Ofsted. Childcare vouchers are non-refundable and usually offered in exchange for a portion of your income. For this reason, it recommendable to avoid collecting excessive vouchers.

To qualify for childcare vouchers in the UK, your child/children must be less than 15 years old. The value of childcare vouchers depends on whether you pay basic, higher or additional rate income tax. Basic rate taxpayers can get childcare vouchers worth £243 per month. Higher rate taxpayers can get childcare vouchers worth £124 per month while additional rate tax payers can get childcare vouchers worth £110 per month.

You must pay tax on extra vouchers given to you by your employer unless your yearly income is less than £8,500. Childcare vouchers are great because they are usually worth more. If you are not in a position to claim tax credits, you are also better off using childcare vouchers.

5. Workplace nurseries

Your employer can also help you lower your child care costs via workplace nurseries. Some employers in the UK have their own workplace nurseries which can be free or subsidised.

6. Tax-Free Childcare Scheme

A Tax-Free childcare scheme has been in force in the UK since April 2017. Under this scheme, you get 20% off from your childcare bill per year, paid for by the UK government. The scheme is open for children who are less than 12 years old or less than 17 years old for disabled children. The government contributes a maximum of £2,000 per child, per year or £4,000 for children with disabilities.

Summary

You don’t have to incur huge childcare costs in the UK. The above options are available to you. You have all the information you need to start paying lower child care costs today. However, feel free to do more in-depth research on eligibility criteria, amount, etc. before choosing any of the above options.