Titli’s Sporadic Blog – June 2012
1st June 2012
It’s been one whole year since I entered my boss’ office and resigned.
Those were the days when I could write a blog every week. I would frequently find myself without a meeting to go to, or a teleconference to attend, or emails to reply to, or a report to write. These were perfect opportunities to fill an hour or so by blogging. Some of my colleagues would hate the idea of having “free moments” and would go off and make work to do, lest someone should see them and give them an assignment to do.
Times have changed. The weekend doesn’t affect my work patterns, nor does the time of day. My time is my own and yet I always seem to be so busy! As a freelance videographer I find that the boundary between work time and leisure time is a murky one, but work and pleasure seem to intermingle seamlessly throughout every day of the week. It suits me perfectly!
It is hard to watch TV or listen to the radio and not hear the word “Austerity”. Economists use the word to signify “a policy of deficit-cutting by lowering spending often via a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided.” Lots of big words, but what does it all mean? This is my very simple interpretation of the situation.
Since the early 2000′s governments have been growing their economies by borrowing money. They used this money to create jobs, many of them in the public sector (police, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc) in the belief that the cost of creating a job would be repaid by a) reducing the need to pay unemployment benefits, b) more people in jobs spend more money to buy things (and that means more jobs in the private sector), and c) more people in employment and spending money equals more tax revenue.
Nice idea. Unfortunately the sums didn’t quite add up and governments found that their debts continued to grow to such a point that they can no longer afford to repay them. Bad news if you happened to be one of those institutions who lent billions of Euros to Greece, or Italy, or Spain, or Portugal, or…
While governments were “splashing the cash” the citizens were enjoying the good times. Jobs were not too difficult to find, and for those that couldn’t (or didn’t want to) work the benefits system would take care of them. In the UK at least, the banks were also doing their part to enhance the illusion by lending money to almost anyone who wanted it. Significant numbers of people became used to having a new car every couple of years, or having two foreign holidays each year, or buying designer items, or buying ever bigger homes or a second home abroad. It was all too easy to get the money to do this and, knowing the Brits as I do, much of it was about “status” rather than need. My parents taught me that if you want something you should save your money until you can afford to buy it. These days it seems that if you want something you should make sure you have enough money to be able to afford the interest payments.
There comes a time, though, when the banks and other lenders say, “Hey! It’s about time you gave us our money back! (Plus all the interest payments)”.
Much of the economic growth in the 2000′s seems to have been built on fresh air. Governments are hopelessly in debt, as are many of its citizens. The only apparent approaches to get out of the mess are for lenders to write off some of the debts and for the borrowers to spend less and give up some of the lovely things that they now take for granted. Like jobs. Lower taxes. Policemen on every street. Easy access to cheap money. Sky TV. Skiing holidays. The second home in the Dordogne. You get the picture.
Now people don’t like it when you take things away from them. What used to be something to aspire to and work towards became a de facto part of life and is now almost perceived as “a right”. People imagine that their living standards are falling when in fact they were never really that high to begin with. They just seemed high because someone else’s money was paying for it.
Governments don’t like taking things away from their citizens either. It’s not a vote-winner, and if you are a politician your Number One focus is getting into and remaining in power. However if you happen to be in Opposition you will be absolutely loving all this! Until you get into power, that is…
So now we have the situation in Europe where a number of countries are effectively bankrupt but rather than take Austerity measures they either want to increase their borrowing (France) or expect Germany to fund their ongoing lifestyle (Greece). If I was German I’d be well hacked off with the idea of working to support other economies, and if I was a German politician I’d seriously be considering returning to the Deutschmark and leaving the rest of the Eurozone to go hang!
I’ve always hated debt. The only loan I’ve ever had was my mortgage and, thanks be to God, the last few years have enabled me to pay off that debt. I’ve never used a credit card to get credit; in fact I haven’t even owned a credit card for over 10 years. My monthly income is just a fraction of what it was a year ago and so we are having our own version of Austerity in our household. But you know what? Life is still good. There is enough money to pay all the essential bills, so why worry? I don’t have enough money to buy a new car next year? Oh Boo-Hoo.
Charles Dickens got it right when he invented Mr Micawber in his novel David Copperfield. Micawber’s Principle is a universal truth and a simple version goes like this:
Annual income twenty dollars, annual expenditure nineteen dollars and fifty cents, result happiness. Annual income twenty dollars, annual expenditure twenty dollars and fifty cents, result misery.
25th June 2012
In this blog I’d like to share with you a cautionary tale about events that unfolded last week. I never thought that this would happen to me…
Last Tuesday my husband received a phonecall from Tesco Direct asking if we had placed an order online for £725 for two iPads to be delivered to an address in Manchester. The man on the other end of the line said their system had flagged the order up as suspicious. Hubby said that we hadn’t placed such an order and was told that the order would therefore be cancelled. I asked hubby if he had been asked for any debit card details from the man at Tesco Direct – he hadn’t.
I phoned Tesco Direct and sure enough the Customer Services Representative on the other end of the line was able to confirm that an order had been placed using my debit card and that the order had now been cancelled. He also gave me full details about the delivery address, the name of the intended recipient and an email address.
I phoned my bank. Lo and behold there were two other bogus debit card transactions which were not yet visible on my bank statement. One was for £400 and the other was for over £1500. I immediately made the bank aware that these transactions were fraudulent and got them to cancel my debit card. Now here’s an interesting thing. You would have thought that the bank would immediately cancel the transactions, would you not? In fact they told me that they couldn’t do anything until the transactions had actually hit my account. Only then could they investigate the fraud.
Sidebar: Typically in any transaction involving money passing between banks in the UK there is a gap of several days between the money leaving the payer’s account and arriving in the payee’s account. In simple terms, banks hold on to the money for those few days and invest it to make more money for the bank. Another way to look at this is that you don’t actually own the money in your bank account – the bank owns it and it merely lends it to you to play with. Or not, as in the case of Natwest this week. Back to the story…
I phoned the police, giving them all the details about the criminal or criminals who had used my debit card. They were very polite and helpful, but because I had not yet lost any money and the criminals had not yet received their goods there was little to interest them.
So the story so far is that a crime is in progress, but nobody is interested in doing anything until the crime is complete. I’ll tell you why I find that strange in a moment…
Two days later the transaction for over £1500 hit my bank account and of course I was on the phone to the bank straight away. They immediately asked lots of questions, examined my spending history, then reimbursed me while they investigated. Thankfully I have not lost any money in this annoying episode.
One question that you might well be asking is how this criminal or criminals got hold of my debit card details. It is a question for which I have no answer. My card is always with me and I never give out details over the phone. I use it a few times each month for online purchases but always through secure websites. My conclusion is that either someone’s computer system was hacked from the outside, or that an employee of a company accessed (and used) information they should not have accessed. Either way I would be surprised if my card details were the only card details they helped themselves to. And this is why I find the attitude of the police to be so strange. My experience was probably the tip of the iceberg and dozens of other people were going through the same ordeal at the hands of these scum.
The situation today is that no money has been lost and no goods have been delivered to the scumbags who thought they would help themselves to my hard-earned cash.
There is another side to this that I’d like to touch on. The items that the low-life ordered with my debit card were an assortment of hi-tech gadgets and designer clothing. Some of you may remember the wanton looting that took place in the high streets of some towns in the UK last year. What were most of these people stealing? Hi-tech gadgets, clothing and training shoes. What kind of society are we living in where a person’s status is apparently measured by the phone they carry, or the headphones they drape around their neck. or the brand of training shoes they wear? What happens if people are stupid enough to fall into this trap of overt materialism but can’t afford it? Well, they can either put it on their credit card and put off the day when they will actually have to pay for it, or they’ll just steal it.
Those of you who read my blogs may have already gathered that I detest materialism in all its forms. I believe it undermines society by generating envy and, ultimately, greed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that wealth is bad but if wealth-cash-money-toys is all that matters to you then you are indeed a poor human being in many senses. Another way of thinking about this is that you don’t need to have a lot of money to be rich…
The moral of this little tale is that it doesn’t matter how careful you are with your things, there is someone out there who is desperately trying to find ways to take them from you. And if you live at 2 Harwood Court, Salford, Manchester, M6 6QP you should expect a visit from your local police force sometime soon.