Sunday, 31 July 2011

Money for Nothing

First up, apologies for the absence of any RabbitTalk yesterday - I'm looking to get two Sunday instalments done as a means of evening things up.

On Friday I got a text which I'm sure many of you will also have received, "Due to a new legislation, those struggling with debt can apply to have it written off. For free information reply INFO or to opt out text STOP. Free Text!". Now the obvious grammar and syntax errors, along with the fact that it came from a private mobile number, should immediately alert any intelligent person to the fact that there is a potential scam at work. More to the point, can someone please define 'struggling?'. Like a lot of people I have an existing bank loan and overdraft that I would naturally rather not be burdened with. I 'struggle' with them in the sense that they reduce my day-to-day material quality of life. However, the payments are not unaffordable and as I borrowed the money in the first instance, so the repayment of that amount plus interest is entirely my responsibility.

I appreciate that there are instances where an individual's circumstances will change suddenly, and the means that they had when taking out a loan or overdraft in good faith no longer exist through no fault of their own. However, are there not already mechanisms in place whereby such debt can be restructured, frozen or written off, even if an IVA or bankruptcy bring certain problems with them? I had enormous difficulty understanding exactly what this text advertisement was suggesting - maybe if you just don't feel like repaying the bank, building society or loans company you can have it written off, no questions asked and no strings attached?

Along with many of you, I've also been bombarded with texts containing an invitation to collect the £300,000 I've won, or to cash in on a personal injury - "you still haven't claimed for the accident you had". Well of course I haven't, probably because no such accident took place, certainly not one that left me with a serious injury. A few years ago, a mate of mine asked over a beer if I'd like to take part as a passenger in what is widely known as a 'Crash for Cash' - ie a staged 'accident' engineered to extract as much money as possible from the insurance of another driver. Apparently, he knew a "well dodgy lawyer" who specialised in this sort of thing, and could work the system in such a way that would deliver the maximum payout. Of course I don't need money that badly. Panorama's programme on the subject appears here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b012s1xj. This is one of Auntie's better efforts, getting as it does to the centre of a criminal gang involved in the scam, while detailing the knock-on effect it has on the insurance premiums of law-abiding motorists.

Something I never discussed with my friend was whether this 'accident' involved setting up an innocent motorist for a fall, or would simply be an outright fraud that never took place in reality. Of course, genuine accidents happen every day on the roads and in people's places of work. Most are intelligent enough to make a distinction between an unfortunate occurrence that was 'one of those things' and an honest mistake or act of carelessness on the part of a motorist, employer or employee that may still require certain costs to be covered. However, the 'compensation culture' that has crept into British society in the last decade (thanks very much to our friends across the pond for that) is now rampant. The notion of a genuine accident for which there was no blame and no resultant claim (on a no-win, no-fee basis it should be added) does not seem to compute with a large section of the population, and it's worth exploring why that is.

We've all got ourselves into a hurry, fed by perfectly rational drives for more money and everything to be bigger and faster. Moreover, we want it all now, and this seems to have broken important pieces of the chain that defined exactly what money is and how it is made. At least hypothetically, money is the by-product of having goods or services for which people are prepared to pay a real value in the marketplace. Naturally this tends to involve patience and hard work, the first of which appears to be in particularly short supply these days. Against this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that many have succumbed to the offers of money for nothing from claims specialists and ambulance-chasing lawyers. Genuine costs incurred in real accidents where one party was clearly to blame should of course be met, and unlike some Libertarians, I don't go in for removing all health and safety laws at work, just most of them. Like motorists, people who employ other people are responsible for their actions, and should not be allowed to set death-traps with impunity.

However, just like trashy 'reality television' has broken the link between fame and actually being quite good at something, the compensation and 'no win, no fee' culture has offered a convenient means by which the unscrupulous and greedy can make a fast buck while not producing anything of real market value. One of the side effects of this is the growth of scams that deliberately play on those chasing a slice of the action. I've never had the famous phone call from Nigeria offering to make me a billionaire in exchange for handing over my bank account number, card details and an 'interim payment' to facilitate the transaction, but the natural response of any sane person who receives such a call or text is of course to laugh, then hang up or delete the message. With that in mind, I struggle to find any sympathy at all for those who fall victim to such swindles, since they only exploit a cocktail of greed and idleness that clearly exists in anyone who answers the text or takes the call seriously.

Hopefully the proposal currently on the table of taking the 'zero risk, high reward' element out of accident claims will lead to a reduction in the quantity of nonsense or fraudulent cases making their way into the courtroom. Until then I should probably expect a further string of messages inviting this bunny to cash in on an 'accident' that never actually happened or collect his winnings from one lottery or another. Then again, the fact that I don't play the 'poor man's tax' in the Uk or elsewhere should probably be a clue that something isn't quite right. Take care and I'll catch you again this evening.

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