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Scams, Cold Calls and Junk

Almost as soon as I moved into my flat the cold calls started. I had to register with energy suppliers, which is when the calls about getting a smart meter began. Mostly I get phone calls about it, but I have had the occasional sales person call at my door. My previous energy supplier nearly managed to get me signed up to a smart meter, but before they came to fit it I made sure I read the booklet they sent me about it. I am glad I did, turns out on a prepay meter a smart meter is actually worse value for me than not having one. I would have had to change to a different tariff that would cost me more per unit, so I cancelled it. I also could not see much point in a smart meter when already being on a prepay meter. I can see how much gas and electricity I am spending when my meter goes down. I know myself what appliances I have switched on, so know what is using up my credit. Maybe smart meters are good for people who use billing, but not in my case.

Another energy supplier nearly got me to switch to them. I had already worked out the best deal for me and switched companies only a month earlier. I made the stupid mistake of letting a cold caller into my flat. He somehow got me to sign something which I feel rather stupid for having done so now. I realised almost as soon as I had done it that it was probably a mistake, so decided to do some online research about the company. They were not cheaper than my current company despite his claims as I was not on the average tariff, but on a much lower deal one. The company had very bad reviews for customer service. People complained of relentless cold callers who would not go away till they signed up. I tried to cancel my sign up, but they took so long to answer the phone sometimes I gave up and even when I did get through they kept failing to put me through to the right department. In the end my current company sorted it out for me, but even they struggled to get the company to cancel. I am glad I am aware of my right to cancel an energy switch over within fourteen days of signing up. I am also glad I am able to do my own online research, as I know some people are unable to do this. I had only been in my flat a few months at the time and it is the first time I have lived totally alone with my name on the energy supplier’s information. Anyone who moves into their first home alone is vulnerable as they have no experience in dealing with this kind of thing. Now I have a no cold callers sign on my door, say no thanks to them and shut the door on them.

Another group who regularly cold call people both on the phone and at the door are charities. They never get anywhere with me as they are asking directly for money which is not something I feel able to give a lot of, and I already give to charity in the form of time by volunteering. The elderly seem the most vulnerable to this kind of cold call. A recent consumer programme on the radio reported of people finding their elderly relatives bank accounts linked up by direct debits to lots of charities without the older person being aware of just how much money they were giving each month. Often these people are easily confused or suffering some kind of dementia and can not work out the long term costs or remember how many charities they have already signed up with. Charity giving is a good thing if you can afford it, but some of these people are struggling financially. A lot of charity cold callers work on commission and get a bonus for singing people up, and some have to sign up a certain number each day to even get paid at all. I do not always blame the cold caller, but the system they work under, the payment set up is geared so that vulnerable people are going to be targeted.

Then there is the fake or scam cold call. There is the now quite well known Microsoft computer scam who claim to be Microsoft themselves calling you and that they noticed a fault with your computer. They say they can fix your viruses or hacked computer over the phone if you follow the instructions they give you. However what they actually want is your bank details to pay for the so called service. Some of the scammers actually go so far as to get you to download a programme that lets them remotely control your computer and if you fail to comply with the instructions they start to delete your files! I know that a company such as Microsoft do not even do computer repairs on individual computers. They rang me once whilst I was at home and I had the enjoyment of telling them truthfully I have no internet in my flat and my laptop was switched off as it lives at my parents house (since they do have internet that is where it is most useful to keep it). The elderly are at risk from this scam sometimes as they often understand computers less well.

This article makes interesting reading on the scam, http://www.wired.co.uk/article/malwarebytes

There are various scam calls out there and a good rule of thumb is to never give bank details to anyone who rings you up.

Text messages are also used to try and get people to sign up to things. I have had texts from British Gas about smart meters, texts about phone deals when I was with EE and about online game deals. It is easy to delete a spam text, but disappointing when a text turns out to be spam since I do not get many texts.

Junk mail, the old fashioned way to try and part a fool and his money. However most of the junk I get is not even relevant to me. I do not own my flat so do not need building insurance, can not sell it and am not responsible for my drains (no matter how many times South West Water tell me that any drains on my property are my responsibility). Almost all my junk mail goes straight in the recycling sack. Some people in rented accommodation may sign up for some of the services on offer without realising their landlord is responsible for them, not them.

The internet is a whole other minefield of junk email, scams and banner adverts trying to sell you stuff. If you have a vulnerable family member who uses social media add them as your ‘friend’ so you can keep an eye on who they talk to and what things they are signing up to.

The learning and mentally disabled can be vulnerable to cold calls if they live alone without much. support. They can end up signing up for all kinds of things. Some are lonely and welcome any kind of human contact so let themselves be engaged into conversation with these people. Giving people more support when setting up a new home could help, teaching them how to get good energy deals and to ignore cold callers.

I gather the law is changing to make cold calls without prior consent illegal. However not from abroad, so I expect a lot of companies will just move their call centres. Also I am willing to bet that if it is a call from your own energy supplier or a company you already hired then it will count as prior consent as you already hire a service from them, even if they are trying to sell you something additional. Also what is going to count as prior consent, if it ticking or unticking boxes online when filling in forms, a lot of people are still going to get cold calls.

I think we can all be more careful what we agree to and sign up for. Also I think we should help the vulnerable in society more learn to deal with cold calls, scams and junk mail.

'You sound familiar. Haven't I swindled you once before?'

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Communication

I communicate a lot with my family and friends electronically using text messages, social media and email. I know a lot of people communicate this way now, but it has been brought to my attention that I may do this more than most people my age. This post looks at why I like to use electronic communication so much.

hands-holding-mobile-devices-human-set-phones-electronic-communication-concept-vector-illustration-41976985

Practicality

My relatives live spread out across the country in many different counties. I also have friends that live a long way from me that I met at university. I find the internet a fantastic way to stay in touch with people at a distance. I send letters and cards by post, more than a lot of people do these days, but post takes time and often I want a much quicker response. Also the cost of postal services seems to be getting more and more expensive.

Staying in Touch

I would of lost contact with a lot of people if it was not for Facebook. This includes friends from university, people I met at various events and distant relatives. I have never had many friends and would like to keep the ones I have got. I also managed to get back in touch with a few friends from school that I had previously not spoken with in many years.

Generational

From about my age group and below it just seems to be the natural way people communicate. Although some do so less than others, it is common to use Facebook messenger to stay in touch with friends and even family. Text messaging seems to be becoming normal for people of all age groups now including my parents generation. I am a little bit too old to have had a mobile phone or the internet as a small child, but since I was about fourteen I have regularly used the internet to chat with friends. I got my first mobile phone when I was about sixteen when I decided it would be practical since I was at college and that is what everyone else was using. A lot of my university friends are three or four years younger than me and some of them seem to use electronic communications as much as I do. They grew up with it from a younger age so it is what they are used to. At university I actually would have missed out on things if I was not on Facebook. We would invite each other to parties and nights out using Facebook as it was a great way to invite a lot of people at once. We would use Facebook messenger to group chat as it was very handy for us as drama students to share ideas or work out rehearsal times for our practicals.

Autism Friendly

My autism sometimes makes face to face chat harder for me than it might be for some people. I struggle with eye contact; even my diagnostic report says that I do. When I talk I tend to get carried away and say too much or the wrong thing. When I have to write down what I want to say first either online or in a text message it means I can look back at it and have time to think about what I am saying. It means I am less likely to say the wrong thing and can cut out the waffle, get to the point better. It is common for autistic people to use the internet to chat; it has less social skills to learn, although there are some social rules and I by no means always get them right online. I do enjoy face to face chat, but it can be more tiring for me sometimes and often requires more effort, although this depends who I am talking to and on the situation. Face to face people use non-verbal communication such as body language which can be tricky for autistics to pick up on. There is less hidden meaning in written text chat. I feel like I am more in control with this way of chatting. I do not have to talk to someone when I am not in the mood. If I am having a bad day mentally I can chose to ignore a text message or email and deal with it later when I am more able to. This way I do not upset people and take my bad moods out on them. I do use the phone, but have never been totally comfortable with it. Once I start chatting on the phone I often relax and am fine, but the initial thought of it sometimes makes me anxious. So text messaging is often easier for me. (Although I am getting better with making phone calls and do makes calls when I need to.) Another thing I like about written communication is the more definite response rather than ‘hmm’ or a nod of the head that I can often misunderstand. Even an OK or emoticon is at least a response that shows they took on board what I was saying. I find there is less pressure and less hassle with this way of communicating.

Can Just Say It

I like how I can say what I need to whilst I think of it with electronic communication. If I am not sure if someone is free to chat at the time I can still text or email for them to read later before I forget what I was going to say. Plus sometimes I have to say stuff as I get anxious if I do not. I worry if I do not say certain things as soon as I can to people. I do not mind if people read it later as long as I know it is out there.

Writing is my Skill

Writing is something I am quite good at and I feel confident at it. When talking in person it sometimes gets misunderstood. When I write I seem better at putting at my point across.

How Others Want to Communicate

It often seems to be how others want to communicate with me. Maybe they find it easier as I can bore people with my over talking in person. Also I have no land line phone and calling a mobile phone can be costly so maybe texting or emailing is just cheaper for people. I have relatives who email me rather than phone. I think this could be as they do not know when I am free to talk and do not want to disturb me if busy. I Facebook with some relatives responding to statues and comments as it seems a good way to communicate with each other when we do not actually know each other very well in person. This way I am getting to know them without so much pressure. I text with some family since they are often busy and they do not have time to see me face to face or phone very often.

This way of communicating does come with its own problems. When I do not want to talk I can chose not to, but in turn others can do the same to me. If people ignore me for short periods I am fine, but if it goes on for long periods it can worry me. The trouble is these days people are often expected to be instantly available 24 hours a day when it is not always possible. Another problem is of course when technology lets us down. What with lack of phone signal or devices breaking down or running out of charge sometimes old fashioned post or face to face is just easier.

I do not mind which way people choose to communicate with me, be it face to face or electronically. It is just nice when people want to chat with me.

I Love the Internet

I love the internet, personally I think this invention saved my life or at least saved my sanity to some extent. Some people might say I spend too long online staring at a screen, but it is where I feel most comfortable and can be the real me. It is thanks to the internet I gained more confidence in myself, having met others who also think and feel like I do. There are some websites I find particularly useful and use daily to help me cope with the stress of day to day life. There are also websites that I find helpful when needing advice on certain issues or doing research on a topic. These are some of the best websites I have found to help me with my issues and I hope maybe able to help some of you.

WWW.MIND.ORG.UK   images

Mind are a UK based mental health charity. They do a lot of good work offline too, but sadly not that near where I live, however the website has been helpful over the years for me. It is packed for of information and advice. I like the guides to types of mental health problems. You can look up mental health issues alphabetically for specific named illnesses or you can look up more general guides to various things. They give a thorough guide to each mental illness, in a very reader friendly way. They offer advice to both those with mental health issues and to those trying to support someone who is ill. The website has an interesting news section on the latest mental health issues. The site tells you about Minds latest campaigns on mental health issues and how you can support them. There is a guide to mental health in the work place with things for both employers and employees.

WWW.elefriends.org.uk  elefriends

Mind also have an online support group. A bit like a message board forum, Elefriends is a place I go when I feel I have no one else I can talk to and share my problems with. Like a Facebook status update, but without my family and friends on Facebook reading it. We can say whatever is worrying us, stressing us out or making our mental health worse. Everyone on the site has some experience of having mental health problems and can respond to your message. People can click ‘like’ if it is a positive message, ‘thinking of you’ if it sounds stressful and upsetting or ‘I hear you’ if you have also been in a similar situation and understand how they feel. People can also write a small message in return if they wish offering support or advice. Peer support for me is very helpful as these people have actually been in similar situations as me sometimes and can offer real life advice and not just some text book answer. Knowing that other people agree that my situation is upsetting makes me feel more justified in being upset. The site lets you make a small profile explaining more about yourself and your illness and you are given the option to add a photo should you wish. You can also private message other members. The site is run by Ele the Elephant who pops in now and then to keep an eye on things and monitor posts which is reassuring. Every couple of days or so Ele also leaves a message with advice or links to other things that may help.

WWW.7cupsoftea.com    elefriends

7 Cups of Tea is another online support group for those with mental health problems, but instead of being a message board, you can talk directly to other people either one on one or in chat rooms. The site has a number of chat rooms for various issues such as anxiety, depression, disability, LGBT and relationship support. I find the chat rooms very helpful as I can talk to others who understand some of what I am going though and I get an immediate response. I tend not to use the one on one chat as they have this set up as listeners who are people supposed to be neutral who listen to your problems and respond in a helpful way, but anyone seems to be able to become a listener and I am not sure I like the idea of talking to someone about my personal problems alone when they are not qualified in counselling or something. I like the idea of a group chat as you get more than one opinion on things and a range of support. The site also offers a few simple mindfulness exercises you can listen to when stressed and some self-help guides on various topics. It also has this slightly gimmicky growth path thing, where you build up your path each day the more you seek support from the site. I think the idea is that you build a support path a little each day in the time it would take to sit down and have a cup of tea.

WWW.benefitsandwork.co.uk   elefriends

Benefits and Work are an independent source for advice when claiming benefits. It aims to help disabled and sick people claim the benefits they are entitled to. The site has thorough guides to claiming employment and support allowance, personal independence payment and disability living allowance, plus a bit of information on a few other benefits as well. Not only do the guides tell you how to claim the benefits, but about medicals, how to appeal should you be turned down and any other information you may find useful as a claimant. The site also has the latest news on anything benefit related that may affect claimants. A lot of the information is free, although to access even more detailed guides you can sign up as a paying member.

WWW.nhs.uk/conditions

A handy guide to many common conditions and symptoms. You can look up an illness or disability in alphabetical order. It gives you a good introduction to what the condition is, symptoms, possible causes and treatments. You can also look things up via the symptoms checker which uses a human body to look up various body parts and typical problems that can occur to that part of the body. I often find it useful to confirm what I already suspected I may have or to check if I need to see a doctor about it.

Sometimes I find it best to just pick the various aspects of a website that are right for you, some pages on a site may be very helpful, whilst others may not fit your situation. I also think that using more than one site can be helpful to gain a range of ideas and opinions on something.

If you can think of other websites that you find helpful please feel free to share them here in the comments.