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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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Moving On

It has been a while since my last blog, but I have a good excuse. I have been busy moving. I have finally moved out of my parent’s house and unlike university this time it is hopefully for good. This is something I have wanted for ages, but I did not think it would be possible for me in the near future. All it took was for me to have a kind of mental breakdown and to feel utterly miserable for months.
I now live in supported housing for those with mental health issues.
Supported housing helps people to have somewhere to live independently, but with support when they need it. There are various types of supported housing depending on need. There is supported housing for those with learning and developmental issues, those with more physical issues and of course for people with mental health problems.
I live in what can be classed as a low support house with staff in weekday nine to five and no staff at all evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Those who need more support may live in a house with staff in evening and weekends, and for those with the highest need there are houses with staff who even sleep in the house just in case they are needed.
The support staff here can help us with things such as benefit and money issues, getting to appointments by helping us work out the public transport to somewhere or even giving us a lift if necessary, helping us organise volunteer work or other things to do, making sure we are getting the help we need with our mental health issues and generally keeping an eye on us to make sure we are safe and managing ok. In some types of supported housing I imagine there is more support with everyday things like cooking and shopping.
One of the main reasons I did not leave home sooner was the cost. Private rent is very expensive, hence so many adult children still living at home with their parents well into their twenties and even thirties. I had looked into social housing (what is now council housing), but it looked almost impossible for me to get any. I then learned there was another way into social housing in the form of supported housing and with my current mental health problems it sounded like it might be a good idea for me rather than jumping straight into living totally alone. Here the costs per person for rent and bills are kept down due to sharing the house between six of us. Most of my rent and bills are covered by housing benefit, with me paying a little bit extra each week on top of that. My main expenses are on food and transport on the bus or train.
So how do you get to live in supported housing? For me it was a case of being honest with myself about having mental health problems that had reached the point I was no longer really coping and going to my GP for help. I was not holding out the greatest hope as I had been to doctors previously about my mental health and they had just upped my medication which I did not seem to help. However last year I changed surgery and this one was proving a lot better for me, so I thought I would see if they could help. My doctor booked me in for a mental health review with a specialist, and actually seemed to take my problems seriously. The mental health specialist came out with a number of suggestions including passing on my details to the local mental health housing guy. It was agreed that living with my parents was not helping me. Part of it was issues with my parents, but also being both jobless and living at home was making me feel stuck, like I had hit a wall and was not able to move forward any more with my life. I needed a fresh start and this place was suggested to me. After visiting the house I had a couple of days to think about it, but I knew almost straight away that I wanted to move in. To live here you must have a statement of need, which for me came from the NHS mental health specialist. Another way into supported housing is through a social worker, but I am not exactly sure how that works. There is also an element of luck in that a space in a house has to actually be available, which sometimes can mean a bit of a wait, but luckily for me this house had a vacant room.
The other great thing about this particular type of supported housing is that after about two years they help you move on into independent housing. The simple fact of having lived in supported housing for more than a few months means you get more chance of social housing in your own flat. The support workers here help you with finding and securing a place to live on your own, with working out things like how to pay and budget for bills, furnishing the place and with the move itself.
This house has space for six residents, all of whom have some kind of mental health problem. It helps to live with other people who understand what having mental health issues can be like. We all understand that mental health issues such as depression can come and go and some days will be better than others. The residents offer peer support to each other, listening and talking together and trying to help when problems arise. Most supported housing seems to be mixed sex and mixed ages, which I find makes life more interesting. You learn more about different ways of living life and how to cope if you have a more varied mix of people.
Before I was offered this place, I did not even know there was such a thing as supported housing for those with mental health problems. I had heard of supported housing for those with learning and developmental issues before, but had never considered supported housing as something that would be suitable for my needs. I thought it was all about helping those who could barely even cook a meal or do their own laundry. Having low support needs I thought I was one of those borderline cases, too special needs to get a job and leave home, but not special needs enough to get any support or help from anyone apart from my parents. So when this place was mentioned I was quite surprised and unsure what to make of it. I did not want to end up feeling institutionalised or like I was back to being labelled as special needs again. I still want to get a job one day and feel like I am contributing to society rather than just existing and sitting around doing nothing all day. I was told it was low support with no staff at all evenings and weekends which is what appealed to me most. They trusted us to be left alone and be independent, but did not totally abandon us.
Before I moved I did of course worry slightly. Would I get on with the other residents, would I get on with the support staff, would I cope living without my mum and having to do more for myself? However I figured I would not know unless I tried and I knew I would regret it if I did not do it. Having now lived here for my first month I am very glad I made the move and feel very lucky to have a place here. It was the right thing for me to do as it has helped me to feel more of an adult, making my own day to-day choices about things and doing far more for myself. I also feel like I have taken the next step with my life and am finally moving forward.

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