Don’t get caught in the courier scam

Bank customers should beware of the 'courier scam', says Tim Bennett. Plus, a round-up this week’s personal finance news.

Watch out for the "courier scam", says Simon Read in The Independent. In the first six months of last year, watchdog Financial Fraud Action UK estimates it cost 1,600 people a total of £7.5m. The scam is simple enough you receive a call supposedly from your bank saying your credit or debit card needs collecting and replacing after fraud has been detected on your account. You're asked to call your bank to confirm this, without realising the bogus caller hasn't hung up. In the next call they ask for your Pin number. Armed with this and your card they are free to spend your money. So be warned collecting cards and asking for Pins over the phone is something banks don't do.

London house prices remain on the rise as overseas buyers continue to see the capital as a safe haven from eurozone woes. According to Hometrack, a research firm, prices rose 0.7% in March, the strongest monthly uplift since February 2010. Three-fifths of London postcodes saw prices rise, with properties spending the shortest average time on the market five weeks since October 2007. Richard O'Donnell, Hometrack's director of research, quoted on, sees more rises on the way as the Cyprus crisis "will only serve to further boost the flow of international funds into the capital". The national picture, however, remains more mixed, with just a fifth of postcodes seeing price rises in England and Wales and the overall rise a more muted 0.3% for March.

George Osborne provided a boost to growth' markets, such as the London Stock Exchange's Aim market, last week by scrapping the 0.5% stamp duty levied on buyers based on the value of the transaction. But while the move is welcome, as it should boost volumes in this type of market, buyer beware' is still the rule when considering relatively illiquid, less-well-known stocks. As we have warned before, never pile into an investment purely for the tax breaks.

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The government's quest to hammer savers into the floor with low interest rates in a bid to get lending going is well known. But "the impact on pensioners has been less well reported", says Richard Evans in The Daily Telegraph. Pensioners, who rely on savings interest to provide an income in retirement, have seen "rates fall by a third over the past six months". In October, for example, the best rate on a five-year fixed-rate savings bond that could be held in a self-invested personal pension (Sipp) was 4.5%. Now it's 3%, according to independent financial adviser Investment Sense. On a balance of £85,000 the maximum insured by the state deposit guarantee that equates to £1,275 a year. Our advice? Since you can now get a best rate of 2.75% on a three-year bond, don't tie your money up for five years just as, with inflation creeping up, interest rates may have bottomedout.

George Osborne made much of his 1p cut in beer duty in last week's Budget. However, this masked big rises elsewhere. Wine drinkers face a 10p rise in the price of a bottle, while spirit prices will rise 53p under existing "duty escalator" rules, says Nathalie Thomas in The Daily Telegraph.