Don’t be fooled by the scammers

Tim Bennett rounds up this week’s personal finance news, including the latest trick to con you out of you money, and why your European health card may be turned down abroad.

Certain British Gas customers will be kicking themselves over their energy bills just now, says Miles Brignall in The Guardian. In May 2011, it contacted many long-standing customers to offer them a new fixed-price deal called Fixed Price March 2013.

This supposedly offered peace of mind, but was so expensive that anyone who signed up will actually see their energy prices fall after being moved onto the standard tariff, now that the deal has expired. According to comparison site TheEnergyShop.com, the typical overpayment versus a rival plan is £480, but up to £800 for heavy users.

These people would also have been better off on British Gas's standard tariff. The advice? "If your energy company phones telling you it's got a great new fixed-price deal, it should set alarm bells ringing," says Joe Malinowski, founder of the comparison site.

Still on the gas topic, if you're looking for a new boiler, always shop around. I was recently quoted nearly 50% more by British Gas for the same new boiler than local London rival Pimlico Plumbers. The latter also offers a one-year guarantee and a one-hour call out service.

The miserable British economy has provided a great environment for scammers to thrive in, warns the Citizens' Advice Bureau in The Independent. More than 22,000 people reported scams to the Bureau last year.

The latest ones to watch out for in 'Scams Awareness Month' involve scammers who ask for an upfront fee in return for help with bedroom tax' and council-tax benefit issues. If in doubt, put down the phone, pay nothing and dial 0300-123 2040 to report the scam.

Beware "shrinkflation", says Toby Walne in the Mail on Sunday. This is where the price of an item stays the same, but it is reduced in size. Examples include bakery chain Greggs cutting the meat content in its Steak Bake by 15%, Walkers reducing the crisps in a standard bag by 6%, and the ever-shrinking Yorkie Bar. At its peak in 2000, it weighed 70.4g today it comes in at 55g.

Watch out if you plan to travel to parts of cash-strapped Europe this summer and are relying on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as a way of getting medical care in an emergency.

Under the scheme, all European Union citizens are supposed to receive reciprocal medical help if they fall ill in another member country. But as Ruth Lythe reports on Thisismoney.co,uk, so many people are being turned down for treatment in Spain (where the problem "is understood to be rife"), Portugal and Greece that the European Commission is launching an investigation.

Some hospitals in these countries are rejecting the cards and demanding that travel insurers cover the cost of medical care, or are forcing those without insurance to pay on the spot. Some "leading British insurance companies" have even lodged official complaints.

To avoid being caught out this way and for maximum peace of mind, make sure you have proper travel insurance in place and double check the size of the excess before buying.

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