Don't get caught out like Corrie's Gail

Helen Worth who plays Gail McIntyre

Coronation Street's much-married Gail McIntyre thought she'd found love again with charming con-man (and her mother's ex-boyfriend) Lewis Archer. However, during episodes tonight and Friday we discover the real reason for his attention: he was hatching a plan to steal £40,000 from her in a daring internet banking fraud.

The twists and turns are the sort of thing you would only ever see in a soap opera, but the experts warn that the trap that finally catches her out could cause problems for one in three people in the UK.
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The fraud

Let's not forget that this is a soap, so we have to assume a certain amount of ridiculous drama. It starts with Gail ruining her mother's relationship, and the ex-boyfriend Lewis deciding that the best way to get his revenge would be to pretend to fall in love with Gail, and then steal from her.

Then it takes a turn for the more ludicrous with him getting her to borrow £40,000 against the value of her home in order to run away with him to Italy. Next, the process by which he breaks into her account involves plenty of farcical creeping around the office and eavesdropping while hiding unconvincingly under a table.

And finally, he blackmail's Gail's daughter Kylie over a sexual indiscretion in order to get her to tell him Gail's log-in and password.

Not so daft

It all seems utterly ludicrous. However, the experts have said the last bit is not as incredible as it seems.

According to PayYourWay.org.uk, the Payments Council's consumer education campaign, the most believable part of this story is that Gail has told her daughter her security details - and that this proves to be the weakest link in the chain.

Lewis could have tried every soap trick in the book, and hidden under every table in Weatherfield, but if Gail had kept quiet about her password, he could never have taken the money.

Common

And a lack of care with our passwords is a common mistake. In a recent survey it discovered that one in three people admit sharing online log in details with someone else, while three out of every four break another of the golden rules of password protection by using the same password for more than one online account.

Adrian Kamellard, Chief Executive of the Payments Council said:"Internet banking is a really quick, convenient way to manage your money and millions of people use it safely every day. Innocent fraud victims get excellent legal protection but Gail's story is a reminder of how important it is to keep your security details secure."

In the real world we are more likely to be targeted by a stranger (the chances of losing your money to your mother's ex-boyfriend in a massive romance con are fairly limited). Again in the real world they are most likely to use phishing techniques in order to get us to hand over details of our password rather than blackmail our nearest and dearest.

However, the golden rules that would have protected Gail are something we all need to bear in mind if we are to avoid becoming a victim of internet banning fraud.

Golden rules

It would have been possible for Gail to avoid her fate by following some simple security advice:
  1. Be unique - For really important accounts like online banking or email, make sure that you never use the same password, or even a variation of that original password more than once. That way, if the password is compromised, the damage is restricted.
  2. Change it - if you've been using the same passwords for years, it's definitely time to update them.
  3. Cheat! - You could use a password manager to manage all your passwords. This is a piece of software that creates random, hard-to-guess passwords for each site you visit - meaning you only need to remember one single, master password to access them all. Use the tips below to make your master password difficult to guess but easy to remember.
  4. Be discreet - don't tell anyone else your password(s). And if you need to write it down, disguise it. Also, think about any personal details that you use as responses to security questions. Social networking means more of our lives than ever are public knowledge - it's always worth asking yourself 'could anyone else know this answer?'
  5. Be suspicious - Update you anti-virus software regularly and don't respond to unsolicited emails, text messages or calls that ask you for your security details - it could be a criminal trying to get hold of your passwords.
  6. Mix it up - use a mixture of lower and upper case letters, numbers and symbols. This vastly increases the difficulty of guessing or cracking your password.
  7. Be creative - Avoid names, birthdays or common words. A good way to create a long, easy to remember password is to string together the first letters of a song lyric, phrase, or even better, a sentence known only to you. For example, 'The Grand Old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men' could give a password of 'TGODoYhh10000m!'

Of course, if you are Gail from Coronation Street it also pays to remember that any love interest is fraught with danger - and there's every chance he's a serial killer, an insurance scammer or a con man - so it pays to take a bit of extra care.

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Don't get caught out like Corrie's Gail

Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.

To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.

At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.

It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.

With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.

No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.

Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.

Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.

While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.

However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
To avoid paying over the odds, it is also worth checking the price per kilo to ensure that larger 'economy' packs really are cheaper than the smaller versions.

Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.

However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.

Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.

Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.
Before signing up, it is therefore essential to check that you will make use of enough of the benefits, and that you cannot get them for less elsewhere.

Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.

Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.

Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.

And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the saynoto0870.com.
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