Who were the top 10 villains of 2013?

Electric Meter Dials

It's been a tough year for most of us - but some individuals and organisations have made things that bit worse than they ever needed to be.

From the energy firms to payday lenders, we look at some of the people and companies that really shouldn't be on your Christmas card list this year.

The energy companies
One of the biggest hit to consumers' wallets this year was the massive hike in prices announced by the Big Six this autumn. In a period when wholesale costs rose just 1.7 percent, says regulator Ofgem, they imposed average price rises of 9.1 percent. And there's a special mention for those companies that waited until *after* Downing Street had urged people to switch suppliers, picked up new customers - and then raised prices themselves.

The government
The government's 'bedroom tax' has caused great personal misery for many - and, by most accounts, looks set to cost the tax-payer more too. While shifting under-occupiers to smaller properties makes sense in theory, it only works if those smaller properties exist. In many, if not most parts of the country, they don't. Acoording to one analysis, the introduction of the bedroom tax has led to a five-fold increase in the number of people discretionary housing payments (DHP). Meanwhile, many people are moving into private rented housing - more expensive than council housing and still tax-payer-subsidised.

Payday lenders
With more and more people struggling to get by, payday lenders were having a field day earlier this year - some were found to have APRs as high as 68,300 percent. Several have been accused of using aggressive debt collection methods, and Citizens Advice found evidence that they were lending to people who were aged under 18, had mental health issues or were drunk. Finally, in November, chancellor George Osborne announced plans to cap their charges - although the level hasn't yet been set.

The meat industry
In January this year, it came to light that horse DNA had been found in beefburgers from a number of British supermarkets. It then turned up in many other products - making up 60 percent of one Asda lasagne, for example. Through labyrinthine shipping routes and with a bit of mis-labelling, European horsemeat became 'beef' mince. Consumer confidence in the food industry has fallen dramatically, with half of people now mistrustful of ingredient information. No-one has yet been prosecuted.

Sports Direct, JD Wetherspoon, Dominos Pizza (etc)
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), as many as a million people in the UK now work on zero-hours contracts, which require workers to work as and when wanted, with no set hours, being paid only for work done. While zero-hours contracts do suit some people, they leave many insecure, with unreliable incomes and can make planning childcare near-impossible.

Former Co-operative bank chairman Paul Flowers
Customers fled the Co-operative Bank in their droves after the revelations about its former chairman Paul Flowers hit the headlines. A Methodist minister, he was revealed to have a predilection for rent boys and crystal meth. Perhaps more of a concern for consumers, though, was his staggering incompetence: he managed to massively understate the value of the bank's assets during a grilling by lawmakers and turned out to have virtually no relevant banking qualifications or experience.

GCHQ and the NSA
This was the year we discovered just how much Big Brother is watching us, with revelations about online spying by the US' National Security Agency and our own GCHQ. Leaks by former CIA agent Edward Snowden revealed the UK's participation in the Prism spy programme which saw millions of ordinary citizens' emails, Google searches and the like being accessed. In the latest revelations, in December, it turns out that the spooks have even been carrying out surveillance of computer gamers playing World of Warcraft - just in case they're terrorists in real life.

Supermarkets and furniture retailers
This summer, Tesco was fined £300,000 for mis-labelling its strawberries, selling them at 'half price' for three months, after they'd been on sale at the full price for only seven days. The supermarket made a £2.3 million profit from the promotion. But the Office of Fair Trading found the practice was rife, investigating six high street carpet and furniture retailers over the same tactic.

Earlier this summer, BBC bosses were grilled by MPs after handing out £60 million in severance deals since 2005 - often far more than the staff were entitled to under their contracts. The biggest pay-off was awarded to Mark Byford, the former deputy director general, who netted over £1 million. Meanwhile, it's been revealed that the BBC has had as many as 4,600 interns over the last three years - earning nothing at all.

G4S and Serco
This summer, the government revealed that G4S and Serco had charged for monitoring the electronic tags of offenders who were dead, back in custody or had left the country. They've finally been stripped of their contracts - but only after overcharging the tax-payer as much as £50 million.

The biggest scams of 2013
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Who were the top 10 villains of 2013?
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.

They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.

This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.

This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.

This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.

The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.

As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.

The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.

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