Helen Nugent

Money management stressing you out? Don’t let fraudsters take advantage

Money management stressing you out? Don't let fraudsters take advantage
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I'm drowning in a sea of Post-it notes. They are everywhere. Yellow, blue, orange, pink. They dominate my life to the point where, every now and then, I consolidate the lot into one big pile in the hope that will force me to deal with them.

Life admin is exhausting. From the endless list of things to do jotted on said Post-it notes to the additional chores recorded in my diary and on my phone, it's a wonder I have time to earn a living.

Added into the mix of 'must buy cat litter' and 'must pay lecky bill' is the myriad of personal finance-related contracts and accounts. Money management is a modern malaise now that so many of our transactions require log-ons, pin numbers, usernames and passwords. It's little surprise that so many people use the same words and numbers for multiple accounts, even if that leaves them vulnerable to fraudsters.

Back of the envelope calculations suggests that I have at least two dozen separate accounts, the vast majority of which are online. These range from council tax direct debits, my bank account, gym membership and mortgage repayments to my Tesco Clubcard, Sky package, Amazon log-on and gas bill.

New research from Gocompare.com suggests I'm not alone. The comparison site has found that the average UK adult is managing (or, in my case at least, attempting to manage) more than 30 financial contracts and accounts. And, as I suspected, a third confess to using just a handful of passwords to cover everything.

Not surprisingly, 31 per cent say that juggling so many accounts and log-on details is stressful, with a similar number of people admitting they find it overwhelming. Nearly a third liken managing their personal affairs to holding down a full-time job.

I echo their thoughts. Just keeping on top of where I've written down my multiple usernames and passwords is difficult, never mind actually finding the time to deal with all of the admin.

According to Gocompare, utility and home services make up the most number of accounts held by an individual, followed by online shopping accounts, smartphone apps, loyalty card schemes and savings and loan accounts. Further down the list are credit and store cards, entertainment subscriptions and insurance policies.

Matt Saunders, head of money at Gocompare.com, said: 'From our research it’s clear that many people feel that they are drowning under the weight of managing their personal and money-related affairs. While the move to online account management has made things like entertainment and banking much more accessible, it has significantly increased the number of accounts we all hold and the log-ins, passwords and monthly payments we have to remember.

'New technology has also presented a range of opportunities for cybercriminals - scamming people out of their personal details and money through increasingly sophisticated means. One in ten people who took part in our survey said that they had an online account hacked, while 12 per cent said they had been a victim of a financial fraud. This means that it’s essential that you make the time to manage both your offline and online accounts to ensure that your personal data is safe and secure.'

A good place to start is to password or PIN-protect your PC, smartphone, laptop and other mobile devices. Don't choose your cat's name of the place you were born - opt for a combination of letters, numbers and punctuation. If you feel you must write down usernames and passwords, encrypt them so only you can decipher them, or keep them somewhere only you can find them.

In addition, it's worth keeping an eye on your financial statements. Now so many are online, it's tempting to ignore them. Make the time to go through them on a regular basis, and look for unusual transactions.

And if keeping track of your accounts is sapping your will to live, bear in mind that there is a burgeoning number of smartphone apps aimed at making your life easier. This market is still in its infancy but worth keeping a beady eye on.

Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator