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Phone scammers impersonate AG office staff in bid to obtain bank, PPS details

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A new telephone scam has surfaced in which criminals impersonate staff at the Office of the Attorney General in an attempt to mislead pepple into thinking they have been the victims of identity theft or other criminal acts.

The perpetrators have even been able to piggyback on the real telephone number of the Attorney General’s office – 6314000 – to add an additional layer of apparent legitimacy to the deception.

Details of the scam have been outlined in an alert published on the website of the Office of the Attorney General.

“The caller can make a range of claims, for example that the person has been a victim of fraud or identity theft where their identity has been used for drug trafficking or money laundering,” the alert says.

“They may also claim that there is a case against the person and a warrant out for their arrest. Personal details, which can include PPS numbers and/or bank details may also be asked for by the caller.”

The AG’s office reminded the public never to engage with these callers or return calls to these numbers or share any personal information and to report the matter to the gardaí immediately.

“The Office of the Attorney General does not request PPS numbers or bank account details from members of the public,” the alert says.

Another relatively new scam that has been circulating in Ireland in recent days sees criminals attempt to dupe people into thinking they have been overcharged by television streaming service Amazon Prime.

The scam exploits the surge in popularity of streaming services over successive Covid-19 related lockdowns and sees callers recive a call from a person alerting them to the fact that they are about to be or have just been billed around €70 for an Amazon Prime renewal. They are advised to Press 1 if they want more details of the charge or if they feel it has been imposed in error.

If the number is pressed, then victims can be connected to overseeas criminals who attempt to convince them to part with financial details or other personal information after which money can quickly disappear from the bank accounts.

Amazon has repeatedly stressed it never makes contact with its customers in this fashion.

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House prices shot up £25k in a year in November 2021, ONS says

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Property prices surged 10 per cent annually in November 2021, according to the latest official figures.

This marked a small increase in price inflation compared to October, when prices grew by 9.8 per cent, the Office for National Statistics’ house price index shows.

The average house price was £271,000 in November 2021, which is £25,000 higher than the same time last year.

Climbing: The average UK house price increased by £25,000 in the year to November 2021

Climbing: The average UK house price increased by £25,000 in the year to November 2021

The figures confirm that house prices continued to climb, even after the stamp duty holiday finished at the end of September 2021.

The tax break, which lowered home buyers’ bills by up to £15,000, contributed to rapidly rising prices after it was introduced in July 2020.

This was despite the cost of a home increasing by £10,000 more than the maximum tax break.  

The number of housing transactions taking place also increased in November, growing by nearly a quarter compared October according to HMRC.

However, it was 16.4 per cent lower than the number of transactions in November 2020.

This suggests that the slight dip in October following the end of the stamp duty holiday may have been a temporary blip.

Rise: The rate of house price growth ticked up in November compared to October

Rise: The rate of house price growth ticked up in November compared to October

The average UK house price has increased dramatically since the pandemic started

The average UK house price has increased dramatically since the pandemic started

Phillip Stevens, director of Richmond estate agency Antony Roberts, said: ‘It was business as usual in November as property prices rose again following October’s dip, which came about following the end of the stamp duty holiday. 

‘There is plenty of evidence that buyer demand remains strong, especially for houses, and with relatively little stock available it is a house seller’s market.’

However, experts said that the spectre of rising inflation and increases in the cost of living could serve to dampen the housing market later in 2022.

On the market: This four-bed, three-bath detached home in Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, is on the market with Hackney & Leigh with an asking price of £745,000

On the market: This four-bed, three-bath detached home in Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, is on the market with Hackney & Leigh with an asking price of £745,000

In Trowbridge, Wiltshire, this five-bed is listed for £610,000 with agents Kingstons

In Trowbridge, Wiltshire, this five-bed is listed for £610,000 with agents Kingstons

Buyers in Largs, North Ayrshire, Scotland can snap up this four-bed, two bath detached home for £299,000. It is listed with estate agents at Corum

Buyers in Largs, North Ayrshire, Scotland can snap up this four-bed, two bath detached home for £299,000. It is listed with estate agents at Corum

This Victorian three-bed is marketed with Starkings & Watson in Norwich for £375,000

This Victorian three-bed is marketed with Starkings & Watson in Norwich for £375,000

This two-bed cottage near Hereford is being sold by Chancellors with a £210,000 guide

This two-bed cottage near Hereford is being sold by Chancellors with a £210,000 guide

This depends to some extent on whether there are further increases in the Bank of England’s base rate, which would likely push up the cost of a mortgage.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘There is further speculation that the Bank of England will raise interest rates by 0.5 per cent at its February meeting in order to counter rising inflation, and it remains to be seen what impact this will have on buyer confidence.

‘Squeezed affordability would be an issue, preventing first-time buyers in particular from getting on the ladder.’

Looking at the different countries of the UK, house prices increased 9.8 per cent over the year in England to reach an average of £288,000.

In Wales they grew by 12.1% per cent to £200,000, in Scotland by 11.4 per cent to £183,000 and in Northern Ireland by 10.7 per cent to £159,000.

The South West was the region with the highest annual house price growth, with average prices increasing by 12.9 per cent in the year to November 2021. This was up from 10.8 per cent in October 2021.

The lowest annual house price growth was in London, where average prices increased by 5.1 per cent over the year to November 2021, down from 6.7% in October 2021.

Despite being the region with the lowest annual growth, London’s average house prices remain the most expensive of any region in the UK at an average of £520,000.

Locations: Regionally, the South West saw the highest house price increases at 12.9%

Locations: Regionally, the South West saw the highest house price increases at 12.9% 

The North East continued to have the lowest average house price at £149,000, but prices still increased 8.7 per cent in the year to November.

The fact that the number of homes on the market is much lower than the number of interested buyers is another factor continuing to drive up prices, along with Britons’ desire to change their living arrangements due to the pandemic.

Nick Leeming, chairman at estate agent Jackson-Stops said: ‘Last year proved to be an astonishing year for the property market, with prices and demand defying expectations set by the pandemic in January. 

‘Whilst today we see average house prices up slightly from those recorded in October, the figures still reflect lack of supply in the market and are therefore impacting levels of demand in the year to November 2021.

‘It is evident that this imbalance between stock and demand will continue to underpin housing activity in coming months. 

‘This is reflected by what we are seeing across our branches where the complex and ongoing changes to the nation’s working patterns and lifestyle aspirations have only heightened the importance Britons place on owning a home.’

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Spectre of inflation returns to haunt Irish households

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Irish households are facing the biggest cost-of-living squeeze in decades and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Inflation here is now running at 5.5 per cent, its highest level since April, 2001.

Almost everything is more expensive than it was a year ago: energy, accommodation, food, travel, insurance. Energy bills alone are expected to rise by up to €1,300 this year.

This will have a corrosive effect on household budgets. Rising prices hit poorer households harder as they spend more of their income on necessities. If that wasn’t bad enough, house prices, the perennial bugbear of the Irish economy, are steamrolling forward again, rising an annual rate of 14 per cent. Make no mistake, 2022 is going to bite financially.

The irony is that the global surge in inflation is partly the unintended consequence of two very positive developments; government supports and vaccines.

The rollout of financial supports to shore up workers and households affected by the crisis has facilitated a quicker than expected rebound in demand for goods and services, which has in turn triggered price hikes across the economy.

The rapid development and rollout of vaccines (at least in rich countries) has accelerated this rebound.

Another, perhaps less positive, reason for the current surge in prices relates to the globalisation and complex international supply chains that underpin modern production processes.

Since the 1990s businesses have been sourcing parts in cheaper and cheaper destinations – often on the other side of the world – in a bid to keep prices down; in effect exporting inflation that might have occurred in a less liberalised economy. This has come back to bite us hard with shipping and other supply routes now clogged and subject to long delays.

The traditional remedy for inflation, interest rates, are no longer within the Government’s gift and the European Central Bank has pledged not to lift them this year for fear such a move will damage recovery. The more reactive US Federal Reserve is expected to adopt three rate hikes this year alone.

In any case, rate hikes take 18 months to two years to work, meaning they would have little impact on the immediate price environment. They also only temper demand and therefore would have no role in cooling inflation emanating from supply chain disruption.

That leaves fiscal policy. Measures such as VAT reductions or energy credits – the Government here is planning a €100 credit to help offset the cost of energy bills – are being considered but they’re unlikely to make much of dent, particularly if energy bills are rising by as much as €1,300.

Coronavirus unwind

And remember government budgets are out of whack because of the huge outlay on wage supports, meaning there is considerably less room for manoeuvre.

The biggest fear for governments is that the current price surge becomes ingrained in system and is longer a “transitory” manifestation of the coronavirus unwind.

One way this could happen is through wages. If wages start rising as workers demand better compensation for the current cost-of-living squeeze that can create a wage-price spiral, leading to a more prolonged period of price growth.

Wage growth in the Irish economy is running at about 4 per cent but there are compositional problems with this measurement as thousands of workers in consumer-facing sectors such as hospitality are not working, skewing the headline number.

Inflation can also be self-perpetuating: if people believe prices are going to go up, they’ll buy now, pushing up demand and prices. Either way, the current surge in inflation is likely to raise the political temperature here with the Government facing calls from the opposition to do something to offset the increase while at the same time trying to rein in coronavirus-strained budgets.


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Aldi unveils checkout-free concept store (GB)

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Aldi, the UK’s fifth largest supermarket, has opened its first checkout-free store in London. The new trial store, which is situated on Greenwich High Street, allows customers to complete their shop without scanning a single product or having to go through checkout. Customers can download the Aldi Shop&Go app, which will allow them to enter the store, pick up their items, and then simply walk out when they have completed their shop. Once a customer leaves the store they will then be automatically charged for their shopping via their selected payment method and a receipt will appear in the app. The system, provided by leading technology provider AiFi, uses specially positioned cameras to detect which products customers have picked up, before charging them to their Aldi Shop&Go account when they leave the store. Customers wishing to purchase alcohol, or other Challenge 25 products, will be able to use facial age estimation technology to authorise their purchase. This technology, provided by Yoti, enables customers to confirm their age within seconds via the Aldi Shop&Go app. Those who opt to not use the system will instead be age verified by a store colleague.

 

Giles Hurley, CEO of Aldi UK and Ireland, said: “Today is the culmination of months of work, not least from the team here in Greenwich and I’m looking forward to seeing how customers react to our trial. This store utilises the very latest in retail technology offering Aldi’s award-winning products and unbeatable prices to customers in a new and innovative way. The team are really excited about seeing customers come in and experience Aldi Shop&Go.”

 

Lewis Esparon, Store Manager, said: “I cannot wait to show customers our new Aldi Shop&Go store. We have been working towards this day for several months now so it will be great to see how our customers react to the new technology. For us, steps like this are always about improving the customer experience and the whole team are looking forward to being on-hand and ready to help to ensure that experience is as smooth as ever.”

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