John Cranage: Difficult times of a consumer
For those not convinced by claims made by the boosters of the cyber world and the promoters of the products (invariably expensive) needed to participate, the postal strike must be worrying.
There is (or at least was) something reassuringly simple about paying a bill, for example, by posting a cheque in the fairly certain knowledge it would arrive in time. Not at the moment, it won’t. It will be buried among mountains of other unsorted, undelivered and probably ultimately lost, “items”.
Royal Mail’s ability to clear the backlog once its dispute with the Communication Workers’ Union is resolved must be in question, bearing in mind it has been cutting deliveries while ramping up the cost of a stamp in pursuit of profit.
So, while a goodly part of the country’s normal commercial life is sacrificed on the altar of industrial strife, what is the paying public supposed to do?
When you have a motor insurance policy to renew or an urgent demand for money to comply with, hanging around for the postmen to go back to work is not an option. It’s a safe bet that credit-card companies will not be accepting “the cheque’s in the post – somewhere” as a reason for not hitting customers with non-payment penalties.
The answer, according to the Association of British Insurers, is for customers to communicate by email, telephone and fax “wherever possible” (an important qualification, even these digital days) or go online, presumably with credit card details at the ready.
Many people will be asking themselves “what’s the problem?” while many who find modern communication technology bewildering or unaffordable will be quietly going up the wall. And it is unfortunate that the ABI should be giving out such advice on a day when Zurich announced it had lost a tape containing the personal details of 51,000 UK customers somewhere in South Africa.
Zurich said it had “no evidence” that the data had fallen into the hands of criminals who could use it to perpetrate wicked fraud on its customers. It has, however, written to those concerned offering free identity-theft protection. The letters, in fact, are in the post.
There’s nothing new in a large financial services company losing sensitive personal information. The banks have been doing it for some time. Nor, of course, is it unknown for “snail mail” to disappear for ever in the maws of the Royal Mail. But what it all amounts to is the fact that being a “consumer”, wired or not, is not easy these days.
This columnist recently paid his water rates over the phone and endured a very puzzling couple of minutes before realising the woman asking for his account number and debit card details was in fact a computer.