JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Musk will get to Mars before watchdogs catch crooks!

How depressing it is that fraudsters I wrote about more than a month ago are still targeting people with scam fixed-rate bond offers.

It begs the question: what in heaven’s name are Action Fraud and the financial regulator doing to stamp down on financial fraud? Precious little, it seems.

The fixed-rate bonds in question are purported to be backed by energy giant Centrica and are offered through investment bank Morgan Stanley. Yet the crooks behind the scam have cloned the names of these two blue chip names in order to trick people into parting with their cash.

To make their scam even more convincing, the fraudsters are using the details of real Morgan Stanley employees to peddle their wares. They have obtained these from the list of authorised individuals maintained by City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Two months ago, it was the good name of William Thomas Daley (involved in client dealing at Morgan Stanley) they were using. Now it’s Adrian Doyle’s details they have purloined from the financial services register.

Take-off: Starship launches, right, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk

A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he had a lucky escape after he agreed to invest £40,000 – in two tranches – with the fraudsters. He handed over £20,000, but when his fiancee’s bank (Lloyds) raised alarm bells about an identical investment she was making, he immediately contacted his own bank which managed to get back his money (well done Barclays!).

The bogus Adrian Doyle – presumably not knowing his intended victim had now got back his original £20,000 – then tried to persuade the reader to part with his second tranche of money. Realising he was dealing with a fraudster, the reader strung Mr Doyle along in the hope of gathering enough evidence for Action Fraud to live up to its name and take some action.

Desperate to steal his money, Mr Doyle offered Centrica bonds paying 12 per cent interest instead of the seven per cent first time around. Despite the MoS reader providing Action Fraud with full details of his experience, the crooks are still at large.

In the FCA’s defence, it has included the fraudsters’ information on its warning list of unauthorised firms – In my view, Elon Musk’s Starship rocket will take humans to Mars well before Action Fraud does anything to stop the fraudsters who have cloned the good names of Morgan Stanley and Centrica to commit crime.

So, if you get an email ending offering you attractive Centrica bonds, send it to me – and then delete. The best action you can take.

It’s speed-dating for investors…and I love it

I am feeling more loved as an investor – and about time, too. Having not heard a dicky bird for years from those running the funds and investment trusts that form the basis of my long-standing Isa and pension, they all now want to court me.

It is the equivalent of investment speed dating – and I’m up for it. I want the managers who look after my hard-won investments to show they care about me as a customer, even if I’m racking up paper losses under their stewardship. First, as I have reported previously, mighty fund manager BlackRock sent me a note earlier this month, inviting me to the annual general meeting of its investment trust World Mining which I am a shareholder in.

The meeting went swimmingly well and I came out of it better informed about the trust – and its outlook. Hats off to BlackRock.

Now, Andrew Impey, chairman of investment trust JP Morgan UK Smaller Companies, has got in on the act and dropped me a line – as he has done to all shareholders. Although this trust’s AGM is not until December, the fund has just published its half-year report to the end of January this year – and Impey has implored me to devour it online. I did.

The report doesn’t make for particularly easy reading as it confirms one-year shareholder losses of more than 15 per cent. Yet Impey and fund managers Georgina Brittain and Katen Patel are nothing but optimists. They insist the future could be brighter for shareholders if the current undervaluation of most UK smaller companies is appreciated by the wider market at some stage in the near future, triggering a rerating. I’ve now signed up for regular updates on the trust’s progress – including insights, performance analysis and promised video interviews with the two managers. It will all keep me busy.

Of course, long-term profit is what most investors want. But when the chips are down, I will be far more forgiving of the managers if they engage rather than merely take fees from me.

The saga of Safe Hands gets worse

Although it’s good that we now have in place a regulated funeral plans market, it won’t provide any comfort to the 46,000 people who bought plans from Safe Hands, based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Safe Hands went into administration in March last year – months before the Financial Conduct Authority took over regulation of the funeral plans industry. At the same time customer protection from company failure was provided via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

The result is that customers who bought a Safe Hands plan on the understanding that it would eventually cover the cost of their funeral have been well and truly hung out to dry.

The latest update from the administrators overseeing the financial wreckage of Safe Hands makes for alarming reading.

The trust fund into which customers’ payments were put – and ring-fenced – is in a parlous state. While it owns assets valued at between £8 million and £10.9 million, the expected cost of meeting all the funerals that customers have paid for is £70.6 million.

In other words, customers are at some stage likely to get back between 11pence and 15pence of every pound they paid to Safe Hands.

Putting it another way, between 85pence and 89pence of every pound of their good money has gone up in smoke – and with it the funeral they were promised.

Surely, those responsible for running Safe Hands into the financial ground – through a mix of incompetence, greed and nefarious activities – need at some stage to be held accountable for their actions.

Buildings societies pay peanuts in interest 

It’s not just banks that treat savers with contempt by paying them the equivalent of peanuts in interest. Occasionally, building societies don’t cover themselves in glory either.

A longstanding reader from Coventry, who knows building societies rather intimately, has been in touch, spitting feathers about the behaviour of the Hinckley and Rugby.

It has recently written to savers in its Regular Saver 30 Day Notice Account, informing them that from this Thursday, it is cutting (yes CUTTING) the interest rate it pays from 4.75 to 4.25 per cent.

Savers – who squirrel away anything between £10 and £500 a month in the account – have been told that if they are unhappy with the rate cut, they can close their account before June 3 without either having to give notice or incur any loss of interest.

The reader is bewildered by the fact that H&R gives no explanation for the rate cut, especially at a time when interest rates are only going one way – and that is up.

Treating customers fairly? No. A request to hear H&R’s side of the story fell on deaf ears.