Personal finance: Strong sterling and online bank risks

LONDON -- Sterling hit a 13-month peak against world currencies at the start of April after surprisingly upbeat manufacturing data suggested the UK could avoid slipping into recession. The pound's trade-weighted index, measured against a basket of world currencies, rose to 82.0 according to Bank of England data, its highest level since February 2011. Sterling also hit a four-and-a-half month high against the US dollar at $1.606.

Analysts said stronger data for the services sector, which makes up roughly 70 per cent of the UK economy, could trigger further short-term gains in sterling. Some analysts said they saw the pound breaking above its recent range of 1.18-1.22 as concerns about the health of the euro zone economy prompt investors to switch their money out of mainland Europe towards the UK. Euro zone manufacturing activity contracted at an increased rate in March and joblessness rose again in February. As the month progresses though we may start to see the impact that the tanker drivers proposed strike has to the short term UK economy. Already we have seen pump prices rising to an all time high disruption caused by panic buying at petrol forecourts.

Celebrity planning dispute

Dame Helen Mirren faces a planning row with neighbours. The British actor bought the abandoned farmhouse with her husband five years ago and has become embroiled in a dispute with her next door neighbour, who is demanding to see plans for the house. Anna De Giovanni has complained to the council in Tiggiano, near Lecce in southern Italy, in a bid to force officials to disclose papers relating to the Oscar winning actress’ holiday home. The dispute centres on a 500-year-old building, once the home of a prince, which is surrounded by a fairytale stone wall and turrets. Nestled in Puglia, Italy, less than a mile away from the Mediterranean, it is said to have native olive trees and quaint rose bushes in the sun kissed garden and a mature vineyard in the grounds.

The property came to the public’s attention three years ago, when photographs of Dame Helen in a striking red bikini on the nearby beach emerged. Originally described as “tumbledown” and “uninhabitable,” the home has undergone a transformation in the hands of the couple, who invested more than a quarter of a million pounds restoring it to its former glory. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Lecce confirmed that an investigation into the complaint had been opened and added: “At the moment though there is nothing else to say.”

The dangers of online banking

Hackers are again gunning for Britain's 25 million internet banking users after cracking the latest generation of security devices. Criminals have burst through banks' new calculator-style keypads to raid customers' accounts

The likes of HSBC's new Secure Key and Barclays' PINSentry were supposed to quash crime to near zero. But dangerous new viruses could add to the millions stolen online last year, experts say. Gary Clark, of data protection company Safenet, said the findings 'raise serious questions' over ordinary anti-virus protection The danger is that even the most sophisticated anti-malware programs failed to notice the bug in lab tests witnessed by the BBC. This renders the extra layer of security provided by card readers and PIN devices inconsequential. Daniel Brett, of testing lab S21sec, told the BBC the attack is a 'very specific, advanced threat, specifically focused against banking.' 

The warning comes just as internet users are threatened by new class email viruses that infect PCs even without an attachment being opened. The user is not warned and the only message that appears is 'loading'. Mark Bowerman, of Financial Fraud Action UK, admitted that banks are 'never going to have a system that is 100 per cent secure'. But he says the good news is all banks refund fraud losses as a matter of course. A refund is only refused if a bank can prove negligence on the part of the customer.


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Steve Jacobs is Northern Europe and Italy Director at Imperius Asset Management

Steve Jacobs, Director Northern Europe and Italy, Imperius Asset Management