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Letter from the editor: The man from the Pru

In Seventies south London, a ring at the door on a Wednesday evening would induce panic in my poor Ma. “Quick, hide the wine!” she would hiss at pre-teen me, so the man from the Pru wouldn’t know we drank Chianti and think we were rich.

Given that we were living in a council-owned two-up two-down with an outdoor loo, I now see how unlikely that would have been — although to be fair, it was relatively unusual for any of my non-Italian friends’ parents to be drinking wine every dinner time in Abigail’s Party-era Croydon.

At the time I just shook my head, and hid the Chianti in the cupboard under the stairs next to the hallowed “safe”. It didn’t occur to me that part of the reason my Ma was worried was that she didn’t want the Man from the Pru to think we had spare money enough to increase our premiums from all of £2 a week, or whatever she paid. She intuited correctly that he would try — it was part of her assumption they were cleverer than her with money. Once handed over though, it was safe. She had a poor immigrant’s unwavering belief in saving and institutions. Her Ma in turn would have squirreled it all away in a tin under the bed in an Italian village.

Somewhere along the line this blind faith has been lost. Years of being taken for granted, and then milked, by our banks and building societies were bad enough. Then came the credit crisis and the internet. First banking, then Amazon. It’s Ma’s turn to shake her head. “How do you know it’s safe, this internet?” she asks, ooh, once a week. “Oh, Ma...” I say with the disdain my girls display to me over technology.

But read today’s story on LulzSec, and think about the Sony, Bank of America, CIA and Citigroup hacking stories and tell me whether that tin under the bed might not be a safer bet than a user name and password.

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