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Questions of Cash: 'Secret searches' after I browsed a comparison website


Q: I've listened to lots of warnings about identity theft and the need to be vigilant, so I decided to check my credit report with Experian.

To my amazement I found a number of searches had been carried out on me by companies that I had never had any dealings with and had not asked for credit of any sort. I asked Experian why this should be the case and they replied telling me that it was very likely that I had visited a price comparison website that effectively gave permission for searches to be carried out. I did visit the comparethemarket.com website when I was looking to renew my car insurance, but I was completely unaware that this would entitle insurance companies such as Admiral, Swinton and others to carry out credit searches on me – after all, I didn't ask them to provide insurance cover, let alone provide me with credit. I wonder how many people innocently browse these comparison websites unaware that by doing so they are offering a number of insurance companies the authority to carry out credit searches on them. And how many of these people realise that the greater the number of searches carried out on them, the worse it looks to a potential lender? JC, by email

A: James Jones of Experian explains: "What generally happens here is that you give permission to the providers, via the comparison site, to carry out searches of your credit report – now and possibly at future renewal dates – for the purpose of ID verification and credit quotation. They do the latter because many people elect to pay insurance premiums through credit instalments, so this enables them to quote you a price for this up front alongside the basic premium. Importantly, the footprints that these inquiries leave behind on credit reports are not the 'credit application' type so they are not seen by lenders and they don't influence credit scores. You have a legal right to see all searches when you check your own credit report, of course. This factsheet provides a bit more detail about the different types of search footprints: www.experian.co.uk/assets/consumer/downloads/resources/searches-oct11.pdf." We also asked comparethemarket.com for a comment, which they agreed to provide but, despite being reminded, they failed to provide this.


Q: I am a pensioner and have been planning to move to a European Union country in a year or so. I need to be able to draw my state pension, which I can currently do whilst Britain is a member of the European Union. I am now very worried that with the promise of a referendum we might pull out of Europe and I will lose my entitlement to a state pension in Europe. What do you think? If we do pull out - perish the thought - do you think arrangements will be made for we senior Brits who want to live in the EU and draw our state pension? This issue will obviously affect hundreds of thousands of British pensioners living in the EU. JH, by email

A: Your state pension is yours as of right and is not dependent on where you live. If you retire abroad, you keep your entitlement to receive your basic state pension. However, you may lose any annual increases in the level of state pension unless you live in one of the countries where the Government has agreed it will uprate the pension payments in line with those paid within the UK. The list of countries where you will get annual increases is quite long, but very far from comprehensive. It includes countries with which the UK has close connections – such as the United States, Australia, Israel and Jamaica – and those nearby territories that have close ties but are independent jurisdictions – the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It also includes all the European Union and most other European countries. Given this, it seems likely that even if the UK decided to withdraw from the European Union state pensions would still be uprated annually. We did speak to the Conservative Party, which asked us to forward your question to them to enable them to provide an answer. Despite this and reminding them on three occasions, we had no reply. The referendum has been pledged by the Conservative Party if they win the next election. While current opinion polls show support for withdrawal, many observers believe that public opinion might shift during a referendum campaign – if a referendum does take place.


Q: I purchased a pair of Dr Dre Beats Mixr headphones for £160 for my 14-year-old son – who paid half – following some good work by him at school. He was delighted with them. But despite only ever been used lightly, they stopped working properly after only three months. I enquired of Beats' customer service department if they could put the fault right. It took almost two months for them to respond and since then I have provided lots of information. Unfortunately we cannot find the receipt, but Beats agreed to accept a copy credit card statement – which I have supplied - as proof of purchase. My son has been without properly functioning headphones for three months. All Beats needed to do, I think, was provide a new cable, but buying one would cost £20. These were very expensive headphones and I think the customer service has been unacceptable and the delay is difficult to explain to my son. JB, Cheshire

A: We share your frustration. We have been emailing Beats for weeks trying to get them to look into this – and have not even had an acknowledgement. Happily, your persistence has been more successful than ours. You have sent us a copy of correspondence from Beats which shows that it will now replace the headphones after you return your existing pair to its warehouse in the Netherlands. All you then need to do is to recover the estimated £15 postal cost for despatching the parcel – good luck.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we’ll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk