In this instalment of our Spending Ninjas series we are very proud to feature another household name.

As a matter of fact, for many of you, the lady in the photo above will look quite familiar indeed.

For those of you who don’t know her or simply can’t quite recall from where, her name is Amy Bainbridge and she is the consumer affairs reporter of the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster (commonly referred to as ‘aunty’ 🙂 ).

Amy is an award winning journalist with a distinguished career in both print and broadcast media, both in Australia and overseas. She has worked in both commercial and public media and is therefore very familiar with the dynamics of the industry.

We are truly honoured to be able to feature Amy on Spending Hacker and would like to take this opportunity to thank both her and the ABC management  (thanks Mr. Scott 🙂 ) for allowing this interview to take place.

Saying that however, Amy’s appearance in this interview is in her personal capacity and any views expressed by her in this interview are hers alone and do not represent in any way the views of the ABC management and board.

As you can imagine, preparing interview questions for someone who does that every day for a living came with a bit of trepidation for me but I welcome this opportunity and thank Amy for giving me her valuable time.

 

 1.    Hi Amy and welcome to Spending Ninjas. We often hear comments by various experts about the spiralling cost of living in Australia and how it has never been as bad as it is now. There is also no denying that many low income Australians are finding it hard to meet basic everyday needs such as paying for electricity or groceries. This issue has also become a ‘hot potato’ between the major political parties who constantly blame each other’s actions (or lack thereof) on getting us to this point.
As a journalist who focuses on facts and figures, how much of those claims is supported by the facts? Is it really the worst it has been in decades? If so, how much of that do you think can really be attributed to action or inaction by consecutive Australian governments?

This is a huge issue and one that we took a look at last year.

You hear all sorts of figures thrown around, but are we under more stress than before?

Your readers might find this article we did last year, based on research conducted by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), very relevant.

The most common issue I hear about when it comes to the cost of living, is the cost of utilities in Australia. There is no doubt that the cost of electricity and gas has become a real burden for Australians, and the data shows our power bills have gone up significantly.

These rises have been fuelled by a range of factors, one of those are the network charges the big companies are allowed to pass on to consumers.

There was an interesting decision very recently on what network charges power companies in NSW, ACT and Tasmania are allowed to pass on to consumers. There is also going to be yet another inquiry into this issue, but some believe it won’t achieve all that much.

(editor note: while the senate and governments debate this issue, we suggest that you take matters into your own hands by making sure that you are getting the best deal on your electricity and also the best feed-in tariff if you have solar panels on your roof).

Personally, I think our cost of living has increased, but so has our standard of living.

There are a lot of things we spend money on that we didn’t do previously, such as mobile phone plans and internet bills. It’s a really contentious issue, but regardless of how you crunch the numbers I do believe that a lot of people are under cost of living pressures.

Many welfare organisations say it’s worse than ever for some sections of society.

2.  We often hear media reports about everyday Australians falling victim to scams originating either domestically or from overseas. Do you think Aussie consumers fall victim to more fraud and scams on average than consumers in other OECD countries, as percentage of the overall population? If so, what can be done about it and do you think consumer affairs reporters such as yourself have a role to play in educating people?

Data on exactly how many people are being scammed as a percentage of population is very difficult to obtain.

Many people don’t report scams to authorities because they are embarrassed or they don’t realise they have been scammed. Therefore, every time scam statistics come out, they’re always described as the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

I am currently writing an analysis piece on scams to be published in the next few weeks, because this topic fascinates me.

Anecdotally (because statistics aren’t all that reliable) I don’t believe Aussies are more likely than others in OECD countries to fall victim to scams, however it still surprises me how many people are scammed each year.

Among the most interesting things I’ve learned about scams are the types of technology scammers can now access, and the vulnerability of consumers to scams.

Respected consumer behaviour expert, Dr Paul Harrison, says nobody should think that they could never be scammed because we are all vulnerable to certain things at certain points in time. Many of the scam victims I interview are smart, educated people who were taken advantage of at a particular time in their life.

I think social isolation may be a factor in the amount of people being scammed. I also think the media plays an extremely important role in informing the public about scams and communicating what people need to be aware of, particularly when there’s a rampant scam going at a particular time.

3. What are the most common scams consumers in Australia fall for based on what you see in your line of work everyday?

The most common scam according to the ACCC is the ‘advance fee’ scam.

Basically someone cold calls you or emails you and tells you you’re owed money. However, in order to access that money, you need to pay a fee. This is a really popular scam and it has had lots of incarnations this year with scammers masquerading behind the names of big brands and companies, and even bogus names of government departments.

Due to the easy access scammers have to advance technology , they are often setting up phishing emails that look as though they’re from legitimate companies and trick people.

One of the most nasty scams I covered this year was the ATO Scam.

Another very common scam is around dating and romance. The ACCC has done a lot of work on dating and romance scams this year.

4. In your opinion, is there enough unbiased consumer information and advice available to Australians so that they can make effective and informed choices regarding the products and services which are right for them? Do you think this is the sort of information and skills which needs to be taught at school?

There is quite a bit of unbiased information available, but you’ve got to know where to look in order to find it.

There are a whole host of fantastic consumer groups out there that have great information. Some of the best are the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network.

Also, a lot of the state-based agencies such as Consumer Affairs Victoria, WA Consumer Protection, QLD Fair Trading services and NSW Fair Trading have a lot of really useful information. They also put out regular warnings about all sorts of scams, as does the ACCC.

In terms of schools, there are only so many hours in a day for teachers so I’d be loathe to suggest there needs to be more information in schools, but some government agencies (such as ASIC’s Money Smart program and the ACCC) have run campaigns to help students which is great.

The most important thing schools can and do teach is encourage young people to have an inquiring mind, so that they can learn to look at things in an objective manner and know what information they need in order to make informed choices.

5. What are the most common mistakes you see people make when choosing everyday products and services based on the stories that come across your desk?

I’m not sure this is a mistake, but I think a major issue at the moment is information overload.

For example, if someone wants to buy LED lights for their home, there is a lot of conflicting information out there about what’s the best product, what could be dodgy, etc.

In the information age we are blessed with lots of options to investigate things but sometimes it can be just so hard and time consuming.

Therefore, sometimes people get jaded after spending too much time researching something and they end up making a poor choice.

I would just recommend talking to a few people you respect, using some information sources you respect, and then blocking out the white noise of others trying to grab your attention (and money) in order to make a decision on everyday products.

(Editor note: We could not agree more! As a matter of fact, the main reason why we started Spending Hacker was to help people with this problem of information overload so common in the Internet age).

6. Do you think commercial media outlets (print, broadcast and online) who rely on advertising as their primary source of income can effectively report in an unbiased manner on those who advertise with them? This is especially the case given how competitive the advertising market has become and how hard commercial media outlets have to fight nowadays for the advertising dollars. As someone who has worked in both commercial and public broadcasters, does the nature of your work as consumer affairs reporter, and the manner in which it’s done, any different?

I can honestly say I have enormous respect for the way commercial media is able to cover consumer stories.

They often tell compelling consumer stories in really innovative ways – they can be so entertaining.

At the ABC, I am in the position to be able to pursue absolutely any story without fear or favour. That is why having a public broadcaster is so important.

7. The Checkout has recently completed its second season on the ABC. In my opinion, it is the best consumer affairs program EVER made in this country (I’m a huge fan, can’t you tell? 🙂 ). What do you think of this show and more importantly, do you think it’s effective in educating and changing consumer perceptions and behaviour beyond its great entertainment value? In case you are privy to this information, what feedback has the ABC received from viewers on this program?

The Checkout is fantastic, and I know people in the broader consumer sector are thrilled with its success.

Someone recently told to me that a brief segment on the Checkout did wonders for an issue they’d been banging on about for years.

It’s so refreshing to see a particular style of intelligent humour morph into a show that tackles some really serious issues.

I think the Checkout team has been able to get their message through using humour and creativity to present some cold, hard facts about consumer issues.

Thank you for your time and valuable insights Amy.

This concludes our interview with Amy Bainbridge, the consumer affairs reporter of Australia’s most popular news service. If you use social media, you can connect with Amy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

We hope you found Amy’s insights useful and please be on the lookout for our next featured Spending Ninja coming to our website (and your inbox if you’re a subscriber) very soon.

The next expert we have lined up for you is true consumer affairs ‘royalty’ with knowledge and insights that are literally worth their weight in gold. She is often referred to as “Australia’s first lady of personal finance”.

Make sure you don’t miss it!

If you have any comments or questions for Amy, please feel free to leave them in the comment box below. We will do our very best to get them all answered for you.

 

Amy’s photo is provided courtesy of ABC News.

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