If a person you didn't know knocked on your front door and said: "I live up the road and my electric...
If a person you didn't know knocked on your front door and said: "I live up the road and my electricity meter has run out. Can you lend me £10, and I'll pay you back at the end of the week?" would you:
a) Say: "No chance," and slam the door in their face
b) Say: "Are you regulated to collect deposits? If so, can I see your terms of business?"
c) Say: "I've only got a £20 note, you can take that instead."
d) Say: "I've got no money, but if you come with me down to the cashpoint, I'll get some out for you."
Of course, the sensible and simple thing to do would be A. Quickly followed by a call to the police or, at the very least, the local neighbourhood watchperson to alert others - because it is a SCAM.
Unfortunately, last weekend in my road, two people took options C and D. Yes, I know - it's quite unbelievable. Particularly as the person who took Option C is a professional. That is, they have an occupation that requires a considerable degree of intelligence and are used to at least some of their suppliers pulling a fast one.
The person who chose option D has an excuse. They are involved in 'artistic' matters, so on occasions have been known to be a bit 'spacey'.
That said and done, who walks down the road to the cashpoint and withdraws money for someone they don't know, and in fact have never seen in their road?
I suppose the only people who would choose option B would be someone from the Bank of England or the FSA. But presumably the worst that happens to the governor of the Bank, Mervyn King, is that a homeless person asks him for the price of a cup of tea. But homeless people normally look slightly dishevelled, and don't normally ask for £10 notes.
This has all become more relevant of late as I have been wondering why I am being peppered with useless documentation from financial services providers when all I want is simple bits of information. Annoyingly, not only do I get most of them, I'm assuming my adviser gets at least double the amount.
I can't remember the number of bits of paper I've got about MiFid. Frankly, I couldn't give a Ucits for Mifid. Does it affect my life? No. Does it affect my modest amounts of money? No. So don't tell me about it.
Former Home Secretary John Reid, when he was in Government, used to insist that any documentation he was supposed to read had to be written on one side of A4 paper. Just give him the relevant facts.
He was quite extreme - most ministers will put up with two sides, whereas Tony Blair didn't bother with either. He used to rely on a simple matrix with the key facts or statistics.
Imagine how great our lives would all be if we could condense all the information we are supposed to send out to a matrix, or even to two pages. Do you really need to spend an entire page justifying investing in a single fund? Not if it's run by Neil Woodford or Tony Nutt. Maybe if it's New Star's Heart of Africa fund, but frankly even then I could tell you in 250 words why it's worth an investment.
Like most people, I read only 5% of what is sent to me. And half the time, I struggle to find the bits I'm supposed to sign, much to the annoyance of my adviser.
And then the other day, it dawned on me why we have all this paper. Because of idiots who get scammed for £10 so easily.
Sadly, nothing will protect them from their stupidity. But the rest of us get an exemption.
Lawrence Gosling is the founding editor of Investment Week, his views are his own. Any comments to him at [email protected]