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Macron praised as French economy goes from strength to strength

The good news keeps coming for the French economy: data published Thursday showed unemployment at its lowest level since 2009 while the head of the IMF praised recent reforms by President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron praised as French economy goes from strength to strength
Photo: AFP
After years of being considered the “sick man of Europe”, the French economy is showing its strongest growth in years, with optimism underpinned by the pro-business agenda being implemented by the government.
   
Statistics agency INSEE said Thursday that unemployment had fallen to 8.9 percent nation-wide in the final quarter of 2017, down 0.7 percentage points to its lowest level since 2009.
   
The uptick in the jobs market has led some companies to warn about skills shortages, a dramatic turnaround for an economy that has consistently lagged its better performing neighbours.
   
“We've had new job creation at a very high level in 2017 which was sufficient to reduce unemployment,” commented economist Bruno Ducoudre at the OFCE economic institute.
   
 
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Photo: AFP   
 
Economists stress that the improving economy is partly down to stronger growth across Europe, which is dragging France higher, but the head of the International Monetary Fund emphasised Thursday the role of recent reforms.
   
“We need to recognise clearly the quality and the ambition of the reforms that have been started,” Christine Lagarde said on Thursday during a visit to the economy ministry in Paris.
   
Macron, a 40-year-old centrist elected in May, has promised a “transformation” of the economy and social system to make France an easier place to start companies and more attractive for investors.
   
His first annual budget cut taxes on companies and profits on financial investments, while his government is preparing a second wave of reforms focused on improving training for adult workers and the unemployed.
 
Economic growth is forecast to be around 2.0 percent in 2018, though some analysts expect forecasts to start rising. Expansion of 1.9 percent in 2017 was the highest level in six years, according to INSEE.
 
France sees big drop in unemployment rate in boost for Macron
Photo: AFP
 
Fragile president
 
Tackling mass unemployment is Macron's number one priority, with joblessness a scourge for high-poverty areas around major cities and felt particularly acutely by the under 25s.
   
Around a quarter of young people are out of work.
   
Macron has promised to bring the overall unemployment level down to 7.0 percent by the end of his term in 2022, but early complaints about skills shortages underline the scale of the task.
   
France has high levels of long-term unemployed workers who are unskilled, making them unattractive for companies looking to take on new staff.
   
A survey by INSEE in October found that half of companies in the construction sector were having difficulty finding skilled labour, while 38 percent of industrial groups faced the same problem.
   
And despite the improving economy, Macron's approval ratings remain low and volatile, with a new survey out on Wednesday showing him down five points in February to 35 percent.
 
Can Macron really convince the French to embrace wealth?
Photo: AFP   
 
This makes him less popular than his predecessor Francois Hollande at the same point in his term in office, the polling group Ispos said.
   
Other surveys have shown that French people are worried about their own household budgets and are not convinced that Macron's reforms will deliver improvements in their own lives.
   
The young president, a former investment banker, has been labelled the “president of the rich” by opponents to his pro-business agenda that has so far favoured company owners.
 
“I'm not obsessed at this stage whether people have confidence in me or not for their purchasing power because if someone asks you a question about it, we're all the same, we want more,” Macron told reporters on Tuesday.
   
He ruled out the “quick response” favoured by French governments in the past which would see increased public spending or tax cuts financed by debt.
   
France met EU rules on its public finances for the first time in a decade last year by reporting a deficit under 3.0 percent of GDP, but the country's public finance watchdog has urged the government to go further.
   
“We need to decrease our debt because it makes us vulnerable to an increase in interest rates,” Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters on Thursday, saying that increased tax revenues in 2018 would be used for this purpose.
 
by AFP's Adam Plowright

ECONOMY

Warning: 6 of the most common scams in France to watch out for

From computer hacking to phone calls, a new report reveals that scams and frauds are unfortunately on the rise in France and the criminals are getting more sophisticated - here are some of the most common frauds to be aware of.

Warning: 6 of the most common scams in France to watch out for

France’s fraud and financial crime watchdog, Tracfin, has published its annual report, indicating that fraudulent activity has become both more frequent and more evolved in the last year.

The report highlighted the most significant forms of fraud tracked by the watchdog. In particular, it found that CPF (Compte Personnel de Formation) scams represented a significant proportion of the fraudulent activity registered this year. 

These are the scams the report highlighted:

The CPF scam: The Compte Personnel de Formation is available to all employees in France. Essentially, they are given access to money each year for free professional training (€800 for unskilled workers, €500 for full-time, skilled workers).

This is a real, government-backed scheme with a genuine website and app – it’s particularly useful for foreigners in France because the money can be used for French classes. Here’s how it works.

Unfortunately, however, the name is frequently used by scammers and Tracfin director Guillaume Valette-Valla warned that these scams have become more professional, often now involving transnational criminal organisations, particularly those located outside the EU, as well as shell companies that exist to siphon off the public money.

A lot of these scams involve SMS messages and phone calls warning people that they would lose their allowance and urging them to sign up to training courses have become increasingly frequent. These messages often contain fraudulent links asking recipients to enter their personal details onto dodgy websites.

The presence of CPF shell companies dramatically increased in 2021, according to the report. Tracfin received 116 reports of suspicion of shell companies, which is a significant increase from the 10 reported in 2020. 

For CPF fraud overall, the scams racked in accounted for over €43.2 million compared to €7.8 million a year earlier.

READ MORE: Beyond the scams: How to use France’s €500 training budget

The carte vitale scam – if you live in France your carte vitale is a vital document, allowing you to access publicly funded healthcare.

An increasingly common scam is sending a text message or email telling a person that their carte vitale is about to expire, and to click on the link and enter their details to keep it active. This is a scam, the carte vitale does not expire. If you need to make any changes to your card or request a new one if you have lost of stolen it, use your online Ameli account or visit your local CPAM office.

Driving scams – summer is the time of year when thousands of people – both locals and tourists – take to the roads for a trip away, and scammers often prey on drivers.

Some scammers operate at service stations, approaching non-French drivers and spinning them a sob story to try and extort money, while others operate insurance scams by pretending that you have damaged their car. There are also sporadic reports of ‘fake cops’ who try to issue on-the-spot cash fines to cars with foreign number plates.

Driving in France: The common scams thieves try on foreign motorists

Postal scams – it’s a very common experience to get a message from La Poste or a parcel courier telling you that you were out when they tried to deliver a package. Usually you will just need to arrange another time or head to the post office, but beware of text messages or emails telling you that there are outstanding charges for a parcel, with a link to enter your card details.

Couriers do not operate like this and if there are any outstanding postage or customs charges, you pay them in person not via a link in an email or SMS.

Ransomware attacks – France also saw a rise in ransomware attacks – particularly those targeting small businesses.

In 2021, the French National Agency for Information Systems Security (ANSSI) handled 203 ransomware attacks, compared to 192 in 2020 and 69 in 2019. This represents an increase of 194 percent increase in incidents handled in two years. These attacks were predominantly (over 52 percent) targeted at very small, small and medium-sized businesses.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise for two reasons: a lack of digital literacy and security, and an increased specialisation and professionalisation of the criminal ecosystem.

Fraud on government schemes: Tracfin also noted a rise in fraudulent declarations for government schemes, particularly those made available as emergency responses to the Covid-19 crisis.

These were mostly represented by misuse of compensation for short-time work, emergency aid for companies, self-employed people and business owners, and state-guaranteed loans.

Looking forward – the report also warned how NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) could constitute an additional fraud and cybersecurity risk for people across the country.

So far, Tracfin has received reports of scams involving NFTs whose value has been artificially increased (“pump and dump”), NFTs copying or plagiarizing original works without having the copyright or simply fake NFTs that disappear once they are downloaded from a fraudulent website. The watchdog also highlighted that NFTs could eventually be used for tax fraud. 

On top of tracking scams within France, Tracfin was also involved in tracking down the assets of Russian oligarchs after sanctions against Moscow went into place following the invasion of Ukraine, estimating that €1.18 billion worth of financial and non-financial assets have been frozen in France since the beginning of the conflict.

If you are contacted by a company and you are not sure if it is genuine, the French government has compiled a ‘blacklist’ of dodgy companies that frequently try and defraud people – you can find it here.

If you think you may have fallen victim to a scam, particularly if you have shared your banking information, the first step is to contact your bank. You can learn more about what to do in this scenario, HERE

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