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ECONOMY

France scales back economic support for Covid-hit businesses as aid bill hits €240 billion

France is scaling back its economic support to businesses hit by the pandemic, with the country's public accounts minister announcing a more targeted regime of aid.

France scales back economic support for Covid-hit businesses as aid bill hits €240 billion
Public accounts minister Olivier Dussopt. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

The French government has extended €240 billion in financial aid to businesses hammered by the pandemic since March 2020, mainly in the form of state-guaranteed loans, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced Monday.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to protect French companies and their employees “whatever the cost” after many were forced to close during three nationwide lockdowns since the outbreak began.

“The bill for ‘whatever the cost’ stands at €80 billion in subsidies, and €160 billion in loans,” Le Maire told France Inter radio.

The public accounts minister Olivier Dussopt has warned: “It’s the end of whatever it takes”.

The government wants to “look at what is really being lost, rather than just what is being said”.

He added that not all industries or regions were suffering equally, and that even within some Covid-hit sectors, there were businesses that were thriving.

READ ALSO Home-grown holidaymakers and health passports ‘have saved summer tourism’

“We are ready to help the sectors that really need it,” Dussopt told Radio J ahead of a meeting with leaders from industries still suffering from the pandemic, including tourism, small businesses and culture.

Since the beginning of the health crisis, the French government has run a generous package of economic aid for businesses, including furlough schemes for employees and grants for small businesses and the self-employed.

There have also been extra incentives for businesses to switch to online services such as ‘click and collect’ schemes for independent retailers.

Dussopt said that any future aid “will be a necessarily transitional, very sector-focused approach”.

As an example, he cited the restaurant trade: “In some regions, the number of visitors is the same as before, it is even higher than in July and August 2020, which were months that were not affected.”

Companies must also take responsibility for their own operations and for finding solutions to their problems, he said.

Instead of simply complaining about the difficulty they face hiring, he said, employers “have an interest in making the careers they offer more attractive” – by increasing salaries, for example.

The hospitality sector has reported staff shortages and difficulties in hiring since bars and restaurants reopened, with many former employees having either found wrk elsewhere or deciding to tur their back on an industry of anti-social hours and low pay. 

Economic growth is forecast at six percent this year, with the government hoping for four percent in 2022.

The minister said the government’s deficit peaked at 9.2 percent in 2020 and would come in “below nine percent” for 2021.

That was “despite the cost of the crisis, despite the cost of the recovery plan”, he said, adding “we can aim for a target of around five percent” in 2022, depending on actual growth.

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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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