Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

My Russell Hobbs iron is faulty

I need help. I just bought a Russell Hobbs iron at a newly opened store in Ghanzi. I asked about the guarantee and was told that it is 7 DAYS? I was shocked because I know for sure that those irons have a 12 months guarantee if you buy it anywhere else. I bought it anyway and when I got home I read the Warranty in the instructions manual and it clearly says 1 YEAR warranty. So my question is, does the store have a right to change the guarantee of a product and if not what should I do to make sure that I am given a 1 year guarantee for my iron. NB: Their receipt does not have anything on guarantee.


As you say Russell Hobbs is a very respectable manufacturer of electrical items, including irons and they certainly DO offer a 1-year warranty on their products. So why would a store ignore this and say it’s only valid for 7 days?

Is it possible they’re selling “grey imports”? Grey imports are legal but they are products have breached the manufacturer’s warranty in some way by being imported into Botswana. For instance some products are manufactured for specific parts of the world and don’t always work as well in other places. Cars are a very good example. The rules related to seat belts, headlights and emissions vary from region to region and you might find that a vehicle built for the Far East simply won’t work properly in southern Africa. The same goes for some refrigerators and cellphones.

What happens with grey imports is that the Botswana store selling them realizes that they can’t return faulty items to the manufacturer so they only often a token warranty of a few days when they sell them to us.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see how they explain themselves.

Breaking news! Russell Hobbs very recently issued a product recall for certain irons that have been bursting into flames. I’ve sent you the model numbers so you can check that yours isn’t one of these recalled ones.

Bring back the water

Is it ok for Water Utilities Corporation to disconnect water during weekends when their offices are closed?


Personally I think that no, it’s certainly not ok for Water Utilities to cut you off over the weekend.

Let’s start with the obvious. You have to pay your water bill, you really must. If you don’t your bills for water, power, your cellphone contract, internet connection or insurance, the company is within its rights to cut you off.

However, I think it’s cruel to cut people off over the weekend, even if they haven’t paid the bill. Who knows who else lives in your house who really needs water? Maybe your aged sick grannie lives with you. Maybe you are looking after a sick relative? Maybe you have a newborn baby? Either way I think it’s unreasonable not to give you a chance to pay the bill and get reconnected immediately, something you can’t do if they cut you off on a non-working day.

We contacted WUC and their first reaction was very simple. They told us: “A customer is eligible for disconnection for ANY bill that is over 30 days old. Disconnections can be done any day of the week.”

Then we asked them to be a bit more reasonable and they told us that they “will raise it with management.” Who knows, maybe they’ll do the decent thing?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Who can I trust?

Last week I wrote that while the Internet is fantastic, you can’t trust it.

I fully recognize that there’s a fundamental flaw in that statement. The Internet isn’t a thing that can be trusted or not trusted. Saying the Internet isn’t trustworthy is a bit like saying that the postal or telephone systems can’t be trusted. What matters is what is done with them. You wouldn’t blame BotswanaPost if someone sent you an insulting email or sent you a brochure for a service you didn’t want. Nor would you blame BTC if someone cold-called you in the evening trying to sell you a hotel discount scheme. It’s the people who publish material on the internet who can either be trusted or not.

The trouble is that the Internet is a breeding ground for crooks, charlatans, scammers and liars. The danger is that almost anyone, including amateurs like you and I can set up a web site selling our products, ideas or scams remarkably quickly and with virtually no cost.

You often see an example of this when you’re trying to research something on the web. Scams such as the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme and pyramid schemes like TVI Express all did their very best to make sure that if you Googled them the first few pages would only contain positive reports, forcing those of us who tried to criticize them to much further down the list. You can’t trust Google to give you the right results to a search.

However there are certain places on the Internet that I think you can trust. Places that offer reasonable, often skeptical advice on a range of issues.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s web site (fda.gov) can be a very good source of information, particularly on health products. Although it’s obviously centered on the US market some of their advisory notices are universal. For instance there is a page on the FDA site devoted to “False or Misleading Claims for Treating Autism” which is an area that has been populated by a number of dangerous charlatans in the last couple of decades. A variety of biased and unscrupulous people have spread a series of lies about autism, including the potentially fatal lie that vaccines can cause autism. This led to a catastrophic reduction in vaccination rates in some countries which even led to deaths. Children died of diseases that had almost been eradicated following mass vaccination campaigns and the vaccine deniers have their blood on their hands.

While this debate has raised people’s awareness of autism it has also led to an upsurge in bogus treatments for autism, several of which are mentioned on the FDA site. There’s also loads of advice about weight loss programs, dietary supplements, bogus cancer treatments and even the ridiculous SCIO or QXCI devices that people plug themselves into for miracle cures (yes, even in Botswana). It’s worth a visit.

I’ve only recently discovered the existence of the North American Securities Administrators Association (nasaa.org). This organization describes itself as “the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection” and consists of “67 state, provincial, and territorial securities administrators” throughout North America.

I heard of them when they issued a warning entitled “High-Yield Investment Programs - Don’t Get Roped In”. Eurextrade was an example of these HYIPs. It’s worth quoting from their warning.
“HYIPs are Ponzi schemes sold by unlicensed individuals. In the past, con artists relied on word of mouth to lure investors into these investments. Now they rely on the Internet and social media buzz to quickly popularize their schemes before the fraud is discovered.

The most notable characteristics of HYIPs are the promise of very high returns at little or no risk to the investor and the paying of referral fees to current investors for bringing in new investors. In this way, HYIPs blend elements of both Ponzi and traditional pyramid schemes into one scheme that can spread faster than ever before.”
That’s a perfect description of the Eurextrade scheme and also some of the others that followed it. The simple truth is that ALL such schemes, without exception, fail within a few years because the business model they use is flawed.

It’s not just the USA that has agencies prepared to educate and inform their constituents. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (fca.org.uk) and its predecessors have a long history of warning the public about shady investment schemes and scams. Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (accc.gov.au) has a web site full of advice and tips on how Aussies and the rest of us can protect themselves.

South Africa’s National Consumer Commission (nccsa.org.za) and National Credit Tribunal (thenct.org.za) are doing well online. The Tribunal’s site in particular has a long list of cases they’ve heard that make fascinating reading if you like legal rulings that have an impact on consumer rights.

Here in Botswana we’re not doing nearly as well. NBFIRA’s web site (nbfira.org.bw) has some advice in it but I think we deserve more. We want real life cases and rulings. The same goes for the Bank of Botswana site (bankofbotswana.bw) where I think we need a lot more advice and guidance.

There are also a few individuals who I think you can trust for advice. Kasey Chang’s MLM Skeptic site (amlmskeptic.blogspot.com), the BehindMLM site (behindmlm.com) and Patrick Pretty’s site (patrickpretty.com) are all excellent sources of information on multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes. Always check them before you even think about joining such a scheme.

And don’t forget that you can absolutely trust the Consumer Watchdog sites. Our blog, Facebook group and Twitter feed can be completely trusted, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? Try it for yourself and see.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a pair of beautiful and expensive trousers at a small independent boutique on Monday. I wore them on Wednesday and have now discovered that the seams on the inside of the thigh are already coming apart and there is a hole in the trousers. Having worn them, am I still within my rights to take them back???


I think it very much depends on what you were doing in the trousers!

If the damage is a result of the way you were treating the trousers then clearly it’s your responsibility to deal with the problem. However…

I’ll assume that you were wearing the trousers in a normal, responsible way and not mistreating them. In that case the situation is really very simple. Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that goods must be “of merchantable quality” which means “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. Trousers should clothe your legs in a suitable manner and should last a reasonable length of time. Yours only lasted a couple of days which seems unreasonable to me.

I suggest that you go back to the boutique and show them what has happened to the trousers and ask them what they plan to do to remedy the situation. Let me know how they react?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

My laptop was not booting and I took it for repairs. The technician who took my laptop gave me the run around from then on which resulted in my laptop being at his place of work for approximately two months. He later informed me that the motherboard needed replacing. He quoted an exorbitant amount for replacement and I felt it would be wasteful to replace the motherboard rather than get a new computer if indeed the motherboard was faulty.

After taking the laptop I asked another technician to give me a second opinion. He discovered that my computer's hard drive had been taken out and replaced with someone else's hard drive. I called the first technician and asked him why he removed my hard drive and he did not give me a straight answer. I told him to give me back my hard drive as the information in it was crucial and affected my current job greatly.

I have tried to make him comprehend the gravity of this situation but he has shown no remorse for what he did and complete disregard for me as a customer. The hard drive has information that is absolutely irreplaceable. The computer can be replaced if indeed the motherboard is faulty but not the information I have lost through such carelessness. This guy has not showed any concern of locating the hard drive wherever he took it and instead keeps lying to me and does not bother to answer my calls or respond to them anymore.


This is very suspicious. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations require a company to offer services “with reasonable care and skill”. More importantly, the first technician has stolen part of your computer and you have a right to get it back. We’ll get in touch with him to see what he says but if he doesn’t cooperate I think a trip to the Police is called for. That might inspire him to respond more properly.

Meanwhile, I hope you had a backup of your work? These days there’s no excuse for not having a backup of your work. External backup drives are very cheap and really should be an essential purchase when you buy a laptop. Also companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft all now offer free, online, cloud-based backup services where you can put backups of your key documents. If you haven’t set up some form of backup solution for your laptop then do it now. Right now.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Don't believe the internet

The internet is fantastic, it really is. But you can’t trust it.

I genuinely don’t know what proportion of the contents of the internet can be relied upon to be truthful but the sad fact is that a major proportion of it is untrustworthy, unreliable and partisan. Surf the web for a day and you’ll find a bewildering array of web sites whose only purpose is to sell you products and ideas that are deceptive, nonsensical and often stupid.

It’s no surprise to me that Eurextrade, our late, unlamented Ponzi scheme operated via the internet. The web offered a very good way for the hoodlums running the scheme to hide who they really were and what they were doing with the money. It took me a long time to establish their links with organized crime but those links were certainly there.

The internet is also used by less threatening but certainly suspicious people like the curious “JT Foxx” who graced Botswana with his presence a couple of months ago. “Foxx” the supposed business guru and motivational speaker intrigues me. Not because of what he says but because it’s almost impossible to find out any real facts about him. This is about the only description I can find of him, a story that appears all over the Internet:
“J.T. Foxx started investing with nothing more than a rusted out Ford pick-up truck, $974 dollars and 1 cheap suit. Now just 6 years later, he has acquired over 500 properties, closed over $40 million in real estate deals, started several multi-million dollar companies, became one the most sought out speaker and recognized as one of the top coaches in the world - all by mastering the Art of partnering, branding & marketing.”
But that’s it. I can’t find any actual evidence to support this. In fact, if you trawl through the various sites that have been set up specifically to market his services you find a darker side. You find a variety of complaints, suggestionsthat he does nothing more than talk and even records of legal threats against him for sexual harassment. You also get a picture of a person who has entirely invented himself. You get a picture of someone who, if this is true, seems to be a bit of a creep.

When you actually go to see him speak all you apparently get is a lot of talk and a lot of demands for truly staggering amounts of money for him to provide you with “coaching” services. One person attending his meeting in Gaborone told me that in order to be “coached” by Foxx he was asked to spend a massive P300,000. In return he’d get 24, 30-minute Skype-based coaching sessions over a 6-month period from someone who has no obvious history of ever having run a business other than as a speaker, mentor and “coach”. All very suspicious.

Then there are the hoaxes that abound on the internet, in particular the home of the hoax news story: Facebook.

Perhaps the most common hoax you’ll see is a post that offers an app that can show you who’s been looking at your Facebook profile. It’s usually something like "See who views your profile!" and has a link that you’re invited to click.

Here’s a simple truth. There is no app, no service, no web page, no thing at all that can allow you to see who’s been looking at your Facebook profile. They simply don’t exist and every one of the links you see, in fact connects to services that will require your permission to share your contacts and posts and might even link to sites that will infect your computer with viruses or a range of other type of “malware”. Clicking on these links is simply dangerous and you should never do so. If a friend likes such a link you need to warn them of the danger.

Then there are the gruesome, antisocial hoaxes. In September a post circulated around Facebook with a headline saying that the Center for Disease Control in the USA had said “Ebola vaccine only works on white people”. This, as I’m sure you can guess, was nothing more than a nasty, spiteful, hate-filled lie. The CDC had said no such thing and in fact the story came from a deeply unfunny “news” story on a fake news site on the Internet. Unfortunately that didn’t stop a number of newspapers in the region passing it on as if it was real. Even though they retracted the story in following editions, who knows how many people saw the story but missed the retraction.

Just a few days ago another Facebook hoax began circulating again. This encouraged people to post a message about privacy. It began:
“Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I do declare the following: on this day, 28th November 2014, in response to the new Facebook guidelines and under articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data, drawings, paintings, photos, texts etc... published on my profile since the day I opened my account.”
That was just the beginning, it went on for several more paragraphs of pseudo-legal speak. However this is more nonsense. This happens ever few months when Facebook change their rules on privacy. On every occasion various people who seem to think that Facebook is Big Brother scheming to enslave us (but who remain on Facebook nevertheless) start rumor-mongering and spreading silliness. It’s simply not true and anyway, even if it was true, Facebook isn’t compulsory and access to it isn’t a human right. It’s also entirely free. If you don’t like it then leave.

In fact if you don’t like what the internet offers then feel free to leave. Just switch your computer, iPad or phone off. It’s your choice.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Funeral policy cancelled

I have a friend who has funeral policy which was opened in July 2005. She was paying P110 every month towards this policy which they got directly from her bank account and she is self employed. She failed to pay for the months of August, September and October 2014. She went on to pay on the 21st of November 2014 and she was told to open a new policy as the old one was cancelled due to her failure to pay for the 3 months. What is the right procedure to deal with this issue, what happens to the money that she contributed since 2005?


I think we all need to understand much more clearly the difference between an insurance scheme and a savings scheme.

A savings scheme is a way of putting money away somewhere safe so that it will be available at a later date. Some savings scheme are for a fixed period, others are more casual. With all of them you get your money back at some point, if you’re lucky with some interest.

An insurance scheme is very different. When you buy an insurance policy you are actually buying something: cover against risk. When you have an insurance policy the insurance company takes on your risk on your behalf. If, during the period of the insurance policy a bad thing happens to you then the insurance company will pay the bills. Obviously insurance schemes vary. Some are for your car, others for your house or its contents, sometimes they cover your life.

A funeral policy is an insurance scheme. While you continue paying the premiums, if something dreadful happens like you or any of the other people covered dying, the insurance company will pay the bills. If however nobody dies then nothing is paid out, but meanwhile you had the comfort of knowing that they would have done if necessary.

I don’t think your friend understood this. When she stopped paying the cover stopped. The money she paid in over the years is gone because she was saving money, she was buying something: cover against risk.

I suggest you go back to her and explain what it was she actually bought. I’m happy to explain it to her as well if you like.

Mechanic stripped my car

I took my vehicle to one local garage for it to be fixed. They initially quoted me P14,000. I could not afford to pay that money at the time which was in July 2011. We then agreed with the garage owner that in the meantime I would either take the car and pay storage fee or let them fix the car at the quoted amount. Afterwards I could not afford to pay for the vehicle and decided it stayed with them until I have money to pay for them to fix the car. To my surprise I checked them now to go ahead with fixing the car at the agreed amount, but they told me that they will have to increase the amount I have to pay because prices for car parts have increased. I chose to buy parts for myself and let them fix the car and charge me service fee. I was surprised to hear them telling me that they have stripped the car, it doesn't have gear box, engine and even the slightest things like boot and fuel tank openers. In this case I don’t know what to do because my car was in good condition, except for them to fix rear windscreen, front wheels and suspension?


I think you might be in a rather difficult situation here. Most mechanics will have a limit to how long they are prepared to store a vehicle for an owner before they either dispose of it or start using it for parts, as they have done with yours. Normally this period is a few months and in order to discourage people from leaving their cars for too long mechanics also often charge a storage fee.

In your case you left the vehicle with the mechanic 3½ years ago which is a very long time. I can understand how the mechanic was losing patience with you. Nevertheless I hope that the mechanic tried to let you know what he was going to do to the vehicle before actually doing so? I hope, for his sake, that you signed an agreement in which you consented to him doing this? If you didn’t then I suspect he might be the one in the difficult situation.

Please let me know and we’ll be happy to get in touch with the mechanic and see if anything can be done to help you.

Holiday Club - First Issues program on BTv

Last week's First Issues program from BTv on Holiday Clubs.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

An official warning about Get Rich Quick schemes

A warning from the North American Securities Administrators Association:
"Have you ever seen an ad on the Internet or a posting on a social media site promising too-good-to-be-true rates of return in short periods of time? Then you may have encountered an advertisement for a high-yield investment program, sometimes referred to as an HYIP."
It continues...
"HYIPs are Ponzi schemes sold by unlicensed individuals. In the past, con artists relied on word of mouth to lure investors into these investments. Now they rely on the Internet and social media buzz to quickly popularize their schemes before the fraud is discovered."
Wise words, if it seems too good to be true, it certainly IS too good to be true.

Thanks to PatrickPretty.com for the update.