Saturday, 2 May 2015

First Issues on Store Security

If you missed the First Issues program on store security last week you can see it here.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Is there a worse way of buying than hire purchase?

If there’s a worse way of buying things than hire purchase I don’t know what it is.

The biggest single problem with hire purchase is simple and the clue is in the name: the word “hire”. When you hire a car, do you own it? No, the car hire firm owns it, you’re just borrowing it in return for a fee. It’s exactly the same when you buy a sofa, laptop or fridge on hire purchase. Even though you now “possess” the item you don’t own it, the store still does. Ownership only passes to you when you’ve made the final payment in your repayment plan, often two or more years after it was delivered to your house.

This one of the reasons why if there’s the slightest problem with your repayments the store can just come round and recover the item from you with no extra paperwork. It belongs to them, not you. What’s more when you signed the HP agreement you probably didn’t notice the clause in the agreement that said they can enter your property to recover your goods without a court order, but with the specific permission you granted them. It’s a licence to invade your home.

In theory the whole business is regulated by the Hire Purchase Act, a piece of law designed to formalize HP agreements and also to provide some protection to both the stores that sell on HP and those of us who are unlucky enough to sign their agreements. In yet another example of how forward-thinking our early legislators were, the Hire Purchase Act was passed in 1961, way before many of us (even me) were born. So there’s no excuse for stores or their lawyers not to know what it says.

You don’t need to read the entire Act but there are a few things it says that you should know, things that in principle could protect you if you get into trouble.

The agreement you sign must disclose the cash price of the item you’re buying. If you’ll be paying P4,000 over two years then the agreement must make it clear that the cash price is P2,000. In fact that’s probably what it really would be in a two-year agreement, buying on HP over two years usually costs about double the cash price.

It must also give a full description of the goods you’re buying, “sufficient to identify them”. It should include the model name of code number, it’s size, colour and anything else it takes to identify the goods. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly it’s a protection for you in case the wrong goods are delivered. You have a piece of paper to prove they’ve delivered the wrong thing. However it’s there to protect the store. If they ever need to repossess the goods they can make sure they take the right thing.

The law also allows you to get regular statements of your account with the store that explain how much you’ve paid so far and how much you have left to pay. You can even get a copy of the original agreement if you lose your copy of the agreement. The store can’t keep you in ignorance.

On the other hand there is an often overlooked obligation that can get you in trouble. The law requires the buyer to tell the store every time the purchased goods change location. Every time you move house you MUST tell the store. Remember that the goods don’t belong to you yet. They belong to the store. The store has a right to know where the goods are at all times.

You do have some rights though. For instance you can, if you can afford it, terminate the agreement early. Section 14 (b) of the Act says that you can pay all of the remaining installments up front and it even says that you are entitled to a 5% per year discount on those payments. However that assumes you now have the cash you should have used in the first place rather than buying the item on HP. However it does mean that if you suddenly get some cash you can put it to a good cause rather than spending it on booze.

There’s another right you have that stores often neglect to tell you but this one only applies when things have already gone wrong. If you’ve defaulted on your payments and the goods have been repossessed you can still get them back, so long as you pay all the arrears within 21 days of the date the goods were repossessed. That might not be a long time but the advantage is tremendous. You’ll need to pay the remaining installments anyway so it’s surely better to have them in your house rather than someone else’s.

However there’s a major problem with the Act. Such a glaring problem that it almost certainly doesn’t apply to you.

None of the protections are real.

Section 2 (3) (a) of the Hire Purchase Act says that that Act shall “apply to agreements … under which the purchase price does not exceed P4000”.

There were times when P4,000 was a LOT of money. When this rule was set it was probably enough to buy a car but these days when you’re buying something on HP, it’s next to nothing. When I looked at a furniture store insert from a newspaper last weekend it contained sixty-two items that were available on hire purchase. Of those only three were for less than P4,000. The average price was almost exactly P10,000.

This Act is no longer worth the paper it’s written on.

When can we expect the same level of protection that the authors of this Act meant for us? When can we have the same protections that neighbouring countries offer their people?

It needs to be soon.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this university real?

This serves to find out if you are familiar with Atlantic International University. I am considering taking a degree course with them and I am not sure if they are a recognized institute. They say they are registered with Accrediting Commission International (ACI) and International Accrediting Organization (IAO), they are both international private accrediting agency.

Thank you.

Atlantic International University is a fake university. They even confess this on their web site. They say that their programs are not “are unique, non-traditional and not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education”.

So they’re not actually accredited. Even the agencies that they claim have accredited them, aren’t real accreditation agencies, they’re just as fake as AIU. They even admit this as well. They say that these bodies are “not regulated or approved by the US Department of Education”.

I found an education authority in the USA that said that any establishment “accredited by ACI … is either fake or substandard”.

Atlantic International University is a fake university accredited by a fake organization that sells fake degrees, it’s as simple as that. “Qualifications” you buy from AIU are worthless and won't be recognized in Botswana. You must also realize that if you ever got a job or a promotion using a fake degree like one from AIU you’d be a criminal. You’ll have “obtained by false pretences” and your employer will probably fire you immediately, call the cops and have you charged. You could end up in prison.

Finally there’s a strange thing. They claim to be based in Hawaii. So why do they call themselves "Atlantic International University"? Hawaii is in the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic. Don’t they teach geography?

Can they take the money?

I write requesting clarification on an issue concerning one of our financial institutions. If one stumbles into money in their bank account that they can't account for, what is the procedure for accountability? Who is to blame? Can it be transferred back without the knowledge of the account holder that has received it? As the account holder what are your rights as far as the last mentioned question is concerned? Can they do that? If one went to the extent of spending the money, what regulations are in place to ensure fairness in such a situation? And my golden question, in the event of money spent what are the likely outcomes?

There’s a very simple rule here. You can’t spend money that belongs to someone else. You simply can’t. If I visited your house and dropped some money on your floor would you be entitled to keep it and spend it? Of course not.

It’s exactly the same situation here. If the bank makes a mistake and deposits money into your account rather than mine you’re not allowed to spend it and the bank is entitled to reverse the transaction when they notice it.

Of course they shouldn’t disadvantage you because of this. They shouldn’t charge you for the transfer into your account or the one out of it, that’s their responsibility. The difficulty is what happens if you spend the money without noticing and when they take it back it takes you overdrawn. Again technically that’s your fault, not theirs, but I would expect the bank to be tolerant in that situation. Yes, you should have noticed that you were spending more than you should have had in your account but I would certainly expect them to be flexible.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Yet another phishing scam - Capital Bank

Here comes a phishing scam, yet another that is targeted specifically at us in Botswana. This one pretends to be from Capital Bank. But it's not really.

The email looks convincing.

But look closely. It's not quite what it seems. Look where the link actually takes you.

If you click on the link it takes you what LOOKS like a Capital Bank signon screen. But it's not real. The web site you are visiting is actually:


Has Capital Bank moved to Greece?

If you enter your login and password you are then directed to another page that asks for a lot more, even your email password.

Banking and email identify theft complete. Say goodbye to your privacy and your money!

Yet another recruitment scam - MSC Cruises

A consumer received the following email apparently from "MSC Cruises" after he'd sent them his CV and had completed "interview questions" by email.
In response to your filled online Interview answers; attached to this mail is your appointment and confirmation letter. We have updated your full bio-data information and has been forwarded to our recruitment department for proper scrutiny. You are required to apply your signatures and name where designated only if you agree with the entire terms and conditions contained therein.

Please kindly inform us of your departure date in order to assist us in making advance preparation regarding your traveling document. As soon as we receive a copy of the signed contract letter we shall proceed with the preparation of your letter of invitation.

We await the scanned copy of the signed files along with your departure date.

Best regards

Awaiting your urgent reply
Mr Giles Hawke
Attached were two documents, one "appointment letter" and one "confirmation letter". See if you can spot the clues that this is a scam, not a real job offer. You can start with a monthly salary of £8,500 which is about P1.5 million, as a Front Office and Reservations Officer.

P.S. This isn't the first time we've reported about these people. Scammers are certainly persistent, probably because to pays them to be.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Eat safe!

The recent news about food safety in stores in Kasane has focused everyone’s attention on this critical issue. Inspectors from the police, local authorities and the consumer protection unit raided a number of stores, seizing goods that had expired or that weren’t of adequate quality and damning the stores for their poor hygiene.

Perhaps the most amusing aspect to this story (yes, there is one) is the reaction we’ve heard from some of the stores. “We weren’t told this was going to happen!” they said, complaining that they hadn’t been given advance warning of the inspections, presumably so they could do their own checks beforehand and fix, cover-up or dispose of their offences.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? These inspections are MEANT to be unannounced. They’re meant to be a surprise. They’re meant to check what the rest of us will see when we visit the stores. Do you ever call a store to warn them that you’re coming over to buy stuff and can they please clean and tidy the store beforehand? No, of course you don’t and neither should the inspectors. Their job is to inspect reality, not to inspect a cover-up.

What probably frightened the stores in Kasane was that it wasn’t just a single inspector who turned up with a clipboard. This was a major, multi-agency exercise.

What they found should concern us all. According to the Daily News the inspectors found “cockroaches, rats and cats” in various kitchens and storerooms. In one store “cockroaches were found in their restaurant and employees were found handling food without medical certificates and personal protective clothing.” They also apparently found a wide range of goods that had expired or that weren’t of good enough quality to be sold.

The bad news is that Kasane isn’t a special case. What the inspectors saw in those stores was typical of what you see in stores, or more importantly, what you DON’T see in stores. If you go behind the scenes in some stores and restaurants you’ll often see some shocking sights.

A restaurant owner I know, who is very proud of his hygiene standards and who will always allow any customer to take a look around his kitchen if they ask, tells shocking stories of what he can see in the kitchen of the restaurant next door. He once told me that he wouldn’t allow his worst enemy to eat next door, based on what he’s witnessed.

A few years ago we heard from a newspaper reporter who had uncovered the source of some of the meat being sold by some of the food vendors at a bus rank. He met a guy who would sneak into the back of certain supermarkets at night and would steal the expired or sub-standard meat that had been discarded and thrown in the bins. After he’d wiped it clean he would sell it to the vendors the following day, who would then cook it, no doubt covering it in some spicy sauce to cover up the taste of rotten meat.

In 2013 we were alerted to a pharmacy in Gaborone that was selling baby formula that was going to expire a week later. Worse, they were selling them on a two-for-one special offer. Each box would last for about a month so the first would expire shortly after opening and the second would have expired weeks before it was opened. Note that this wasn’t a can of baked beans or a bottle of water being sold a few days after its expiry date. This was baby formula. There are no items for sale that are more important.

Although the manufacturer took immediate action the pharmacy was slower to react, claiming that they needed authorisation from their head office to remove anything from their shelves. That was until the Ministry of Health stepped in and demanded action, reminding the pharmacy that the regulations in Botswana require that when baby formula is sold there must be at least three months left before it expires. Profuse apologies from the pharmacy chain soon followed and the problem doesn’t seem to have occurred again. Clearly the pharmacy didn’t want an angry Ministry of Health making their life difficult for them.

Note the amount of ice in the package.
Has this been defrosted and frozen again?
More recently we’ve done some of our own research in stores in Gaborone. We were looking for goods that either had expired or clearly weren’t fit to be sold.

It was the easiest research we’ve ever done.

We found frozen shrimps that had clearly defrosted and been refrozen and which had no packing of sell-by dates on them at all. We found frozen pork trotters that were being sold twelve days after their expiry date. We found fresh pork chops that were four days after they should have been thrown away. We found frozen chicken joints in a bag that also had no dates on it at all. In that situation how can you or the store possibly know how old they are? They might have been there for three days, three months or three years. Who knows?

Worst of all we found frozen mussel meat that was fifteen months beyond its expiry date. That’s the sort of thing that could kill someone.

Picture taken on 16th April 2015.
Note the Best Before date.
Luckily for consumers all of this is illegal. The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations are very clear about the facts and dates that MUST be on anything sold to us that we can’t inspect with our eyes, fingers and noses. There is no excuse for not labeling things properly and there is no excuse for selling us expired goods. None at all. More importantly there’s no excuse for ignoring the Food Control Act.

I think we should be celebrating the various enforcement agencies that raided the stores in Kasane. Can’t they do the same everywhere else as well? Stores might hate it but consumers would love it.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get my payout?

In May 2012, I lost my 5 months old child who was covered by my medical aid scheme.

Due to the enormous stress brought to me by the death of my child, I was not able to notify the medical aid to stop deducting installments for her medical cover, and so I continued paying the medical cover of my deceased child.

In March 2014, I felt emotionally better and ready to visit the medical aid to notify them of the death of the child. I wanted them to stop deducting payments for medical cover of the late child. The officer who assisted me informed me that I was entitled to Funeral Grant to cover the costs of my child's burial. They added that the Grant is payable within six months of death, after which it expires. They nonetheless advised me to write a letter and request to be reimbursed the money I had paid for the medical cover of the child after her death, and the Funeral Grant which I was told was P5,000.

They stopped deducting payments from my salary, and reimbursed the monthly payments I had made since the death of my child. They then informed me that Funeral Grant is paid by an insurance company. After some time, I received a letter informing me that they cannot pay the Grant on the basis that a period of six months has elapsed after the death of the child.

I want the insurance company to pay me the Funeral Grant, and I would like you to assist me. It is true that I presented the matter very late, but I did so as a result of the emotional and psychological stress I suffered following the death of my daughter.

Firstly please accept our condolences on your tragedy. It must have been very difficult for you and you are in our thoughts.

Unfortunately I suspect there's not much that can be done in this situation, despite the tragic circumstances. Companies can sometimes “bend the rules” a little bit but I suspect that asking for a benefit that “expired” more than a year before you claimed might be asking a bit too much.

The lesson in these circumstances is always to inform medical aid and insurance companies of anything that happens to you as soon as possible. I understand that you weren't feeling up to it but in those situations you can always get a friend or a relative to make the call on your behalf. That way you can get everything you are entitled to as soon as possible.

Can I get my deposit back?
Please I need your advice. I had rented a house in Mogoditshane for the last 2 years paying P1,750 and at the time I started my lease I paid P1,650 as security. A month back I served one month notice which ended 31st March and I vacate the house on the 2nd April with agreement that she will charge me daily rate for the 2 days that I stayed. After removing all my stuff inside the house I went to demand my security back and she told me that she doesn't have money she will only pay me once she has money. We have cleaned the house everything was in order so she said that she will also clean it and deduct from the security and my surprise is that she didn't even inspect the house when we moved in.

This simply isn't good enough. She clearly DID have the deposit you paid her two years ago, it seems that she's spent it. That's simply not good enough. Security deposits should be paid back as soon as the landlord has had the opportunity to inspect the house and has made sure you haven't trashed it. It should take days, not weeks or months.

I think you should write the landlord a letter giving her 14 days to repay the balance that she owes you. Tell her that if you don't receive the money within that time you'll take legal action against her. If she doesn't then pay up within 14 days you should go to the Small Claims Court with all the paperwork, including your letter and ask them for an order against her.