Monday, 5 October 2015

Consumer Alert: 4 Corners Alliance

4 Corners Alliance are still around actively trying to recruit people throughout Botswana.

4 Corners Alliance say that their scheme provides:
"a cutting edge financial education series, arming you with the groundbreaking knowledge you need to reach long term financial security".
They go on to say that they offer:
"a robust set of 31 books, distributed through six purchase levels, with timely and engaging Financial topics with a broad spectrum of topics ranging from mindset and motivation to some serious financial education that will put the control back where it belongs–with you. We’ve placed a unique business emphasis on helping you reach your full potential and explode your income so you can take your lifestyle to thrilling new plateaus."
However what you see when you visit their web site and attend their presentations will be what all pyramid and Multi-Level Marketing schemes really concentrate on: the opportunity to make money from the scheme.

Four Corners Alliance will tell you that they’re not a pyramid scheme because they sell products. Once you’ve joined their scheme you can buy a range of electronic books on financial literacy. But here’s the flaw. Four Corners Alliance will sell you these books for between $16 and $399 but you can also get these and similar books elsewhere for much less than those prices. However as with all pyramid schemes the key thing they encourage you to do is to recruit other people beneath you. In order to do this you need to spend significant amounts of money to buy the right to sell the books and so do the people beneath you.

I think this table from their web site says it all (it's not the original table, I retyped it).

What shape is that?

Unlike some of the real Multi-Level Marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife who have been forced to publish the income figures for their distributors, Four Corners Alliance don’t do this. They can’t prove any of the claims they make about people becoming rich.

I urge you not to waste your time, effort and money on this and every other pyramid scheme.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this a loan shark?

I came across a flyer for quick and easy loans. The advert reads thus NEED CASH NEED TIME TO PAY? First month is interest free. These are their requirements; OMANG, PAYSLIP, 3 MONTHS BANK STATEMENTS AND ATM CARD.

I thought the law doesn’t allow them to hold on to your omang and ATM card anymore. Please help out of curiosity.

I have a confession to make to readers of The Voice. I like making loan sharks suffer. Maybe it’s bad of me but I think they deserve it. Of course there are plenty of reputable micro-lenders but I’m not talking about them, I don’t mean the ones who have registered with NBFIRA and who obey the rules that NBFIRA have set.

I mean loan sharks. I mean the ones who haven’t registered and who still adopt the approach that many adopted before NBFIRA came along to clean up the industry. I mean the ones who take your ATM card and Omang. Of course it’s possible that we’re misreading this flyer, maybe they just want to SEE your Omang to check your identity. But you have to ask why they need to see your ATM card?

I’ll be talking to our friends at NBFIRA about this and letting them know that there seems to be a rogue loan shark who has decided to ignore their rules and who needs to be summoned and given the lecture on how things work these days. And maybe I’ll even ask to be there when they’re forced to apologize and stop their wicked blood-sucking, parasitical practices.

It’ll be fun!

Can she get a refund?

My mother sent my younger sister on the 14th September 2015 to go to a shop to buy some furniture for my other younger sister. She purchased a Double Bed for P750 and Chest of Drawers for P459 the total price for both items amounting to P1,209.

She paid for the goods the same day and since she did not have transport at that time she was told to go and organize transport for herself since the shop does not provide transport for customers. The following day she asked me to help them with transport to go and pick only Chest of Drawers and get the refund for the double bed since she has now decided not to buy the double bed.

The Owner of the Shop refused to refund the money for the bed, instead he said he can only refund after taking 20% from the price of the item which to me is unlawful since my sister never took anything from his shop. I advised my sister not to take the money because we do not understand why he is taking that 20% from us. Right now the goods are still at his shop as well as the money.

We need only the chest of drawers and a refund for the bed because we no longer need it. The owner of the shop does not want to talk to me, we only talk to his sales ladies and they are afraid of him.

Unfortunately the store owner, no matter how unpleasant he might be, is within his rights to charge you a fee for cancelling the purchase. Think of it from his point of view. Has he actually done anything wrong? It’s your sister who has changed her mind. Technically the goods are now second-hand and he can’t legally sell them as new any longer.

However, that all depends on whether the bed has been shipped yet. If it’s still in his warehouse and hasn’t even moved then nobody will object to him selling it as new to the next customer. Meanwhile it is reasonable for him to deduct the expense of reversing the transaction but I’m not convinced that it will cost him P150, 20% of the purchase price.

We’ll get in touch with the store owner to see if he can see reason.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Back to basics

Many of the problems reported to us as Consumer Watchdog are complicated, particularly the ones relating to financial services. Others are much, much simpler.

Tale this one that was posted on our Facebook group.
“Can you return furniture if you bought it cash and chose a different product within or less than 6 months after buying and reason for returning maybe that the qualities of that particular product are less than what you expected?”
So let’s imagine how this might work. Let’s say that you run a furniture store and one day I arrive and buy a sofa from you. It’s brand new, and in perfect condition. At no point are you dishonest with me about its condition. In short it’s a perfect sale and there can be no complaints.

But six months later I come back into your store and tell you that the sofa is now a bit out of date and no longer as impressive as I thought when I bought it. In fact the store next door has a much better sofa that I want instead. May I return the sofa I bought from you, which is now second-hand and can no longer be sold as new, and get a complete refund?

I’m sure most of us would forgive you for showing me the way out of your store. They might even overlook you and your staff laughing at me as I left.

Another question went like this.
“Hi I need ur help I took my fridge to [a pawn shop] last month due to some problems I had then this month I went there to pick it back home but my worry is it came back with many scratches when I complained they told me dat they can't take responsibility because they are not sure if it came like dat or not so help here s there any action I can take against them.”
The problem here is proof. How can this customer prove that the damage to the fridge was actually caused while the pawn shop had it in their possession? How can she prove that the damage wasn’t already there when she took it to the pawn shop?

It’s just her word against theirs and that’s not a very good way to prove something. The only thing this situation has to offer is an endless argument with neither side being able to agree to a solution.

This could have been prevented quite simply. Firstly when you hand something over to a pawn shop (or indeed anyone else) get everyone to sign a document describing the condition of the goods, including any scratches and dents, just like you do when you hire a car.

The other, even simpler thing, would have been to take some pictures. Almost everyone these days has a cellphone containing a camera and taking a few photos of the fridge before handing it over would have given her some evidence to back up her claim.

A question we get quite often relates to banks and the authority they have to move money between your accounts. A reader asked us this.
“Hi. I have a question. Does a bank have the right to move funds from your one account (e.g savings) to your other account (cheque, loan) if e.g the account where the funds are being moved to is overdrawn? Surely they should call you if anything and discuss repayment options?”
The answer is actually perfectly simple. Yes, the bank IS entitled to move money from one of your accounts to another if that second one is overdrawn. The reasons are simple. The bank can do this because you said they could. In the original banking agreement you signed with the bank all those years ago there was a clause that said the bank could pay your debts to them with spare money in other accounts. You gave them explicit, written permission to do this. Of course banks should only do this when there’s a problem, if you’re not repaying your loan for instance. The question “Surely they should call you if anything and discuss repayment options?” is a good one, but I bet the bank had already reminded the customer repeatedly that they were behind with a loan or had an outstanding overdraft facility somewhere.

The lesson is to read things before you sign them. More importantly you need to understand every simple part of an agreement before you even pick up the pen. And if you don’t understand something in the agreement they are asking you to sign? Ask. Then ask again. Then keep on asking until you are absolutely convinced that you understand it. And if you still don’t understand it? Walk away. Do not sign it, no matter how much pressure the store, insurance company or bank might try and apply.

But what if you really, really want whatever it is they’re selling you? Then ask someone independent. Take a copy of the agreement away from the store and show it to your cousin the accountant, your kid’s English teacher, your next door neighbor who works for a bank and ask them what they think of it. You can even bring it to us. We’ll be happy to take a look and tell you what we think. For free.

But what about those occasions (and we know they happen) when the store refuses to let you take the contract away with you? Firstly tell them (and you must really mean this) that you refuse to buy the item and that you will never buy anything from them again if they are that secretive. Ask then what they’re trying to hide. Then walk away and I beg you, do what you threatened to do. Never set foot in the store again. It really is a remarkably simple situation. If they won’t trust you with their contract, you cant trust them with your money.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can she return the furniture?

Help me understand this. If someone bought some furniture on installment and is unable to pay due to insolvency of the company she works for which means she does not have any source of income, can’t the goods be returned to the shop?

Yes, she certainly can return the furniture to the store but that’s probably the worst thing she could do right now.

If she voluntarily surrenders the furniture she must understand that she will still owe the store money. There is no way she can walk away from her debt like that. To begin with the store will be left with second-hand and no doubt deteriorated goods that they can’t sell again as new. Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that a supplier fails to meet minimum standards if they try to sell something as new “when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”. They might be able to auction the furniture but they’ll only get a fraction of the value back. Your friend will still owe the balance and that will still be a significant amount.

What I suggest is that your friend either checks her paperwork or contacts the store to find out if the hire purchase deal she signed included insurance against retrenchment. If it did she might be able to claim against that policy to cover the repayments she still has to make. However she should do that as soon as possible because the policies often only give customers a short period within which they can claim.

Either way she must contact the store as soon possible to let them know about her situation and that she’s having problems making the repayments. With luck they might be able to offer her a repayment plan she can afford. We’ll also be happy to contact the store on her behalf.

Can Mum get her money back?

My mum has joined this scheme at BMB (Builders Merchants Botswana) whereby if you want some building materials and you cant afford it, you pay some money to them until it reaches the amount you want to buy the material, now it seems like the shop has closed something like liquidation and they have my mum's money and they are nowhere to be found at their offices. What I want to know is what to do to be able to recover the money.

Unfortunately the simple answer is that she’ll need to join the queue. When a company collapses owing money to a variety of people there is a pecking order that usually involves the major creditors like banks and institutional investors getting their money first and the little ones (ordinary individuals like you and me) coming last.

It’s very important that your Mum gets in touch with the liquidators of the company and gets their advice on how she can lodge a claim against the remains of the company. I spoke to the liquidators and they told me that they have ben advertising for months for people like her to come and lodge their claims. They say that she should call them on 390 0575 or send an email to or for further expert guidance.

Realistically your Mum needs to prepare herself for disappointment. One news story I found about the failure of the company said that they had collapsed owing up to P75 million. Given that level of losses it depends on whether the liquidators can find company assets that come to that amount. Only then will she stand a chance of getting any money back. I think she probably needs to prepare herself either for a disappointment or a fight.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The worst scammer. Ever.

Scammers haven’t gone away. They’re still out here trying new ways of separating us from our money. The sad fact is that scammers have existed since the dawn of humanity and they’ll probably be the last to die out. They’re a part of our existence and just like all other species they’re evolving.

Gone are the days when the only scam was the traditional “419” scam. These still exist of course. Just a few weeks I got the following email.
“Greetings dear,my name is Angela i saw your profile on (facebook) today contact me through my email address( so that i can give you my picture for you to know who i am am interested to make friend with you. Thanks. Yours Truly Friend, Angela”
This was the beginning of a classic 419 or “advance fee” scam. When I replied the next email explained that “Angela” was in fact being held in a refugee camp somewhere in West Africa. “She” said that her late father died leaving a massive amount of money in a bank account that she couldn’t access. She asked me to help by allowing the money to be transferred to my account and that I’d be able to keep a large proportion of it.

Of course I knew this was a scam and didn’t pursue it (or Angela) any further. I knew that just before the fake money would be ready to be transferred it would be revealed that there’s a fee I must pay, perhaps to a lawyer, customs official or bank employee for the money transfer to proceed. That’s what the whole thing is about, that “advance fee” payment. That’s what they want.

But scammers have evolved. These days they focus much more on other approaches.

One consumer emailed saying:
“I have been communication with a company in London Active Event Company (Edward Jones) that has stated that they have employed me as their Travel Event Manager and have directed me to another agent to process work permit and visa.”
The job offer the reader received was very generous. Despite having never met this potential recruit, never interviewing her and not even know anything about her, the company “offered” her a salary of £4,900 per month (that’s nearly P900,000 per year). Consider this bit from the offer letter she received (I haven’t corrected the spelling or the language):
“This apointment may be terminated by either side giving one month notice. The normal hour of work are 35 hours per week, and you will be entitled to tree weeks ( if under four weeks if over 21) paid holiday in each complete year of service and four weeks holiday.”
Does that sound like the sort of language that any genuine company offering a million Pula job would use in an offer letter? Of course not. And inevitably there was the advance fee they wanted, this time it was for the fake visa they said the recruit would need.

Then there are the romantic scammers. These really are the lowest of the low, the most despicable scumbags you’ll ever meet. A few weeks ago I chatted to a woman who was being victimized in real time. It turns out that a man had approached her on Facebook and a relationship had developed between them. She said:
“I have been communicating with someone named Luca Anders and he became my Facebook boyfriend. He said he is working in the UK and his contract is ending this month end. He took all his benefits from the company and he wants to come and settle with me in Botswana. He called me that he is coming with a flight which landed at Cape Town at 0930 this morning. Those that claim that they are at the airport called me asking if he is coming to me and I confirmed. Now they say he is carrying a lot of cash.

They say he should pay R10,000 for money laundering and now he says I should deposit the money and he’ll pay me back when he comes because they are now going to send him back and without that cash. Please check for me if its the truth. He says I should not tell many people coz he is carrying lots of money and he is fearing for his life. I’m in a fix. To deposit or not to or is this a scam?”
Yes, this WAS a scam but you have to admit it was a clever one. The story about the guy arriving at Cape Town that very morning added a real sense of urgency to the pressure she was under. The thought that her lover was in custody and might be kicked out of South Africa made her desperate and when people are desperate they are often irrational and foolish.

All these scammers wanted was the R10,000. Rest assured that if she’d paid them they would just have asked for more and more until either she finally realized it was a scam or she just ran out of money.

And finally would you like to hear about the worst scammer I’ve ever encountered?

This was another romantic scammer. A woman contacted me asking about her “friend” who had sent her a package apparently containing all sort of goodies. Now there was a shipping agent who needed a payment before the package could be released. The same old story that scammers tell their victims.

But this time there was a difference. I told her the bad news, that her “boyfriend”, the package and the shipping agent were all fictitious. “He doesn’t exist”, I told her. “But he does”, she insisted. “No, he really doesn’t”, I replied. “But I met him, he’s real”, she said.

It seems that this particular scammer met her in Joburg a few months beforehand and they had spend a romantic weekend together before he left “for the USA” from where he said he’d send her the package. This was a new one for me. I’m used to scammers screwing their victims financially, but to do so in the flesh was a surprise to me. A rapist as well as a scammer. A new low.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get my insurance back?

When buying on hire purchase, there is an insurance fee you are charged in case of damage or loss of an item bought. Lets say nothing happens to the items and you finished paying for them in that agreed period. Why can't we claim back the insurance charged?

You can’t claim them back because that’s not how insurance works.

When you purchase an insurance scheme you are paying a company to take a risk for you. If your car is stolen, a member of your family dies or you have a burglary at home, the insurance company will pay the price instead of you.

Even if none of these bad things happen you still were receiving a financial protection against them happening throughout the lifetime of the policy. It might not feel like it but you were receiving a benefit throughout that period. Would you rather a tragedy had happened so you could have claimed?

However, there’s a much more important issue here. You should NEVER accept the insurance policy offered by a store when you buy something on hire purchase. The costs of these insurance policies are scandalously expensive. Instead of agreeing to the insurance cover go to a reputable insurance company and buy a household insurance policy and then take the paperwork to the store to prove that you already have cover. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we’ve seen store hire purchase insurance schemes that are six or seven times more expensive than a household policy. It’s yet another reason why hire purchase is such a horrible way to buy things. It is ALWAYS better to save up instead of borrowing to buy something. Even if the item is something you desperately need you should think of buying something second-hand instead. You’ll save yourself a fortune.

Must I sign?

Can you please advise. After swiping in a shop is it a must to sign and provide your phone number? I am banned from swiping in a certain supermarket because I refused to do so.

Thank you in advance.

You ask two questions. Must you sign the slip when you’ve swiped in a store? Must you give the store your cellphone number?

First things first. Yes it IS compulsory to sign the slip if the machine asks you to do so. If you’re using either an old-fashioned card or the store is using an older point-of-sale (POS) device then the slip produced will ask for your signature. In that case then yes, you should sign it. However if you’re using a newer “chip and PIN” card that doesn’t need the signature and the store uses a modern POS device then no, you don’t need to sign it. In fact you’ll often see on the slip that it says “no signature required” because your PIN is sufficient proof that your card has been used correctly and by the right person.

And the cellphone number? That’s entirely up to you. You have to ask yourself why the store wants the number? Personally I’m usually suspicious about it and normally refuse to give it to anyone. However I know other people who are happy to give their number because they’ve had good experiences with stores calling them to tell them that they were accidentally overcharged or that they left something in the store.

My suggestion would be to ask the teller why they want your number. If you like the explanation then give it to them, otherwise not. Remember it’s your choice. And your money.

Finally, I’m shocked that a store would have banned a customer just because they refused to do something they weren’t obliged to do. I’ll contact the store to get an explanation.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Scammers are still there

People sometimes ask me why I keep talking about scams. They tell me that these days everyone knows about scams, that nobody falls for them any more. So why am I wasting my time?

The truth is simple. Scams aren’t going away and people are still falling for them.

I know this and I have evidence for it. Firstly ask yourself this question. Why would a business still market products that nobody wants to buy? That would be a business that rapidly collapsed. The same goes for scams. Scammers wouldn’t still be offering their scams if people weren’t falling for them.

Secondly I have personal evidence that people are still falling for them. I’ve spoken to the victims.

Last week I got a message on Facebook.
“Help me out. There is this guy we had been talking since April. He stays in the UK. Recently he wanted to send me some goods which includes 2 phones, iPhone 6 and S4, a Canon camera, a laptop, clothes shoes and handbags, make ups, perfume, jewellery and cash. The goods were sent last Saturday and they were to arrive in South Africa on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning I received a call from a guy by the name of Peter Lucas from the Cape town airport saying the package has arrived in Cape Town Airport. So I need to pay $300 for tax clearance for the goods to be delivered. They are saying its a direct delivery. What scares me mostly is the money that he says he has put inside the package $5000.”
Most of us can tell immediately that this is a scam. It’s the same scenario that we’ve seen and heard many times before. We know that the facts are actually rather simple. There is no guy, no shipment, no laptop and iPhone, no jewelry and make-up and certainly no cash. The only genuine thing about this story is the money they want her to pay to get the mythical shipment of goodies. The $300 is what this is all about. Of course what happens is that when the victims pay the $300 they get nothing apart from further demands for more money until the victim either realizes that it’s a scam or she runs our of money.

With this particular victim there was bad news as well as some good.

The bad news was that she didn’t realize this was a scam until too late. She’d been so seduced by the scammer that the fell for his story. When I asked her if she’d paid them any money this is what she said:
“Yes I did sent them the $300 they needed but when I was expecting the package the same day I deposited the money. The guy said the package was scanned and cash was found inside so it had been charged with money laundering so he suggested to talk to one officer he knows who might help. He later called and said the officer needs a bribe of $300 again so he can pass goods. Thats when I began to be suspicious.”
Luckily she only lost a round P3,000 and she quickly became suspicious and sought our advice. P3,000 is a lot of money but it’s not going to ruin her life. Others haven’t been so fortunate and have paid scammers money huge amounts before realizing the truth.

Another victim emailed us last week saying:
“Someone emailed me telling me that there is no one claiming some money as an Inheritance Payment from eight years ago. He said people who he contacted they do not believe him. He said he choice me because I have the same surname with the deceased person. So even me I was scared of Internet but later I filled a form he sent me to be a Beneficiary. But later I become confused concerning the huge amount they want me to pay for clearance. I even feel afraid to tell my husband what had happened to me because he will be angry of me as he sometimes warn me to be aware of internet things. I will be happy if you will help me to find out the truth soon, as I have already spent more than five thousands pula.”
So this time it was P5,000. Again not enough to ruin someone’s life but certainly enough to cause them real difficulties. So why do people fall for these scams? Isn’t it obvious from that very first email or message that it’s a scam?

Yes. But that’s the point. That first communication is MEANT to be obvious. It’s meant to be ridiculous. It’s how scammers make money.

A researcher from Microsoft, Cormac Herley, pointed out that scammers do their very best to weed out skeptics in that first email. By making the clues as obvious as possible, everyone who is even slightly skeptic will reject it immediately, leaving only the truly na├»ve and gullible potential victims to prey on. The scammer won’t waste any of his time trying to persuade skeptics to part with their money because they’ve already ruled themselves out, leaving the scammer to prey on the self-selected gullible ones.

As Herley said, the “initial email is effectively the attacker’s classifier: it determines who responds, and thus who the scammer attacks (i.e., enters into email conversation with). The goal of the email is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the non-viable ones, who greatly outnumber them.”

The lesson is again that skepticism is the only thing that will protect you from falling victim to a scam. That’s why those of us who ARE skeptics have a duty to spread the word to our less skeptical brothers and sisters.

That’s why I won’t stop talking about scams. Our family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues are still falling victim and it’s our job to help protect them.