Friday, 16 November 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I afford to cancel?

Please help if this is reasonable. I joined a gym in Gaborone and signed a two year contract. Now I have moved to Palapye on a new job where they have no facilities. They say in their contract that when you cancel you have to pay a reasonable cancelation fee. When I checked them they say I have to pay 40% of the balance which is P1,400. Mind you if it happens that no payment are made to them by the 31st of every month they block the person, you will have no access to their facilities. So why should I pay them? Thank you.


The simple answer is a simple one. If you signed it, that’s what happens.

Gyms vary. Some have monthly membership schemes and if you can’t attend or simply change your mind the worst that can happen is that you lose the month’s membership fee that you paid in advance.

Others, like yours, work differently. They have yearly or even two-yearly membership schemes that you can’t just walk away from. One that I looked at recently had a clause in its Terms and Conditions which said that if you “wish to cancel your membership before the expiry of your Commitment Period, then you must give us 20 business days’ written notice of termination and pay a reasonable cancellation fee plus any arrears”.

I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about that. In theory. Yes, it’s fair for them to demand we give them a month’s notice and yes, they were planning on having our monthly member ship fees for the duration of the “Commitment Period” so it’s reasonable for them to demand the cancellation fee we agreed when we sign their membership fee.

However, 40%? Really? I know what the word “reasonable” means and I’m sure this isn’t that. Clearly this is a technique that the gym uses to prevent people from leaving. I suppose your decision has to be a practical one. You now longer live in the same city so there’s no way you can use their services any longer. Paying the cancellation fee might be the best thing to do. That’s if you believe they’re really likely to chase you for the money…

Where’s my refund?

Two weeks back I opened up an account with a builders merchants and deposited cash amounting to P20,000 into this account with the understanding that I will use this money to buy materials equalling that amount.

Last week, I started with construction and went to the shop to start collecting materials. I managed to purchase cement but couldn’t get the rest of what I needed as I was told that they were out of stock. I went back for the cement but they didn’t have transport available for delivering. Two days later I went back and still I was told the same stories, I complained and it was a back and forth affair with no conclusion. I then requested my account be closed and I be refunded my cash.

I was told to write a letter stating my request and email, which I did but never got a response. Later I received a call from one of the management saying that the cement I was waiting for was delivered at last. I however insisted the account be closed and a refund be made after deduction of the cement costs. I was told I would be given feedback that day but I am still awaiting my refund or feedback whatsoever, I keep getting the same response. I have sent mails, messages and calls and I’m still yet to get help or any valid or logical response as to why I still haven’t been refunded or helped. What can I do?


It’s time to put things in writing and to assert your consumer rights. Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that when a deal is cancelled, like you’ve done, the supplier must “promptly restore” to the customer any deposit that was made. I suggest that you write them a letter or email explaining that you are cancelling the agreement you had and making it very clear that you understand your rights. It’s up to you to decide what “promptly” might mean but what about something like 5 working days? There’s no reason why a large, successful builders merchant like this one can’t make that happen.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 5th November 2018

Source: Wikipedia
1. Should they compensate me?
“I bought some food in a store which I later found to have gone bad after a bite or two. I took the item back and was told by the store that indeed it had gone bad. They replaced it with on OK one and said because they didn't make me pay for it, they had compensated me. I did not feel satisfied considering that I had first been thrown from pillar to post before seeing the manager who also said the same thing. Also my time spent in going back to the store. I just wanted to ask from you, is there compensation that I should have received in that situation or an apology is as far as it can get?
Various laws and regulations apply here. The Food Control Regulations, Public Health Regulations and the Consumer Protection Regulations, in particular Section 13 (1) (a) which requires a supplier to offers commodities and service that are of “merchantable quality”. Clearly this food was not that.

The general rule is that when something is wrong with an item you're entitled to one of the three Rs: a refund, repair or replacement. In this case you got a replacement so in theory they've done all they need to do. However, this is actually more serious. This is a food safety issue. People die because of poor food hygiene. I think you deserve slightly more than just a replacement. I think you deserve a sincere apology, an explanation of what went wrong and some assurance that it won't happen again. I don't think that's too much to ask.

2. Where are the photos?
“We paid a local photography company for wedding coverage last year around June-July. The wedding was held in October and its been over year now still waiting for our package. We paid them about P13,400. We have followed up and followed up to this day but they are tossing us from pillar to pillar, story after story, they are not taking our calls anymore, they only respond once in a while through WhatsApp. We didn't sign any agreement with them because we had assigned a family friend who is a friend to the photographers to handle the photography part but we have proof of payment. We used bank transfer to pay them the total charge once off. The family friend has tried to intervene but to no avail. Kindly advise.”
What is it with the wedding industry. Why do they have so many crooks and incompetents?

The good news is that when we contacted this photographer he responded with: “I’m working on their package, supposed to be done by the end of the coming week.”

And he did.

3. Ponzi Scheme Alert: Amazon Web Coin

A member of our Facebook group got in touch to report that he received a message saying:
“Am called Dr Ronnie Gitta from Uganda. Am coming to your country”
He told us that:
“a day after introductions, he even wanted me to already be bringing other people his way and I don't even know anything about his product/ service. Very shady indeed.”
Here are some quotes from their web site:
“Get maximum benefits from cryptocurrency investments”.
“Daily profit accruals range from 3% to 8% depending on the investment package chosen.”
“Basic trader” “$20-$500” “8% daily for 20 days. 160% total return”
“Elite trader” “$20,000-$50,000” “3% daily for 100 days” “300% total return”
“Referral program - tell your friends, relatives or colleagues about the company. If your information is appealing to them, and they become our investors, you will be paid a referral commission! You can go further to build your own team, attracting new investors because we have made a special four-level program of affiliate rewards.”
This is a Ponzi scheme. All the usual clues are there. They promise miraculous interest rates with no indication of how they can be achieved. There is no explanation of where the growth in money comes from. It's all unbelievable. There are also some obvious clues, including this:
“Your deposit runs forever and you will never get it back.”
There are other clues. Their domain was only registered on 27th September this year. Although they claim that “Amazon Web Coin was officially incorporated in August 2016 under registration number 10351681” in the United Kingdom they also say that they're registered in Hong Kong. I checked and the UK companies register says the company was “Dissolved on 30 January 2018”.

Amazon Web Coin is a Ponzi scheme and everyone is warned to avoid it!

4. Managing debts. Or not managing them.
“I want to know how this thing of sending names of debtors to ICT works. I’m owing a cash loan and they sent my name to ICT. Now they are starting to take legal actions on me. The problem is that they have blocked me so I can’t have even a short loan to clear them. Is it not double punishment? Is that how it has to be?”
Yes, that's exactly how it works.

Firstly, creditors (the people we owe money) are entitled to send debt collectors and attorneys after us to collect their money. Wouldn’t you do the same if the situation was reversed?

Secondly, creditors are entitled to register our debts with credit reference bureaux. Their databases hold full financial records, both good and bad. These records allow other lenders to make sensible judgments about whether they should lend us money based on our previous history.

In this vase the customer has a history of defaulting. Why would another lender trust him?

We've put him in touch with a debt counsellor who should be able to help him sort out his finances.

5. Plastic bags. Again.

Are they banned? They were meant to be banned on 1st November but the Powers-That-Be changed their minds. So they're not banned yet. BUT they will be, sooner or later.

And the other issues. The so-called “Plastic bag levy”? Did it ever exist?

No.

What happened was that a compulsory standard for plastic bags ("FDS 186:2016, Plastic carrier bags and flat bags — Specification") was introduced but the Botswana Bureau of Standards. This meant that stores were then mean to offer us higher-quality plastic carrier bags that cost the stores more money. They just passed the cost on to you an me.

But be warned. Plastic bags will be banned along with plastic bottles and straws, sooner or later. Get ready now.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Did the broker claim my money?

I had a funeral policy for my mother from 2008 up until 2016. I defaulted and the service provider, the insurance broker told me that they were cancelling it. That was fair enough. My mother then passed away last September and I heard that the broker claimed the money on my behalf without my knowledge? Is it possible?


Firstly, please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother.

This is suspicious but I suspect unlikely. Firstly, it’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between an insurance broker, who works for you to find an insurance policy that best meets your needs and the insurance company that actually provides the policy. A good broker can be incredibly useful. They have the expertise that most of us lack in understanding all the small print, the terms and conditions, the exclusions and complicated language only spoken by insurance experts. They can advise you on the best product to choose.

However, sometimes brokers go bad. You only have to read the newspapers to see occasional notices from NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, the agency that regulates the insurance industry, saying that they’ve closed an insurance broker and warning the public not to do business with them.

For example, we’ve heard of several cases where brokers have taken premiums from customers but neglected to pass the money on to the insurance company. This can happen for years and the customer only finds out when something unfortunate happens, they make a claim against the policy and the insurance company tells them that they cancelled the policy ages ago. That’s when they discover that the broker spent the money on beer, hoping that they’d never claim and discover the broker’s crime.

However, this is a first for me. I’ve never heard of a broker submitting a claim on a customer’s behalf and keeping the payout for themselves. It sounds unlikely but I’ll contact the insurance company for you. If you’re convinced it’s true, you should also contact NBFIRA and ask them to investigate. I know that the people there will be keen to investigate!

I can’t get a loan to pay off my debts!

I have a question here, I want to know how this thing of sending names of debtors to ICT works. I’m owing a cash loan and they sent my name to ICT. Now they are starting to take legal actions on me. The problem is that they have blocked me so I can’t have even a short loan to clear them. Is it not double punishment? Is that how it has to be?


Please don’t think I’m being rude. You’ll need to forgive me for speaking plainly.

This is how things work. If you fall into debt, as you did with this cash loan company, like any other creditor they’re entitled to take legal action against you to recover their money. I’m sure you would do the same if the situation was reversed and it was them that owed you money, wouldn’t you?

Separately from the debt collection, like any other company to which you owe money, they’re entitled to register that debt with a credit reference bureau like TransUnion (the newer name for ITC). They’ll record that you owe them money so that other potential lenders can make an informed judgment on whether you’re likely to be a good payer or a bad one. While that debt is outstanding, other lenders can see that you still owe another company money and they are entitled to judge what risk you pose to them based on that information. Again, reverse the situation. If I approached you and asked to borrow some of your hard-earned money and you discovered that I already owed your friend lots of money and had failed to pay her back, wouldn’t you think twice before giving me your cash? My history of not paying my debts would make you think twice about how likely I would be to repay you, surely?

That’s the situation you’re in. Your history of not paying a debt has made other lenders unlikely to lend to you. Can you really blame them for being cautious? I suggest that you concentrate on repaying the debt to the cash loan company and then see if you can get your finances back to normal. If you like I can also put you in touch with a reputable debt counsellor who can help you do this.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where are my photos?

Good day Mr Harriman. I'm kindly seeking your advice. We paid a local photography company for wedding coverage last year around June-July. The wedding was held on October 7th 2017 and its been over year now still waiting for our package. We paid them about P13,400. We have followed up and followed up to this day but they are tossing us from pillar to pillar, story after story, they are not taking our calls anymore, they only respond once in a while through WhatsApp.

We didn't sign any agreement with them because we had assigned a family friend who is a friend to the photographers to handle the photography part but we have proof of payment. We used bank transfer to pay them the total charge once off. The family friend has tried to intervene but to no avail. Kindly advise.


I know I’ve said this before but what is it with the wedding industry? All industries have a proportion of players who are crooks, shady or dishonest but when it comes to the wedding trade, they seem to have much more than their fair share. Every week, without fail, we hear a story like yours, sometimes about photographers, other times venue hosts, caterers, suppliers of furniture who have badly let a customer down.

Don’t they understand that weddings are meant to be special days, days that aren’t easily repeated? Don’t they understand that a higher level of service and reliability is needed? Clearly some of them don’t.

I suggest that you write the photographer a letter saying that he has 14 days either to give you the photos or to give you your money back in full. Make it perfectly clear to him that if he fails to do either you’ll immediately take legal action against him to recover your money.

Also, please give me his details and I’ll see if we can apply some pressure.

Last minute update. I contacted the photographer and he assures me that you’ll get your photos within a week. We’ll see!

Should they compensate me?

I'd like to ask what to do in a situation whereby I bought some food in a store which I later found to have gone bad after a bite or two. I took the item back and was told by the store that indeed it had went bad. They replaced it with on OK one and said because they didn't make me pay for it, they had compensated me. I did not feel satisfied considering that I had first been thrown from pillar to post before seeing the manager who also said the same thing. Also my time spent in going back to the store. I just wanted to ask from you, is there compensation that I should have received in that situation or an apology is as far as it can get?


Technically, I suspect that the store is correct. You bought an item of food that wasn’t “of merchantable quality”, as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations. The store then selected which of the three Rs (refund, repair or replacement) they preferred, in your case a replacement. You suffered only minimal financial costs in this unfortunate experience as well as the loss of time so I don’t think you have a very good legal claim for compensation. But then I’m not an attorney.

But there’s something much more important here. What the store did was technically correct but in my view it’s not nearly enough. This wasn’t a cellphone that malfunctioned, this wasn’t a minor inconvenience, this was something much more important. This was a food safety issue. You were lucky that the food you bought didn’t harm you and I think the store needs to understand that. They also need to understand that they were lucky as well. I think you should speak to their Head Office and alert them to the failure at the store and the risk it posed to you and your family.

Realistically I don’t expect them to do very much regarding compensation but I do think you’ll have done us all a favour by alerting the company to a serious failure of their food safety practices.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 22nd October 2018

Source: Wikipedia
1. Have I been hacked?

A consumer asked us whether he had been hacked. He'd received the following email:
“I infected your operating system with a virus and have been monitoring you for a long time. Even if you changed the password it does not matter, my virus intercepted all the caching data on your computer and automatically saved access for me.

I have access to all your accounts, social networks, email, browsing history. I have the data of all your contacts, files from your computer, photos and videos. I took screenshot through the camera of your device, synchronizing with what you are watching. I think that you do not want all your contacts to get these files, right?

If you are of the same opinion, then I think that $564 is quite a fair price to destroy the dirt I created. Send the above amount on my Bitcoin wallet. As soon as the above amount is received, I guarantee that the data will be deleted. Otherwise, these files and history of visiting sites will get all your contacts from your device. Also, I'll send to everyone your contact access to your email and access logs.”
He asked: "What should I do?"

It's simple. Do nothing.

While all of the things this email claims have been done can be done, I doubt it's been done to this guy. If they had, don't you think the "hacker" would have used the victim's name when he made the threat?

This is a scam that plays on our fear (and ignorance) of hackers and what they can do. Many of us remember the WannaCry ransomware attack from 2017 when computer users around the world had their documents encrypted and a ransom payable in Bitcoin was demanded to decrypt them.

This is just a scam email that has been sent to many potential victims, including Consumer Watchdog. Just delete it.

Meanwhile, be very careful about the web sites you visit, the apps you download and the attachments you receive in your Inbox. Be very careful.

2. Green World

Do you remember the press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness last month regarding Longrich (and other) products? It's worth reading again.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness wishes to notify the public that the following complementary medicines are not approved for use in Botswana, Xiangzhiling products, C24 tea, Table Charm products and Longrich medicinal products. … any person selling these products or any other related products will be charged according to Section 23.1.2 of the Medicines and Related Substances Act … liable to a fine not exceeding P100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both”
Now we have another purveyor of lies and threats to our health. Green World. This advertisement was found in a supermarket in Gaborone.


Zoom in a little further and you can see the health claims they make.


I contacted the number given on the advertisement and got the following response.
“My name is Marshall. Am an international distributor of Green World herbal products. All our products are organic. Meaning they are grown in a natural environment where there are chemicals, additives or preservatives added to them, also there are no side effects. We treat all known disorders. Just to name a few: Diabetes type 1,2,BP, Cancer, Obesity, Period pains, Fiberiods, Libido, Low sperm count, Infertility, Prostate disorders etc”
"We treat all known disorders"? Really?

We've referred this to the enforcers at BOMRA, the Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority who are gradually taking over from the Drug Regulatory Unit in the Ministry of Health and Wellness. I expect we'll see some action very soon!

P.S.. The ridiculous medical claims are a side show. Green World is a pyramid scheme.



3. Where’s the refund?
“I engaged a kiddies party planner for a package for a birthday party on 28th of October. My package was that they would be providing venue and I hire equipment and do my own decor. I paid 50% of the P2500 fee which was P1250 on 28th September. I had to cancel the booking on 11th October and requested for a refund but I was only refunded 50% of my deposit which is P625. This "policy" was never mentioned and was surprised that I didn’t get my P1250. I did not complete any booking form or any documentation. Everything was just communicated on Whatsapp. Is this correct to not give me my full refund?"
Are deposits refundable? That depends on the agreement you signed with the supplier. You didn't sign an agreement? So how can either of you prove that the deposit was refundable or not?

There's nothing wrong in principle with non-refundable deposits. The supplier books or buys equipment, ingredients for food, staff, a band, all sorts of things in advance of your booking and it's not fair to leave them with that burden if you cancel at the last minute. Also, they might have turned away another booking because you got there first?

The key thing is to have a written agreement that explains these things.

So what if there's isn't an agreement? Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations probably applies and any deposit should be "promptly" restored.

4. Am I covered?
“I had an accident on my way to work and my vehicle overturned. The Police charged me with driving without due care. I kept on contacting the insurer throughout the process and yesterday I received a letter of claim rejection citing I broke the law and the cover clause of accident/loss avoidance. They say the vehicle has been rendered beyond repair.”
Yet again, a reminder that we must read agreements before signing them. And then read them again. Then keep on reading them until we understand them.

All insurance policies have some exclusions. Life policies don't cover you if you commit suicide. Medical aid schemes often don't cover pre-existing conditions. Vehicle policies don't cover you if you were drunk or if the vehicle was unroadworthy at the time of an accident.

This particular policy doesn't cover you if the police charge you for a traffic offence and this customer was charged with "driving without due care".

The general rule with insurance policies (and with many other things in life) is that you get what you pay for. The cheapest policies with lower premiums generally come with lower levels of cover, higher excess amounts and more exclusions. Higher premiums generally mean better cover, lower excesses and fewer exclusions.

Friday, 26 October 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get my deposit back?

Please advise on this situation I am in.

I engaged a kiddies party planner for a package for a birthday party on the 28th of October. My package was that they would be providing venue and I hire equipment and do my own decor. I paid 50% of the P2500 fee which was P1250 on 28th September.

I had to cancel the booking on the 11th of October and requested for a refund but I was only refunded 50% of my deposit which is P625.This "policy" was never mentioned and was surprised that I didn’t get my P1250. I did not complete any booking form or any documentation. Everything was just communicated on Whatsapp. Is this correct to not give me my full refund?

It is actually normal for there to be a cancellation fee when you book someone or a company to deliver services like this. If you think of it from the service providers point of view you can understand why this is done. Depending on the service they’re booked to provide, the supplier has to book equipment, food and drink, staff, a band, clowns, security, who knows what. If the customer then cancels the supplier can be out of pocket.

In your case, where you were just booking the venue but providing your own materials the principle is still the same. When you booked the venue, did they later turn away other customer who wanted the venue? Will they lose business because of your cancellation?

However, it’s normal practice for any company with some common sense to have a booking form that describes this so the customer can see, understand and accept the cancellation conditions it contains. It was probably very unwise of this supplier not to ask you to complete such a form. You might not have any luck but I think it’s worth writing to the owner of the venue saying that you never agreed to any non-refundable deposit condition so you’d like your deposit back “promptly” as required by Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001. Good luck!

Have I been hacked?

I received an email which said someone had hacked me. The email said.
“I infected your operating system with a virus (trojan) and have been monitoring you for a long time. Even if you changed the password it does not matter, my virus intercepted all the caching data on your computer and automatically saved access for me. I have access to all your accounts, social networks, email, browsing history. I have the data of all your contacts, files from your computer, photos and videos.

I took screenshot through the camera of your device, synchronizing with what you are watching. I think that you do not want all your contacts to get these files, right? If you are of the same opinion, then I think that $564 is quite a fair price to destroy the dirt I created.

Send the above amount on my Bitcoin wallet. As soon as the above amount is received, I guarantee that the data will be deleted. Otherwise, these files and history of visiting sites will get all your contacts from your device. Also, I'll send to everyone your contact access to your email and access logs.”
What should I do?

Nothing. Do nothing at all.

While the technology does indeed exist to do all the things mentioned in the threat, I seriously doubt that it’s the case here. If it was true, don’t you think they would have used your name when addressing you? Don’t you think they would have been a bit more detailed, a bit more specific? Don’t you think they would have taunted you with some of the “dirt” they claim to have gathered?

In this case I’m certain that this is a scam. Don’t send them a thing.

Meanwhile, please be VERY careful what you download from the web and about which web sites you visit. It certainly IS possible to be infected with malicious software (“malware”) that can do a variety of bad things to your computer and the data contains. Be careful!

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why won’t they pay?

I had an accident on my way to work and my vehicle overturned. The Police charged me with driving without due care. I kept on contacting the insurer throughout the process and yesterday I received a letter of claim rejection citing I broke the law and the cover clause of accident/loss avoidance. They say the vehicle has been rendered beyond repair.


This is a very good example of why you should read every agreement you are asked to sign, BEFORE you sign it. All insurance policies include a number of exclusions, situations when the policy doesn’t cover you. For instance, some household insurance policies won’t cover you for losses if you leave your doors open when you go out.

With vehicle insurance policies there are also often exclusions. For instance, most vehicle insurance policies won’t cover you if you’re charged with drink-driving, or if your vehicle was unroadworthy at the time of the accident. In both of these situations it’s reasonable for the insurance company to say that you might have brought the accident upon yourself.

In your case the insurance company are very clear about what they think. When they rejected your claim they said that you broke one of the clauses of your policy which says that you should “take all reasonable steps and precautions to prevent accidents or losses”. According to the police report you sent me, you overtook a vehicle that was already indicating that it was going to turn right, and you crossed a white line while doing so. Their position is that you brought the accident on yourself and that’s why they say you’re not entitled to a payout.

Your policy says you’re entitled to ask the insurance company’s CEO to review their decision and I suggest you do that. However, I wouldn’t be very optimistic.

Are these jobs real?

Please over the past two weeks have seen a series of ads for jobs for different organisations that look too good to be true. The links look suspect, pay & qualifications unbelievable.

They ask people to type YES or JOB and people are responding. I’m thinking it's a way to steal your details through Facebook. Is it possible it can be looked into to warn people of these ads?


Many thanks for alerting us.

We’ve been warning people about these fake job offer scams for many years. The bad news is that they’re not going away. The good news is that more and more people like you are skeptical, spot the clues and avoid becoming a victim.

The biggest clue is that the jobs they offer are too good to be true, just like you suggest. They advertise amazing jobs in far-flung, exotic places, offering enormous salaries and tremendous benefits such as housing, medical insurance, travel expenses and cars.

The way these scams work is simple. They offer you a job with all those exciting benefits and just before you’re about to get the airline tickets, the advance on your salary, whatever else they’re offered you, the story will change and they’ll tell you that you have to pay them a fee. Sometimes it’s a legal fee, more often it’s for your visa to travel to the country they’ve mentioned, either way it’s a fee in advance for something. That’s why they’re called “advance fee” scams. It’s all about that fee.

You are also correct that very often these online advertisements are used to gather personal details from people that can be used for a range of criminal purposes. The sort of information victims give to these fake recruitment companies can easily be misused. Our personal, ID and passport details, our qualifications can all be used to establish fake identities and then who knows what might happen.

Congratulations to you for being skeptical. Keep spreading the word!