Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Yet another fake university - "Johnstown University"

An email arrives to the Consumer Watchdog email address offering "an affordable and accredited US accredited degree in the shortest time possible" for a mere $395. The email from Johnstown "University" says that
"Johnstown University gives you an opportunity to get:
  • US Accredited Degree from 100% American owned, operated and serviced university, part of traditional United States University System.
  • No need to Study, No Classes to attend, No Exam to take.
  • Its Quick, Easy & Affordable & Most Importantly 100% Money Back Guarantee
  • Get Application Approval within 24 hours with the subject of your prior studies or Life Experience with prior learning assessment process"
Did you spot it? The big clue tat this isn't a real university and what they're offering isn't a real qualification?
  • "No need to Study, No Classes to attend, No Exam to take."
Despite claiming to have been "Established in 1991" and to have established "its online education system ... in the year 1996" it's curious that their web site was only created the day before yesterday. Funny that.

As always the real cues are in what they say online when you asks them a few questions.
Harvey Brown: Hello there
[Me]: Hi
Harvey Brown: How are you doing today ?
[Me]: I'm good thanks. Is it true I can get a degree from Johnstown University without doing any studying or exams?
Harvey Brown: Yes that's true
[Me]: How quickly can I get a degree?
Harvey Brown: 20-35 days of time
[Me]: And I don't have to do any work to get the degree?
Harvey Brown: yes do not need to do
Harvey Brown: this will be based on your Working experience
[Me]: And can you confirm how much it costs?
Harvey Brown: $899.00
[Me]: The email I received said $395.
Harvey Brown: OK, you are qualified for a Discounted fee
Johnstown "University" is yet another peddler of fake qualifications. Don't waste your money, your time or your reputation on them.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Weekend Post - "Outdated and expired food in supermarkets"

From the Weekend Post last Saturday:
"Food safety authorities have been called upon to step up much more aggressively as some supermarkets have become a threat to public health.

This follows a growing egregious tendency amongst supermarkets of having recycled food past expiry date lining up food shelves, stocking pre packaged foods without proper labeling, exorbitant pricing amongst other things.

Richard Harriman a Consumer watchdog with Business and Enterprise Solutions Botswana has said shocking and disturbing violations of food regulations are happening in supermarkets."
Read more here.


Monday, 14 April 2014

The latest vanity award scheme, the "Global Society of High Intellect"

In comes an email from the ridiculously named "Global Society of High Intellect".

It starts...
"Dear Richard,

We are inviting all the professionals to become a member of Global Society of High Intellect - An elite intellectual society that recognizes individuals with a High IQ Level."
And concludes:
"NOTE: Membership of GSOHI has helped many people find the right jobs, plus it boosts your CV exponentially and makes a brilliant impression on the employer."
If you visit their web you can take an online "IQ test" that measures whether you're entitled to join this "prestigious society". I've now done this 30-question multiple choice test three times and each time answered entirely at random. My scores have varied from 12 to 17 out of 30 which is a LOT more than you would expect by chance alone. Regardless of my score each time I've received the same message at the end.
"CONGRATULATIONS!
You have passed the Global Society of High Intellect (GSOHI) IQ test and are now eligible for an official membership of our prestigious society.

Please Note: Passing this test means that your IQ is better than 95% of general population which is a sign of unmatched brilliance."
Then they get to key issue. I can become a member of the "Global Society of High Intellect" if I cough up just $150 of my money. It's a bargain of course, they claim it's been discounted from $1,000 but

Let's sum up. This bizarre organisation, who claim to have existed online for 10 years but whose web site was only registered on 24th March this year (at half past ten in the morning) offers a bizarrely scored IQ test that it seems anyone can pass, regardless of their intelligence.

Isn't it obvious? This ridiculous "Society" is yet another vanity award scheme. Their membership is worthless.

Don't waste your time and money.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Go on, confess

Confession is good for the soul. So I’m told.

It’s certainly good for consumers. Sometimes it’s even good for business.

I know of a chain of furniture stores that gets a lot of complaints, not because they’re any worse than the rest, just because they’re one of the biggest. However the thing that interests me is that the MD of this company insists that we send every complaint we receive directly to him. He doesn’t want to hear about problems later via his enormous network of staff, he wants to be the one who hears about them first. He’s the one that can then shout down the phone at his people telling them to fix things as soon as possible. Or preferably sooner.

Even better is that when he gets to the bottom of the problem and discovers that his stores have been a fault he’s the first to confess and say, “Whoops, we got that one wrong, didn’t we?” He then is reliable enough to make sure the problem is fixed as soon as possible. He’s smart and grown-up enough to confess when he or his staff have made a mistake.

Of course this honesty and maturity please customers with problems and probably also make them more loyal customers. He also wins our support on those occasions when he comes back to us and tells us that, on this occasion, the customer is either mistaken, na├»ve, profoundly stupid or lying. I’m prepared to believe him on these occasions because I’ve learned to trust him because of his previous confessions.

It’s exactly the same with a particular cellphone store. Again they have their fair share of complaints but again the MD is mature enough to say when things have gone wrong. And then to fix them wherever possible. All because he’s smart enough to confess when his company is at fault.

A few weeks ago we reported on South African chain stores who appeared to be marking up the prices of goods for sale in Botswana by anything between 25% and 97% compared to the prices identical items they were selling for in their home country.

One store, part of a huge South African group with several outlets in Botswana, was selling a range of cosmetics on specially made shelves that display the prices in Rand for their South African customers but they then manually label each item here with the Pula price. We saw a lipstick for sale for R69.95 but labeled for sale here for P79.95. If you adjust for our lower VAT rate and the current exchange rate and you find that the price should really be just under P53, not just under P80. The markup is 52%.

Another store, part of a South African cosmetics chain, does exactly the same thing, but worse. They were selling mascara that in South Africa is sold for R79.95 but which here in Botswana they’d priced at exactly P100. Get your calculator out and you can work it out for yourself. The price here should really have been just over P60, not P100. That’s a massive markup of 66%, one of the highest we’ve seen so far.

We contacted the head offices of each of these stores in South Africa and asked them if they could justify these enormous markups. I expected them to make excuses.

However, to my amazement they came clean. One assured me that they would contact their local store in Botswana “to address the matter regarding the pricing of items.” The other told me that they had “alerted our regional and store managers to the incident and have asked them to check their stock carefully for the discrepancy you highlighted. We’ve also requested that store managers, as well as our suppliers, be more vigilant in checking all product and pricing before displaying in stores going forward.”

All of that sounds a bit like companies getting caught and then confessing to me.

Then there’s the other type of confession. The inadvertent one. The one that slipped out all by itself.

You might recall TEXTWorld Ventures, one of the longer-lasting TEXTpyramid schemes brought to Botswana. They base their “business” on the sale of holiday discount vouchers. As we've said endless times before, a discount is not a product, it's just a reduction in price of a product. Because there is no real, tangible product offered by World Ventures it's fair to call it a pyramid scheme.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. The Gaming Board in Norway TEXTrecently announced that following a lengthy investigation they are certain that World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. Their main criteria for deciding this was simple. 95% of all the money paid out to recruits in Norway was for the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things.

So what do their local representatives say about the scheme they are selling?

I texted a local representative and asked how much it was to join. P3,600, I was told. I then asked if “I can make money just by recruiting other people” (which you’ll remember is the definition of a pyramid scheme) and her answer was very simple.

“Yes”

So, by this representative’s own confession World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. I suspect WorldVentures are feeling a little threatened if even their own representatives are being so honest. Honesty isn’t a virtue often found among the people running such scams.

We need more confessions. We certainly need more stores and suppliers who are prepared to be honest when they’ve screwed things up. The goods news is that more and more of them are doing so.

The bad news is that you’ll only get confessions from people running scams like World Ventures either by accident or when they’re behind bars.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I joined a "business" they call World Ventures with P3,600. I was made to join by a lady called Sheila who stays in Palapye and are still recruiting more people to date. After two months without benefiting anything, I asked to be refunded and excused but they are telling me that it isn't possible because it's been over two weeks since I joined. How can you assist apart from cautioning others not to get roped into this?


I’m afraid it’s probably too late to get your money back. World Ventures is a pyramid scheme and the people running these schemes don’t care about what’s right and wrong. They rarely offer refunds to their victims.


World Ventures claims to sell holiday discount vouchers but if you think about it a discount isn’t a product, it's just a reduction in price of a product. Unlike Multi-Level Marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife there is no actual product with World Ventures. Because there is no real, tangible product it's surely fair to call it a pyramid scheme.

We're not the only ones who think this. The authorities in Norway recently warned Norwegians that WorldVentures is a pyramid scheme. Their thinking was simple. Their research showed that 95% of all the money paid out to recruits came from the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things. That's a sure sign of a pyramid scheme.

It’s the same thing in Botswana. I contacted this woman Sheila and when I asked her if “I can make money just by recruiting other people” her answer was simple. “Yes”.

Unfortunately it’s probably too late to get your money back. You’re right, all we can do is spread the word to everyone we know that World Ventures is a scam and they should avoid it.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

A man recently came to my house selling sauce pans, mats etc. I took the sauce pans which he said the price was P1,200 and on 3 months installment. There was only a verbal agreement and he wrote a receipt each time I paid. I started doubting the quality of the pots after my first installment as they were rusting. I paid my second installment though I seriously didn't want to.

One day when I walked around town I saw the same sauce pans on display at the flea market, I went there and checked them, they were the same even the box. I asked for a price the lady said its P650, I also asked where they buy them she said South Africa. I asked if she knew the guys who are selling them and she told me she knew them and they were selling them for P1,200. She even pointed me to other people who she knew they were selling them, some for only P500.

So, I think I have already paid this guy enough that is P800! He is calling my cellphone non-stop with regard to the last installment. Please help me out, how do I deal with this situation?


I think you need to decide this for yourself. Morally you probably should pay the full amount because that’s what you agreed.

However I’m not sure how he could ever enforce your debt as there’s no written agreement, it’s just your word against his. Given that the price he suggested was clearly a LOT more than the price elsewhere and he’s probably made his profit by now you might consider that you’ve already paid enough. Given also that they’ve already started rusting you might even claim he’s sold you goods that weren’t “of merchantable quality” as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations.

However the decision would be entirely yours.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Are supermarkets safe?

We all know by now that certain supermarkets are screwing us.

We know that certain branches of a South African chain are marking up the prices of imported produce by anything between 25% and 97%. Of course they’ve claimed in the past that it costs them money to get their goods across the border but how come other South African stores that import goods can afford not to charge anything extra at all?

It gets worse. It’s not just our wallets that supermarkets are abusing. It’s our health. Maybe even our lives.

As well as checking the prices of goods in supermarkets we’ve been busy checking the standards of hygiene in the stores. We’ve been looking carefully at the way food is being stored, presented and sold.

The results are scary.

In almost all the stores we visited we found prepackaged food that hadn’t been labeled correctly. There were prepackaged vegetables, cheese, processed meat products, even frozen chicken pieces and fish that had no Use By dates displayed. There was no way of telling how old these items were. They could have packaged yesterday. They could have been packaged this day last year. Or worse.

The problem with prepackaged goods, particularly frozen products is you can’t use your senses to help you. Frozen products are solid and don’t smell of anything. You can’t poke them, squeeze them or sniff them to see if they seem good. You only find out later when you defrost them. That’s if you’re lucky, otherwise you find out when you spend the next 24 hours in the bathroom.

It’s also illegal. The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations require supermarkets to label prepackaged goods clearly. Depending on the nature of the food the label must give its name, weight or quantity, ingredients and, most importantly, the dates by which it must be used. This isn’t just government bureaucracy, it’s there to protect us.

But there’s worse. We found a huge number of items on sale either on their Use By date or very shortly before it.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with buying things on their Use By date, so long as the store makes it perfectly clear that you’ve got to consume the goods rapidly. In fact a smart store manager would be selling them at a discount. They would understand that they’ve got to throw the items away the following day anyway, so why not sell them with a discount and make customers happy. We all love a discount and if it means that I have to eat the item tonight I’m still happy because I got it cheap.

Worse still we found a number of items that had actually gone WAY past their Use By date. One store was offering pork shoulder that was four days after it’s Best Before date but worst of all were pork trotters on sale 12 days after they should have been consumed.

But there’s even worse. We saw food for sale that didn’t need a label to prove it wasn’t fit to be sold. In a variety of stores we found fruit and vegetables that shouldn’t have been anywhere near public displays. We saw carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, onions and butternuts that were beginning to rot. We saw tomatoes, sweetcorn, cauliflower, broccoli and strawberries with clearly visible mould on them.

In one store, admittedly one near a rather swampy area of Gaborone and not long after the recent heavy rain, we found chilled cabinets displaying cheese and cooked meats that were infested with dying flies. In the same store we saw meat debris lying all over the floor of the butchery area. Also in that store we found a pack of frozen crabsticks that actually contained, inside the packet itself, a large frozen insect.

Yummy.

We also saw some rather suspicious things in the freezer compartments. In two supermarkets we found bags of frozen prawns that had clearly defrosted and then been refrozen. It’s easy to spot. When they’re originally frozen the only liquid in the package is the water contained in the prawns themselves. When they’re defrosted this water is released and when they’re frozen again that forms into ice outside the prawns. Given our frequent power outages I suspect packets of frozen food are being repeatedly defrosted and refrozen. That’s enough to kill someone.

More worrying was the smell of decomposition we encountered in some stores. One store had a butchery section in which something had obviously died. Two others had fish sections that smelled of fish. You’re not surprised? You should be. Fresh fish does not smell fishy. Fresh fish smells of the sea. If fish smells fishy it’s because it’s decomposing.

You know that there are authorities with the power to monitor this. They have the power to inspect supermarkets, to demand explanations from managers and to insist that problems don’t happen again. You’ll also know that supermarkets should be checking these things themselves, every single day.

Clearly they’re not.

Yet again we are forced to protect ourselves. It’s up to us to check the quality of the food we’re offered, to check that it’s hygienic and safe, that it’s not going to poison us or, worse still, kill us.

There might be a final question in your mind as you read this. Why aren’t we naming the stores?

Trust me, we will, if we need to. So far all of the problems we discovered have been sent to the various store managers and their Head Offices. If, when we go out looking again, things haven’t improved you can rest assured that Mmegi readers will be the first people to discover which stores are trying to harm us.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Please Consumer Watchdog can you find out if this is a scam for me? I haven’t responded yet.

I received an email from the Financial Intelligence Centre of the Republic of South Africa. The email says I have won 430,000 dollars via ATM card. It says the SA Minister of Finance received a letter from the International Monetary Fund and the G8 Summit meeting regarding the settlement of all winning inheritance funds. They have created an ATM card for me to withdraw the money. They say that I must contact HSBC bank in the United Kingdom and send them my full name, address, age, occupation and my cellphone number.

Do you think I should send them?



I think you really know that this is a scam, don’t you?

The clues are fairly obvious when you look at the email critically. Firstly an obvious clue. Why don’t they know your name? The email is addressed “Dear Email Owner/Fund Beneficiary” and later they even ask you for your name. If, as they claim, you are the beneficiary of this money and they’ve created an ATM card for you, don’t you think they should already know who you are?

There’s also the fact that foreign governments and organizations like the IMF and G8 don’t go around handing out money to total strangers. Nobody gives out money by sending them an ATM card.

Then there are the usual things. The email you received wasn’t from the domain of any recognized organization but was from an “outlook.com” address. Also the email for the person they say is at HSBC in the UK has an “aol.com” email address. Real organizations use real email domains, not free ones. In the same way they use landline phone numbers not a redirectable UK cellphone number like these guys.

This is, without any shadow of a doubt, the beginning of a “419” or advance fee scam. There is no money waiting for you, there is no ATM card, there’s nothing true about this story at all. Sooner or later they’ll require you to pay them money in order to get your fictitious money. That’s what the entire thing is about, getting your money.

Just delete the email. Either that or send them the rudest, most offensive email you can think of. They deserve it!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I’ve been using one of the banks here in Botswana I was having a business account with them, my business is new so transactions were at minimal. This month I learnt my account was closed last January and I was told I have to re-apply (application fee P1000) and if am lucky I might get the chance to use the same account number I had before. I wonder if this is how its suppose to be or am just unfortunate?


My understanding is that bank accounts from your bank (it’s one of the big ones) are declared “dormant”, meaning that it can no longer be used, if there are no transactions in the account for more than three months. Also business accounts are usually required to have a minimum balance of P1,000 at any time. I imagine that’s the P1,000 the bank referred to.

I suspect that if you want to resurrect your account you’ll probably need to go through the account opening procedure again. I sometimes wonder if banks are TRYING to make our lives more difficult than they need be.