Monday, 6 July 2015

A gold scam from Wanjala Geofrey

A stranger contacted me on Facebook saying:
"hello richard
am wanjala geofrey from kenya and am contacting you because am looking for buyers of Gold"
I won't bore you with the entire conversation but these are the highlights:
Wanjala Geofrey: if your not a buyer then i offer commission of 3000usd per kg
Me: Explain this to me a bit more?
Wanjala Geofrey: i have gold for sale and am here looking for buyers, if your not a buyer and you intend to get me buyers then your commission will be 3000usd per kg
Me: You sell gold by the kg?
Wanjala Geofrey yah 250kgs
Me: So you can sell quarter of a ton of gold?
Wanjala Geofrey: no if a buyer is serious i start with 10kgs
Me: And how much does a kg of gold cost?
Wanjala Geofrey: in the international market its at 37000usd but i sell a kg at 30,000usd per kg
Me: How do you manage to sell it cheaper?
Wanjala Geofrey: because it get from villagers who mine it in congo so i sell to the international market
Can you smell the BS yet? The most obvious clue is that he's selling gold at nearly 20% below it's actual price, which is indeed about $37 per gram, $37,000 per kilogram.

To confirm what he was saying he sent over a picture of the gold along with today's newspaper:

And then what he claimed were his company registration document and licence to trade in precious metals:

It's not too difficult, if you look really closely, to see that these documents aren't what they claim to be.

It's also not too difficult to find clues that this is actually no more than a scam. To begin with the company name he mentions is on a long list of companies known to be used in such scams. You can also see descriptions of the scam in several places on the Internet (see here, here and here).

The biggest clue is in the document he sent me which described the process for buying this fictitious gold. It contained this rather hilarious section:
"We hereby confirm with full corporate responsibility, under penalty of perjury, that we are the seller for the above referenced Gold, for sale in the international market. The consignment, being offered, is available and pretty much genuine."
I suspect that "pretty much genuine" is the only honest sentence in the document. The gold is certainly not gold. In some cases people have been shipped brass, in other cases just sand. There is no gold here, none at all.

If my good friend Wanjala Geofrey contacts you, feel free to tell him what you think of him.

You can also email him or even send him a text message on +254714082813 or even Skype him on hard.metal4. Please feel free to be rude!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

These people

There are people who will tell you that things are getting worse. For instance they’ll say that the quality of customer service in Botswana is declining. They’ll say that there was a good time in the past when people were friendlier and more caring. They’ll say that globalization, new technology and Facebook have killed the community spirit that made things so wonderful in the good old days.

I say that’s nonsense.

I genuinely believe that greater contact with other countries and cultures, either in person or electronically, has improved us as a nation. It’s educated us, broadened our minds and has given us an even better sense of our own culture. It’s certainly not done us any harm.

There are even those people who say that even the quality of our lives is in decline. I’ve met some people, most of them either peddling or using some miracle health product, who say that in the past people had a better diet, lived longer and were happier in those long-gone days.

I say nonsense again.

2015 is the best year in human history to live. Despite what the pessimists say we are living longer, healthier, safer lives than any of our ancestors. Our diet is better, we’re eating larger quantities of better food and even the poorest people are in a better state than their ancestors were.

However I can’t honestly say that everything is fine and wonderful. There are still some people who behave badly. There are still some people who have what can politely be described as nasty beliefs. I don’t know if what I am about to suggest is polite or not but frankly I don’t care. Some of them have racist impulses.

One of the first complaints we received, eleven years ago, concerned a woman who had fallen in a store, having tripped over a hole in the floor. She wasn’t badly injured but still needed to seek treatment seven times. The store’s response was to offer her just P210, P30 for each taxi journey she’d taken to hospital. No apology was offered, not even an expression of regret for the discomfort and inconvenience this lady had endured. And then it got worse and then we got angry. In a meeting with the Regional Manager of the chain of stores he told us “You know what these people are like”. Yes, he was white and I think he thought that as fellow whites we’d share his contemptuous and insulting opinion of his mostly black customers.

We didn’t share it. In fact he revolted us.

The lady in question didn’t settle for a mere P210, in fact she eventually received more than twenty times that amount. And then something else happened that balanced the experience we had with the Regional Manager. When we mentioned this situation to the white manager of another, entirely separate store he was as appalled as we were. Bring the lady to my store, he told us. A few days later we drove her there and he gave her an empty trolley and a helper to push it for her. Fill it up, he said to her, it’s on us. She told us afterwards that she felt like a Queen.

Unfortunately the phrase “these people” is still going around.

On Facebook recently someone posted a link to a revolting story headlined “He Went Inside A Noodle Soup Restaurant In China. What He Found Inside? Disgusting!”

A picture in the article appeared to show the bodies of dead babies that were about to be used to make soup. Firstly it’s important to make one thing clear. There is precisely no evidence that this story is true and the pictures are certainly not evidence of cannibalism.

What I disliked most were the comments made by people who saw the post. Talking of Chinese people, one said “they are capable to eat anything..not surprised at all” and another said “China have you no morals”. Later someone called the Chinese “sick people” and one even said “Are Chinese HUMAN?????”

This is racism and it’s despicable. Unfortunately it’s not unique. A few years ago I was one of many people who received a horrible email entitled “OMG-BLACK AFRICANS DON'T TRAVEL TO CHINA & THAILAND & BE CAREFUL WITH TAKE-AWAYS”. The email included some horrific photos of a real, dark-skinned human body being cut into pieces by a group of oriental-looking people followed by more pictures of a group of Orientals joyfully having a braai. The suggestion was clear: they had cut up the body of a dead African, cooked it and eaten it.

This was another lie. Someone who clearly had a problem with oriental people had constructed a shameful, despicable, racist lie, suggesting that Orientals eat black Africans.

It took me less than 5 minutes to establish what the pictures really showed. In Thailand there are cemeteries exclusively for bodies of unidentified deceased people and for various reasons these cemeteries fill up very quickly and then need to be cleared. This next bit is going to sound completely bizarre and possibly, to us, revolting. There’s a group of volunteers in Thailand who go to these cemeteries, exhume the bodies and then strip the flesh from the bones of the corpses. The flesh is cremated and the bones are then stored. This may seem totally strange to you and me but in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist culture, this is actually a deeply respectful thing to do. That was what these gruesome pictures showed. The pictures of the braai were something else entirely and they certainly didn’t show anybody being eaten.

And the corpse being dismembered? He wasn’t African. I’ve spent time in the Far East and there are many people there who are surprisingly dark-skinned. He was one of them.

The sad lesson is that bigotry is still out there and, despite what some rather defensive people will tell you, it’s something we need to keep discussing. That’s the only way we can put it behind us.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Should they pay for the repair?

I bought an LG refrigerator in January 2013. In April 2015, the ice dispenser and freezer stopped working. I called the store and told them to recommend someone who was familiar with their products to fix the fridge, and the technician concluded, after troubleshooting, that the compressor needed to be replaced. He asked for a deposit so that he could place an order for a new compressor. After fitting the new compressor, he charged me P2600, including the P500 deposit I had paid.

On the refrigerator it is written that the fridge carries a warranty of 10 years on the compressor. Seeing that mine is only 2 years old, I have since approached the store to cover the cost of replacing the compressor, but they are saying that I must communicate directly with LG, something I don't agree with, since I never had any purchase agreement with LG. While I was waiting for the fridge to be fixed, I had gone to the store and told them that I was going to suspend payment of my account with them and that I would only pay the difference if the cost of repair was lower than the balance on my account, which was about P1300 at the time. They insist that I must continue paying my account but they are not willing to cover the cost of repair of the fridge.

Please advise, as I believe that they must pay me for the cost of repair.

This is complicated. I’m guessing that your fridge came with a basic 1-year warranty but with the 10-year warranty for the compressor on top? So clearly it was sensible of you to realize when the fridge went wrong that it might not be covered by the warranty. However when you realized that the problem was with the compressor you should have gone back to the store from where you bought the fridge and alerted them to it and asked them to repair it under the extended warranty for that component.

I suspect that’s where your problem now lies. By using a third-party technician to replace the compressor you’ve might have breached the 10-year warranty for that specific component. That’s probably why they’re saying that they won’t cover the cost of the repair.

Above all other things, no matter how angry or disappointed you are, you must not stop paying the monthly installments on your account. If you do so they can repossess the fridge, sell it and deduct the price they get for it from your balance. I guarantee that you’ll still owe money, even after that and you won’t even have a fridge any more.

Must I reload so often?

I have a problem, I am using a Samsung tablet 3 of which am still paying but after every 3 months its software expires and it has to be sent to the manufacturer for reloading. So my concern is, the phone guarantee expires on September these year, which means after September I will be forced to dig from my pocket for the software to be reloaded . My question is what must I do for this problem of software to be permanently solved?

This sounds very suspicious to me. I’m not a Samsung or Android user but I find it hard to believe that anything needs to be reloaded that often or that regularly. After you posted this on Facebook one member of the Consumer Watchdog group (who seemed to be an expert) suggested that this might be a trial version of Android that expires after 3 months and which then must be reloaded. That’s not what you would expect from a reputable store selling reputable products.

Whether or not this is correct it’s certainly not good enough that you must have everything reloaded this often

I think we need to escalate this one. Send me the details of the store and when you bought the device and we’ll get in touch with them. Meanwhile I suggest you go to the Samsung repair center in the Main Mall in Gaborone and get them to take a look at the device and to see if they can diagnose what’s wrong with it.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Things to avoid

The list of things consumers should avoid is a long one. Let’s begin with hire purchase.

Hire purchase is one of the worst ways to buy anything. The only thing I can think of that’s worse is borrowing money from a money-lender in order to buy things. But hire purchase comes a close second.

The biggest problem is not actually that buying something on HP typically doubles the price you pay. It’s not even that when you buy something on HP you don’t actually get to own it until you’ve made the very last payment. Until that point the sofa, fridge or laptop you thought you owned still actually belongs to the store and the moment they feel like it (if you’re a moment behind with your payments) they can come over to your house and take their products away again. The problem isn’t even that you’ll still owe them all the money.

The real problem is that if you sign a hire purchase agreement you are almost certainly unprotected by the law. The Hire Purchase Act, which was originally passed in 1961, says that the protections offered by the Act only apply to agreements where the total credit price is under P4,000. I recently looked at the advertisements from stores in the weekend newspapers and out of 67 items offered for sale on HP, only 4 of them were for items less than that limit. So the Act almost certainly doesn’t apply to you if you’re unwise enough to sign a hire purchase agreement.

So you should avoid hire purchase agreements.
You should also avoid foreign exchange or currency trading. In fact Forex trading has the potential to ruin your finances. A reader contacted us recently asking about one particular web site that offers to multiply (“leverage” is the technical term) your investment by up to 200 times, effectively giving you millions of Pula to trade with. What they neglect to tell their customers is that it works both ways. Yes, if you can correctly predict the fluctuations in the exchange rates between currencies you might make some money. They conveniently forget to tell you that it also means you can lose your entire “investment” in moments if the exchange rates go the other way. Within minutes of searching online I found stories of people who had lost over half a million Pula in moments trading Forex.

Another reader also asked us about a web site calling itself “23Traders”. He said that “they phone me everyday to invest on them, there is a guy who normally phones me telling me to deposit up to 10 000 US dollars so that I can make good profit”. Anyone who is that keen has an agenda they’re not telling you about. It’s curious that this company, who claim to be registered in Anguilla (an island in the Caribbean with a population half that of Ramotswa) and who claim to have a subsidiary in London are calling this reader from a number in Manchester.

The simple truth about Forex trading is that it’s a business full of suspicious characters. It’s a business that should be left entirely to the experts and that means experts such as banks and professional investment companies, not mere mortals like you and me.

You should avoid Forex trading unless you own a bank.

You should also most certainly avoid anything shaped like a pyramid. At the moment there are at least three that I know of that are actively recruiting people in Botswana. WorldVentures has been doing the rounds for a few years, promising fantastic holidays in exotic places but they aren’t entirely honest about this. None of this is actually for free. You have to pay to join the pyramid and then all you get are discounted holidays. You still have to buy the holidays, just at a slightly cheaper price.

What pyramid schemes like WorldVentures really sell is the promise of income from recruiting multiple layers of people beneath you, each of whom pays to join and then starts a flow of money up the pyramid, some of which stays with you as it passes by. Of course this rarely happens because it’s almost impossible to recruit the number of people you need to achieve the targets the scheme sets you and the figures produced by WorldVentures prove this. More than three quarters of all recruits never make a single thebe. Of those who do make some money, more than 80% make less than P100 each month and that’s income, not profit.

Consider this. 84% of all the money flowing through WorldVentures is taken by the top 0.8%.

Then there’s EmGoldex, who claim to be selling small quantities of gold. However that is itself suspicious. Since 2012 the price of gold has been steadily dropping and shows no signs of increasing. This is NOT the time to be buying gold.

In fact what they really want is for you to recruit people beneath you and for them to recruit others beneath them.

Authorities around the world have already issued warnings about EmGoldex. In their home country, the Philippines, the powers-that-be the warned people to avoid the scheme and the claims that they could make profits of 500-1,000%. In Colombia EmGoldex was told to immediately cease operations. In October last year the Secretary of State in Massachusetts, USA filed fraud charges against the people operating EmGoldex.

Another reader contacted us saying that a scheme called Four Corners Alliance is “doing the rounds about making loads of money”. Yes, you guessed it, they’re another pyramid scheme offering riches by selling worthless books on financial literacy.

Do I really need to say you should avoid any pyramid-shaped business?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can they keep my money?

We bought electrical supplies from a supplier in 2014, but did not collect all of them. When we decided to get the rest of the material, they kept saying tomorrow and now they claim they have ran two financial years and they wrote it off. They sending us from post to pillar.

To some extent I can understand the supplier’s problem. If you didn’t collect the goods for a year then this would be a considerable inconvenience to them, keeping the goods in stock, occupying space they could use for other purposes. I’m sure you can imagine how inconvenient it would be for a supplier to keep stock for that long when they could sell it to someone else. Given this I think they were probably within their rights to cancel that element of the deal and sell the goods you purchased to another customer.

However, while they can probably dispose of the goods they can’t just ignore their obligations to you. They owe you a refund for those parts you didn’t pick up. They can’t just keep your money. Their excuse about going through two financial years is not your concern. What they should have done is to call you months ago to tell you that they were cancelling part of the deal with you and asking how they should refund you the relevant amount. That would have been the decent thing to do.

Send over their contact details and we’ll get in touch with them to see if they’ll see reason and give you your money back. If they fail to do the decent thing you might need to involve our friends at the Small Claims Court.

Should I join Four Corners Alliance?

There is a group that's doing the rounds about making loads of money called Four Corners Alliance Group. Do you know anything about them and if so are they legitimate?

I'd really appreciate your help on this. Thank you.

We should all be very suspicious about any scheme that tells you that you can make “loads of money”. In particular we should all be cautious about Four Corners Alliance which is remarkably similar to a number of pyramid schemes we’ve seen over the years.

They say that their scheme is “based on three products. A six lesson set, thirty two book Financial Education set, an optional monthly Financial Education Newsletter subscription, and our Online Marketing Academy subscription, both of the latter can be paid for from earnings.”

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.

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.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A question about the fake Steadford "University"

Someone who preferred to remain anonymous sent us the following message about the fake Steadford "University". We've mentioned them a few times in the past.
"Please help! i have paid Steadford university in US dollars, did all the compulsory subjects, got my topics approved, then they called me to ask for another 900 US $ for accreditation which I paid. They called again and asked for another 4000$ for 'accreditation". When i asked for a breakdown of fees on an official letterhead, their documents to proof that they are a recognised higher education institution, I was scolded and then they told me they will wipe my credits and topics and put my degree on hold if i don't pay. After numerous phone calls and a lot of verbal abuse (from their side), they have now suspended my profile.. and i have no recourse for the plus minus 3600 US dollars i paid. Needless to say i have completed about 40% of my thesis and am sick! they keep on telling me that the state department stamps the degree.. my question to them is: are you a recognised institution, but they will not answer me! what to do?"
This shows what complete crooks the fake university industry are. Vast amounts of money for a worthless qualification that will only land you in trouble with your employer and the law if you're found out.

My problem is how to advise this person because they were anonymous. Hopefully they'll read this.

Steadford "University" is fraudulent, bogus, fake. You bought a fake degree from crooks who don't offer refunds.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Don't panic

You don’t ever need to panic. On all occasions, even you’re suddenly faced with a charging elephant, panicking is usually the worst possible thing to do. Instead you react as calmly as possible, remember your training and do what you were taught to do.

Over the last weeks there have been various stories going around the Internet and Facebook that caused some panic. One particular popular story reported that after an investigation Maggi Noodles have been withdrawn from sale in India.

This started when tests performed by the Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSA) appeared to show that the levels of lead found in the noodles were much higher than permitted. Their report said that the "sample taken by the establishment of the Commissioner of Food Safety [...] found presence of lead at 17.2 ppm". (“ppm” means "parts per million"). The permitted level of lead in such foodstuffs in India is only 2.5 ppm so if these figures are to be believed the level of lead found is about seven times higher than is thought acceptable. This is particularly worrying for parents because excess levels of lead have been associated with learning and development difficulties in children. It’s one of the reasons that most of us now use unleaded petrol.

However Nestlé, who manufacture these noodles, differ. They say they’ve conducted their own tests which show that the FSSA results are incorrect. Instead they say their results “show that lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations and that MAGGI noodles are safe to eat”. Nestlé and the authorities in India are now locked in a court battle with Nestlé arguing about whose results are correct and “issues of interpretation of the Food Safety and Standards Act”.

Meanwhile the concern is spreading. Following pressure from a consumer group in Kenya, the Kenya Bureau of Standards also issued a warning about the noodles and they were subsequently removed from supermarket shelves in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. The US Food and Drug Administration has also now taken samples to test and concern is also growing here in Botswana. People are posting links to scare stories on Facebook and so far two radio stations have contacted Consumer Watchdog for interviews and advice on who consumers should believe and what we should do to protect ourselves.

So what do we advise?

At the moment all consumers in Botswana can see is an argument between the Indian authorities and Nestlé over two differing sets of test results and how they should be interpreted. Our advice is to watch and wait but meanwhile until we get more evidence we should be sensible and prudent.

If you are concerned then yes, it’s probably best to avoid using Maggi noodles. Either use a different brand or just eat something else instead.

The first challenge for consumers is the lack of definitive information. The second challenge is we live in the so-called “information age” and many people are getting the information they need to make decisions from the Internet. And that’s a real worry. I think that instead of referring to 2015 as being part of the “information age” we would do better to call it the “misinformation age”.

I don’t know what proportion of the information available on the Internet is nonsense but I’m certain it’s a lot. That’s certainly true of anything to do with food. Many people commented about the Maggi noodle story in our Facebook group but soon afterwards someone posted a link to a web page entitled “What Happens Inside Your Stomach When You Eat Instant Noodles?

This web page, written by “Dr. Mercola”, reported that a researcher had used “a pill-sized camera to see what happens inside your stomach and digestive tract after you eat ramen noodles, one common type of instant noodles. The results were astonishing…” According to the web site “even after two hours, they are remarkably intact, much more so than the homemade ramen noodles, which were used as a comparison. This is concerning for a number of reasons. […] it could be putting a strain on your digestive system […] it will also impact nutrient absorption, but, in the case of processed ramen noodles, there isn’t much nutrition to be had.”

I’m certainly not going to recommend that you eat lots of instant noodles and nor am I going to say you should avoid them. The real problem is the author, “Dr” Mercola.

According to Quackwatch (I urge you to visit, a site devoted to exposing quackery and health fraud, Mercola
“opposes immunization, fluoridation, mammography, and the routine administration of vitamin K shots to the newborn, claims that amalgam fillings are toxic, and makes many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements. Mercola's reach has been greatly boosted by repeated promotion on the ‘Dr. Oz Show.’”
In other words, like his host “Dr Oz”, Mercola is a quack who promotes pseudoscience and nonsense and you simply can’t believe what he says. The US Food and Drug Administration have repeatedly warned him to stop making unsubstantiated claims about the various treatments and products he endorses. According to Quackwatch he claimed that just one of these bogus treatments, “thermography” could benefit patients suffering from arthritis, immune dysfunction”, digestive disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, nerve problems, whiplash, stroke screening, and cancer.

Mercola is clearly a high-end quack and charlatan.

Again, I’m not saying that noodles are good for you and I’m not saying you should eat them. What I’m saying is simple. When faced with claims about food safety you should use your brain before making any decisions. Do some research, find out the facts and only then should you make rational decisions. Until then remain skeptical.

And don’t panic.