Sunday 31 March 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay them?

Hello sir. I want to understand something. I was owing a certain clothing store in Gaborone a certain amount of P3,000 but all of a sudden I was called by a certain man saying he is from a certain company sending me their account numbers saying I will be then paying to them the sum of P4,000. When I enquired asking I realised the clothing store have sold my credit/debt to that company but the thing is I'm forced to pay that P4,000. My worry is I have never made any agreement of P4,000 with that company. I don't even know myself what is the right way to go about this?

Unfortunately, there's very little you can do about this. If a company has a debtor who has owed money for a long time without making repayments, it's common practice for them to sell the debt to a debt collector. It's then up to the debt collector to collect as much as they can from the defaulting customer.

The good news is that debt collectors are often a little flexible about the amount they want from you. I spoke to one who even offers a discount to customers who come forward and cooperate. However, the bad news is that debt collectors don't ever give up. It's their job, it's how they make money and they are very good at it.

You also asked whether it's ok for them to collect the money when you never made any agreement with them? Yes, it is ok. If you look back to your original agreement with the clothing store you'll find that it says that they can pass your debt to debt collectors when they choose to do so.

I suggest you contact the debt collector as soon as possible and negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford and that they can accept. Please do it sooner rather than later.

Where's my phone?

Greetings Richard. Kindly advise me here. My younger sister bought an iPhone X 64 GB from a shop by laybye. When we went to clear the balance and collect the phone we found out that they sold the phone she laybyed and offered us to take iPhone X 256GB and told us to top up but we refused to top up so he gave us the latter phone.

After some weeks she found out that the phone has a software problem and it's not even connecting to wi-fi and she went back to the owner to tell him the phone problem and then he said that she will bring the phone for exchange when he receives new stock on Monday. The day arrived but he said stock didn't arrive and he said the next Monday. The next Monday it was the same story and when we spoke to him again he said stocked arrived but there was a different phone and no iPhone X.

I think it's time to say goodbye to this store. Clearly they're incapable of selling you a phone or perhaps even of running a business properly. Firstly they broke their contract with your sister by selling the phone they were meant to have put aside for her and for which she paid them in full. Then they gave her a faulty phone that couldn't do a basic thing like connect to WiFi.

And now they can't even deliver what she paid for. Obviously it's up to her but if I was in her position I would tell them it's over and that I want a complete refund.

I tried contacting the store but I don't think they're interested in responding but together I'm sure we'll get them to respond eventually. Then they can think about doing the right thing.

Update: I messaged the store and their response wasn't very helpful. They said:
"Which one you talking about
And who are you ?
I’m talked with customer
I’m not talking with 3rd person"
But then they did talk. They called me, shouted at me a bit, demanded to know why I was involved and suggested it was wrong of me to contact them.

Eventually they calmed down and promised that your sister will get her phone in 10-12 days.

They said that they told your sister that the phone was refurbished, and not new as your sister thought. I explained that the law is very simple about selling used items as new but they claimed not to know about this. I told them that Section 13 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act says that a supplier who:
"offers used goods shall inform a consumer that the goods sold are used goods by ... placing a label on the goods that indicates that such goods are used goods; and ... placing a notice on the invoice issued to a consumer"
It goes on to say that a supplier that fails to do this:
"shall be liable … to a fine not exceeding P50 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both"
Maybe they won't do this again?

Sunday 24 March 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Have I been scammed?

Please I need your help there is this investment company called Enterprise Botswana. Firstly they asked me to invest P1500 into my trade account and in three days I will withdraw my profit. Then after that they said I should send P6200 due to the increasing in signals and my account should be upgraded. I sent that money to a bank account holder. After some hours when I tried to withdraw on my trading account they sent an email saying I should send P5400 for the USA Sort Code and also P4600 for the funds to be converted to my local currency before it can be credited to my account.

Now they are not communicating and I've been trying to get hold of them. Have you dealt with a similar case? Are there chances of me getting my money back?

Unfortunately, I don't have any good news for you. I think you know by now that you've been scammed.

The way they operated is typical of scammers. They start by offering you rapid and fantastic profits from a relatively small "investment", in your case P1,500. On their Facebook page you'll see many screenshots of payment notifications suggesting people have earned huge profits, some as much as P500,000. It's important to know that these are all fakes,, no such payments have ever been made.

The next step is what this is all about. The scammers then start demanding more and more money from you to get these fake profits. The problem is that the victim is so convinced that the enormous profits are real that they willingly pay over the smaller amounts to get the big prize.

Realistically, there's very little hope that you'll get your money back. I suspect the scammers have either withdrawn and spent the money or transferred it overseas. I contacted the bank that holds the account you mentioned and they're investigating but I suspect they'll find that the account belongs to another victim who handed control of it to the scammers. You also need to contact the Police. You've been the victim of a crime and you spoke to at least one person in Botswana who was involved. They need to be investigated.

They gave me a second-hand phone!

I bought cell phone last year in December. On Friday last week it woke up with a message on the screen that it's an unauthorized device and I must take it back to the seller or exchange it. It took me a long fight with them to understand me. Later on they said I should top up and get another phone so I did so. Then today I just realized that it's a second-hand phone with contacts inside. I didn't know they can sell second hand phone to me. What procedures should I take right now because they are so rude even if I go back to them with it they will tell me stories.

This store is wrong in so many different ways.

Firstly, they sold you a phone that was "unauthorized" and failed to address that problem properly. Instead of replacing the phone or refunding you they demanded that you spend even more money to get a phone that worked. Then they sold you a second-hand phone without being honest about it.

Of course there's nothing wrong with selling second-hand, refurbished or used phones. They just need to be honest about it and give us a choice. But in this case they seem not to care.

The correct procedure is quite simple. Take the phone back and tell them that the law, the Competition and Consumer Authority, Consumer Watchdog and readers of The Voice are now on their case.

Do they really want to argue with us all?

Saturday 16 March 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay?

I need your assistance. I found out at my bank today that I was blacklisted by a furniture store. I have returned the bed I bought with high purchase from them on the 14 October 2022 letting them know that I am out of employment at the time. They now say I owe the amount P6,609 though they say they sold the bed too. I talked to the accounts dept who informed me that I owe more than P8,000. They say though I returned the bed they were still charging which was not what I was informed. I was told to return the bed so that the debt would stop accumulating. Please assist me. I need to know if this is right or wrong.

Unfortunately, some of what you've been told is right and some is wrong. The bad news is that there is no good news. You almost certainly DO owe the company a lot of money.

One of the many horrible secrets about hire purchase is that the goods you receive and the money you owe are not connected. It's called 'hire purchase' because you are hiring the goods until you pay the final instalment. Only then have you purchased the goods. Until that time the goods still belong to the store.

What this means in practice is that if you fail to pay your instalments, the store can immediately repossess them (because they still own them and you don't) but you will still owe them the hire costs for the remainder of the period you agreed to. Some stores will sell the repossessed goods and deduct the money they get from your balance but others don't even do this. Either way, you'll still owe them a lot of money and that amount will only increase as they add interest and penalty fees.

The best thing to do is to speak to the store as soon as possible and try to negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford and that the store can accept.

And don't buy thing on hire purchase again. It's much better to save money and buy things for cash.

What should they do?

Good day Richard. I have a situation here, I bought a Tecno Pop 7 phone from a store in Game City about a month ago. After a system update the phone had a technical glitch, it went on Device Lock mode, I couldn't access anything. The instructions on the screen explicitly said I should return to the seller which I did. I went to check on them to get a status report or a replacement phone since I don't have a working phone at the moment.

I asked the owner of the store to replace my phone with another of the equivalent amount or to reimburse me with the amount I paid so that I buy a working phone, but he refused stating that according to the Consumer Protection Act, they are allowed 21 days to fix the phone but their warranty terms did not state this.

Richard, I need help with this matter urgently because I am greatly inconvenienced. I was not given a courtesy phone and I feel I am being taken for a ride. Please advise on the way forward.

Unfortunately the store is correct. The Consumer Protection Act does indeed say that the store has a right to attempt to repair a faulty item. In full, it says that the store can choose to repair it, replace it or to refund you. But it IS their choice which option they prefer.

However, it says nothing about a 21-day period, they're making that bit up. The Act suggests that there must be "timely performance and completion" of any services but it doesn't mention a particular time.

Something the store might not know, or perhaps chooses not to tell you is that if they repair the phone and then the same problem happens again within 3 months, they lose the option to repair it. Then they can only replace it or refund you.

Together, let's educate the store on what your rights really are and suggest they hurry up?

Saturday 2 March 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want my locks!

I went to a tile shop to buy locks for a normal steel door frame that they costed me P3,420. When I got home with the locks my carpenter realized that the locks are big for my door frames also the locks are for wooden door frames. But during the transaction the sales rep did not mention that the locks are for wooden door frame therefore I feel deceived because of no transparency. They also did not explain to me about the refund policy of 15%. 

Kindly look into this matter before lot of people fall into the trap. I even gave the shop chance to find locks that are suitable for my door frames they refused. My intention is to get the service not a refund.

Unfortunately I don't think I have any good news for you.

When we buy goods from a supplier we're entitled to goods that do the job and that are correctly sold. If they sell us something that's faulty we have a right to return the goods and the supplier can choose whether to offer us a repair, a replacement or a refund.

A supplier also isn't allowed to lie to us about what goods can do or if they're suitable for a particular purpose. They must be honest about that. But this is the tricky part. It's up to us as customers to ask if the goods we buy are suitable for our needs. For example, if we buy a laptop we need to ask the salespeople whether it's the right model for our needs. If we buy building materials we need to ask similar questions. If we buy door locks we need to ask them if they're the right locks for our doors.

My understanding from when we spoke on the phone is that you didn't ask them about this. You selected the locks, paid for them and took them home. It was only later, after your carpenter tried to install them, that you discovered they were the wrong type.

We need to ask this. Did the store do anything wrong? Did they mislead you in any way? Did they sell you faulty locks? I don't think so. The good news is that the store has said they can take them back, even though they don't have to, but the bad news is that they want to charge you a fee for reversing the transaction, restocking them and repackaging the ones your carpenter opened. I suspect 15% is a fair price for that.

Will they pay?

Please I need help I don't know even what to do. I recently bought a car from a garage in Mogoditshane with the promise that the car has no fault. I tested the car myself and since I have no mechanical knowledge I took the car. A few days later I realized the aircon is not working so I went to the aircon specialist because I thought it's a minor thing. I only realized that I was now spending a lot of money on the car because I needed to buy new parts.

I told the garage and the guy is telling he we will give me something when he gets money so I requested for proof that I will get refund for the amount I used to fix the car but he is refusing to do so.

Please advise on what I should do in a situation like this.

I think you're right to insist that the car dealer puts their offer to refund you in writing. However, it's no surprise that he's refusing to do so. I think the best thing you can do is to approach the Competition and Consumer Authority and lodge a complaint with them. They've had some success with car dealerships and they have the power to get this guy to answer their questions.

However, there's a really important lesson here. Some of us have enough skill to give a second-hand car a good test before buying it but most of us don't. That's why it's really important to get any second-hand vehicle, no matter how cheap it is, inspected by a mechanic before you hand over the money.

Sunday 25 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I spent someone else's money

Hello Mr Richard. Sometimes last year my bank sent P4,000 into my account without reason. I called them frequently asking them about the money but they told me its my money. I waited for 3 days without waiting for them to talk to me again but they failed. I used money on the fifth day. In May I received a call from them telling me the money wasn't for me and I have to come to their office. They told me I must pay the money back. I told them that I don't have money but they told me to pay money via instalment.

I managed to pay 800, 350, 1,000 but it still reflects that I'm owing them 4,000 in my account. What can I do?

The first thing you should do is to ask the bank why they haven't updated your account correctly to reflect the payments you've made towards the debt. That's a simple thing for them to do and they're negligent for not doing that already.

The second thing you can do is think carefully about how this situation happened. You know now, and you knew then, that the money that was paid into your account wasn't yours. I know it wasn't your fault and I know the bank told it was yours, but you knew that wasn't true when you spent it.

The best thing you can do is keep talking to the bank and repaying the money you took. They've already agreed to accept the money in instalments so it's incredibly important that you keep to that agreement.

The lesson from this is never to spend money you know doesn't belong to you. If money ever does appear in your account that you weren't expecting, tell the bank immediately and do NOT spend it.

Should he be in prison?

In August last year, a judgement in Francistown High Court was given that my brother can use his pension to pay his debt to his bank. He took all the required documents to the pension administrators and up to now they have not paid the bank. The only time they gave him updates is when he either called or when we went to the office on his behalf to follow up since he is in Francistown and unemployed.

As I am talking to you now, he got arrested by deputy sheriffs of the same bank on Monday as the pension administrator has not made a payment to the bank. He will be at Francistown State Prison until his debt is paid.

Is this a fair treatment from people who have kept his pension money and have not been able to assist him on time when he needed them the most?

No, this certainly is not fair. In fact, this is a disgrace.

I know your brother owes money to his bank, but that isn't the real problem. The bank should know by now that your brother has the money to pay his debt to them, just not now. They know that his pension will pay off the debt and it's not his fault that the administrators have taken their time. So they should have sat down with him and asked him to sign some sort of agreement that when the pension pays out they'll get their money. And then they need to be a little more patient.

We spoke to senior managers at both the bank and the pension administrators when we heard this and, to their credit, they were just as shocked about what had happened. They both recognized that they had failed badly. The pension administrators have assured us that they'll get the pension process done as quickly as possible and they also promised an investigation into why the process took so long that it led to their client spending time in prison. The bank told us they'd make sure your brother was set free as soon as possible.

However, two days later, he's still in prison. You can find out if he's released in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. One final word on civil imprisonment for debt. This system is being over-used and often punishes the wrong people. Of course there are some people who deserve it, those who willingly, deliberately avoid paying their debts. They deserve to face the consequences. But very often it's the wrong people who are punished this way, people like your brother. We need a new approach.

Update: The guy was finally released a few days later. He's now back home, recovering from a traumatic experience he didn't deserve. Both companies should be ashamed of how long they took to sort this matter out. 

Sunday 18 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

More scam alerts

Maybe it's the time of year, I don't know, but there's a lot of scams around right now.

Last week we warned readers of The Voice about a scam called Miracle Farm which is a replica of Ecoplexus. Luckily a lot of people are more aware these days but people are still falling for it, depositing money into a local bank account that is being used to channel the money to the crooks running the scheme overseas.

But Miracle Fam isn't the only scam going around. There are other, including Ace Car Rental, Ceptual Trade, Crystal Queens and Forzza Odds. They all operate primarily from WhatsApp groups full of promises of massive and quick profits. They all ask for relatively small amounts of money but if lots of people fall victim to them, they still make a lot of money. You can be sure that anyone who gives them a little will soon be encouraged to pay them a lot more.

So how can you tell if something is a scam? Here are some ways to help you decide. Firstly, ask the person who invited you to join, why they did so? Did they do it because they're just a kind and charitable person? If they say Yes, then you know it's a scam.

Next, ask them if the scheme is a registered company. Hopefully they'll tell you that it's registered somewhere but if so, ask for proof. Then check if it's true. If you don't know how to check, ask us.

Ask them how money is generated by the scheme. People marketing a legitimate investment scheme will talk about share or commodity prices, dividends or the income a company can expect from selling products and services. People marketing a scam will be less specific. They'll talk about cryptocurrency or forex trading, Bitcoin mining or they'll say it's a motshelo or 'gifting' scheme. If you ask them how profits are generated they'll do their best not to answer. Because they have no answers.

Those promoting a genuine investment will welcome questions. They'll happily give you complete answers to every question you ask. However, scammers will very quickly become defensive and ask you why you're asking so many questions. "Just trust me", they'll say. Anyone who says this is trying to scam you.

Above all, scammers will make incredible claims about how much money you can make from their scheme. They'll tell you that small 'investments' can earn a great deal of money. They'll also ask you to invest more and more money, encouraging you to 'upgrade' to higher levels with promises of even greater profits. That's a sure sign of a scam.

A common trick they'll try is to show you bank payment messages. These are almost always faked but a few will be genuine because they do sometimes pay the victims a little money to make the scam seem legit. It's not, it's a criminal enterprise and the law makes it just as illegal to join a scam as it does to promote one.

Finally, remember this simple truth. Anyone who invites you to join their money-making scheme wants to make money from you, not with you.

Will they fix my TV?

Mr Harriman I need your help sir. I bought a 58 inch smart TV at a store in Tonota last year July. On the 14th December I found the screen cracked. I reported it to the manager they took it but they don't want to refund me for the television. They say its my fault I broke it while it was mounted on the wall.

I think we need to ask one simple question. Who caused the damage to the TV? The problem is it's hard to say. It's possible that the TV was damaged before it was installed at your place or during the installation. However, the store have already suggested that there's no evidence they broke it and it's more likely that it was broken while you had it. From their point of view, the fact that you took 5-6 months to report it to them supports that.

I'll contact them for you but honestly, I'm not optimistic.

Saturday 10 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

A warning – "Miracle Farm"

We all remember Ecoplexus. That scam started just over a year ago and promised people massive profits from a mysterious "investment" in solar power technology and generation. They were very smart. They used the name of a genuine, legitimate company based in the USA that does a lot of work in the solar business. But the scammers had no connection with this company. They were just exploiting the name.

I don't know how many people fell for this scam but it must have been thousands and between them they gave the scammers tens of millions of Pula. We warned people here in The Voice and on Facebook as early as January 2023 and luckily, many people took the warnings seriously. But many didn't. In May last year the scam finally collapsed but not before much of the money people had paid into local bank accounts had left the country. However, some was left here and that has since been frozen until the authorities can work out who deserves some money back. I think it's good that some people get some of their money back but personally I believe that anyone who actively promoted the scam shouldn't get a single thebe returned to them. They were willing participants in a criminal scam.

The bad news is that the scammers are back. There's a new scam that just started that calls itself Miracle Farm or Miracle Farm Capital or Miracle Farm Management and it's very similar to Ecoplexus. This time they make claims about making money in farming. 

For example, they say that if you invest P100 in peanut farming you'll make profits of P140 after 20 days. If you invest P12,000 in wheat, you'll make profits of P84,000 after 9 months. Like Ecoplexus, they have an Android app but it's all lies, just like the lies the Ecoplexus crooks told us.

These Miracle Farming scammers claim to be based in New York but the fake registration documents they send people can't decide if they're registered in New York, California or Colorado. The people promoting the scheme refuse to communicate by video or voice, just like Ecoplexus. That's for a very simple reason. They don't want us to hear their real voices because we'll spot their accents immediately.

Please don't fall for this scam and don't allow anyone you know to fall for it either. Spread the word as far as possible. The lesson from Ecoplexus is that only by standing and fighting together as a community can we beat these criminals.

Can I get a refund?

Hello Mr Harriman. I really need your help. I bought school uniform from the other lady in Mochudi and I'm not happy with her service. She gave me girls trousers instead of boys trousers and she refused to exchange for me nor give me my money back. I ended up going to police but I didn't get help. I went to the byelaw people where she took the trousers and told me that she will send my money during the day but she didn't do that till now. I posted on Facebook asking for help asking if people can buy the trousers so that I can buy the one for boys but she went to report me at the police and court. I'm waiting for the court to call me.

This is insane. This sort of business person, someone who delivers the wrong products, refuses to exchange them, promises a refund, then fails to do so and then reports their customer to the Police for complaining doesn't deserve to be in business. They deserve to fail.

I'm happy to contact this lady and suggest various ways that she can fix this issue if you like?

I think she needs to understand that she has a very simple obligation to deliver what you paid for or give you a refund. She also needs to understand that complaining in public about this sort of experience is a reasonable thing to do. Any complaints we post in public are a form of free speech, so long as they're reasonable, polite, true, not malicious and expressed in good faith. You gave her several opportunities to fix the problem nicely. She's the one who needs to be held accountable, not you.