Saturday, 3 December 2016

Bitcoin abuse

Bitcoin. That's been the big issue for us in the last couple of weeks. Many people have been in touch asking is it a scam? Should they get involved? Is it risky?

The answers to those questions are No, Maybe and Yes, in that order.

So let’s start at the beginning. What is Bitcoin?

That's a simple question to answer but perhaps hard to understand. Bitcoin is a currency, but not like any currency we've known before. There are no coins or notes with Bitcoin, no bits of metal or paper. There’s nothing you can put in your wallet or purse. It exists purely in cyberspace. It's a digital currency, sometimes called a virtual currency or maybe a cryptocurrency.

And that confuses people. What confuses them more is the technology behind Bitcoin. Terms like "blockchain", "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining" are hard to understand unless you're an expert. There's also the simple confusion that your money is "out there" somewhere and not in your pocket. That's odd.

In fact the "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, which is a database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. The so-called Data Miners who run the computers on which the Blockchain is hosted can themselves earn Bitcoins by holding and verifying the transactions and that's all revolutionary.

Bitcoin mining farm in Iceland. Image c/o Wikipedia
However, it's important to know that the computing power required to be a profitable data miner is way beyond individuals like you and me and can only really be achieved by "mining farms" with enormous processing power and energy consumption.

Another key thing about Bitcoin is that it’s encypted and it’s currently extremely hard for banking and intelligence agencies to track the payments that are made using Bitcoin. They can't see that you're buying your kid's Christmas presents or a plane ticket with it, just like they can’t see that your neighbor is using it on the Dark web to buy drugs, guns or child pornography. That scares law enforcement agencies around the world.

Despite all these complicated issues I'm fairly certain that Bitcoin, or something like it, might be the future of money. Many of us already use international online payment systems such as Paypal and Apple Pay and local money transfer services like eWallet, MyZaka and Orange Money but they're all based on a currency that we know. Bitcoin is a step further. Not only is it an online payment mechanism but it's its own currency.

Bitcoin is real. It's legitimate. It's not a scam. But it's still highly risky.

Bitcoin is still so new that even financial experts have no idea of what it's future will be. Some are already saying its days may be numbered. What's more, and despite what some proponents are saying, its value can easily go down as well as up. If you bought Bitcoins in November 2013 you would have lost 78% of your "investment" by January 2015. Even today you would still be down by 24%. Before anyone criticizes me for using those figures I admit I chose the highest and lowest values but my point is that it's volatile. All currencies are volatile but Bitcoin is clearly even more volatile than most others.

Source: CoinDesk
Then there are security concerns. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin is highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is foolproof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be instantly worthless. Say bye-bye to your money.

The fact that it’s completely unregulated is another concern. If a conventional currency like the Pula, US dollar or Euro showed signs of failing, central banks would do something to support it. We've seen that happen before in various countries. But with Bitcoin, there's nobody to help you.

Also, when you spend Bitcoins there are fewer payment protection mechanisms available to you. There are no rights to refunds and no chargeback mechanisms. In December 2013 the European Banking Authority warned consumers that "No specific regulatory protections exist that would cover you for losses if a platform that exchanges or holds your virtual currencies fails or goes out of business."

I'm not saying that Bitcoin is a bad thing but it's risky and before anyone buys Bitcoins they need to remember that they should only ever invest speculatively with spare money, money they can afford to lose. Do not buy Bitcoins with the money you need to pay your home loan, rent, food bills or school fees.

Then there are the scams.

Because so few of us know much about Bitcoin we can easily be suckered by scammers trying to exploit is. Ponzi and pyramid schemes like MMM Global, Billcoin, Onecoin and Pipcoin have all pretended either to use Bitcoin or to be something like it but it's all been lies, designed to cheat you.

There are also schemes that are based on Bitcoin but are using scammer's tricks to get your money.

The Bitclub Network is a good example. They describe themselves as "The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin" and they suggest that Bitcoin mining (see the explanation above) is a way to make money.

They go on to say that:
"With BitClub Network you earn daily profits from our shared mining pools. We also have a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer."
In fact, Bitclub Network is a Ponzi scheme with pyramid elements.

Bitcoin and the technology it uses are fascinating. However, it's no more than a currency, it's not an investment scheme. If anyone tells you otherwise and encourages you to start buying Bitcoins or to join a scheme like Bitclub Network, saying you can make lots of money, ask yourself this simple question. How do they benefit from me joining?

The chances are that they're trying to make money from you, not promote the future of money.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Did they steal my phone?

So I took a phone to a cell repair shop in African mall to fix the on button, when I returned to collect it they tell me that the shop got robbed along with my phone but there is no police report and I have been reliably informed that they sold it at another shop in the main mall. I'm not some maverick vigilante so I would just like my things to get sorted out asap. I still have the receipt so what would be the quickest and best way to get my grievance sorted, it's been two weeks with these guys not telling me anything concrete. I have been advised by a friend to go to consumer affairs or something at a local police station.


I’m glad you’re not a vigilante because vigilantes, in fact anyone who takes the law in to their own hands, isn’t a vigilante, they’re a criminal. The law is there to protect us but in most cases the people empowered to enforce the law are those employed by legitimate law enforcement agencies such as the Police, DCEC and DIS. Other entities such as BURS, Bureau of Standards and Bank of Botswana have certain legal powers but that’s usually limited to writing angry letters, not kicking down doors, having car chases and handcuffing people.

Incidentally, there are certain exceptions. Both you and I have the legal power to detain someone if we feel they’ve committed a serious criminal offence but that’s all we can do. We can defend ourselves if they turn violent but we don’t have the right to beat them up and we certainly don’t have the right even to search them. Only our brothers and sisters in blue can do that. No, before you ask security guards don’t have special powers.

So, no, you mustn’t go all vigilante on them, instead you should go to the Police. Forget Consumer Affairs for now, go to the Police and say that you think the store has either stolen the items, colluded in them being stolen or is covering up a theft. Either way they need to explain themselves and the best people to make them do that are the people who CAN search their premises and who can apply the right level of “persuasion to the owners and managers of the store.

And before you ask, no I don’t wish I had that sort of power. It would be messy. A small but significant number of business people would very quickly be enjoying the hospitality of the nice people in the Department of Prisons.

Where’s my refund?

I kindly request your advice. I made a lay bye at a shop at Airport junction of P1000 cash on the 10th October. The condition on the receipt is 25% handling fee will be charged upon cancellation of Lay-bye.

On the 21st November I went to the shop to cancel the lay-bye, I was told the refund will be deposited in my account, the shop does not do refunds on cash only EFT. Since then I have not got my refund. I called the shop today I was told the Accountant is in South Africa and he is sick and as such I will not be getting my refund this week.

I asked to speak to the owner of the shop, he was very rude, upon expressing to him how unhappy I am that I have to be punished to cancel lay bye, I paid cash now I have to be sent from pillar to post to get my refund, they can’t even ascertain me of the date I will receive the refund. I asked where is stipulated that condition of refunds is done only via EFT, he told me he does not owe anyone condition of how he runs his shop. I have bought before at this shop and to get this treatment especially from the so called owner I feel my rights as a consumer were violated.


Let’s be fair. You sent your email to me on 25th November, only four days after you told the store you wanted to cancel the lay-bye. I’m not defending the alleged rudeness of the store owner but it was only four days after you tried to cancel the deal that you complained. I can’t say whether the story they told you about the accountant being sick is true or not but is there any reason not to believe it? Let’s be generous and assume it’s true.

As for their suggestion that the refund must be made by bank transfer, that’s normal practice with stores. Regardless of how you pay for the item, they don’t want to deal with cash. Cash is an expensive thing to manage and it’s also very, very risky. To get cash to and from the store and their bank requires a safe, secure transport and very careful, manual processes. The opportunities for crime, both inside the company and outside, are immense. It’s almost 2017 and cash is not something that many organizations want to handle.

Nevertheless, this company’s owner obviously has a very poor understanding of how to deal with customers but I think you should give them a few days longer to fix your situation. If, by the time you read this, it’s not sorted, let me know. Then we can get rough!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Is the cheapest really the cheapest?

We all love a bargain, a discount or a special deal. Anyone who doesn’t love a bargain clearly has too much money.

But what exactly is a bargain? Is the cheapest product always as cheap as you’d think?

Here’s an example. Whenever you’re buying a computer in a store, please don’t ever buy the cheapest. The cheapest is going to be that way because sacrifices have been made. It will lack power, storage, memory and a decent keyboard. By the way, that’s the most important thing with any laptop. They keyboard.

The same goes for wine, cars and cellphones. If you’re short of cash it’s better to wait a few weeks, save a little extra and buy the model one above the cheapest. You’ll be surprised how much extra you’ll get from spending just a little extra. You’ll also be surprised how much you’ll save in the long run.

Last week someone posted a celebration in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. They said:
“If you are looking to buy your phone from a company that does not give you a hassle over honouring the warranty, I recommend The Cellphone Warehouse. Fantastic service.”
That was nice but a later comment impressed me more. Another member of the group commented:
“But their prices though but i guess thats the cost of good service.”
That’s a remarkably important idea. Their prices might be higher than some of their competitors but it’s money well spent because of what that extra money buys. It buys better service, the assurance that a warranty is certainly going to be honored and the comfort that you’ll be treated with some respect. Those are things you don’t always get with other stores that sell things more cheaply.

Around the same time another member of the Facebook group commented about another cellphone store, one that doesn’t have quite the same reputation. Talking about the phone they’d bought cheaply and in which a factory fault soon emerged, they said they were told by the store that no refunds were possible and that “they kicked me out (physically)”. They heard later that the authorities have “a bunch of files” about the same store, who have apparently mistreated, short-changed and disrespected a number of other people. That’s often what you get when you buy the cheapest.

But is it even the cheapest? Like a number of stores this particular one doesn’t always offer the full manufacturer’s warranty that should come with any purchase, presumably because they’re selling “grey imports”. These are products that have been bought from another part of the world and brought to Botswana, a country where the manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t apply. That’s why you’ll often see products made by respectable companies such as Samsung but which are sold with only a three-month warranty when Samsung would normally offer a warranty for at least a year. That means that if you buy such a phone and it goes wrong after just four months, you’re not going to get any help from anyone, not even Samsung. You’ll need to buy a brand new phone.

That cheap phone isn’t so cheap any longer, is it?

Here’s a free tip for you. Instead of buying the cheapest possible cellphone from a potentially shady store, why not consider buying a second-hand cellphone instead? There are several Facebook groups dedicated specifically to exactly that business. Why not save yourself a lot of money and get a phone that’s maybe a year old but for a fraction of the price you’d pay from a store. And if you were tempted to get your new phone from a shady, grey import store anyway, what do you have to lose?

The same goes for cars. A number of organizations in Botswana have learned the hard way that buying cheap vehicles isn’t actually the cheapest way to supply their fleets. I know of two that decided to replenish their fleets by buying the cheapest possible vehicles. They saved some money that year but overlooked the fact that these vehicles came with just a one-year warranty, unlike the more expensive alternatives that came with warranties and maintenance plans that lasted five and sometimes seven years. Not only did those plans offer free maintenance, they also gave a clue about how long the vehicles might last. A warranty is also a statement of confidence in the solidity and reliability of a vehicle. A manufacturer that sells vehicles with a five-year warranty is presumably fairly certain that the vehicles will actually last that long. Those companies spent a lot of money but now have parking lots full of dead vehicles they can’t afford to repair.

If you do the maths with either cellphones or vehicles the lesson is quite clear. The cheapest to buy is rarely the cheapest to own. The difference is when you spend the money. The more expensive items are paid for up front, the cheaper ones you have to pay for over and over again.

Accountants describe this as “total cost of ownership” which Investopedia defines as follows:
“Total cost of ownership (TCO) is the purchase price of an asset plus the costs of operation. When choosing among alternatives in a purchasing decision, buyers should look not just at an item's short-term price, which is its purchase price, but also at its long-term price, which is its total cost of ownership. The item with the lower total cost of ownership is the better value in the long run.”
That’s what you should look at whenever you buy anything significant. What will it cost you over its entire lifespan, not just when you hand over the money.

So don’t be cheap. Being cheap is often really expensive.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Help me with my phone!

I bought a phone from a store at BBS last year in May and after 4 months it starts to freeze and is no longer working but I'm still paying. They gave me the other one but that isn’t working also. I need your help please.


Firstly, I celebrate you for continuing to pay your instalments. Many people in this sort of situation stop making the payments and trust me, that’s the worst possible thing you can do. If you stop paying the store is entitled to repossess your goods but don’t think that means you stop owing them money. After they auction the goods for a fraction of their original price you’ll find yourself still owing almost the same amount as well as penalties, interest and legal fees. Whatever you do, never stop paying your hire purchase payments, no matter how tempting it might be.

Meanwhile I’m not sure you shared the full story. I contacted the store management and they gave me some additional details you forgot to mention. Firstly, the store had replaced the original phone that went wrong with a brand new phone. It was that phone that later also went wrong. However, that second phone went wrong more than a year after you bought the first one, after the warranty had expired. Remember that the warranty on something like a phone lasts a year from the date you bought the phone, not from the date you were given a replacement. It means that if a store offers you a brand new replacement phone 364 days after you bought the original, the warranty only lasts for another day.

Also you didn’t mention that you’d taken the second phone to a “bush repairer” who tried to get it working again. Even if the phone had still been under warranty this would have invalidated the warranty.

Sorry that I don’t have better news for you but the store isn’t obliged to do anything for you this time.

Where’s my refund?

Recently I lodged in a certain lodge in Maun and paid for six days in advance as accommodation fees. I only happened to stay for four days and I have to go through a lot of torturing because the lodge is taking long to refund me. Its been a month and five days now as I am being tossed from one pillar to the next. To add salt to the injury, the monies belong to the government (imprest) and I was supposed to have retired it at least 14 days after the trip ended. As is procedure, the government will now resort to refunding herself using my own money and this will not put me in good light as I appear to have used the monies for other things.

The hotel manager had told me that I write a letter requesting for my refund which she kept for two weeks only to inform me that the letter could have been written by my bosses. I asked her why it took her long to inform me about that and only said she is sorry about what happened. Now I have a feeling that the lodge is not willing to refund the monies back.


You’re being thoroughly let down by this hotel manager and I think it has to stop. I think you need to contact the manager and give her a deadline. Make it a short one. I suggest you give her three days to refund you directly to your bank account in full. Point out to her that if she doesn’t do this you will take legal action against her without hesitation. In fact, you’ll need to allow her 14 days to make the payment but don’t tell her that. After that 14 day period you can go to the Small Claims Court for an order against the lodge.

You should also demand that she writes your employer a letter explaining that it’s not been your fault that you haven’t been able to retire your imprest as promptly as you should have done.

I think you should also write a formal letter of complaint to the lodge management and copy that to your employer, Consumer Watchdog and the Botswana Tourism Organisation. If the lodge suspects they might lose all that valuable government business they might reconsider their approach. You might even encourage them to improve the service they offer in future.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Bitcoin and the Bitclub Network - one is a scam

Bitcoin logo.svg
Bitcoin. That's been the big issue for us this week. So many people have been in touch asking if it's a scam, should they get involved, is it risky?

The simple answers are No, Maybe and Yes, in that order.

So what is Bitcoin?

That's simple to answer but perhaps hard to understand. Bitcoin is a currency, but not like any currency you've known before. It's a digital currency, other times called a virtual currency or a cryptocurrency. There are no coins or notes with Bitcoin, no bits of metal or paper. Nothing you can put in your wallet or purse. Bitcoins exist purely in cyberspace. It's online money.

And that confuses people. What confuses them more is the technology behind Bitcoin. Terms like "blockchain", "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining" are hard to understand unless you're an expert. There's also the simple confusion that your money is "out there" somewhere and not in your pocket. That's odd.

The Blockchain and Bitcoin mining

A Bitcoin mining farm in Iceland. Source: Wikipedia
In fact the "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, which is a database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. The so-called Data Miners who run the computers on which the Blockchain is hosted can themselves earn Bitcoins by holding and verifying the transactions. That's something revolutionary.

However, it's important to know that the computing power required to do this is beyond individuals and can only really be achieved by "mining farms" with enormous processing power and energy consumption.

Confidentiality

It's also confidential. It's currently extremely hard for banking and intelligence agencies to track the payments that are made using Bitcoin. They can't see that you're using it on the Dark web to buy drugs, guns or child pornography just like they can't see that you're buying your kid's Christmas presents or a plane ticket with it.

Despite all this, I'm fairly certain that Bitcoin or something like it might be the future. Many of us already use international online payment systems such as Paypal and Apple Pay and local money transfer services like eWallet, MyZaka and Orange Money but they're all based on a currency that we know. Bitcoin is a step further. Not only is it an online payment mechanism but it's its own currency.

So it's real. It's legitimate. It's not a scam.

The risks

But it's still highly risky.

Bitcoin is still remarkably new and even financial experts have no idea of what it's future will be. Some are already saying its days may be numbered.

What's more, and despite what some proponents are saying, its value can easily go down as well as up. If you bought Bitcoins in November 2013 you would have lost 78% of your "investment" by January 2015. Even today you would still be down by 24%.

Source: CoinDesk
I admit I've chosen the highest and lowest values but my point is that it's volatile. Yes, all currencies are volatile but Bitcoin is clearly even more volatile than most others.

Then there are security concerns. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin is highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is foolproof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be valueless instantly. Say bye-bye to your money.

The fact that it's completely unregulated is another concern. If a conventional currency like the Pula, US dollar or Euro showed signs of failing, central banks would do something to support it. We've seen that happen before in various countries. But with Bitcoin, there's nobody out there to help you.

Another issue is that when you spend Bitcoins there are fewer payment protection mechanisms available to you. There are no rights to refunds and no chargeback mechanisms. In December 2013 the European Banking Authority warned consumers that:
"No specific regulatory protections exist that would cover you for losses if a platform that exchanges or holds your virtual currencies fails or goes out of business."
Should I buy Bitcoins?

I'm not saying that Bitcoin is a bad thing. On the contrary I'm very interested in it and think it's a sign of the future. But it's risky and before anyone buys Bitcoins they need to remember that they should only ever invest speculatively with spare money, money they can afford to lose. Do not buy Bitcoins with the money you need to pay your home loan, rent, food bills or school fees.

The scams

Then there are the scams.

Because so few of us know much about Bitcoin, but a lot of us have heard of it, we can easily be suckered by scammers trying to exploit is. Ponzi and pyramid schemes like MMM Global, Billcoin, Onecoin and Pipcoin have all pretended either to use Bitcoin or to be something like it. It's all been lies, designed to cheat you.

There are also schemes that are based on Bitcoin but are using scammer's tricks to get your money.

The Bitclub Network is a good example. They describe themselves as "The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin" and they suggest that Bitcoin mining (see the explanation above) is a way to make money.

They go on to say that "With BitClub Network you earn daily profits from our shared mining pools. We also have a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer."

Various people have issued warnings that Bitclub Network is either a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme. One promoter of the scheme described the business model like this:


What does that look like to you?

The conclusion

Bitcoin and the technology it uses are fascinating. However it's no more than a currency, it's not an investment scheme. If anyone tells you otherwise and encourages you to start buying Bitcoins or to join a scheme like Bitclub Network, saying you can make lots of money, ask yourself this simple question. How do they benefit from me joining?

The chances are that they're trying to make money from you, not promote the future of money.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

More denial

I’ve warned people several times recently, both in the print press but also on the radio and on social media about a pyramid scheme calling itself Helping Hands International. They describe themselves as “an empowerment-based- membership program, a global opportunity born out of the passion for total human capacity development and for helping the less privileged”. They claim that joining their scheme will allow you to “achieve all your dreams” and receive “financial freedom”, “passive income, business grants, brand new cars, laptops/iPad, house of your own, all expenses paid trip abroad”, the list goes on and on, culminating in “residual income for life”.


Despite my best efforts, I can’t find any clue as to how any of these things can be achieved. Do they have any products to sell? Multi-Level Marketing companies like Amway sell household products and Herbalife sell “health” products (although it’s cheaper and healthier just to buy yourself some oranges) but with Helping Hands International there’s nothing. They sell nothing but illusions of wealth and prosperity. In fact, in a discussion on Facebook, one of their representatives offered a number of questions and answers that tell the whole story.

One of the questions was
“When I sign up, do I need to sell any goods like other MLM companies?”
The answer was very telling:
“No. We don’t sell any goods.”
Helping Hands International is a pyramid scheme. It has no products and the business model is entirely based on recruiting people beneath you and them recruiting people beneath them with the promise of money magically flowing up the pyramid in your direction. That’s a pyramid scheme.

Another of the questions that the representative posed was this: “Is there any reputable organization in support of” Helping Hands International? Their answer was remarkable. They claim that they’ve “been recognized by the United Nations for the incredible charity works they have been doing across the globe” and that they are sponsored by Apple, HP and Hyundai.

This a lie. A flagrant lie. It’s simply untrue. The UN and companies like Apple, HP and Hyundai don’t “sponsor” scams like Helping Hands International. They haven’t, they don’t and they never will.

I mentioned this on the radio as well as in Mmegi and on Facebook, doing my best to warn people before they committed themselves. Hopefully some people heard and will have contained their urge to throw away their money. But not everyone was convinced. Very quickly I started to get messages on Facebook from people who had already joined or were themselves actively trying to recruit others. One of them was very angry with me. He did his best to convince me that the scheme was legitimate, saying that if only I joined I’d see the benefits. So I asked him about his personal experience. Was he really making money? Yes, he said, he certainly was. How much had he made? Just how much was this fortune he said he was making from the scheme?

P80.

Yes, just eighty Pula. That’s all he’d made so far. And how much had he “invested” to earn this fortune?

P500.

We then had a lengthy online argument, with him convinced that he was now up by P80 and me suggesting that in fact he was down by P420. Obviously I’m going to say that I’m right and he’s wrong but I do think the evidence is on my side. Helping Hands International is a scheme with no products to buy or sell and several of the people involved have confirmed that new money comes just from other people joining the scheme in multiple layers beneath them. That’s the definition of a pyramid scheme. Sooner or later, like all other pyramid schemes, they’ll exhaust the supply of gullible victims and the new money will dry up. That’s when a whole lot of people will suddenly realise that they’ve given away their money and that the scammers who run pyramid schemes don’t offer refunds.

I had an almost identical conversation with someone during the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme. Someone who had “invested” in Eurextrade, hoping to earn the promised 2.9% interest per day that they offered. He was furious that I’d warned people not to join, saying that they would never earn such profits and they’d almost certainly lose everything they handed over. He told me the same story. He’d earned P3,000 from the scheme and was convinced he was going to make a lot more. I asked how much he’s paid them to get this money. P10,000, he said. Again we had a long discussion about whether he now had P13,000 or had just lost P7,000. As it turned out, I was right.

People like these are angry because anyone who tries to persuade people not to join a scheme like these is threatening their potential income. Deep down, they know that they can only make money when new people join their scheme and anyone who tries to stop this will threaten that. They’ll continue telling people that there’s some miraculous, magical thing happening behind the scenes to make more money but they know in their hearts that it’s a scam. They just can’t face the truth. If they did they’d have to admit that they’d done something obviously silly that is likely to cost them a lot of money.

The tragedy is that when people are experience that level of denial, there’s very little you can do to persuade them of the truth. That’s why so many otherwise rational, reasonable and intelligent people fell for Ponzi schemes like Eurextrade, Monitec Society and now Billcoin. It’s why others fell for pyramid schemes like TVI Express, World Ventures and now Helping Hands International.

It’s why we need to get to people before they join and before they enter the denial phase. It’s why we need to educate people enough so they don’t fall for them in the first place.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Hansford University legitimate?

I would like to know from your agency if you could help me to confirm that Hansford University is a fake or not. Thanks a lot.

I first looked at Hansford “University” in 2013 when another reader asked whether they were a legitimate university. It was very clear, very quickly that they weren’t. Not even slightly legit.

I visited their web site and had an online chat with one of the “advisors” who called himself Jason Brown. I said I was interested in getting a Bachelors degree in Nursing, or as they spell it, "NUSRSING". I told him that I needed to get the degree as quickly as possible in order to get a promotion and I asked how quickly I could get such a qualification. I told him that my only experience in a hospital had been five years as a cleaner.

“You can get in 2 weeks”, he said.

All I needed to do to get a degree in Nursing from this bogus university was to pay them $199. Do they have any idea how dangerous that is? That they’ll sell a fake degree in Nursing to a total stranger who may then get a job based on that qualification? Someone whose only experience was as a cleaner? Someone with no actual skills in nursing at all? Someone who might then end up in a hospital ward responsible for people’s health? Someone to whom we would entrust the welfare, health and life of our loved ones?

Hansford “University” is a criminally reckless, bogus and fake establishment that is selling illegal certificates that have precisely no value. Please don’t be tempted ever to buy one because you will then be as criminal as they are. Remember that if you get a job or a promotion based on a fake qualification you can not only be fired, but you can be prosecuted as well. Are the disgrace, embarrassment, unemployment and a prison sentence really worth the risk?

When will I get my refund?

On the 15 October 2016 I went to a hotel in Mogoditshane to book a venue for my daughter' s birthday. I paid P2,500 for the venue, and because my daughter liked the venue, I asked them not to change when somebody comes with more money. They promised that it is first come first serve basis. On the 3 Nov they called me and said they have changed the venue since they are renovating, and I asked if they didn't know when they took my money, and they said they thought they would have finished. On 6th November I took my daughter to go and see the new venue, she did not like it. I also learnt that they moved us so that they can host another client whose party cost more I believe. I demanded my money back and they promised to credit my account that day.

To my disappointment the hotel hasn't refunded me yet. I asked them what if it was me cancelling and they said there could be charges. I am now wondering if I should not sue them for inconvenience.

The other thing is I want to shame then on Facebook, is it ok to do so??

Firstly, let’s talk about Facebook. I’m not really a believer in “shaming” people or organizations. However there’s every reason to report the situation so that other people can learn from it. So long as what you say is 100% truthful, you have every right to do so. That’s what the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group is there for.

This hotel has obviously mistreated you badly and you clearly have a right to a complete refund as well as an apology. They broke their contract with you when they changed the venue so drastically that your daughter no longer liked it. They also broke their agreement with you when they moved you to another room.

Then there’s the Consumer Protection Regulations. The room you saw and agreed to hire was not the one they ended up offering you. The hotel therefore broke Section 13 (1) (a) of the Regulations when they offered you a room that “does not match any sample or description given to the consumer”. Then, by “failing to promptly restore to the consumer entitled to it a deposit” they’ve broken Section 15 (1) (e).

We’ll get in touch with the hotel for you and see if we can’t encourage them to speed up a little bit. That’s not too much to ask, is it?