Friday, 28 November 2014

More fakes

I despise the fake qualification industry almost as much as I despise scammers.

In my view they’re just as bad as scammers, perhaps even more so because they’re not just morally bankrupt themselves, but they make their victims into moral bankrupts as well.

Scammers are thieves and their victims are just that: victims. Of course they’re often na├»ve and sometimes foolish but they’re victims nonetheless. With people selling fake qualifications it’s different. People who buy fake degrees are just as corrupt as the fraudsters they bought them from. The corruption is contagious.

Sometimes people ask where the harm is in people buying themselves fake qualifications. Who actually is harmed? The answer is simple. We all are. The person who didn’t get the job or the promotion because someone with a fake qualification got it instead suffers. The employer who hires or promotes someone because they think they’re genuinely qualified becomes poorer because of it, not only financially but functionally as well. They’ve employed someone who can’t do the job as well as a person who really had studied the relevant subject.

Finally you and I suffer when the companies we buy products and services from offer us the services of unqualified liars and cheats.

Ask yourself this. Is there really anyone who thinks they can get a qualification without doing any exams, coursework, dissertations or research? Without any actual work of any sort? If they do then clearly they are the sort of person who could ONLY get a fake degree.

These days the fake degree industry is branching out into new areas of crookedness. A few months ago a reader asked us if he could believe the email he received from the “Gulf Project Management Association”. It started like this:
“We are pleased to announce that based on a thorough review of your previous academic and professional record; the Board at Gulf Project Management Association (Gulf PMA) has directly approved you as a 'Project Management Expert (PME).”
It went on to explain that:
“the Association has allocated 10 Exclusive Member Seats for the Top 3% exceptional individuals who will be allowed to bypass the 'Interview Requirement' and directly qualify as a Member” and that “Since you have officially been conferred the Gulf PMA 'Member Status' & the 'PME' Title, the Membership Kit under your Name has already been issued. You are required to claim your kit for just $399”.

This is all bogus. This isn’t a real qualification or membership. In my online chat with these crooks they told me that this body has existed “since 1995” which is curious as their web site was only first registered two weeks before. They also told me that I didn’t actually have to DO anything to get this dubious honor. No exams, no coursework, no proof of anything that would justify giving me a title.

In fact this is no different to those fake degrees we’ve mentioned so many times.

Last week someone alerted me to another, almost identical offer. This time it was from the “American Bureau of Project Management Experts” (ABPMEXP) who suggest on their web site that membership of their body will “enhance your career prospects”. To join they say that “you must first meet specific education and experience requirements and agree to adhere to a code of professional conduct” and that the process “involves a rigorous, examination-based process that represents the highest caliber in professional standards”.

Rubbish. Simply not true.

I chatted online with one of their ”advisors” and I was told that given the length of my career I “already have enough expertise” to join and that he could “convert my expertise into credit hours” and “make you a member right now”. All I needed to do was I hand over my credit card number and allow them to take $399 for a year’s membership, $735 for lifetime membership. He also assured me that my membership certificates would be personally endorsed by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State.

The same clues were there. A professional membership of a body that requires no actual proof of competence, that claims to have existed for 19 years but whose web site was only created a few weeks ago and that doesn’t actually seem to exist? As for that business about John Kerry signing my membership certificate? Clearly they’re good at forging signatures.

Here’s a challenge for everyone. Every time you read someone’s CV and you see a university or professional membership you’ve never heard of ask us to check it for you. Don’t just Google the name because the first page will be full of planted hits to make the organization seem legitimate. Dig a little deeper and see if you can’t find the name on our blog or on the Wikipedia page that lists non-accredited universities. In fact you should go a little further. Politely ask your colleagues and your boss where they got their degree or professional membership, in particular if it’s something that sounds impressive. If it’s legitimate they’ll be proud to tell you. If they appear reluctant to tell you or if you’ve just never heard of the place then let us know and we’ll check it for you.

Who knows, you might be exposing a cheat and a liar and save your company the cost and embarrassment of later firing them when it’s finally discovered.

Wouldn’t you do this if you thought someone was stealing from the company bank account or payroll? There’s really no difference. They’re all crimes because every one of them is stealing money from their company, their colleagues and their customers. From all of us in fact. It’s your duty to expose criminals whenever you find them.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1


Can this be trusted?

Certainly not. Please, don’t “invest” anything with this scheme! “Invest Partnership” is undoubtedly a Ponzi scheme.

Do you remember Eurextrade? This scheme is VERY similar. For instance they claim that you can make 2% interest every day on large “investments”, 1.5% for smaller amounts. On their blog they go even further, claiming that they can offer up to 15% each day. This is simply impossible. No investment scheme can ever offer such returns.

Like all such schemes they give no real clues about how they would make such amazing returns, saying only that they provide “superior investment returns by placing its on Forex market”. Clearly English isn’t their first language.

It’s also curious that they don’t appear to have a physical address, phone number or email address. They claim to have been operating since November 2013 but it’s also curious that their domain name and web page, the only mechanism for investing with them, was only registered on 14th October this year. And guess where it was registered? Panama. Do you remember where Eurextrade was registered? Yes, you guessed it, Panama as well.

Please don’t even think of “investing” your money in this scheme. Do you really want to be another victim?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Please help me get this man to pay back my niece P3,200. The make-up artist did not show up for the second wedding and won't give back the money he was given for the job.

He was supposed to work on the 13th of September 2014 but he never showed up. He had been paid for the work. He has made many promises to pay back but this being the 2nd month we doubt He will be bringing the money back without some encouragement.

I really don’t understand why the wedding business is so full of crooks and shady characters. At least once a week we get a message like yours for someone whose special day has been upset by someone like this guy. Sometimes it’s the caterers, other times the photographers, the dressmakers or a long list of people. I don’t understand why they don’t get that weddings aren’t like most other events. Birthdays, anniversaries, leaving parties, they can all be repeated but you can’t repeat a wedding.

That’s why we’re entitled to expect a much higher level of service with wedding services. We’re should be able to rely on wedding service providers to be better than everyone else, the occasions is too important to mess around.

I contacted this guy and he wasn’t too pleased to hear from me. He SMSed me saying: “Wow. Its a Watchdog issue now. From Aunts calling to watchdog. Well tell her that her refund is processed, it shall reflect in her Account tommorow”. We’ll see if he keeps to his word!

Update: Two days later he paid P1,800 into her account. No sign yet of the remainder but we’ll keep chasing him!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The constant war

It’s a sad truth but the war against crooks and their abuse will never end. Crooks are just part of life and even though we can win some battles they’re never going to go away. We’ll never actually win the war when some people just seem naturally disposed to lying, stealing and cheating.

Let’s take Eurextrade as an example. You’ll remember that this was a Ponzi scheme that stole large amounts of money from many, many people in Botswana. Although most of the victims only handed over a few thousand Pula we heard of others who lost hundreds of thousands. We even heard of one particularly gullible (and let’s face it, greedy) victim who sold two houses and a Range Rover to raise money to “invest”. He ended up hospitalized when he realized that he’d never see that money ever again.

So you’d probably think that we’d have learned our lesson by now? That miracle investment schemes that promise “up to 2.9% daily” like Eurextrade did can’t be trusted? You’d think so but maybe not.

Just a few days ago someone alerted me to an advertisement on a Botswana-based Facebook group that said “WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? THE MOST UNBEATABLE LONGTERM INVESTMENT PROGRAM JOIN NOW. DONT LEFT BEHIND.”

The advert gave a link to the web site of “Invest Partnership” who make some remarkable offers. They claim that if you give them between $3,000 and $5,000 you can make 2% every day. Not so far away from the Eurextrade offer, is it?

They also claim that if you invest $2,500 for a mere seven days that you’ll make 15% every day, more than doubling your money in that week. Just for illustration I tried to work out how much money you’d make if you kept reinvesting your profits for an entire year and the answer was very simple. 400 billion times more money that there is in the entire world.

This is clearly absurd. What’s more absurd is that these crooks want us to trust them with our money when they don’t offer a physical address, a phone number or an email address and even though they say they’ve been operating for a year their web site was only registered a couple of weeks ago. Offering impossible profits isn’t the only warning sign, there are plenty of them.

Nevertheless I won’t be surprised if some people do hand over their cash because gullibility, greed and a desire for something for nothing will always emerge and will always be exploited.

It’s not all about gullibility and greed though. Those of us who go about our daily lives not expecting to make instant fortunes without effort, are also threatened by crooks.

Most people now know about card skimming. This is when a crook manages to make a copy of our debit and credit cards and then starts spending our money. There are usually two stages to this. Firstly the card has to be copied. This can be done remarkably quickly using a range of portable devices, some so small they can fit in your hand. All it takes is a quick swipe and the contents of the magnetic strip on your card are copied and are used to manufacturer a duplicate card. Then they do their best to get your PIN. This can be as easy as standing next to you in the queue at the ATM or by installing a hidden camera on the ATM machine itself. It can also be gathered from a phishing attack when you give you card details away on a fake version of your bank’s web site.

With both the contents of the magnetic stripe and your PIN the crooks can be spending your money within minutes. Just last week we heard from a consumer who woke up one morning to find a series of SMSs on his phone telling him how much money he’d spend overnight in Peru. Needless to say, he’d never even been to Peru.

Last week Barclays took the lead in educating us on these issues. They brought some of their regional fraud experts to Gaborone to run workshops on the problems. Despite what many people think there are success stories. For instance, following investigations by banks and police forces so far this year over P200 million has been recovered from crooks around Africa and a number of them are now serving long prison sentences for the crimes.

One thing that Barclays’ experts were able to confirm was a suspicion we’d long had that the crooks who skim cards are very well organized. They’re also into other crimes including land fraud, theft, carjacking, armed robberies, drug smuggling, computer hacking, ID fraud and even assassinations. They really are organized crime.

One of the most important things they mentioned was a new threat that has only recently emerged. Fake POS devices. We’re all familiar with the machines our debit cards are swiped through when we buy things in stores and restaurants. The new threat is from fake versions of the portable versions of these devices. A waiter (who’s part of the conspiracy) will approach you when you want to pay and will swipe your card through a fake machine and ask you to enter your PIN, just like normal. However he or she will then apologize saying the transaction didn’t work and they’ll get another machine. The second one is genuine and your payment will work normally this time. Meanwhile the details from your magnetic strip and your PIN were recorded by the fake machine and transmitted to Peru (or wherever this particular gang are based).

At the moment the only solution is a mixture of public education and consumer vigilance.

Well done to Barclays for doing the first bit. Now it’s up to us to be vigilant.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I need assistance, we bought a laptop from Hi-Fi Corporation late July, early October the laptop failed to charge, it would display a message that says plugged in but not charging. We took it back to the shop, they had said the motherboard had a problem so they were taking it for repairs and they said their turn around time is 21 days. They said they will call within 21 days to notify us of any progress regarding the laptop. They said if it is not fixed in 21 days they will replace it with a new one. After 21 days we went back to shop, and they told us the laptop was still with the supplier, we then demanded a new one as promised, and they said they will get it from the suppliers and we should collect it the following day. When we came the following day we were told we can not get a new one because the repairs company said there was nothing wrong with the laptop. We asked them to check and show us that indeed there was nothing wrong with it and it still displayed the message and it still failed to charge. They took the laptop again, and said they did not know when we will get it back, they still refused to honour their 21 day promise. What should we do here?

It sounds like there’s been a mistake here and it wasn’t you that made it. I like HiFi Corporation’s policy that if something can’t be repaired within 21 days you get a brand new replacement. More stores should adopt this policy.

We contacted the management about this and they promised to look into the situation and confirmed that the policy still stands.

A couple of days later we received the following message from the reader:

“We went back there, the manager was very apologetic and said he was shocked by the treatment we got. We did not get the same brand as it was out of stock. We got a Dell that was P400 more and he gave us P300 discount. We only paid a 100 on top of the P4,200 and got a 4.6 machine. Thank u so much for assisting me.”

Excellent result. HiFi Corporation dealt with the situation with maturity and common sense. I wish more stores would behave like this!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Consumer Alert: Invest Partnership

Remember Eurextrade?

Here comes another Ponzi scheme that sounds remarkably similar.

Invest Partnership makes some extraordinary claims:

2% per day is a remarkable return. Impossibly remarkable. On their blog they go even further, claiming that they can offer up to 15% each day. This is simply impossible. No investment scheme can ever offer such returns.

Like all such schemes they give no real clues about how they would make such amazing returns, saying only that they provide “superior investment returns by placing its on Forex market”. Clearly English isn’t their first language.

It’s also curious that they don’t appear to have a physical address, phone number or email address. They claim to have been operating since November 2013 but it’s also curious that their domain name and web page, the only mechanism for investing with them, was only registered on 14th October this year. And guess where it was registered? Panama. Do you remember where Eurextrade was registered? Yes, you guessed it, Panama as well.

Please don’t even think of “investing” your money in this scheme. Do you really want to be another victim?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Virtual training?

We were asked: "Help is this real or another scam?"

This is a link to a Facebook group for something just called "Online Courses" which links to a web site for "Online Colleges | Online Courses | Online Colleges in the UK".

This site lists a number of "colleges" and facilities:

Each of these establishments has its own web site which you can see here:
A little bit of detective work later and something curious emerged. Each of these four establishments have exactly the same address: Cardiff House, Cardiff Road, Barry, CF63 2AW in Wales in the UK. This is what that address looks like:

In fact this is nothing more than an accommodation address, "The Business Centre", which offers a range of business services including "Virtual Offices" which they describe as:
"an extremely cost effective option offering all the benefits of a serviced office without the physical office – simply; a telephone answering service with a business address and access to a range of business support services.
The virtual office service is ideal for those who work from home, or industrial unit or on the road but recognise the value of having a prestigious business address and reception service to create the right impression of your business."
Then there are the companies themselves.
  • London Home Learning. No trace of this company being registered in the UK. Web site registered on 4th December 2013.
  • Oxford Home Study College. Registered as a UK company on 17th December 2013. Web site registered 2 days later.
  • Brentwood Open Learning College. Registered as a UK company on 17th September 2009. Web site registered the day before.
  • Staff Training Solutions. No trace of this being a registered company in the UK. Web site registered on 8th June 2013.
I have no comment to make on the quality of the courses these people offer or their registration with the relevant authorities. All I say is that you can and should judge a company that offers training services by how they operate and the slightly shady way they present themselves.

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and it’s time for everyone to go slightly mad.

Almost all of us do it, even those who set a budget and who plan very carefully. There’s always that extra present, that temptation in the store, that once-in-a-lifetime deal we can’t refuse.

The result is that we overspend as well as over-eat and over-drink and we end up paying the price in the New Year, often for most of the following year. However, unlike the inevitable weight gain, the financial burdens can’t easily be removed by cutting back a little for a few months.

So, in anticipation of the spending frenzy so many of us will engage in, here’s a few tips for avoiding a horrible Christmas aftermath.

The first lesson is the boring one. Set a budget and stick to it. Make a rational decision about how much you can afford to spend, add up the prices of the essentials you need to buy and don’t go over that amount. Yes, I know it’s simple to say and harder to do, but we really have to be mature about spending at this time of year.

Perhaps the smartest thing you can do when shopping is to shop around. Don’t just accept the price offered in the first store you visit, check out several stores and you’ll be surprised by how much prices can vary. Then, if you’re still feeling loyal to your favorite store even though they have what you want at a higher price, ask them if they’ll price-match the cheaper store. Some stores even have a policy of price-matching their competition. All it takes is for you to politely mention to a supervisor that the other store has the item for less and you might be surprised how willingly they’ll knock the price down. I know someone who saved over P500 this way, just by asking. That’s enough to get another really nice present, several bottles of wine and could easily pay for one of the many family Christmas meals you have to endure (sorry, I meant enjoy).

You should also be practical when you things. Ask questions about the store’s returns policy in case the thing you buy is the wrong size or even just isn’t wanted. It can do no harm to ask and it might save you money and disappointment if the present you choose doesn’t go down as well as you hoped.

You really must ask about warranties and guarantees. For instance if you buy your spoiled offspring a fancy new phone (and as an Apple fan it pains me to say this) you should think about those manufacturers like Samsung that now offer a 2-year warranty rather then the normal 1-year promise. They also offer a free screen replacement if it gets damaged. Factors like those should be a major part of your decision. However all of this depends on you buying a legitimate Samsung phone, not a suspicious grey import.

While on the subject of technology here’s another tip. Surf the web before you spend any serious money on tech. Read online reviews and reports from other people who bought the item you’re considering. I wish I’d done that before splashing out on a new laptop for our office a few months ago. It’s from a perfectly respectable manufacturer and was in the middle price range so I expected things to be fine but it quickly became clear that the screen is really very poor. It’s a real eye-strain maker. However if I’d just spent a few minutes web-surfing before handing over the money I would have found that many other people around the world have made exactly the same comment. It hurts their eyes as well. Do yourself a favor and trust other people’s experiences.

Above all trust the experts. Look for leading online reviewers and see what they have to say. It’s their business, they’re paid to do expert reviews and they can be trusted. Before buying my latest phone I found one site that had written a 12-page review to the device, looking at every possible thing it does and making detailed, practical observations that helped me confirm that it’s what I wanted. I’m confident that I’m not going to be disappointed.

Above all, here’s the Number One tip for buying at Christmas. This one, if you can follow it, will save you a fortune.

Don’t buy on credit.

It’s really that simple. Buying on credit or its even more evil cousin, hire purchase, is a disaster waiting to happen. It really is a staggeringly expensive way to buy things. If you buy something over 2 years you’ll probably pay about twice the cash price and that’s before you face the risk of repossession and ruining your credit history if something goes wrong.

It’s probably too late now that we’re in November but the very best way to have an affordable Christmas is to save for it throughout the year, maybe putting a little bit aside every month in a savings account and even earning a little interest on it. Do the maths.

Instead of making hire purchase payment for two years put the same monthly amount away for just one year and you’ll be able to buy the same item for cash and you’ll actually own it. Nobody can then come round and seize it if you’re strapped for cash one month.

One last lesson. A very simple one. If you haven’t got it already get some home insurance. How are you going to feel if everything you bought is stolen or destroyed in an accident? Insurance might seem expensive but it’s not nearly as expensive as not having it.

The best present Father Christmas can bring anyone is financial common sense. Put that on your Christmas wish list.