Sunday, 26 July 2015

How to deal with a complaint. I'm celebrating The Braai Place.

Read and learn.

We had a complaint from a customer of The Braai Place. It’s a long story but it involved her delivery meal arriving very late and then apparently some rudeness from the delivery driver.

We contacted the management of The Braai Place and this was their response:
“Bad News Indeed! Its never a good day to receive such news but such is the nature of the beast. We are only getting wind of this incident through your correspondence and we investigated immediately. Suffice to say the version of events we are receiving is somewhat different, but in cases such as these, where the sequence of events is in dispute, we rely entirely on the customer’s account of events. As such we have instituted immediate disciplinary proceedings against our driver, whose actions we believe were entirely unacceptable. All our drivers have been instructed to refer such matters to the operations manager and not take matters into their own hands. So with that in mind we are ready and willing to offer an unreserved apology to our valued customer, either directly or through Consumer Watchdog.”
THAT is how you deal with a complaint. See the complaint through the eyes of the customer and, unless they’re a psychopath, respect them enough to believe them. Then apologise. Like you really mean it.

I’m not here to advertise the Braai Place but I think they deserve our respect for dealing with a complaint with such maturity and self-confidence. Good for them.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Unhealthy nonsense

I can cope with stories of consumers receiving poor service. It makes me angry on their behalf but I can manage that. I can even cope with gullible consumers falling victim to scammers, even though I’d sometimes dearly like to acquaint the scammer with the wrong end of a cricket bat.

What gets me really angry, really VERY angry is people who offer us products they claim can improve our health.

Luckily the newspaper industry has cleaned up its act in the last few years and we no longer see adverts from the so-called “traditional healers” who offered cures for all sorts of diseases and ailments as well as offering to enlarge and shrink various parts of our anatomy. They still exist of course but they are now much more of an underground industry.

The threats we now see are from what is often perceived as the more legitimate “alternative” or “complementary” medicine industry.

It’s important to begin with a simple observation. There’s no such thing as “alternative medicine”. There are things that treat and cure disease, which we call medicine, and other stuff that doesn’t, that we call hogwash.

Perhaps the best example of alternative “medicine”, because it illustrates what utter nonsense it can be, is homeopathy.

The idea behind homeopathy is quite simple. Homeopaths believe that an illness can be best treated with minute quantities of a substance that produces symptoms similar to those of the ailment. For instance, to cure a fever, homeopaths argue that you should take minute quantities of a substance that produces symptoms similar to those of a fever. Of course there is absolutely no evidence that this is true. In fact what the evidence DOES show is that it’s all utter nonsense.

Homeopathy can’t work for a very simple reason: dilution. Homeopathic remedies are so diluted that they contain no active ingredients. Homeopathic "remedies" are produced by repeatedly diluting a sample of the supposedly active ingredient. A homeopath might take a 1% solution of the ingredient and dilute it further to 1% of it’s original strength. And then again, repeatedly, each time to 1% of the previous strength. After 10 generations of this process the strength of the solution has gone from 1 in a hundred to 1 in one hundred million trillion. In fact the most common forms of homeopathic remedy are actually diluted in this way thirty times, not just ten. After thirty dilutions there’s simply nothing left of the original ingredient, not even a single molecule. Homeopathic remedies don’t contain anything other than water.

So how do homeopaths claim it works? Apparently the water in which this ingredient once resided "remembers" that it once contained the substance in question. Homeopaths talk seriously about "the molecular memory of water". You have to ask, even if there was such a process, why would it only remember the substance you want it to? What about all the other substances the water might have encountered? It’s all completely absurd.

Want another absurdity? The principle of homeopathic "succussion" states that the remedy only becomes really effective if you hit it against something firm up to 100 times between each dilution. I promise you I am NOT making this up.

Homeopathy is nonsense. It flies in the face of all that we have learnt over the last couple of thousand of years in the fields of chemistry, physics and biology as well contradicting basic common sense.

So you’ll be asking whether homeopathy ever been actually tested? Maybe there is something magical going on that allows it to work?

No. Every single time homeopathy has been put to the test, and I mean rigorous scientific, double-blinded testing, it has failed completely. Of course we shouldn’t be surprised, it simply can’t work because there’s nothing in a massively dliuted homeopathic remedy that could possibly have any effect.

Unfortunately for the alternative medicine industry the same goes for every other treatment they offer. Reflexology, the practice of manipulating your feet because it’s claimed that each part of your foot magically connects to the organs of your body is also nonsense and simply doesn’t work. Acupuncture, which involves tiny needles being inserted into your skin and which its proponents say modifies the flow of energy or “chi” through “meridians” around your body is also ineffective. Every time it’s been tested scientifically it’s come out no better than a placebo.

It’s the same for the silly boxes of electronic tricks called QXCI (or sometimes SCIO or ESPX) that its proponents say can cure “any disease”.

They say that this device is:
“an incredibly acurate (sic) biofeedback stress reduction system, combining the best of biofeedback, stress reduction, Rife machines, homeopathic medicine, bioresonance, electro-acupuncture, computer technology and quantum physics”.
In case you are wondering what the letters QXCI stands for, it’s “Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface”. Here’s a free consumer tip. Anyone who uses the word “quantum” when they are trying to sell you something is a fraud or a fool. Or both.

And another thing. The Food and Drug Administration banned these bogus devices from importation into the USA several years ago. In an interview with the Seattle Times a spokesman for the FDA said:
“This is pure, blatant fraud. The claims are baloney. These people prey in many cases on consumers who are desperate in seeking cures for very serious diseases.”
The same goes for all these so-called “alternative” treatments. Don’t waste your money on them and please, I beg you, don’t risk your health on them.

Some might ask if these treatments are ineffective, then where’s the harm? The problem is that people often use them instead of the real thing. Then the risk is as serious as it gets. Their lives are at stake. Anyone selling an “alternative” remedy that is then taken instead of a real medicine has blood on their hands.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Hotel Express again

I need your assistance, there is a company called Hotel Express that called my dad and took money from his card. The lady who called never explained that she was selling membership and my dad never agreed nor was he aware that they will withdraw money from his account.

We have been trying to call them and they don't pick up our calls, It seem to me they screen numbers for complaints, your first time call it will be answered immediately there after they will never ever pick up your calls.

First things first. Hotel Express International is a legitimate company that offers discounts on hotel stays and other vacation experiences in return for an annual membership fee. However it’s not quite as simple as that sounds. Firstly not all hotels offer these discounts and those that do only have limited rooms available so it’s perfectly possible that the hotel you want won’t offer you the discount. Also the discount is from the hotel’s “rack rate” which is the often-inflated price a hotel will quote, solely so they can offer “discounts”.

My biggest objection to their scheme is that I don’t see why anyone should pay for a discounted hotel stay when hotels often give these discounts away for free. One of my colleagues recently stayed in a hotel in Francistown for almost half the normal price just by booking the room online rather than by phone. I’m writing this column from a hotel in South Africa that I booked using Bid2Stay where you are allowed to offer that hotel chain what you would like to pay. On this occasion I got a 40% discount, just by using their web site. I didn’t need to pay anything to get the discount.

More importantly there seems to be a problem with the way Hotel Express International sell their membership scheme.

We’ve heard many times from consumers who have been “cold called” by them and who have been asked for their credit or debit card details, to “check your eligibility”, or to check “if you’re eligible for Gold membership”. If asked, they assure them that they won’t actually be charged but within minutes of giving out their card number and hanging up the phone, their cellphone beeps and they see they’ve charged the full amount, anything from about P1,600 up to P3,500.

The lessons are simple. Please don’t EVER give out your card numbers to strangers over the phone whatever they promise you. Secondly don’t waste money joining discount schemes when you can get the same discounts elsewhere for free. Why waste your money?

Meanwhile we’ll contact Hotel Express International to find out what they can do for your dad.

Scammers don’t give refunds

I would like to enquire if it is possible for Watchdog to help me get back my money from Three Link Connections owned by Daisy Mogale. I have been expecting the payment since 2012. I went into a business transaction whereby I partnered with Daisy Mogale, the director of Three Link Connections, to supposedly buy goods at China which Three Link Connection was to distribute and share the profit. I have copies of the contracts which I signed. I wrote them a letter in 2013 which I never got a response to. Hoping for a positive response.

Three Link Connection organisers meeting their victims
in April 2013. Nice office. (It's a branch of Wimpy.)
Unfortunately there is very little chance you’ll get your money back. Three Link Connection was a scam. They claimed that they were helping people to buy products in China and then import them to southern Africa to sell at twice the price and their contracts even promised to double people’s money within 30 days. You know what we say, that if something SEEMS too good to be true then it IS too good to be true. There are no schemes that can double your money in a month. They simply don’t exist.

Daisy Mogale, the woman behind TLC, has a long history in the scam industry having operated an identical scheme before TLC. I called her once and she was defiant. Her victims in Botswana were “all liars” she said. The lesson is a simple one. Anyone promising you quick and massive returns on an investment is a liar.

Update: I heard later that the person writing this letter had “invested” over P250,000 in the scam. There is no chance at all that she’ll get even a thebe back. Be warned and learn from her experience!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Scams evolve - EmGoldex becomes Global InterGold

Just like Success University evolved into WorldVentures, EmGoldex has metamorphosed into Global InterGold. Same business model, same Ponzi scheme.

Thanks to my friend Kasey Chang, see here for more.

Regardless of their superficial characteristics, they are all the same species. Scammers.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Regulations

It’s time again to go over some of the rules about how stores, in fact anyone who sells you anything must behave. These are the rules listed in the Consumer Protection Regulations, these are the things that everyone should know about before the even consider buying things. These are the rules that can protect you and your money.

Perhaps the most useful of all the Regulations is Section 13 (1) (a) which says that commodities and services must be “of merchantable quality”. The Regulations define this as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased". What this means in simple terms is that things should work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cellphone, a laptop, a car or a sofa, it should do what it’s meant to do.

It also means that if something goes wrong or breaks (and it wasn’t your fault) you are entitled to return it to the store to have one of the three ‘R’s: a refund, repair or a replacement. Critically though, the store can decide which of the three ‘R’s you get. A store is within its rights to try and repair something to begin with. However it that doesn’t work (and we’ve heard of people who had to take a laptop back for repair five or six times) you are entitled to tell the store that the product is clearly not of merchantable quality and you need a replacement or a refund. That’s what you’re entitled to get.

Here’s another thing. It doesn’t matter whether the product came with a warranty or not. Even if the store offers no warranty they must still obey the “merchantable quality” and “fit for the purpose” tests.

Section 13 (1) (c) is just as useful. It says that a store can’t claim that something “is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand. It means that items previous customers have returned or which have been repossessed or items that were on display in the store can’t be sold as new, the store must be perfectly honest about this. No exceptions. New means new.

Section 13 (1) (e) is one that we should all know about. It’s one that protects us against a very common type of abuse that’s probably affected every one of us. I know it’s affected me. Have you ever reached the checkout of a store only to find that the price you’re charged is not the same as the price on the shelf or the price in the advertisement? This section says that items must be sold "as advertised or represented”. Remember that next time there’s a problem with the price you’re charged. Don’t let stores get away with it.

The next one sounds vague but it’s actually hugely powerful. Section 15 (1) (a) says that services must be offered “with reasonable care and skill”. You can’t expect miracles from a supplier when they deliver a service but you can expect the services you’re paying for to be delivered reasonably well and by people who have reasonable levels of knowledge and talent. Next time your mechanic, your computer technician, your electrician, plumber or carpenter screws up, remind them of this one.

The next one is one of my favourites. Section 15 (1) (b) says that you cannot claim “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. You want an example? Syntek's "Xtreme Fuel Treatment" product has been sold by a number of people around Botswana for a couple of years.

Their South African web site makes a number of claims about the product including that it: “dramatically reduces the amount of harmful emissions produced by your vehicle or equipment”, “prolongs engine life” and that it “increases fuel mileage and economy.” They also claim that it “changes the surface structure of the fuel to achieve a more efficient combustion process."

But is there actually an evidence that this product works?

Absolutely none. The so-called “evidence” that the distributors sent me was nothing of the sort. There is, to this day, precisely no evidence that their product does anything at all apart from make a few people at the top of their distribution pyramid very rich.

Obviously they’re breaking this section of the regulations by making these claims.

A few sections later your right to get a refund is confirmed. Section 15 (1) (e) says that when a contract or a deal is cancelled according to the terms of the agreement or of law, you are entitled to have any deposit you’ve made refunded. It even says that you are entitled to get the refund “promptly”. We heard some while ago from a consumer who cancelled the purchase of some furniture when the store failed to deliver it after several weeks. She was perfectly within her rights to do this because they had completely failed to meet their side of the bargain. However the store told her that she couldn’t have a refund because they had no cash. Presumably they hadn’t heard of bank transfers? Instead they suggested she come back at the end of the month when other customers would have paid their hire purchase installments and the store would have lots of cash.

Does that sound like “promptly” to you? It didn’t to us either. We called the store and miraculously the store suddenly found that there were, in fact, able to find the money to refund her.

These are just some of the Regulations that you can use to protect yourself. Memorize a few of them and I guarantee you’ll be less likely to be a victim of abuse.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

When can I get my laptop back?

Someone suggested me to you. I have a bit of a problem.

I took my laptop for repairs on the 8th of April and they told me to check after 21 days, I got there and they told me they can't fix it because the warrant expired on the 16th but I told them I brought it before that, and now they are delaying me because they told me they'll give me a new one or give my cash back and I have been calling and calling but nothing has changed. All they say is that they'll give me feedback in a week but they never call. It's been three months now since they had it. Please help me get my cash back?

Firstly I congratulate you for sticking up for your rights when you reminded them that the date when you brought the laptop back was the date that mattered. You took it back within the warranty period and that’s all that counts.

The big issue is how long it should take to get a laptop repaired. 21 days is probably reasonable if they are sending it to another company who do the warranty repairs for them but they’ve gone way past 21 days. Asking you to wait for three months is just silly.

Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that companies must offer services “with reasonable care and skill”. You can’t expect miracles but you DO have a right to expect that a company will do things like repair a computer in a reasonable time and reasonably skillfully. That’s your right. Taking three months can’t possibly be described as “reasonable”.

Update: We contacted the manager of the store in question and his reaction was a bit better. He immediately authorized a replacement. Shame it took so long.

She wants a new bedroom suite!

I hope you can help this lady who is my neighbor. Her daughter bought her a bedroom suite on credit back in 2013, the daughter is studying abroad. The bedroom furniture was delivered after sometime as they said they were out of stock, when it was delivered, the owner said she was not home therefore her grandson received it on her behalf, when she got home she discovered that the furniture was old, it had been repossessed elsewhere, she went to the store and the manager told her that she should keep it till they had stock of the furniture then they would replace it. She asked them to take it back as the furniture was not in good condition, the dressing table mirror had a crack, the headboard paint was chipped and the stool cover torn but they did not do that. Last year she went back to the manager when they would collect the furniture and bring her new furniture but they kept saying they were waiting for new stock. Late last year she went back and asked for a refund but the manager refused instead sent one of the store assistants to go and take a look at the furniture, she reported back saying the furniture was okay. She is still paying installments for the new furniture. Please sir can you intervene. Thank you.

Naughty store!

Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that a store has broken the rules if “representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”. In simple terms: new means new. A store is forbidden from delivering second-hand goods when the customer is expecting new ones. It’s just not allowed. Any item that has been already used, already sold to someone else and later repossessed or that has been on display cannot be sold as new.

Here’s a tip for stores. If you have such items, sell them at a discount. Customers love a discount and it’s the best way to get rid of those second-hand or display items you can’t sell as new.

I cannot possibly understand why this store has taken this long, two years, to give your neighbour what she actually bought, a new bedroom suite, not a second-hand one.

We’ll get in touch with this store and explain this to them in very simple terms so they understand what they need to do to make this up to your neighbour.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Be careful what you eat

Few things are more important to consumers than food safety. We all eat and it doesn’t matter where the food we eat comes from, it has the potential to harm us.

The problem is not just poor food hygiene, it’s also an area full of charlatans. I’ve been told in the past that things would be better if we all ate a more traditional, perhaps even organic diet. But that’s simply not true. The danger from food poisoning is actually significantly greater from organically produced foods than ordinary food, mainly because of contamination with the E. coli bacteria found in manure, the organic food movement’s favorite fertilizer. On the other hand the risk posed to us by modern fertilizers is almost negligible because of the truly minute amounts that might be found on the food we buy. In fact the only area where organic food is superior to ordinary food is the price. Not for you and me, for the producers.

What’s much more important is the quality of food we buy and the manner in which it is transported, stored and sold to us.

That’s where the really bad news can be found. In the last few months our undercover mystery shoppers have discovered a wide range of food hygiene offences. I don’t just mean some items that are a day or two out of date, I mean pieces of chicken that were already turning slightly green, pork that was two weeks out of date and on one occasion, packets of frozen seafood mix that had expired 14 months beforehand. What’s worse with that last item was that you could tell from the amount of ice surrounding the seafood that the package had already defrosted and frozen at least once. That particular item was going to kill someone. When we alerted the store they were, to their credit, horrified and immediately tried to identify how it had happened. It turns out that the item was already over a year out of date when it was delivered to their store.

Over the last couple of months there has been widespread concern about Maggi noodles which had been withdrawn from sale in India in June. Many people wondered whether this affected us in Botswana as well.

This scare started when the Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority undertook tests that appeared to show that levels of lead in the noodles were much higher than permitted. Their report said that they "found presence of lead at 17.2 ppm". (“ppm” means "parts per million") whereas the permitted level in India is only 2.5 ppm.

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.

However NestlĂ©, who manufacture these noodles, disagreed. They conducted their own tests which they say showed that the official results were wrong. They claim their results “show that lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations and that MAGGI noodles are safe to eat”. The authorities in India are now locked in a court battle with NestlĂ© arguing about whose results are correct and “issues of interpretation of the Food Safety and Standards Act”.

Following the Indian ban and after a consumer group made a complaint 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 also took samples to test and concern grew here in Botswana. People posted links to scare stories on Facebook and we were contacted by a range of newspapers and radio stations for advice on who consumers should believe and what we should do to protect ourselves.

Luckily for us in Botswana the problem doesn’t seem to affect us. The Maggi noodles we buy don’t come from the same source as the Indian ones. Also tests have since been done in Singapore, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and the noodles, even ones imported from India, have been given the all clear.

So do people think we’re well protected in Botswana when it comes to food safety? We recently did a small survey on Facebook (yes, I admit it’s hugely unscientific) and asked members of the Consumer Watchdog group how well protected they felt they were. The news for the authorities is bleak. Only 1% said that they felt well protected. 80% said they felt either badly or very badly protected.

Of course surveys don’t mean reality, they just reflect perceptions but it’s still bad news if people don’t think they’re well protected. It means that the authorities aren’t communicating well enough on the work they do and the protections they offer us.

Part of the problem is that nobody really knows how widespread food poisoning is in Botswana. Doctors might be able to record and report such things to the authorities but that requires people to actually go to the doctor if they become unwell as a result of something they ate. But do they actually do that? I know I don’t and I suspect you don’t either but what about everyone else?

Again we asked our Facebook group how likely they would be to visit a doctor if they had a non-life-threatening case of food poisoning. Only 11% said they would be likely or very likely to consult a doctor. As you can work out 89% said they were unlikely or very unlikely. In fact 71% of them said they would be very unlikely to do so.

I think it’s fair to say that nobody knows how much food poisoning there is out there and how high the risk might be.

So the lesson remains simple. The best (and perhaps the only) person who can protect you against poor quality food is yourself.