Friday, 29 August 2014

It's not funny

A lot of what we see at Consumer Watchdog is amusing.

However that might just be a reaction to some of the more absurd things we encounter. Our natural response is often to laugh rather than shout and scream and wave our fists around.

A few days ago a crook, liar and abuser of women calling himself "Healer Nkunumbi” managed to sneak past our extensive Facebook group screening process and posted a message in the Consumer Watchdog group, selling his preposterous services.

His claims were certainly extraordinary. His post said this:
"lost lover, Marriage problems, stop your partner from cheating on you, Men and women who can’t have Babies. Breast, Hips, Bums, penis cream/. Business boost, Penis Enlargement and power in all sizes. Win court cases, promotion at work. Is your situation getting worse? Find us in Gaborone, Botswana Cell phone: +267 75988645"

The reaction from other members of our Facebook group was predictable. A mixture of outrage, surprise and sarcasm with comments like: "This should be illegal", "Move over you marriage counsellors, fertility specialists, plastic surgeons, business coaches/mentors, lawyers, etc., this Healer Nkunumbi fellow is all that and more.", "Lets see your penis then we'll know you mean business lol", "u got to give it to him though, he got balls,of steel, advertising scam on a page that seeks to protect people from scammers, thats like selling weed in a court of law", " how did he manage to join this group? should be arrested", "This guy has solutions to some of people's biggest problems, he should be the world's richest person!", "'Penis enlargement & power in all sizes' this 1 kills me,i cnt stop laughing", "The irony of it is that end of the day not only he doesn't heal anyone but it's the naive people who fall for him that heal his pockets and solve his money problems"

As you can see members of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group are a smart bunch of skeptics.

We called "Healer Nkunumbi" to hear what he said. You can listen to the 4-minute call made by a colleague who pretended to be having problems getting pregnant if you visit our blog or Facebook group.

[You can hear my later calls to Healer Nkunumbi here and here.]

Of course this is all very silly and humorous. "Healer Nkunumbi" is a rather comical character with his preposterous claims and his ridiculous offers of miracle remedies.

But he’s not just funny. He’s also dangerous.

I worry about the vulnerable people who might, as a result of desperation and despair, resort to his offerings. A woman with fertility problems or an illness might be tempted to give him a try if everything else has failed. So where’s the harm in that, you might ask, if everything else has failed?

The first potential harm is doubt. Who actually is this guy? What are his qualifications? What skills does he actually have, if any? We have no real idea what and who he is.

Then there’s the chance that he might actually do something rather than just talking about it. When he sees a woman with fertility problems is he going to examine her? Is he going to touch her? Given the nature of her problems a real doctor would obviously do a detailed physical examination so he’s probably going to feel like he should do so too. How would you react if you heard that an unknown man had touched your mother, sister, daughter or partner in such a way? I know what my reaction would be.

Then there’s the risk that he’ll offer her some sort of treatment for her condition and who knows what that might be. Chances are it’s be some entirely useless herbal concoction but there’s a chance whatever he gives her might actually have an effect and that’s dangerous.

Unlike the Panado you buy from a pharmacy where you can be certain that every tablet contains exactly 500mg of paracetamol, you have no idea what so-called traditional healers are giving you or what effect it might have. That’s why the majority of people see no effect whatsoever and the rest often end up dead.

I often find myself going through the same thought process when we encounter a scammer. Of course their stories are ridiculous and we have a lot of fun calling them and baiting them but that often overlooks the pain and suffering they cause. They obviously cause financial hardship when they steal money from their victims but there’s also the romantic scammers who break someone’s heart along the way. Yes, of course the victims are often enormously gullible but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer.

It’s ironic that sometimes the funnier and more extraordinary the scam appears the more successful it will be.

A researcher from Microsoft, Cormac Herley, pointed out that scammers do their very best to exclude skeptics in their first email. By making the clues as comically obvious as possible, every person possessing even just a trace of skepticism will reject it immediately, leaving only the na├»ve and gullible potential victims behind. The scammer won’t waste any of his time trying to persuade skeptics to part with their money because they’ve already ruled themselves out.

As Herley said, the: “initial email is effectively the attacker’s classifier: it determines who responds, and thus who the scammer attacks (i.e., enters into email conversation with). The goal of the email is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the non-viable ones, who greatly outnumber them.”

That’s the challenge to us all. To remember that behind every comical story of abuse there’s often abuse, tragedy and exploitation.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Good day. I would like for you to check out a Canadian company that offered me employment. They initially sent me an email saying that they were hiring and that I should check out their website for available post. I went through the site and it seemed genuine. I emailed the contact provided on the site, and the sent me an e-interview to fill out, and send my qualifications through. I did that and they sent me an offer letter.

I would like for you to check if this company is real and that it is not just some scam. I will forward all the correspondence I have had with them as well as the documentation I sent through and what they gave me.

The job offer was received from Naheel Ismaeel Seyam, secretary/announcer email address nseyam@hmc.org.qa. The candidate questionnaire, was received from Dr Maxwell Delgado, manager HR department email address hrm1@victechdrillingltd.com. After I forwarded answers to the e-interview, they sent me confirmation of appointment and acceptance letter. The emails also came from Dr Maxwell Delgado.

I hope you will be able to assist me at your earliest convenience.


This is undoubtedly a scam. The first clue is that this isn't how recruitment companies operate. Genuine recruitment companies don't email strangers offering them jobs and they certainly don't hire based solely on "an e-interview". They also don’t offer people they’ve never met a package that includes things like $5,700 (P45,000) per month after tax, a pension, stock options, free flights, free accommodation and “Payment of your initial six (6) months upfront salary”.

This is the beginning of an "advance fee" scam. They want money up-front. In the small print it says: "You are to take responsibility for your ICC fees".

That's what it's all about, a fee you have to pay them before you get anything in return. There is no job, no company, no recruiter, nothing about this is genuine apart from the money they want from you.

Anyone who gets an email like this offering a fabulously well-paid job should just delete it. Don't waste your time or money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I would like to know the difference between "Best Before", "Sell By" and "Expiry Date".


The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations define what all of these terms mean and you can see a full description of each on our blog. However in simple terms the “Best before” and “Expiry” or “Use by” dates are the dates before which the food should be in an edible condition. The “Sell by” date is the last day the store can sell the item.

When you're in a store, you certainly shouldn’t buy anything that is at or beyond any of these dates. If you do see such an item it’s your right (and I believe your duty) to tell the store manager immediately to help protect other consumers.

Personally I wouldn't even buy something that's expiring within a couple of days, particularly if it's a high-risk item because I don’t know how long it’s going to stay in my fridge before I eat it. You should always think carefully about how long you’re likely to store something before buying it.

You should also use some common sense with "use by", "expiry" and "best before" dates. It depends very much on what the food is. If it's meat, fish or poultry then be very careful about the dates. On the other hand if it's an apple then you can be less fussy.

Either way, use your eyes and your nose with ALL foodstuffs. Millions of years of evolution have given us senses that can often tell us when things we want to put inside our bodies are likely to harm us. Ask your partner, relative, housemate or whoever is standing close enough, "Does that smell OK to you?" before you cook or eat it.

So read the dates and take care with them but above all trust your senses. If in doubt don’t eat it.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The invisible machines out to steal your cash - Daily Telegraph

Image c/o Krebs on Security
An interesting story in the UK's Daily Telegraph on the card reading devices used to skim ATM cards.

The source is the Krebs on Security blog which you can see here. You can also see more pertinent advice from Krebs here.

Criminals are resourceful people and the only real weapon we consumers have against them is knowledge.

Lots of credit goes to professional like Brian Krebs but we really need a lot more information and action from the banks who we pay money to protect us. Yes, we do exactly that and I think we deserve more from them in return.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Healer Nkunumbi - in his own words.


Our good friend, the self-confessed criminal (see below) "Healer Nkunumbi" now understands that he's a criminal as well as an abuser of women.

I phoned him earlier to explain why I thought he was a crook and you can hear his responses here. I'm not sure he enjoyed the first call because he seemed to hang up on me after a while. However I called him back and that's when he admitted he was breaking the law.

You can hear the first call here and the second call here. However if you just want to hear the excerpt in which he admits he's breaking the law click here.

Some people have no shame.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Healer Nkunumbi - an abuser of women

A crook, liar and abuser of women calling himself "Healer" Nkunumbi managed to sneak past our extensive Facebook group screening process and posted a message in the Consumer Watchdog group, selling his preposterous services.

His claims are certainly extraordinary.
"lost lover, Marriage problems, stop your partner from cheating on you, Men and women who can’t have Babies. Breast, Hips, Bums, penis cream/. Business boost, Penis Enlargement and power in all sizes. Win court cases, promotion at work. Is your situation getting worse? Find us in Gaborone, Botswana
Cell phone: +267 75988645"
The reaction from other members of the group was predictable. A mixture of outrage, surprise and sarcasm:
"This should be illegal"

"Move over you marriage counsellors, fertility specialists, plastic surgeons, business coaches/mentors, lawyers, etc., this Healer Nkunumbi fellow is all that and more."

"Lets see ur penis then we'll know u mean business lol"

"u got to give it to him though,he got balls,of steel nogal,advertising scam on a page that seeks to protect people from scammers,thats like selling weed in a court of law"

"and how did he manage to join this group? shld be arrested"

"This guy has solutions to some of people's biggest problems, he should be the world's richest person!"

"'Penis enlargement & power in all sizes' this 1 kills me,i cnt stop laughing"

"The irony of it is that end of the day not only he doesn't heal anyone but it's the naive people who fall for him that heal his pockets and solve his money problems"
Members of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group are a smart bunch of skeptics. (They're also extremely good-looking and irresistible to members of their preferred gender.)

So we thought we'd call "Healer" and see what he said. You can hear the 4-minute call made by a colleague who pretended to be having problems conceiving if you click here.

There's nothing surprising here, just the mundane sound of a scumbag criminal about to extort money from a woman he thinks is desperate. That's why I think it's fair to describe him as an abuser of women. Guys, how would you feel if he abused your mother, sister or partner by mistreating them like this? And what exactly is he planning to do when he meets "Lebogang"? Is he going to examine her?

Even though there's a funny side to this nonsense, there's also a much more sinister element to it. We know he's a financial predator but what other type might he be?

Why not give him a call or send him a text message to tell him what you think of him and his services?

Fargo University - another fake

Fargo "University". It's the same old story, yet another self-styled "university" that offers fake degrees for nothing other than money.

The clues are in the online conversation I had with them.
Shawn McGill: Hello
[Me]: Hi
Shawn McGill: How are you ?
[Me]: I'm good thanks, and you?
Shawn McGill: I am good thank you.
Shawn McGill: How may I help you ?
[Me]: I need to get a Masters degree in Psychology as soon as possible to get a promotion.
Shawn McGill: Sure
[Me]: Is that possible with Fargo University?
Shawn McGill: What is the highest level of your qualification ? and how much working experience do you have in total ?
Shawn McGill: Yes it is possible
[Me]: I have a Bachelors degree in Psychology from Rochville University and I've been working for 10 years.
Shawn McGill: Great.
Shawn McGill: I believe you are looking for a life experience degree is that right ?
[Me]: Whatever it takes, I really need to get this promotion. The position requires a Masters degree in Psychology.
Shawn McGill: Ok
Shawn McGill: Let me explain you how the life experience program works .
[Me]: How long does it take to get a Masters degree from Fargo University?
Shawn McGill: 20 to 25 days
[Me]: Really? That quickly? Must I sit exams?
Shawn McGill: the program that you will be going through is know as PLA (Prior Learning Assessment)
[Me]: I don't have to sit any exams?
Shawn McGill: no you do not have to attempt any classes , courses or examination you will be awarded with a Master's Degree on basis of your working life experience.
[Me]: How much will this cost?
Shawn McGill: The official fee is $899 but after Appling the 50% Scholarship it will be $450
So for just $450 and no "classes , courses or examination" I can get a fake Masters degree in Psychology.

Anyone who buys one of these degrees is as much of a fraud as this bogus establishment.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Contempt

It was a bit of a let-down after the excitement of the Consumer Watchdog conference to get back to some old-fashioned contempt from suppliers. You know the type, the ones who don’t seem to give a damn about their customers, who show little interest in fixing problems when they arise.

A reader posted a complaint on our Facebook page.
“I took an inverter for solar power to a technician and he advised me it had blown 2 capacitors which he advised me to buy. I did. They both cost me P95. He advised he would fit. No quotation for the job was raised. My logical assumption was a reasonable charge not more than P200. After fixing, I am slapped with an invoice of P18,000. The inverter was imported from China and it cost me USD1,600 (P14,000 approx). Now to replace 2 capacitors I am made to pay more than its cost. I am held at ransom as I have to pay in order to get the inverter back.”
This is completely unreasonable. Firstly the technician should have offered the reader some sort of estimate or quotation for the work he planned to undertake. Instead he delivered an invoice for repairing the inverter that was even more than the price of buying a brand new one. All in return for installing two capacitors worth less than P200?

Yes, I know electrical devices require specialists to maintain them but this amount is ridiculous. Even if the cost is justifiable the technician should have notified his customer as soon as he realized it was going to be so expensive. Either way he should do his best to be a normal human being as well.

When I contacted him by SMS to see if reason could prevail I was disappointed. I asked him for his side of the story and his response was simple: “I dont have time for that”. I invited him to give a response to readers of Mmegi could understand his conduct better but his response was equally dismissive: “What ever”. I then heard from the reader who said the technician had been in touch saying that he "will not be intimidated by anyone" and is approaching attorneys about the situation. I tried one last time to see if he would see reason and asked if he had indeed threatened no longer to cooperate. His answer was direct. “Its not a threat but a fact”. He concluded by saying that I should “Go to hell”.

Clearly he’s not interested in decent behavior.

Another reader got in touch to tell a familiar tale. In April she received a call from someone calling on behalf of Deetha Leisure who say they have “a vision of offering travelling needs at an affordable rate and make travelling easy and affordable”. The caller and later his colleague offered her membership of their scheme for a mere R5,999.

You’ll have heard this story before, not with this particular company but with others in the same line of business. Despite not getting the explicit permission of the customer they’ve called they persuade them to disclose their credit or debit card details and before they know it the money has been taken from their account. If they’re lucky they then have a lengthy fight to get their money back. Sometimes they don’t.

She was very clear about how she felt.
“Much as I was interested in the product, I no longer want it due to the sheer dishonesty and unprofessional conduct of the two gentlemen and would therefore demand all my money back. I believe it is not right to take money that you and the customer have not agreed on.”
That’s perfectly reasonable. She deserved her money back as soon as possible, whereas in fact four months later they still haven’t repaid her. Last month one of their representatives emailed her admitting that they were late repaying her.
“Sorry for the inconvenience caused but I assure you as per our telephonic conversation the matter it's been dealt with yes I agree it's taking long and I must sincerely apologize for not being in contact or send you any correspondence regarding the matter at hand”.
So far, so good. But still no refund.

I emailed them asking when she would get her money back but things didn’t get any better. I was told that “this matter will be settled its only a matter of time as soon as we have finalized the date on our side she will be notified of the reimbursement”. When I asked when this was likely to be the answer was less than impressive: “as soon as the date is set for the reimbursement she will be notified”. Then they went silent.

This really isn’t good enough. We’ll keep applying pressure and see if they can summon up the decency to do the decent thing.

And finally yet another complaint about wedding and events suppliers. A reader asked:
“What action can one take in a case where you hire a photographer to take pictures and video at your event, You pay 80% in advance and he attends the event as agreed and did the job and promised to bring the package in two weeks. Three months passes without him showing any signs of delivery. I make follow-ups and he makes false promises and I get nothing. What action can one take in this scenario?”
What is it about people who supply services to weddings and events? Why are so many of them so unreliable? Luckily our recent experience during the conference was fantastic but that was only because we chose people we already knew were the very best available.

I don’t know yet how this photographer is going to respond but I get the impression that it’s going to a series of excuses. I suspect it’ll be nothing more than contempt.