Saturday, 8 December 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can’t I get my money back?

On the 23rd November I made a booking on booking.com at a lodge in Kasane. I was told to provide my credit card details and that the money will be deducted upon check in. My check in date is scheduled for 21st December 2018 and check out 25th December. The money P6,144 was deducted on 26th November instead.

I then spoke to a tour guide who advised me that the lodge has no TVs in the rooms. I then called the hotel only to find out that it is true and I was booked in a twin room and not a family room as I had thought. I cancelled the booking and was have been told that the money is non-refundable.

I am aggrieved because even if the room was to get occupancy I am still not to get refunded. I will be travelling with small children and would therefore need a room with at least a fridge and TV. I have found alternative accommodation and really want my refund.

Please may your esteemed office assist me in this matter.


Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a situation like this. Even more unfortunately, I don’t have any good news for you.

Booking.com and other travel-related web sites are remarkably useful and you can find amazing deals there and from alternatives using apps like Airbnb. I’ve used both and they’re very useful. When you get to your destination you can then use apps like Uber to make getting around so much easier. And much cheaper. Technology has made travelling a lot easier.

However, despite all the benefits of technology, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the small print when we buy something. In fact, the technology often makes these things easier to see. I checked the listing for the lodge you booked and it was very clear that there was no TV in the rooms and that a fridge wasn’t there either.

What’s more, the listing also described their cancellation policy quite clearly. This says that if you cancel less than 29 days before your check-in date then no refund is payable. You only booked the accommodation 28 days before check-in so they’re not obliged to refund you anything.

The lesson is that the small print always matters and you need to read and understand every little bit of it very clearly before committing yourself.

Must we pay?

We had our son at a private primary school. Last term we went to inform the school that we want to remove the child from school but we were told by the Admin that we can’t do it now even though we have paid the full amount for the third term. They told us we can do that beginning of 2019. During the collections of reports we informed the teacher that we want to remove the child from school but we were told it is not possible but in 2019 we can take the child. We told the class teacher that we wanted to shift him but since we paid in full they will not refund us.

Our challenge is that this Tuesday I went to school to collect the transfer card I was told to write a letter and state why. They told me the Managing Director says they want us to pay a full term school fees because we didn’t give them notice. Our argument is that we came to school and inform them. We were also advising them to look at their camera and they will see us. We are just told that we can’t be helped that’s all.


Giving a term’s notice is completely normal practice with private schools. If you check the terms and conditions in the contract you signed when you first enrolled your child at the school you’ll probably find a clause stating this.

What’s also normal is that this must be done in writing. There’s a principle that states that once an agreement is in writing, that writing is the only thing that matters. Subsequent verbal agreements, conversations over the phone and even face-to-face don’t have any value. Only what’s in writing matters.

I suggest you write the school a letter giving them notice but starting with the words “As we stated to you on [the relevant date], we are giving notice…”. Stress that the notice was given on that date and let’s see if that works. If that doesn’t work, let us know.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Consumer Alert - CBN (“Charity Begins Nathi”)

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

4th December 2018

Consumer Alert: CBN (“Charity Begins Nathi”)

Consumer Watchdog would like to alert consumers about a pyramid scheme calling itself CBN or “Charity Begins Nathi” currently trying to recruit victims in Botswana.

The people promoting CBN claim that for a single joining fee of P100, and then by recruiting others to join the scheme, participants can eventually earn a car worth R1.2million, a house worth R2.5 million and a range of other benefits.


CBN explain that the only activities necessary to achieve these things are “Recruitment only”, “No selling products” and “Simply recruit them to join under you, and you will be making money.”





Section 9 of the Consumer Protection Act of 2018 defines a pyramid scheme as a scheme:
“where participants in the scheme receive compensation derived primarily from their respective recruitment of other persons as participants”. 
CBN clearly satisfies that definition, admitting that there are no products involved and that money is made solely by recruiting other people into the scheme.

CBN is obviously a pyramid scheme. The new Consumer Protection Act states that a:
“person shall not directly or indirectly promote, or knowingly join, enter or participate, or cause any other person to promote, join, enter or participate in… A pyramid scheme”
and that the penalty for doing so will be:
“a fine not exceeding P100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to both.”
Consumer Watchdog urges people not to fall victim to this illegal pyramid scheme and to alert the authorities if they are approached by any person promoting it.

If consumers are in any doubt they should contact Consumer Watchdog for free advice. We can be reached by phone on 3904582, by email at watchdog@bes.bw or by joining our Facebook group, Consumer Watchdog Botswana.

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Have they cleared his record?

My brother bought a fridge from a furniture store in 2014. In 2016 he cleared the debt and they didn't give him a clearance letter also him he didn't ask for it because he didn't know the clearance form. 3 months back he went to the bank to borrow some money but the bank told him that his name is in the ITC system showing that he still owes the furniture store. So he checked them where he cleared and they told him that it was a mistake so they took his details and said they will email them at ITC so that he can be cancelled on the system, and they told him to check after 2 weeks. After that period he checked and he found that his name is still in the system. It’s about 4 months now checking but no difference and his name still in the system. What should he do?

He should rely on his sister to contact us!

In normal circumstances your brother’s record would have automatically been updated to show that he finished paying the debt. He wouldn’t need a clearance letter from store because the bank would have seen that he finished repaying the debt normally. That usually happens within 30 days of the final repayment.

But normal isn’t always normal. In this case clearly something went badly wrong, his record wasn’t updated at all and it still showed him as owing the money. Luckily, when we contacted the store they immediately realized their mistake and promised to fix it. Also, because the Regional Manager of the chain of stores is a good guy he’s going to send you a voucher to reinforce his apology!

Where’s my timber?

Good Day Mr Harriman. In 2013 I bought some building material from a supplier in Maun. They delivered everything except some timber that I asked them to keep until such a time I was ready to roof. This they agreed too. The following month I went to them as I had lost my invoice, and the manager then advised I keep searching for an invoice as they need that invoice to see what was left for me to collect. I been looking for that invoice Mr Harriman and its nowhere to be found. I keep going back every year ever since, just to check maybe they have found something in old records, but I keep getting the same story they need an invoice. Please assist me Mr H. If they did proper accounts and audits, and stock taking this information should be there in their records. This was about P5,000 of timber and other stuff for roofing. Please help me at least get my refund.

This could be tricky. Firstly, it’s been a long time since you purchased the items and I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to expect a supplier to wait that long for you to pick up the goods you bought. If you think about it, the prices have presumably increased in the last five years and something you bought for P5,000 in 2013 would now probably cost almost P6,000. The supplier is losing out by supplying the goods at the price you paid all that time ago.

Also, it’s fairly normal practice for companies to require you to keep receipts for things like this if you’re going to come back much later to collect things. Yes, their computerised billing system should hold records of the purchases made in the past but who knows if they were even using the same system five years ago? Maybe they didn’t even have a computerised billing system all that time ago?

Here’s a tip that everyone should follow. Whenever you get a receipt that you think is important, take a photo of it on your phone and email either it to yourself or a relative or store it online in your cloud storage of choice. There’s no reason not to these days because cloud storage from companies like Google and Apple is free. The main reason for this is that it’s very easy to misplace receipts and as you’ve probably seen, some receipts fade after a few months. Even if you carefully store receipts you can go back to them a year later and find nothing more than blank pieces of paper.

I suggest you go back to the supplier and ask them very nicely if they can’t search through their files to find a record of your purchase. However, be prepared for them not to be able to do so, or to say that you’ll need to top up the purchase price. Let me know what they say? If necessary we’ll encourage them to be helpful.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Who owns the car?

I bought a Mercedes Benz on the 8th of October from a garage in Mogoditshane. After I paid they pretended that the blue book was not in the office and the sales man who assisted me said he was going to fetch it at his house. I waited till it was dark but ended up going home. Until now I don't have the papers for the car only the receipt. Please how do I get help on this matter?

I think the most important question here is who actually owns this car. Clearly you don’t. Yes, you’ve paid the dealer the purchase price but he hasn’t transferred ownership of the vehicle to you using the normal, official way of doing so, by updating the vehicle registration document, the so-called blue book (No, I don’t know why it’s called that either.)

The obvious question to now ask is if they can’t transfer ownership to you, was ownership ever transferred to them? Do they actually own the vehicle they tried to sell you? Without that blue book, I don’t think you can be certain of that.

Rather than wait any longer, I suggest that you escalate this issue. Sent them a message, either a letter, a fax, an email or even a WhatsApp message, any message that shows the date of delivery, saying that as they can’t transfer ownership of the vehicle to you, you are cancelling the deal and as required by Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001, they must now “promptly” restore to you the money you paid them. Tell them that if they don’t do so within seven days you will be approaching both the Consumer Protection Unit and the Police to lay a charge of “Obtaining by false pretence” against them. See if that works!

Where’s the builder?

On June 2018 my husband and I contracted someone to build us a house. Our agreement was that he will complete the house from foundation to the very last job but after plumbing he disappeared without a say, we tried to contact him but he kept on saying he will come but never did. We made him aware that we are not satisfied since taps were leaking and plastering was coming off. One night he even tried to steal some of the material we bought. We gave him deposit for ceiling but he left it incomplete.

There’s the sympathetic way to deal with this and there’s the less than sympathetic approach. The sympathetic approach involves sending him more polite, calm messages asking him very nicely to complete the job he was paid to do. You don’t say whether you had a written contract with him but you can certainly remind him of all the things he was supposed to do that he’s either failed to do, or failed to do adequately. You can then wait to see if he responds positively. Don’t hold your breath.

The less than sympathetic approach involves visiting your local Police station and laying a charge of theft against him. Give the cops all the background, the names and dates, everything you have and tell them about when he tried to steal the material you’d bought. If they argue, saying that this is a civil matter (which it mostly is) remind them that the theft part is not civil, it’s a crime and they should investigate it.

Let me know which approach you adopt (you can guess the one I prefer) and whether it works or not!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 12th November 2018

Source: Wikipedia
The Bitcoin edition

Given the level of interest, the constant flow of questions and people seeking advice, we were asked to comment once more on the issue that still obsesses so many people:

Bitcoin

What is it? Is it safe? Is it genuine? Is it a good investment?

The "sextortion" scam

Let's start with an issue that came to us the day before we spoke about Bitcoin on DumaFM.

A consumer received the following email:
"I know [removed] is one of your passwords. I installed malware on a pornography web site and you visited this web site. While you were watching video clips, your browser started working as a Remote control Desktop that has a keylogger which gave me access to your display screen as well as cam. Right after that, my software collected your entire contacts. Next I created a double-screen video. 1st part displays the video you were viewing, and 2nd part displays the recording of your web cam.
You do have 2 solutions. 1st alternative is to ignore this message. in that case, I will send out your very own tape to all of your personal contacts and then consider the embarrassment that you receive. or should you be in a loving relationship, how it would affect? Next solution would be to pay me $7000. And I will quickly eliminate your video footage. You will carry on with your daily routine like this never happened and you will not hear back again from me. You'll make the payment by Bitcoin in 2 days."
The consumer asked "Is this real?"

The answer is no, it's not a genuine threat. Although the technology to do all these things exists, that doesn't mean they've been used on this occasion. The clues are simple. If they've hacked your computer, surely they'd know your name? Surely they could be a bit more specific? Surely a real hacker would include a screenshot of you being naughty to prove their claim?

This is just a case of what they call "sextortion". If you receive this email, and we've received it several times, just delete it and don't panic.

But the interesting issue is that these scammers wanted payment using Bitcoin. Why would they want that?

It's a cryptocurrency

Bitcoin is perhaps the best know example of a cryptocurrency, defined by Wikipedia as:
"a medium of exchange that uses strong cryptography to secure financial transactions, control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets"
Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies are media of exchange, just like any other currency such as the Pula, Rand, US dollar or Euro except that they're not physical, You can't hold Bitcoin notes or coins because there aren't any. Bitcoin is virtual, it's "out there", not in one place.

The blockchain

Perhaps more interesting that Bitcoin is the technology that underpins it, the blockchain and the distributed ledger. Instead of records of transaction being held in a single, central ledger like your bank might have, the ledger for Blockchain is everywhere. That means several things. It's great if you want to keep your transactions secret but it also means that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are entirely unregulated. 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."
If Bitcoin collapses or someone steals your Bitcoins, you're screwed. Nobody will listen to your complaint, you're on your own. And that has happened several times.

An investment?

Is it a good investment? No, Bitcoin is not an investment, it's certainly not a good one.

This graph shows the value of one Bitcoin over the last 18 months. Does this look like a good investment to you? Or does it look like an economic bubble that burst?

Source: Coindesk

Why would you "invest" in something that chaotic?

Andrew Bailey, Chief Executive of the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, told the BBC that:
"If you want to invest in Bitcoin, be prepared to lose all your money."
The future?

More recently, the economist Nouriel Roubini said this about blockchain technologies: 
"No serious institution would ever allow its transactions to be verified by an anonymous cartel operating from the world’s authoritarian kleptocracies" … “a small group of companies – mostly located in Russia, Georgia, and China – control between two-thirds and three-quarters of all crypto-mining activity”
So...

Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies are fascinating. The technology may well offer us amazing new opportunities to do many things but for now? Be careful.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I afford to cancel?

Please help if this is reasonable. I joined a gym in Gaborone and signed a two year contract. Now I have moved to Palapye on a new job where they have no facilities. They say in their contract that when you cancel you have to pay a reasonable cancelation fee. When I checked them they say I have to pay 40% of the balance which is P1,400. Mind you if it happens that no payment are made to them by the 31st of every month they block the person, you will have no access to their facilities. So why should I pay them? Thank you.


The simple answer is a simple one. If you signed it, that’s what happens.

Gyms vary. Some have monthly membership schemes and if you can’t attend or simply change your mind the worst that can happen is that you lose the month’s membership fee that you paid in advance.

Others, like yours, work differently. They have yearly or even two-yearly membership schemes that you can’t just walk away from. One that I looked at recently had a clause in its Terms and Conditions which said that if you “wish to cancel your membership before the expiry of your Commitment Period, then you must give us 20 business days’ written notice of termination and pay a reasonable cancellation fee plus any arrears”.

I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about that. In theory. Yes, it’s fair for them to demand we give them a month’s notice and yes, they were planning on having our monthly member ship fees for the duration of the “Commitment Period” so it’s reasonable for them to demand the cancellation fee we agreed when we sign their membership fee.

However, 40%? Really? I know what the word “reasonable” means and I’m sure this isn’t that. Clearly this is a technique that the gym uses to prevent people from leaving. I suppose your decision has to be a practical one. You now longer live in the same city so there’s no way you can use their services any longer. Paying the cancellation fee might be the best thing to do. That’s if you believe they’re really likely to chase you for the money…

Where’s my refund?

Two weeks back I opened up an account with a builders merchants and deposited cash amounting to P20,000 into this account with the understanding that I will use this money to buy materials equalling that amount.

Last week, I started with construction and went to the shop to start collecting materials. I managed to purchase cement but couldn’t get the rest of what I needed as I was told that they were out of stock. I went back for the cement but they didn’t have transport available for delivering. Two days later I went back and still I was told the same stories, I complained and it was a back and forth affair with no conclusion. I then requested my account be closed and I be refunded my cash.

I was told to write a letter stating my request and email, which I did but never got a response. Later I received a call from one of the management saying that the cement I was waiting for was delivered at last. I however insisted the account be closed and a refund be made after deduction of the cement costs. I was told I would be given feedback that day but I am still awaiting my refund or feedback whatsoever, I keep getting the same response. I have sent mails, messages and calls and I’m still yet to get help or any valid or logical response as to why I still haven’t been refunded or helped. What can I do?


It’s time to put things in writing and to assert your consumer rights. Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that when a deal is cancelled, like you’ve done, the supplier must “promptly restore” to the customer any deposit that was made. I suggest that you write them a letter or email explaining that you are cancelling the agreement you had and making it very clear that you understand your rights. It’s up to you to decide what “promptly” might mean but what about something like 5 working days? There’s no reason why a large, successful builders merchant like this one can’t make that happen.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 5th November 2018

Source: Wikipedia
1. Should they compensate me?
“I bought some food in a store which I later found to have gone bad after a bite or two. I took the item back and was told by the store that indeed it had gone bad. They replaced it with on OK one and said because they didn't make me pay for it, they had compensated me. I did not feel satisfied considering that I had first been thrown from pillar to post before seeing the manager who also said the same thing. Also my time spent in going back to the store. I just wanted to ask from you, is there compensation that I should have received in that situation or an apology is as far as it can get?
Various laws and regulations apply here. The Food Control Regulations, Public Health Regulations and the Consumer Protection Regulations, in particular Section 13 (1) (a) which requires a supplier to offers commodities and service that are of “merchantable quality”. Clearly this food was not that.

The general rule is that when something is wrong with an item you're entitled to one of the three Rs: a refund, repair or replacement. In this case you got a replacement so in theory they've done all they need to do. However, this is actually more serious. This is a food safety issue. People die because of poor food hygiene. I think you deserve slightly more than just a replacement. I think you deserve a sincere apology, an explanation of what went wrong and some assurance that it won't happen again. I don't think that's too much to ask.

2. Where are the photos?
“We paid a local photography company for wedding coverage last year around June-July. The wedding was held in October and its been over year now still waiting for our package. We paid them about P13,400. We have followed up and followed up to this day but they are tossing us from pillar to pillar, story after story, they are not taking our calls anymore, they only respond once in a while through WhatsApp. We didn't sign any agreement with them because we had assigned a family friend who is a friend to the photographers to handle the photography part but we have proof of payment. We used bank transfer to pay them the total charge once off. The family friend has tried to intervene but to no avail. Kindly advise.”
What is it with the wedding industry. Why do they have so many crooks and incompetents?

The good news is that when we contacted this photographer he responded with: “I’m working on their package, supposed to be done by the end of the coming week.”

And he did.

3. Ponzi Scheme Alert: Amazon Web Coin

A member of our Facebook group got in touch to report that he received a message saying:
“Am called Dr Ronnie Gitta from Uganda. Am coming to your country”
He told us that:
“a day after introductions, he even wanted me to already be bringing other people his way and I don't even know anything about his product/ service. Very shady indeed.”
Here are some quotes from their web site:
“Get maximum benefits from cryptocurrency investments”.
“Daily profit accruals range from 3% to 8% depending on the investment package chosen.”
“Basic trader” “$20-$500” “8% daily for 20 days. 160% total return”
“Elite trader” “$20,000-$50,000” “3% daily for 100 days” “300% total return”
“Referral program - tell your friends, relatives or colleagues about the company. If your information is appealing to them, and they become our investors, you will be paid a referral commission! You can go further to build your own team, attracting new investors because we have made a special four-level program of affiliate rewards.”
This is a Ponzi scheme. All the usual clues are there. They promise miraculous interest rates with no indication of how they can be achieved. There is no explanation of where the growth in money comes from. It's all unbelievable. There are also some obvious clues, including this:
“Your deposit runs forever and you will never get it back.”
There are other clues. Their domain was only registered on 27th September this year. Although they claim that “Amazon Web Coin was officially incorporated in August 2016 under registration number 10351681” in the United Kingdom they also say that they're registered in Hong Kong. I checked and the UK companies register says the company was “Dissolved on 30 January 2018”.

Amazon Web Coin is a Ponzi scheme and everyone is warned to avoid it!

4. Managing debts. Or not managing them.
“I want to know how this thing of sending names of debtors to ICT works. I’m owing a cash loan and they sent my name to ICT. Now they are starting to take legal actions on me. The problem is that they have blocked me so I can’t have even a short loan to clear them. Is it not double punishment? Is that how it has to be?”
Yes, that's exactly how it works.

Firstly, creditors (the people we owe money) are entitled to send debt collectors and attorneys after us to collect their money. Wouldn’t you do the same if the situation was reversed?

Secondly, creditors are entitled to register our debts with credit reference bureaux. Their databases hold full financial records, both good and bad. These records allow other lenders to make sensible judgments about whether they should lend us money based on our previous history.

In this vase the customer has a history of defaulting. Why would another lender trust him?

We've put him in touch with a debt counsellor who should be able to help him sort out his finances.

5. Plastic bags. Again.

Are they banned? They were meant to be banned on 1st November but the Powers-That-Be changed their minds. So they're not banned yet. BUT they will be, sooner or later.

And the other issues. The so-called “Plastic bag levy”? Did it ever exist?

No.

What happened was that a compulsory standard for plastic bags ("FDS 186:2016, Plastic carrier bags and flat bags — Specification") was introduced but the Botswana Bureau of Standards. This meant that stores were then mean to offer us higher-quality plastic carrier bags that cost the stores more money. They just passed the cost on to you an me.

But be warned. Plastic bags will be banned along with plastic bottles and straws, sooner or later. Get ready now.