Friday, 24 June 2016

The rights you DON'T have

I think by now most Mmegi readers have some knowledge of their consumer rights. If you don’t you can always read the half million words in the 528 (now 529) earlier Consumer Watchdog articles that you’ll find archived on our blog.

We all know now (at least instinctively) that stores and suppliers are required to treat us fairly and honestly and they’re not allowed to lie, withhold the truth or cheat us. That’s obvious.

But what rights don’t we have? What things do some people think are consumer rights but are in fact nothing of the sort?

Recently someone in our Facebook group asked
“Please can somebody tell the supermarkets to up their services. Nowadays its like its a norm for customers to package their groceries. If the law has changed please update us who are left behind.”
But is having your bags packed at the supermarket really a consumer right? Is it something the law says they must do for you?

No, it’s certainly not. It’s a courtesy. It’s something a smart store will do to make customers feel welcome, satisfied and likely to come back again and spend more money. Yes, you have a right to feel unhappy if your bags aren’t packed for you but that doesn’t give you a right to do anything about it other than to complain and to take your custom elsewhere next time. Sorry.

It’s the same with the little courtesies that we might think we can expect when you set foot in a store. You have no right to feel welcomed. You have no right to receive a courteous smile. In fact, you have no legal right to courtesy at all. You can expect not to be insulted and not to be the victim of illegal discrimination but that’s as far as your legal expectations can go. Sorry again.

I’m not suggesting that stores shouldn’t pack your bags and that they should be discourteous. I believe the exact opposite. But that should be up to the store owners and managers. If they choose to be miserable then that’s their right, just like it’s our right as consumers not to spend our money in their stores and instead to spend it in a store that treats us better.

A lot of people seem confused by one specific question. Do you have a right to change your mind? Are you entitled to go to a shop, buy something, take it home and then change your mind and take it back and get a full refund?

No. You are not.

The only circumstances in which you are entitled to a refund are when a store has either deceived you or has so badly let you down that the item is unusable. If you buy a cellphone and it simply doesn’t work, you are entitled to one of the three ‘R’s: a refund, repair or replacement and in normal circumstances it’s up to the store to decide which of these they offer you.

Changing your mind is not one of these circumstances. Think of it from the store’s point of view. Did they do anything improper? Did they lie to you? Did they make a claim about the item that couldn’t be substantiated? If the answer is no then the sale was legal and proper. You can’t change your mind and expect the store to play ball.

Also, if they accept the item back from you, will they be able to sell it to another customer?

No, they won’t. Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids them from selling something that is second hand as if it was new.

So no, you have no legal right to change your mind and get your money back. Sorry yet again.

What other rights don’t you have?

We are sometimes asked by consumers to intervene when a bank has turned down a request for a bank loan or overdraft. It’s scandalous, we’re told, that the bank won’t lend me money to buy a house or car or for a project I’m working on. Don’t I have a right to borrow money?

Again no. The money you’re asking for doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to someone else. In fact, it belongs to lots of other people, possibly including me. It belongs to all the other bank customers who lent the bank their money. Don’t you think they want the bank to lend only to the safest borrowers, the ones who are most likely to repay it? Banks, like all financial institutions are required by the various authorities to lend their customer’s money carefully and responsibly. If you don’t meet those standards you don’t get to borrow. Sorry once more.

And finally, here’s an area where you have no rights. Hire purchase.

Despite the Hire Purchase Act and all the other laws and regulations we have to protect the consumers of Botswana, when you buy something on hire purchase you effectively have no protections and that’s because the Hire Purchase Act only covers purchases up to a total HP price of P4,000. When you get a chance take a look at the inserts in the newspapers and see how many items are for offer on HP and you’ll see it’s hardly any of them. What little protection the Act offers isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

That means when you have a problem and default on your repayments and the goods are repossessed you’re screwed. Not only have the goods been taken, you still owe the remaining balance (minus the tiny amount the store got when they sold the repossessed goods. When they add on the interest, debt collection fees and fees for whatever they invent you’ll find yourself owing a fortune. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You will be entirely without rights.

Clearly it’s important to know what rights you have but it’s just as important to know the ones you don’t have. They’re the ones that will hurt you the most.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this a real loan?

I have read your articles with keen interest and I am convinced you are doing a great job.

I would therefore like to inquire if I can forward some details of a so called international lending financial institution to authenticate before a lot of Batswana fall victims. I have personally applied for the Loan of BWP1 000 000 which has been approved but ought to be released with strings attached to it. They said “We can give you this loan on a 120 months requirement with an interest rate of 2% per year”. I doubted the authenticity just looking at the e-mail addresses which I feel anybody can create ( and the manner in which the simplicity of the Loan was approved albeit without any hassles that you might expect for the Loan amounting to that tune.

Please kindly look at this and should you be willing to help I will forward you the details and my limited luck whilst trying to establish if the financial institution was fake or true through an Embassy in Botswana.

You are very wise to be skeptical about this loan offer. I wish more people checked these things before committing themselves.

This is without doubt the beginning of an advance fee scam. There are various clues that suggest this. Firstly, you were right to notice the email address. Real lenders use credible email addresses. They don’t operate from Gmail addresses, they use their own domain. Secondly, real lenders don’t lend vast amounts of money to people they’ve never met in the flesh and have only spoken to by email. They certainly don’t lend money at only 2% per year. None of this adds up.

If you were to proceed with this fake loan, you will certainly be asked to send the lender money before you receive the money they’re promising you. They’ll say it’s for a legal bill, an account opening fee or some other excuse. Whatever it is, that’s the “advance fee” that gives the scam its name. That’s what it’s all about.

Please, whatever you do, don’t send these scumbags any money. You’ll never see it again. Remember that scammers don’t offer refunds!

They didn’t pay my tax!

Please advise. I have a registered company and my company was owing annual tax returns while I was in South Africa in 2014. When I came back in 2015 I found that it had incurred penalties so I started paying them in installments to my company secretary. The 2014 returns and 2015 returns as well as penalties totaled to about P2,500.

Unfortunately the company secretary's did not pay my annual returns and used the money on their personal matters, so my company is still owing. 2016 tax returns will be due soon and 2014 and 2015 have not been settled, Its been a year and they always promising "we'll settle it next week" but never do... What can I do, please help.

Firstly, I think you should report this issue to BURS. It won’t help to pay your tax liabilities but it might warn BURS that these so-called company secretaries can’t be trusted. They might also be understanding about your situation and will likely agree to a repayment schedule you can manage.

You should then write the so-called Company Secretaries a letter saying that they no longer have permission to act on your behalf and that you demand that they compensate you for any losses you have suffered as a result of their failure to honour their contractual obligations. I suggest you tell them NOT to pay anything to BURS but to repay it to you directly so you can be sure BURS get paid. Give them 14 days to repay you and state very clearly that you will take immediate legal action against them if they fail to do so.

On Day 15, if they fail to repay you, go immediately to the Small Claims Court with all the paperwork you have and ask for an order against them for the money you lost.

Hopefully this might encourage them to do the decent thing. If it doesn’t visit your local police station and lay a charge of obtaining by false pretense against these crooks. That might shake them up a bit.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The cops are coming to get me! Or maybe not. Green World again.

Are the cops on their way to get me?

Green World, the purveyors of Chinese herbal medicine, offer miracle cures and treatments for a variety of disorders and diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and even for AIDS.

Needless to say, such advertisements are illegal in Botswana, contrary to Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code but that doesn't seem to stop their local representatives from suggesting such things.

Here's a conversation I had with one of them earlier today. I haven't edited it in any way, this is the complete conversation. Before you ask, everything I said in my messages is absolutely true. Nothing I said was a lie.
Richard: Can green world products help with heart disease? I have a heart condition.
Green World: Hello.sorry fr responding solate. Kenekesena etym. Yes we have herbal products for disorders.
Richard: For heart disease? Can it really help me get better?
Green World: Absolutely. If you are in facebook just like the page called GREEN WORLD LOBATSE. everythin is there to help you.
Richard: I have a friend with prostate cancer. Can it cure him?
Green World: Iwill advise your friend togo for scanning first cos it will show all the root cause of the problm so as to get right prescptions. Scanning is only p100.
Richard: Can you do the scanning? And can you then help him get well?
Green World: I dont do scanning bt if u need help make sure u meet me
Richard: Is the scanner at hospital?
Green World: We are having the distributors who are using the scanners so ican refer you to them ole mi client.
Richard: Are the scanners at hospital or where?
Green World: No they are independent scanners. They are in gaborone and leko kanye there is a doctor.
Richard: Can the green world products help cure the cancer?
Oh dear. This is where I was "rumbled" and my identity disclosed.
Green World: Who told u so bona if u have been sent by someone to spy on me u will soon regret fr ur smses wautlwa. Delete mi contacts now bfr u lead me into sin.
Green World: I have managed to trace ur number you are richard harriman and m going tothe police officers now.

Richard: Good luck with that!
I'll let you know if the police get in touch!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Green World - more miracle cures

Green World sell products that are illegal to advertise in Botswana.

They claim, for instance, that their Cardio Power Capsule can "reduce the burden of heart and its oxygen consumption; expand the coronary artery; alleviate the chest stuffiness, suffocation, pericardia pain; prevent angina, arrhythmia, and myocardial infarction; and to treat coronary heart disease".

They say that their Green World Immune Care Package is "Suitable for ... People has immunodeficiency acquired condition such as HIV/AIDS" and that it "can greatly boost immunity, detect tumor cells, as well as improve general wellbeing of people who has HIV/AIDS."

Another miraculous product is their Green World Cancer Care Package that apparently can "help stave off cancer and some can even help inhibit cancer cell growth or reduce tutor size."

Their Green World Nutritional Diet Care For Diabetes People (their English, not mine) can apparently help "eliminate symptoms of diabetes, restore function of the insulin, and improve normal secretion of the insulin cell."

Advertising such products in Botswana is contrary to Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code of Botswana.

Of course companies like Green World who offer health products will concentrate on harmless protein powders and vitamin pills but I believe that it is fair to judge a company by ALL of the products they offer, particularly when those products are a clear and present danger to our health.

And they're a Multi-Level Marketing scheme as well. Doesn't that say it all?

Friday, 17 June 2016

Regular visitors

It’s not just good restaurants that have regular visitors. Consumer Watchdog has them as well.

We have questions and complaints that keep on coming back, again and again.

A reader reported on Facebook that one of our longest running “friends” was back again. She said:
“I just got off the phone with some South African trying to sell me a travel and hotel discount credit card. I'm not sure of the company name... Travel hotel express something... I was on the phone with him for 16 minutes and he said the membership is about R3000+ annually. Then he wanted my debit card expiry date and card number on the front of my card...that's when I started worrying. so I told him I can’t just give my details to something I really don't no about. In fact I suggested we communicate via email so I can have time to understand what I will be paying for and he said he doesn't do email. Is it okay to exchange such details on the phone... More especially if you haven't identified the product you are paying for? Was I almost conned?”
I don’t know for sure but I suspect that this was Hotel Express International again. We’ve heard about this many times over the years and the story we’re told is often the same. Someone gets a “cold call”, an uninvited phone call from a stranger in South Africa extolling the benefits of paying to join Hotel Express International, offering them discounts on hotels, car hires and flights. As part of the sales process they ask for the potential customer’s credit or debit card details either “to keep on file” or to check whether they are eligible for “Gold” or “Platinum” membership. Every time, they claim, they did not give explicit permission for Hotel Express to actually deduct money from their accounts but guess what, that’s exactly what happened. Without explicit permission they get enrolled, their bank balance is depleted and they then have trouble getting their money back.

Each time we’ve sent these complaints to Hotel Express International and some times we’ve been able to help get their people’s money back but not always.

As well as being upset for people who feel they had their money taken without their consent I’m also surprised that people are still falling for the suggestion that you need to pay to join a scheme like Hotel Express International to get hotel discounts. You can get discounts for free. I stay in hotels in South Africa quite often and do you think I ever pay the full rate? Of course not.

Just for example, I booked a stay in Joburg recently and booked a suite in a hotel at a discount of around 40%, just by booking using their web site. Was I required to pay to join a scheme to do this? Of course not. In fact, if you compare the rate I paid against the official “rack rate” the hotel quotes I saved 60%.

So why would you need to pay to get a discount when hotels give them away for free?

The lesson is simple. Don’t join Hotel Express and whatever you do, don’t give them your card details over the phone. Luckily for the reader who contacted us this time, she was one of the more skeptical, rightfully suspicious consumers. Next time it might be someone less well-protected. Might that be you?

The other regular visitor we see is the advance fee scammer. Despite this business operating for many years now, we still see emails like this one:
“Attn: My Dear Friend,
I have a business proposer for you, your urgent. Response and telephone number is needed for more information.
Thanks, sincerely
Barrister Micah (Esq)”
I’m sure many readers will now be able to spot the various clues in this very short email. Firstly, there’s the quality of the English. Would a real barrister (an attorney) who wants to do business with you really write this badly? “a business proposer for you, your urgent”?

Then there’s the often overlooked fact that this supposed attorney doesn’t know your name. This isn’t how business works. Real business people don’t approach total strangers and offer to do business with them. Real business people know their potential business partners’ names.

This is the beginning of an advance fee scam. If you were to respond to their email they’d explain some complicated story about millions hidden away in a bank account in a West African country and that they needed your help to transfer it to a safer country. They’d promise you a cut of the money if they could use your bank account. Of course there is no money, you know this, but that doesn’t stop the scammers trying this old trick. Sooner or later they would demand money from you to make the deal happen. That’s what the whole thing is about, that “advance fee” they want you to pay them.

And you know what? It still works. If it didn’t they would have moved on to another type of scam. The fact that it’s still happening means there are still na├»ve people falling for it. Most people are now skeptical but next time it might be someone less well-protected. Might that be you?

The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana one said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and that goes for all areas of life. Not knowing what happened in the past puts you at a huge disadvantage. Learning from the mistakes of earlier victims of schemes and scams is something we all need to do.

But there’s still a long way to go. The fact that these visitors keep on reappearing proves this.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

When will it be repaired?

I had bought a laptop two years ago in June. It then crashed and I brought it back to the store in July 2015 so that they could fix it. I have been made to go back and forth concerning the fixing of my laptop!

Initially when i brought it there I was told it would be fine in 6 weeks. I kept calling and calling the technician guy asking him how far. He would always tell me to check at a later date. I then went to them in person in October telling them that I am suffering without a laptop. They then loaned me a laptop which was visibly not in a good condition. It had broken down and I went to them in person earlier this year letting them know that their loan laptop also broke down, I was told to just hold on to it until I get my laptop back. I keep calling asking for feedback and they still keep saying "I’ll give you feedback on Monday".

Its been almost a year now waiting to get my laptop back. I had bought an extended warranty for this laptop and it is about to elapse as well this month. So now here I am stuck with a loan machine that I do not even use and also having to call time and again for progress. Advise me what to do. The guy is also so rude towards me and I should assume that it is because I am young and so he does not take me seriously.

I am sick and tired of having to deal with these people who keep sending me back and forth. I also need my laptop back.

I think you have been patient enough. In fact, I think you’ve been far too patient. You shouldn’t have to wait for a year for your laptop to be repaired, that’s completely unacceptable.

The Consumer Protection Regulations are very clear that when you buy anything you are entitled to expect it to be “of merchantable quality” which is defined as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. A computer should work normally for the period of its warranty, or any extended warranty that you might purchase. If something goes wrong within that period you are entitled to one of the three ‘R’s: a refund, a replacement or a repair. While it’s initially up to the store to decide which of those options they offer there comes a point when you have a right to demand action to fix the problem.

You could argue that the store has breached Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations by not offering a service “with reasonable car and skill”. You could also argue that they have breached the extended warranty you purchased. Either way your argument must be that taking a year to repair a laptop is just ridiculous.

I’ll contact the store for you and see if they can’t offer you the quality of service you paid for.

Can I get her to pay?

I was involved in a car accident with one lady who was later charged and found to be in the wrong by the police. She had no money and I fixed my car but now she is refusing to pay.

I’m sure you’ll understand that it’s always very difficult to get money from someone who doesn’t have any. What can you get from here if she has no assets to seize?

This is a very good example of why I think third-party insurance should be mandatory for all car owners. If the other woman had done this her insurance company would be paying for your repairs, not you.

We heard of a case a few months ago when an uninsured car driver collided with a Range Rover causing P25,000 of damage. He then had to pay that bill for the Range Rover owner. But what would have happened if he’d completely destroyed the Range Rover? He would have faced a bill of maybe P1 million. How many of us can afford that?

Of course if you had a fully comprehensive insurance policy it would have covered your damage as well as any damage you ever cause to any other vehicles.

I wish I could give you some constructive advice. You can go to the Small Claims Court and seek an order against the other driver but it isn’t much use if there’s nothing she has to seize in compensation.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

I've offended an "inforcer"

You can't win them all. Sometimes we please people, sometimes we delight them, other times we really piss them off.

This time it's the latter.

On 24th May this year I removed this post from our Facebook group.

My objections were:
  1. We don't permit advertisements in our Facebook group. 
  2. We certainly don't permit advertisements or endorsements for Multi-Level Marketing schemes in the group. The promises of "better lifestyle" are simply untrue, as almost everyone knows by now. Herbalife's own published figures prove that the vast majority of recruits make nothing from the scheme.
  3. We heartily object to any claims that any product can help with medical conditions such as "immune system problems" and "eating disorders". They are lies and Herbalife agree with me about that.
After removing the post I sent the person who posted it a message. I admit that I was perhaps a little short-tempered following his post. I said:
Please don't post MLM marketing nonsense and lies in the Consumer Watchdog group.
Today I got a reply. It said:
Uhu..."nonsense "?
No wonder your msg hs been filtered, u so full of yoslf and arrogant, that's not how you suppose to talk to people... I had respect for you so dont ever send me such msgs, dont cz first of all im not a thief nor a scammer,im also a law inforcer for your own information...
I can't confirm whether he is indeed "a law inforcer". Maybe he's actually a law "enforcer"? His Facebook profile suggests that he works at Central Police Station in Gaborone so maybe he should be more busy enforcing the law instead of peddling miracle cures?