Saturday, 19 July 2014

Ignorance

I’m ignorant. And I don’t like it.

Last week a reader contacted us with a minor disaster. While out of the country someone approached her cellphone provider with a faked letter using her company’s letterhead saying that she had lost her cellphone and needed a replacement SIM card. The letter said that he was her driver and was authorized to pick up the SIM card on her behalf. Because that letter was all they needed they gave the imposter the SIM card he asked for.

He then took that SIM card, plugged it into a cellphone and dialed up her bank’s cellphone banking service. Because she hadn’t ever actually set up this service with her bank the imposter was then taken through the process of setting it up for the first time, including setting up a password that then gave him complete access to her accounts.

Within moments he’d transferred P30,000 from account and started withdrawing the money. (No, I’m not going to tell you how he did this, let’s not give any unscrupulous readers ideas.)

Luckily she came home to Botswana shortly after this happened and immediately noticed that her cellphone no longer worked (because her original SIM card had been disabled when the new SIM card was produced). She immediately informed her network provider who couldn’t understand what had happened. Hadn’t she asked for a replacement SIM card just a few days ago?

They then gave her yet another SIM card, disabling the one the crook had acquired. She was very lucky to have caught him before he took everything. In fact he only got away with about P7,000.

This is what they call SIM-swapping and we all need to know a lot more about this. All it seems to take is a bit of bravery from the crook and a fake letterhead.

So here’s where I’m ignorant.

Why the hell is it so easy to get a SIM card for another person’s number and how come banks make their cellphone banking services so easy for a crook to access? How come a crook with just a copy of your company headed paper can steal your money?

We’re waiting for both the network provider and the bank to educate us and eradicate our ignorance.

I’m also ignorant about irons, specifically the vintage irons that apparently are being bought for more than you and I earn in a year. One advertisement on Facebook recently went like this:
 
“BUYING VINTAGE IRONs.......
‪‎Tomorrow‬ all day long, You'll in Gaborone, we will be collecting those Irons.‬‬‬‬
NON BRANDED e.g: `Tiger, impala, giraffe, falkirk, no name, number, bulawayo etc..
‎PLEASE‬ MAKE SURE IT ATTRACTS A PLATINUM RAZOR BLADE [MINORA] away by those specified Centimeters. 2cm P25K. 3cm P65K. 5cm P100K
Branded ones eg: `Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, U.S.A
MAKE SURE IT ATTRACTS A PLATINUM RAZOR BLADE [MINORA] away by those specified Centimeters also. 2cm P100K. 3cm P200K. 5cm P350K.
NOTE: IT SHOULD ATTRACT A PLATINUM RAZOR BLADE [MINORA]....or else its useless.”
So if you have a vintage iron that (presumably magnetically) attracts a razor blade from 5cm away they’ll buy it from you for P350,000? This is simply unbelievable.

Various suggestions have been made about what’s going on. Some have suggested that the iron itself is valuable but that’s simply not true. The price of scrap iron is tiny compared to these supposed prices. Others have suggested that the irons contain traces of platinum or even uranium but there is precisely no evidence for this and a whole lot of evidence against it.

In short I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here. It’s possible it’s just a ridiculous craze like the legendary tulip mania (or “speculative bubble”) in the Netherlands in the 17th century when prices for tulips soared to astronomical levels. It might just be an old-fashioned scam. I’ve certainly not heard from anyone who has actually sold a vintage iron for these sums. Not one. When we’ve phoned people who claim to be offering these astonishing amounts of money and asked questions they’ve always become remarkably evasive and retracted many of the claims they made. No, they’ve said, they won’t really offer cash, they’ll pay by bank transfer after they’ve taken the iron. But I ask myself how this would benefit them anyway? What can they do with a relatively worthless old iron?

Can you educate me?

I’m also ignorant about the sheer, willful avoidance of responsibility we often hear about. Twice in the last few days we’ve heard from customers who’ve had their basic consumer rights abused and when the stores have been confronted their reaction has been simple. So what?

On one occasion a customer lay-byed two items of clothing but then later changed her mind and only wanted one of them which, by that stage, she had already paid for. The store’s response was simple. We’ve got your money and because you’ve changed your mind you’re not getting anything from us. No clothes and no refund.

Another bought two cheap smartphones only for them both to have sub-standard cameras, be incapable of playing music properly, to overheat regularly and have loose screws holding the devices together. The store’s response was simple. Tough.

I simply don’t get how stores can be so dismissive of consumers’ rights. Maybe they could educate me?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought 2 phones (iPro A3) for me and my wife. I asked the salesman if it’s a good phone, original and if it wont give me problems. He said its good as he plans to sell in bulk.

Later I told him that the camera is not clear, as it states in the internet that its 3 mpixels, he saw what I meant but could not help. I explained to him that I should return them because the camera means a lot to my wife.

The same day the phone switched off and on and while my wife was listening to music. I told him about the problem plus it looked like someone unscrewed it behind and he said come to the office the following day so that he checks. He checked and said he does not know what the problem is, so he changed it. But I still told him I would like a refund.

Now only one speaker works instead of two, the phones heat up next to memory card, then the phone said the memory is invalid and when you open phone it takes long to open. I even asked him to look for buyer for me since he can’t give me back my money. Still he cant help. I am afraid to sell this phone to other people because of the problems, and what they will notice it will be unfair.

I bought these phones at P1150 each. They’re not even months old. I would like him to refund me back my money since from the start I told him I am not happy, these are fake phones with downloaded android software and hope he does not cheat next customer.


Let’s get one thing straight first. There’s no evidence, is there, that these are fake phones? You didn’t buy a fake phone, you just bought a cheap one. Too cheap.

This is what happens very often when you buy a cheap piece of technology. One of the reasons smartphones from the big companies like Apple and Samsung are expensive is that they work. Cheap knock-offs are cheap because they’ve often been made cheaply and behave the way your phones have behaved.

Despite this, your situation is actually quite simple.

Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 says that a supplier must offer goods that “are of merchantable quality”, meaning that they must be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. A smartphone that can’t take decent pictures or play music, overheats and has loose screws is simply unacceptable.

I suggest that you put this in writing to them and demand either a brand new replacement or a complete refund.

Let me know what they say.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I am kindly requesting your most reputable organisation to advise me accordingly in this matter. I have opened an account with an European Company called OptionRally and those people are saying I should give them my credit card number and I should have at least $250 in my account so that I can trade. They are telling me a lot of benefits if I do that. They say I will get extra cash by doing that. Please help and advise accordingly because I am afraid. As I am typing now a lady called me straight from Europe saying I should give my Bank card number.

We covered Optionrally.com last year and I don’t see any reason to change my mind about them. They claim to offer trading in "binary options" which they explain is “an option that pays either a fixed amount or nothing, depending on whether a certain condition is fulfilled when the option expires.” That sounds simple, but if it was really possible to make “profit as high as 78% of your original deposit” don’t you think banks, investment companies and pension schemes would be doing it? Don’t you think the Bank of Botswana would be doing it?

Face it, the reason they’re not is because it’s simply impossible to make that sort of return. I found an interesting quote about binary options. Gordon Pape, writing in Forbes magazine said:
"If people want to gamble, that’s their choice. But let’s not confuse that with investing. Binary options are a crapshoot, pure and simple."
Please don’t waste your money.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

WorldVentures - it's not fair

WorldVentures is a pyramid scheme, there's little doubt about that.

They're also becoming defensive which is often a sign that there's something suspicious afoot.

Last year a travel blogger called Stephanie Yoder posted a rather damning critique of their scheme including the following sentence (which I wish I'd written):
"You are not going to get rich off of WorldVentures, but if you sign up WorldVentures is going to continue to get quite rich off of you."
Earlier this month there was a reaction. Britton Tuma, a Texas law firm acting on behalf of WorldVentures sent her one of the most pompous, silly legal threats (pdf file) I've read in a long time. This will give you a flavour of the threat:
"Be advised that this communication is without prejudice to any facts, regardless of whether stated herein. Further be advised that this communication is without prejudice to and shall not affect, in any manner, the rights, claims, remedies, actions or causes of action which WorldVentures has, or may have, at law, in equity, or otherwise."
Do you think the lawyer is charging by the word?

So here's why this isn't fair. Clearly threatening Stephanie isn't fair but what offends me even more is that I've been posting warnings about WorldVentures since 2009. Why didn't I get a legal threat?

It's not fair.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Break the rules

I like people who break the rules. I don’t mean criminals who break the law, I’ve got fairly old-fashioned views about them. I mean people who either decide that certain business rules, norms or conventions shouldn’t apply to them or who think that things can be done better if the conventional rules are ignored or rejected.

Steve Jobs, the founder and late leader of Apple was a great example of a rule-breaker. He defied assumptions in the technology world and created a brand that differentiated itself from the rest. Apple is now one of the most valuable companies in the world and they achieved that by following the advice of perhaps their most advertising slogan: “Think different”. By unleashing their imagination, by redefining the creative process and by paying obsessive attention to detail they became a market leader. Critics felt they could never win against tech giants like Microsoft but they were quite rapidly proved wrong.



Richard Branson of the Virgin empire is also famous for ignoring the rules. When he started his airline, Virgin Atlantic, he was competing against companies much, much bigger than his and most people were suspicious about whether he could ever succeed against them. But he too proved them completely wrong.

Closer to home there’s Capitec, the South African bank that greatly disturbed the banking market in SA. By offering a more dynamic, flexible and appealing set of products than the bigger banks they cleaned up. Unfortunately for the bigger, older banks they only noticed this when it was too late. According to some reports Capitec is now South Africa’s second largest provider of unsecured loans and is now one of the biggest banks in the country.

I wonder if the bigger banks here in Botswana have noticed that there are smaller, perhaps more flexible banks here as well?

I also like it when consumers break rules. One consumer contacted us recently on Facebook and told us about the complaints procedure he’d seen at a hospital he’d visited. It had ten steps. If you had a complaint about the service you received you first were required to contact the Supervisor in charge, then the PR officer, then the Matron, then the Hospital Manager, then the Hospital Superintendent, then the Ministry of Health toll-free number, then the relevant Director in the Ministry, then the Permanent Secretary, then the Minister of Health and finally the Office of the President.

About the only people not involved in that sequence of steps are the Police, the head of your religion and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

There are so many things I despise about that procedure but above all there’s this. Isn’t it just the most pessimistic procedure you’ve ever seen? What that procedure really says is that the hospital is confident that you’re going to be disappointed at every step of the procedure. That’s why there are so many of them. A cynic might suggest that they’re probably hoping that you’ll eventually become so exhausted and give up.

The other problem is that companies get obsessed with their customer following these procedures to the letter and customer really don’t like this. Some months ago a consumer posted a comment on our Facebook page criticizing the service from a certain security company. Fairly soon afterwards someone claiming to be a manager of the company posted a message saying that there was a fixed complaints procedure that customer were required to use and that Facebook wasn’t part of that process. Needless to say he was very quickly swamped with critical messages from other members of the group telling where he could stick his procedure.

We heard from another reader just a few days ago who asked us for advice. She’d posted a complaint about a financial services provider on our Facebook group but then she got a phone call. She told us she:
“got a call from the Sales Consultant and he firstly told me how unhappy he is about the way I handled the complaint, his friends and everyone is taking about the post. Please need advice here was I wrong to post that?”
No, of course she wasn’t wrong. She was perfectly within her rights to complain in any way she felt fit.

[Update: a senior manager contacted us saying "On behalf of management we are appalled by this behaviour, this is not our conduct and we will deal with the matter. Kindly inform the client that she was certainly not at fault and this issue will be resolved."]

Here’s a secret that many organizations don’t want you to know.

Complaints procedures are entirely voluntary.

You can choose to follow a company’s complaints procedure if you think it’s sensible and if it meets your needs but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. No, despite what they’ll say, you don’t have to follow it.

Instead we suggest that you adopt the Official Recommended Consumer Watchdog Complaints Policy. Use this procedure for every organization you can think of, no matter how big or small it might be, no matter if it’s a local company or an international one.

Step 1. Complain directly to the first person you meet, perhaps even the one who you think mistreated you.
Step 2. If Step 1 didn’t work, escalate your complaint to the person in charge of the office or branch you’ve visiting. They’ll have the word “manager” somewhere in their job title.
Step 3. If Step 2 didn’t work now complain to the person in charge of the entire organization. Their title will be “Managing Director” or “Chief Executive Officer”. Do not allow anyone to suggest that other people should be involved.

Alternatively here’s another suggestion, an even simpler, 2-step procedure.

Step 1. Complain directly to the first person you meet, perhaps even the one who you think mistreated you.
Step 2. If Step 1 didn’t work, call Consumer Watchdog.

Go ahead, feel free to break some rules.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I need help. I received an email saying that I have won a huge amount of money in a world cup lottery. This was from Camelot UK national lottery. The claims finance manager was named as Ron J Marshall of tel no +447924551455 and email add of capitalfinance@mail.com

The online project coordinator is Cordelia F Swanton at ukcamelotprogramm@hispavista.com. These people are in association with RBC Royal Bank at Riverbank House. 2 Swan lake. London, EC4R 3BF. UK of tel nos +44(700)5930708 and +44(709)2849768 whom I am told is responsible for disbursing the monies to me.

I wish to be helped to see if this may be a legitimate organization or a scam as I’m required to pay 0.1% of my winnings in advance, for the funds to be released.

I would appreciate it if you could come to my aid.


Sorry, this is a scam, there’s absolutely no doubt about it.

The first clue is the obvious one. You can’t win a lottery that you didn’t enter, that not how lotteries operate. They don’t hand out cash to strangers in foreign countries who never bought a ticket.

Then there are other clues. All the phone numbers you give are UK cellphone numbers each of which has probably been redirected, probably to some West African nation. The physical address they give is actually of a company called RBC Wealth Management, not the fictitious bank they say. RBC Wealth Management’s web site even has a warning that their name and address are both being used by scammers.

What these guys want is the 0.1% they say you have to send them. That’s what the whole thing is about. That’s the “advance fee” they’re after. You don’t say how much they claim you’ve “won” but if it’s the normal sum of about £500,000 that scammers usually offer, I guess they’ll demand around P7,000 from you. If you do make the mistake of paying them this money they’ll just realize how gullible you are and do their very best to persuade you to hand over more and more money until either you finally realize that the lottery prize money simply doesn’t exist or you simply run out of money. Remember that scammers don’t offer refunds.

Please don’t waste your time and money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
On the 31st December I bought a 48 kg gas cylinder for P850 and I was issued with a receipt. The reason I bought this was for me to have a backup so that the one I am using when it gets finish I can connect the new one.

On the 8th June I connected the new cylinder as the one I was using was finished and when I tried to light the stove it was not going on. Upon our investigation we realized that the cylinder that we bought in December had no gas in it. We then called the delivery man and he came to our place and he told me that he will talk to his manager on Monday 9th June which he did. When we called the delivery guy he told us that his manager told him that this cylinder was bought in December and as such he can not assist us as he doesn’t know what we have done with this cylinder.

I need your assistance in resolving this issue.


I think this is going to be a difficult one. The problem is the delay between buying the cylinder and reporting that it was empty. I suspect there’s no way of proving that you haven’t used the cylinder in the six months since you bought it?.

If you’d taken the cylinder to him within a day or two I suspect he would have been more helpful but after all this time the manager is within his rights to wonder if you’ve actually used the gas rather than it just being empty when he delivered it.

Nevertheless we’ll get in touch with the manager and see if he can’t do something to assist you.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Catastrophic gullibility

Sometimes you come across a level of naïveté that can only be described as "catastrophic gullibility" such as in this story from Mmegi.
"Conmen on the rampage in Gantsi

GANTSI: Station Commander Superintendent Chris Molobe, says conmen are roaming the village, with an average of four cases a month being recorded. In the latest incident, a 71-year-old woman of Bosele ward was swindled of P51,000."
“The woman met her fate at her home in Bosele when two men approached her and convinced her that they were able to increase her money,” the Station Commander told Mmegi.

“She agreed to give them P3,000 and they asked her to put the money in a small trunk and remain with the key.” He said the two men left and came back the following day and when the trunk was opened, the original P3,000 was found.

“The men told the woman that she should increase the money if she really wants it to double and they even claimed that in their prayers, they had seen that the funds need to be increased,” Molobe said.

“The woman went to the bank, withdrew P48,000 and gave it to the two fraudsters.

“They locked the trunk and told her that they would go with it for safekeeping. That was the last time she saw them.” Molobe urged the public to understand that money can only generate interest in the bank and not by miraculous means. He added that their investigations indicate that some Gantsi residents are conniving with outsiders to con people.

“We are working around the clock to arrest the situation before it gets out of hand,” he said.