Thursday, 23 April 2009

What is service?

It’s certainly not what I experienced in a store last weekend. Don’t panic, for once I’m not going to criticise a store at home in Botswana but one in South Africa instead. My family and I were in a Woolworths store in large shopping centre in Jo’burg. My wife, not able to find exactly what she wanted, turned to a passing Woolworths employee and asked for assistance. Her response?
“I can’t help you, I’m from Customer Service.”
There are days when I think that is typical of the Customer Service departments of most companies. What, after all, are Customer Service departments really for? In reality a Customer Service Department is what used to be called the Complaints Department. Most of them see their role as putting out fires, not buying fire extinguishers.

Yes, of course I know that there are specialist departments in every large organisation that do certain specific things like the HR, IT and Finance departments but their jobs are necessarily specific. They provide a service to all the front-line, money-making, service-delivering people in the company. Surely customer service is similar, a general thing like turning up for work on time, being polite and not picking your nose in front of a customer? Isn’t customer service is something everyone has to do?

Every time I see and Invitation to Tender from Government inviting companies to deliver customer service training my heart sinks. Likewise whenever I hear from a parastatal, or even a bank that they’ve sent their staff on a 5-day customer service workshop I have enormous pity for the poor souls forced to attend such drivel. Haven’t they suffered enough?

The truth is that smart companies don’t train their staff on how to deliver good customer service. What the smart companies do is, well, smarter. They hire people who can deliver customer already. No, not people who’ve been trained by another company, they seek out people who have excellent customer service skills in their bones, the people who were born to deliver such service, the ones with a genetic vocation for it.

A long time ago I was involved in the development of recruitment polices for nurses and we were all forced to think about the qualities needed in a good nurse and they were all the built-in ones. They were attributes like empathy, attention to detail, curiosity and patience. I don’t think any of those qualities can be learned in a classroom or a workshop. You’re either born with them or you’re not.

It’s the same with teaching, policing and military service. You need to have the right attributes or you will simply be bad at your job.

Customer service is no different. If you genuinely like dealing with people, strangers as well as friends, people different to you as well as your twins, people less pleasant than you as well as the nice ones then you stand a chance. If you truly get a thrill from spending your time, perhaps even your spare time, trying to find a solution to someone else’s problem for no reward then you might make it. If you can cope with being insulted by 10 horrible people in a row but still treat the next person who comes through the door as if they were your long-lost brother or sister then you might pass.

If you can’t do any of these things please don’t apply for a job facing customers.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not all of us have those particular skills. We have other skills that mean we’re better placed in other parts of an organisation where those skills aren’t as important. If you have a highly technical mind, great attention to detail, a natural flair for technology go into Information Technology. If you have amazing numerical skills and a fascination for financial issues become an accountant.

If, on the other hand, you have no attention to detail, no interest in enforcing the law and no passion for justice then perhaps you should join one of the older government regulatory authorities.

Before you think that I believe that training is useless let me say this. Training is only useful if it’s specific, focussed and concentrated. Training is also only successful if it’s rewarding, enjoyable and stimulating. Training is only worth the money when it focusses on tangible skills, not wishy-washy, namby-pamby nonsense like customer service. By all means train your staff on telephone answering techniques, new product details, new procedures you’ve developed but none of those should take more than an hour or two. Once they’ve finished they can go back to work and do what you hired them to do.

If you really want to push the boat out then you can do some team-building workshops but again these only work if the teams you’ve hired comprise people who can get along with their colleagues.

So my point is this. Don’t waste your money on pointless customer service training, enormously expensive customer service “gurus” and the latest gimmicks. Instead form your customer service team from people with a real passion for service and make sure they get out of the office. Get them out there every day, on the front line, supporting the real people who do the real work in your company. If you ever find one of your customer service people in the office you should really wonder what game they’re playing with themselves.

This week’s stars
  • Charles at Barloworld Motors for really friendly service.
  • Nandos Game City for going extra the mile to make a customer smile.
  • The staff from Department of Wildlife at the Mabuasehube National Park, in particular their mechanic Phologolo, who helped a group of tourists by welding their broken suspension allowing them to continue and enjoy their holiday. Phologolo even took the time to phone the tourists when they were n their way home to check everything as OK.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I got an email from saying that I had won $2,741.88.

The email contained what looked like official forms about the payment. When I clicked on the link to claim my prize it went to a web page which wanted my credit card details.

Should I be suspicious?

Yes, you most certainly SHOULD be suspicious. The first clue is in the name of the company that contacted you. Lotteries are never free. Not ever. Real, genuine lotteries charge you for buying a ticket. Always, without exception. A company that implies the opposite is trying to trick you. Anyone who tells you that without actually spending some money on a ticket, you’ve won something is trying to deceive you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lottery, a holiday club or timeshare or anything else, they’re conning you.

Your email is more than just a simple fake lottery scam though, it’s much more interesting. Your email contained what claimed to be a “Warehouse Release Shipping Request” from a company calling itself “Crown Imports International”.

Look at the spelling mistake and the poor grammar. Would a real shipping company have a form like this with mistakes in it? Read it more closely for the interesting parts.

The shipping request includes describes the prize as “one of the merchandise listed herein”. Yes, it mentions the money but doesn't that make you think that the money isn’t really there?

Later in the email there's a link you are meant to click to process your so-called prize. When you click this link guess what happens? Does a web page appear confirming your prize, offering you nearly $3,000? Not a chance. The link opens a web page asking for your money.

Here's the essence of the scam. Before they give you anything you have to give them YOUR money. Again do you notice how the web page doesn't actually say that you're going to get that money? it says you'll get the money or “my merchandise”. It doesn’t clearly state what you'll actually get.

However it's not difficult to find out that you're not going to get the cash. One of the links showed the Terms and Conditions of this con. It contained phrases like “Each individual who responds will be purchasing one of the items offered”. See how you haven't won anything, you're actually “purchasing” an item?

Also hidden away on the web site there is a series of Questions and Answers. One says:
When did I win this prize?

You did not win a prize. You have been pre-selected from a limited universe of names to participate in an international publicity program to promote certain quality consumer products that retail for a lot more.
And finally, there is a page which actually tells you what you're “buying”. You look up the code number 552584 and you find that you've won something from the “Paretti Diamond Jewelry Collection”. Don't get too excited, there isn't a diamond in sight. Paretti jewellery is the cheapest, nastiest rubbish available. Even if these crooks send you anything at all, all you'll get is a worthless piece of junk you'd be too ashamed to wear.

But whatever you do, don't send them any money. This most certainly IS a scam and the guys running it are shameless. In 2006 the British Advertising Standards Authority investigated Crown Imports International. Their ruling stated that the company “misleadingly implied recipients would receive a valuable item if they responded to the promotion” and told them never to do it again.

It's the same story we hear over and over again. A scam is found in the USA, Europe or Australia, the authorities investigate it, ban the scammers from doing it again and all they do is move their attention to Africa, thinking they can fool us more easily. The bad news is that they probably can. We don't have any real enforcement from our authorities, they don't seem to care about these things. Surely if they cared they would warn us about these scams in the press, the radio and the TV?

The good news is that The Voice and Consumer Watchdog are here to do it instead.

Monday, 20 April 2009

We get an email

Attn: Consumer Watchdog


Following the huge reduction in the price of crude oil down to US$ 52.00 per barrel, we urge you kindly but without delay to;


“It will adjust itself through market mechanism” according to the incompetent, unable, failing and ridiculous white elephant Ministry of Trade and Consumer affairs, knowing that all business is owned by INDIANS !



Consumer interest group !

Where shall I begin?

Firstly, I'll ask why some people people think that we are so infantile that we need the Government to control prices for us. Yes, the market will decide the right level for prices but it's naive to think that "free market" means it's free from control. It means that we are free to take from it what we can afford and free to choose the suppliers from whom we buy. Let's just buy wisely and not go to stores where the prices are higher than we think they should be. They'll soon change their prices if sufficient people vote with their feet and with their wallets and purses.

I'm no defender of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Consumer Affairs Unit, I happen to think we can survive perfectly well without their services.

Secondly claiming that "all business" is owned by Indians is stupid, racist and (sorry for the technical term) crap.

Finally, asking Consumer Watchdog to "so something" about prices is a mistake. No, we won't.

Nor should anyone else. To misquote Dr Johnson, price controls are "the last refuge of a scoundrel". The moment you pass over control of prices to some buffoon in a Government office you get economic stagnation, delusions of competence and black markets. The technical term for this is "Zimbabwe".

Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Dear Commissioner

[This is the text of an open letter to the Commissioner of Police. We’ll let you know if we get a response. We didn’t even get an acknowledgement to our last one but we’re always optimistic.]

Dear Commissioner

I would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to what I believe is a case of serious criminal misconduct. I would be grateful if you would regard this letter as an official complaint to the Police Service.

I accuse a charlatan who calls himself “Dr” Jabu of breaching Sections 396 to 399 of the Penal Code of Botswana.

As you will be aware these Sections of the Penal Code forbid what are called “Prohibited advertisements”. These are advertisements for any medicine, surgical appliance or treatment for a range of medical conditions. The conditions covered are enormously varied but include such things as epilepsy, diabetes, cancer and any sexually transmitted disease.

The law states that anyone who advertises such medicines or treatments, other than in a medical or specialist journal, can be prosecuted and, if found guilty, can be punished by a fine or with a term of imprisonment.

I believe that the so-called “Doctor” Jabu deserves either of these punishments, in my view preferably both.

In an advertisement he placed in a local newspaper last week Jabu offered a wide range of treatments. He stated that he can “treat all types of cancer within 30-45 days”. Of course he doesn’t claim to be able to treat them successfully but I believe that is what he wants the public to believe.

He also claims to be able to treat high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, anaemia and asthma. Later in his advertisement he suggests he offers treatments, all effective within 60 to 90 days, for paralysis, thalassemia, infertility, epilepsy, cataract, muscular dystrophy and “other diseases of the brain”. Clearly Jabu’s knowledge of anatomy and medicine are sketchy at best.

There are two sections of his advertisement that particularly shocked me and that I believe expose him as the criminal fraud that he is. One section offers a “detoxification program”. Of course the whole “detoxification” myth has been exposed by now. A study by a UK group called “Sense about Science” published just after Christmas showed that almost all the so-called detox products on the market in the UK (and they’re available in Botswana as well) made ludicrous claims that were totally unsupported by the facts.

Jabu’s “detoxification program” makes some remarkable claims. His advertisement doesn’t just state that he can “treat” certain dosorders, it claims that he can “prevent all heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and all kidney diseases”. It then offers “the permanent cure” for disorders such as cervical and prostatic cancers, impotence, dysmenorrhea and “all types of fever”.

As if that wasn’t bad enough another section of the advertisement, in my view the most offensive, goes even further.

Jabu offers treatments for pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, Kaposi’s sarcoma, candidiasis and cryptococcosis amongst others.

As you may know, all of these conditions are known to be closely associated with HIV infection and with AIDS. In effect “Dr” Jabu is offering a treatment for AIDS. I believe that this is scandalous, deliberate and a threat to public safety. I also believe that it undermines our nation’s tremendous efforts to combat the scourge of AIDS using the proven benefits of science and medicine. I believe that permitting frauds, charlatans and fakes like Jabu to advertise their useless but nevertheless dangerous treatments are a threat to our people’s health and well-being.

There is obviously a very significant chance that people suffering from any of the AIDS-related conditions mentioned by Jabu, and in what we can only imagine is a very distressed and unhappy state, may be tempted to abandon their orthodox treatments, the treatments that may prolong and improve their lives and instead waste their money, their health and perhaps even their lives on Jabu’s concoctions.

In the words often used in the United States when discussing the very rare occasions when free speech can be restricted, I believe that Jabu presents a “clear and present danger” to the welfare of Botswana and her people. I urge you to use your powers to investigate Jabu, his illegal advertisements and his presence in Botswana and to take the action that our laws require.

I will supply you with the advertisement and Jabu’s contact details so that you and your officers can investigate this complaint further. The Consumer Watchdog team are at your disposal should you require any further information or assistance.

With best regards

The Consumer Watchdog Team

[A copy of this letter is on our web site along with a copy of Jabu’s advertisement. Let us know what you think about the advertisement. The more support we get the greater the pressure we can apply to the authorities to prevent this sort of danger.]

This week’s stars
  • Kopangwa Andreck form Gaborone City Council. Our reader called the council to report problems with a traffic light. He said that she “answered and made the whole experience unexpectedly pleasant. She offered her name without asking and promised to find out from the engineers what could be done. 15 minutes later she phoned me to advise that she had spoken to the engineers, and they had dispatched a team to go and sort the problem out. The problem has been sorted, and stress levels of thousands of people will be reduced accordingly. I was blown away however when Andreck called me this morning to check whether the problem had been sorted!” See, the Public Service CAN do it.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I would like some assistance with a case of unfair treatment by a major cellphone store in Gaborone. I purchased a cellphone from them, a model Nokia E90 in June 2008 for P7,000.

During the warranty period the cellphone was returned for a number of repairs. In October 2008 it had a defective microphone. The store sent it to South Africa for repairs which were covered under the Warranty. I was without a cell phone for about 2 weeks

In November 2008 I noticed that the display would switch on and off spontaneously. I returned the phone to the store and they fixed it. I was without the phone for about a week.

A few days later I scratched the screen and the store replaced the screen while I waited. This was my fault entirely.

Yet again in November 2008 the display was again unresponsive and the cellphone was returned to the store for a few days.

A few days later the problem of the unresponsive display was still there and was now worse, with the screen remaining off for extended periods. I returned the cellphone to the store a few days after accepting it back. The cellphone was again sent to South Africa for further repairs.

In early December I was informed verbally that the cellphone had liquid damage and that this kind of damage is not covered by the warranty and would therefore not be repaired. I disputed this at the time.

The store still have the cellphone and they are now insisting that the warranty is now void because of the purported liquid damage.

My obvious concern is that the phone was brought in for repairs on several occasions and spent most of November 2008 in their care. They opened the phone 3 or 4 times without them seeing any liquid damage. I deny completely that I am responsible for any liquid that may have damaged the phone as it has never come into contact with water while in my possession.

What do you think I can do?

It sounds to me like you've suffered enough with this phone.

Given that the phone has experienced repeated and varied problems and is still covered by the warranty I think you can go back to them and say that, in the circumstances, you believe that the phone was "not of merchantable quality" as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001. Merchantable quality is defined as meaning "fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased". You bought a cellphone that for a large portion of the time could not be used as a cellphone.

I would also complain that as they consistently failed to repair the phone, and perhaps even caused more damage while undertaking the initial repair, the warranty repair service they delivered was "not rendered with reasonable care and skill" as required by Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations.

Regarding the water damage I would demand to see written evidence of this. Of course I can’t say that you did or didn’t cause water damage to the phone and it will end up as a battle between their opinion and your promise that you didn’t cause the damage. However, demand to see that evidence and then I suggest you take the phone to someone else to be assessed.

If they fail to prove that there’s water damage you can argue that they have breached Section 15 (1) (b) which says a supplier has failed to meet minimum standards of performance if "the supplier quotes scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated".

Realistically I don't think you can demand a completely new phone, you have after all had the use of it for SOME of the time since you bought it. However I think you have a right to demand rather more from the store than you have got so far!

Get in touch if you need more help.

Thursday, 9 April 2009


“Ownership” is one of those enormously over-used, misunderstood and largely idiotic management words. Whether it’s spouted by highly-expensive consultants, people who’ve read too many customer service and management books or just the simple-minded it doesn’t matter. Everywhere you go you hear managers woffling on about taking ownership of problems, taking ownership of customer needs or some equally meaningless rubbish.

It’s all total nonsense because nobody knows what it actually means. For them it’s just a word they stole from one of the pointless books or probably more likely from some other consultant’s presentation they attended.

It doesn’t mean taking a bit of care, it doesn’t meaning pretending to sound as if you’re interested, it most certainly doesn’t mean having a set of customer service standards that everyone ignores. Yes, of course everyone ignores them. I think we all know that when an organisation publishes customer service standards, they usually do so because one of those enormously expensive travelling customer service “gurus” has told them to do so. One of the gurus like John Tschohl who graced Botswana with his presence recently and who, during his presentation, repeatedly referred to this country as “Tanzania”. At least he could pronounce it, we know from his web site that he can’t spell “Botswana”.

But you have to ask yourself why organisations publish these standards. Why do they spend lots of money publishing them for us to see? I think it’s probably because they have failed themselves to get their staff to work properly so they are relying on you and me to do it for them. It’s a way of saying to their staff “Look, we know we’re pathetic managers, too scared to discipline anyone for being useless, so we’re going to hand over responsibility for your performance management to the public.”

It’s a smoke screen. Like so many performance management tools and techniques it’s just a way of covering up the fact that the managers are bad at their jobs. It’s a way of using impressive language to hide their failure to hire the right people, motivate them, develop their skills and, when necessary, fire the useless ones.

I think that what we want to see is action rather than words. We want to see organisations that don’t fool around publishing standards they don’t really care about. I would rather work with an organisation that just did it right in the first place, one that didn’t feel the need to publish the standards they are almost certainly going to fail to meet.

What we want is companies, restaurants, banks, cellphone service providers that just make things work the old-fashioned way, by actively managing their staff, delivering their services effectively and doing what they are there to do.

An example of this is NBFIRA.

So far, I’ve been hugely impressed by the Non-Banking Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority. This body has been set up by Government to regulate and control all the financial service providers who aren’t classified as banks. That’s anyone who provides pensions, investment schemes and, perhaps most importantly, micro-lenders.

You’ve probably already seen announcements from NBFIRA in newspapers such as Mmegi about various companies that they have investigated. The announcements warn consumers that they shouldn’t trade with these companies because they have been de-registered by NBFIRA and are no longer allowed to operate in their industry. What’s more they often even say WHY the offeders have been kicked out. I think that this is an excellent thing. NBFIRA’s job is to protect us, the consumers of Botswana, not the industry or the service providers. It’s excellent that they are not only being open about their activities but they are actually getting off their backsides and doing what they’re meant to do.

They have also published rules and regulations that they propose will govern the micro-lending industry. With limits on the interest that can be charged, rules about how they do arithmetic so people can compare prices and very strict rules on registration I think we might finally have the sharks on the run. (Yes, I know sharks can’t run.)

Yes, some micro-lenders will go out of business (sad, eh?) but so be it. There’s no moral right to make money out of another’s misfortune.

NBFIRA have also been in the press for less impressive reasons. There have been allegations of hiring decisions that were perhaps not as wise as they should have been but the impressive thing is that once these issues were raised they didn’t go into complete denial, they seem to have listened and taken action.

We need more regulators to behave like this. No, I’m not saying we need more regulators, I think we have just enough already. I’m not a huge fan of bureaucratic regulation but there are times and places when some regulation is needed. Financial services is a very good example of this and I’m certainly delighted that NBFIRA seems to be acting rather than just speaking about it.

Maybe they’re even taking “ownership” of the situation?

This week’s stars
  • Dineo from the Border post at Tlokweng for being cheerful, smiley and the very first person ever to have been celebrated from that border post. Every other comment we’ve had about that crossing has been negative so it’s wonderful to hear they employ at least one person who does a great job. Why is it that everyone seems to love the staff at the Ramotswa crossing but they think Tlokweng is so terrible?

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

During the year 2000 I bought a car radio from a furniture store in Selibe Phikwe on credit. Unfortunately I later defaulted and could not pay regularly. Eventually my account was forwarded to a debt collector for collection. I continued paying my account at the debt collector until I made my final payment in October 2004 after which I was given a final payment certificate. I was happy that my account had finally been cleared although I knew that I have been blacklisted with ITC which I actually did not mind that much. In August 2006 I tried to open a bank account but they told me that I still owed the furniture store an amount of around P600 which I did not know since I have cleared my account.

I contacted the store which confirmed that I owed them. I faxed the final payment certificate to the manager but he told me that it is none of his business to make follow ups since I am the one who defaulted on my payment (even though I had since made good) and I will have to pay up or make a follow-up with the debt collector. The debt collector insisted that I no longer owed the store any more and they have submitted my file to the store for appropriate action. I took the matter to Consumer Affairs but since I submitted my complaint and relevant documents there has been no feedback even when I phone them.

My question now is who is supposed to make follow up to trace where the money could have gone between me and the debt collector? Do I deserve to be treated this way, even though I was once a bad payer?

It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you have done in the past, you always deserve to be helped. I’m sure you realise that defaulting on your repayments was a bad move but you deserve credit for facing up to your debts and not trying to run away from them.

I think it’s therefore bad of the furniture store to treat you this way.

They handed over the debt to a responsible firm of debt collectors who fulfilled their obligations perfectly well. They collected everything they were instructed to collect. The fact that they gave you a final payment certificate means that you have done everything you are supposed to do.

I suggest that you write to the store, explaining that you have fulfilled your obligations completely as shown by the final payment certificate. Tell them that you expect your record at TransUnion (they’re not called ITC any more) to be corrected to reflect your complete repayment. Give them 7 days to fix the problem and demand they they write to you confirming that they’ve settled the issue and that you owe them nothing.

Also you should write to TransUnion as well telling them that you dispute the outstanding debt. They are then obliged to record on their systems that you disagree with what the furniture store has told them.

If this doesn’t fix the problem let us know and we’ll get in touch with them.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Au pair scam

Yet another recruitment scam, this time a scam that pretends to recruit au pairs to look after children in the UK.

A reader who registered on an au pair web site was contacted by someone claiming to want an au pair to look after his children in the UK. Apparently he is an airline pilot who obviously travels a lot and would pay £2,600 per month to help with the kids.

Of course as soon as our reader expressed an interest she was told to contact an agent who would process her visa, for money of course.

The clues were the same old ones.
  • an offer of a ridiculously high wage (no au pair gets that much)
  • the very poor command of English (strange for a British airline pilot)
  • the looming "advance fee" for the visa
  • the use only of cellphone numbers
  • an address that didn't exist (Google Maps is brilliant for that)
Be warned, don't believe anything!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Another week, another scam

Here we go again. In the past it’s been the traditional Nigerian “419” scams, then it was people winning lotteries they’d never entered, then it was the non-existent “John Major Foundation” offering free conference trips to the UK.

Now there’s another one.

We heard last week from a number of people who had complaints about a company called “ITA Work and Travel”.

The readers saw advertisements in local newspapers offering highly-paid jobs in exotic places around the world. All they had to do was send an email to the company and wait. Each got a response addressed to “Dear prospective client”. The email confirmed that they were eligible for a range of exciting employment opportunities in “United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Russia, China, Greece, South Africa and Turkey”.

The email went on to say that “Your salary has been evaluated to be approximately $5,300 per month for the duration of your contract our contracts range from 6 months the least to 3 years at the most.”

Yes, that’s US dollars. Over $5,000 per month. That’s about P40,000. Not bad. No wonder the readers were so excited.

All the readers had to do to get these wonderful jobs was to send “ITA Work and Travel” $350. Well, that wasn’t quite all they had to do. Shortly afterwards they were asked to send another $1,000 for visa fees because these jobs were in the USA and that’s what it costs to get a visa to enter the USA. They also wanted copies of passports, Omang cards and qualifications and two passport photographs.

Suspicious yet?

It’s all a scam. The clues are there in the emails. Firstly they don’t seem to know the names of the people they have selected. Then there is the completely silly way of recruiting people. They say the victims are eligible for employment without ever having spoken to them yet and YOU have to pay THEM to get a job? That’s just not the way recruitment companies work.

Recruitment companies are paid by the companies that are hiring, not by the employees they hire. They also don’t just give away jobs to people they’ve never met, never screened and never evaluated.

Then there is the payment for the visa. Yes, you sometimes have to pay a fee to get a visa but it’s never anything like $1,000.

You can understand why we were suspicious, why we were convinced that this was a scam.

So we started investigating. More clues emerged very quickly. The web site they gave was no longer available because they appear not to have paid their bill. All of the phone numbers they gave were cellphones, one in the UK, one in the USA and another in South Africa. Not a single land line in sight.

We phoned the company claiming to have received one of their emails. Without even asking for our caller’s name they confirmed that work was available aboard cruise ships. They also claimed that that figure of over $5,000 per month could be achieved by simply working as a waiter on this mythical cruise ship.

Then the conversation became bizarre. Our friend Henry from ITA Work and Travel told us that if we accepted the waiter’s job we would also get a visa to enter any of the countries the cruise ship might visit. That’s OK perhaps but not when he described it as being “like a diplomatic visa”.

Then he couldn’t remember whether our American cousins had a consulate or an embassy in Pretoria, which he said we would need to visit in order to get the visa.

Then there was another issue. Our friend Henry from ITA and his colleague Colin who we also spoke to, had very pronounced American accents. In fact, they were very pronounced, MTV American accents with just the occasional hint of West Africa. Their accents were as fake as their job offers.

Of course we knew already that it was all a scam. That much was obvious. The final proof, if it was needed, related to visas. One of the victims had sent them a scanned copy of her passport and received from them a scanned copy of an American visa that she had apparently been granted. Quite how they managed to get a visa without the Americans seeing the original passport and the person in question is dubious.

So we sent the scanned copy of the “visa” to the US Embassy here in Botswana. They confirmed that it’s a fake. A superficially convincing one but a fake nevertheless.

So there you have it, a scam. Yet another “advance fee” scam. Unfortunately several people that we know of have each lost around P10,000 to these criminal scumbags. What worries me is that I suspect that for every victim who has come forward there are probably ten more who are too embarrassed to do so.

Of course we’re encouraging the victims to complain to the Police so at least the crime can be recorded and who knows, maybe some action taken.

But the lesson is simple, the same lesson we seem to preach every couple of weeks. Be skeptical. It’s your only defence against abuse.

This week’s stars
  • Mr Homan from Carmel Enterprises, the LG agent in Botswana, for going out of his way to satisfy an LG customer.
  • Lameck at Engen Filling Station on the Western Bypass in Gaborone for being “thoroughly pleasant, polite and efficient”
  • Malebogo from the Grand Palm (now the Walmont Ambassador) for going the extra mile to help a customer.
  • Mrs Wedisang, who works as midwife at the Tshwaragano Clinic in Francistown for her passion, her willingness to communicate with patients, her commitment and for being a role model in health care.
  • BTC for managing to take our details out of this year’s telephone directory for no reason whatsoever.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer's Voice

We saw an advert in the Advertiser last year for a plot in Lecheng in Palapye.

We got interested in the plot and arranged to go and see it. The advertised price was P100,000. We asked the Estate Agent if the price could be lowered and he said the owner of the plot said she could only lower it to P80,000. We agreed and paid the P80,000 to the estate agent.

A few days later, we learned from the owner of the plot that she was selling the plot for P40,000 and the estate agent had already given her the money. We then called the estate agent to enquire about the price and why he doubled the price of the plot. He said the rest of the money was his commission but we still found it unfair for an estate agent to charge 100% or even more as commission. Is this allowed?

Please advise?

I don’t think there’s any rule anywhere that limits the commission that an Estate Agent can charge. I also don’t think there should be a rule which dictates such things. Surely it’s better for the market itself to decide these things? The most effective way to get prices as low as possible is for there to be free and fair competition between Estate Agents. The Agents that want to sell things as quickly as possible will be the ones that offer the best prices.

Nevertheless charging 100% commission is outrageous. I’ve never heard of a commission that high.

The bad news is that there is probably nothing you can do directly to get your money back. However it needn’t actually stop here.

We phoned the company in question, a company called Mobile Agencies (Pty) Ltd, and asked them if they could justify their enormous commission.

They couldn’t, they didn’t even really try to justify it. They claimed that they weren’t an Estate Agent, they were just a “consultant” acting on behalf of the owner of the property.

Of course, what they call themselves is not relevant. The Real Estate Professionals Act states that someone is an estate agent if they are “engaged in the purchase, sale, letting or hiring of real estate as agent or broker for another person”. Sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?

The Act also states that anyone who is an estate agent who practices while not registered with the Real Estate Institute of Botswana is guilty of an offence. However you might ask how serious this offence can be?

Well, the punishment can be “a fine not exceeding P50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both”. Pretty serious.

So we asked them if they were registered and what do you think they said? No, they’re not registered. The guy we spoke to accepted that it was required to register, yes, he understood that but he hadn’t bothered to obey the law. We explained that we now felt obliged to contact the Real Estate Institute and he said he’d get back to us. He did actually, he called us back later and told us that we can speak to his lawyers.

Here we go.

Dear Mobile Agencies (Pty) Ltd’s lawyers.

Your clients are acting as estate agents as defined by the Real Estate Professionals Act but have neglected to register with the Real Estate Institute as required by the same Act.

They are therefore very naughty. We suggest that you explain this to them before they get a spanking.

Lots of love

Consumer Watchdog


Dealing with Professionals

Sooner or later most of us have to deal with members of “the professions”. By “professions” I mean those jobs where people have to be registered with a professional body, jobs like like doctors, lawyers, accountants and, as in this week’s case, even estate agents.

Obviously as consumers we deserve decent service from everyone who delivers goods or services, of course, it doesn’t matter whether they’re selling us cellphones or saxophones. However there are certain professions where things are much more serious. Professions that, if things go wrong, if standards aren’t met, we suffer.

If a doctor prescribes the wrong medicine, fails to make an obvious diagnosis or treats you while intoxicated he can be dragged before a professional board who will take action against him. Their actions are so important that if they are wrong you can potentially die.

Similarly with lawyers and accountants. Any mistakes they make can cause you enormous financial harm, that’s why they are forced by their own professions to maintain certain standards.

This is also why Government, following pressure from the industry itself, passed the Real Estate Professionals Act which regulates a variety of property-related activities, but most importantly to you and me, estate agents.

Anyone who sells properties on behalf of another person now has to register with the Real Estate institute. It’s not optional, not something they can do if they feel like, not something they can’t afford to do. They have no choice, it’s the law.

If you ever want to buy or sell property make sure you ask every estate agent you meet if they are registered with the Institute. If they’re not, make sure that you walk away.

In general, whenever you deal with anyone from one of the regulated professions remember that there are professional bodies who can help if things go wrong. Chances are that the professional won’t let things get to that stage. Their career and livelihoods depends on staying on the right side of these bodies.