Friday 15 January 2010

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I read the articles on your web site about credit card scams and I think I may have been a victim.

Some while ago a sales person called me and said she was calling from Protea Hotels and Prokard Midrand. She was selling a product but I didn’t quite understand what it was. I asked for more clarity to be emailed to me so I could think about it.

She asked a couple of questions including how and where do I celebrate my birthday and when it is. She also asked if she could send information to my address so I gave it to her.

She proceeded to ask about my banking details which I questioned initially because I was not buying anything and I did not quite understand. I was foolish enough to give the details anyway, but I did not authorise any transaction though.

Instead of getting more information as per my request my credit card account was debited with P1,000 and I never got the information I needed nor any product.

I made follow up to ask why my account was debited, but their response was very casual. I also wrote them an email but had no response.

Can you help?

You probably don’t need me to tell you that giving out your banking details was unwise, do you? What’s worrying is that they also got all those other details from you, such as your date of birth and address. With all these details a crook could clean you out. In a way you’re lucky that it wasn’t just a crook calling and instead it was a legitimate company who took your money. However if what you say is true you have still been conned, in my humble opinion. It’s curious, as well as outrageous, that Prokard charged you money without any confirmation, without any membership details and without your clear, unambiguous authority.

So who is Prokard anyway? Here’s some background for you. Prokard is a membership scheme that offers a range of frankly rather dubious rewards. Their web site says:
“PROTEA HOTELS Prokard is a status travel club that offers all members exclusive accommodation, dining and partnership privileges throughout Protea Hotels and African Pride Superior Deluxe Hotels, Lodges and Country Houses to which only our PROKARD members are entitled.”
However I’m skeptical about these apparent benefits. For instance you might expect that if you are a Prokard member you’ll get cheaper hotel accommodation? Let’s see. I went to the Prokard web site and selected a hotel in Johannesburg at random. According to the Prokard web site I could stay there for R998 whether I was alone or with a friend. However when I checked whether rooms were available on dates I chose at random the web site said “Rooms Not Available. The special offer you have requested for the selected dates is not available.” This happened for various dates I selected.

Here’s a curious thing. At the same time I tried to book a room in the very same hotel from several non-Prokard hotel booking sites. I asked for exactly the same type of room on the very same dates. They all offered me rooms at around R1,340 if a friend was with me or R1,150 if I was alone. However, most importantly they DID have rooms available on the dates I chose whereas Prokard did not.

However, more importantly, I went to Bid2Stay and tried to book a better hotel in a similar area and what did I get? For as little as R700 I could stay in a suite (yes, an entire suite!) at a significantly better hotel. I didn’t have to join a scheme, I didn’t need to pay P1,000 to join and I got the exact dates I wanted without any hassle.

I suspect that this is the case with the other supposed benefits Prokard offers. They’ll either be of negligible value or they’ll be unavailable anyway when you want them. it’s the same story with all these discount schemes and holiday clubs. They offer very little of value, very little that you actually want and almost always they leave you feeling abused and cheated.

I suggest that everyone should steer well clear of all schemes like this, particularly the ones that cost you money up front. Instead do some research before you want a hotel stay, you’ll be surprised how much money you can save, entirely for free. You’ll end up feeling great rather than feeling ripped off.

In your particular situation we did some web searching and you are certainly NOT the first person who has experienced exactly this situation. We’ve had a few complaints about them before and your experience is the same as many, many other people throughout the region. We eventually found a contact person at Prokard who has promised to investigate your situation. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.

Meanwhile I suggest you contact your bank and tell them, in writing, that the credit card deduction was done without your authority and that they are not permitted to pay Prokard anything else. You should also demand from them evidence of how the payment was made.

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