Monday, 29 March 2010

An open message to HomeChoice

[This was emailed to HomeChoice last week, no response yet. I think it’s perfectly simple, don’t you?]

Some while ago we contacted HomeChoice both in Botswana and South Africa suggesting that you address the content of your advertisements in Botswana.

As you will recall from my earlier emails the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 states:
"6. Goods sold on hire-purchase
Where goods are offered for sale on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale or on any other terms as to deferred payment the following details shall be displayed in addition to the prescribed details and in characters of similar size—
(a) the amount of any deposit;
(b) the amount of each instalment;
(c) the frequency of instalments;
(d) the total number of instalments; and
(e) the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments."
As I write this I have a HomeChoice advertisement that was distributed in a Botswana newspaper today in front of me. It contains clear references to items (b) and (d) and item (c) is implied but, critically, no reference is made anywhere to the "total amount to be paid".

Your advertisement is therefore not in compliance with Botswana law.

Given that we have informed you about this issue in the past and that (with one exception) all other furniture stores in Botswana have decided to act in accordance with the law, I think it is fair to publish these facts in the media.

I would welcome your response.

Friday, 26 March 2010

e-Public Service?

I’m a gadget freak. Despite what some people will say it’s not just a boy thing but I am a good example of someone who loves a useful bit of technology. Note that word “useful” though. Despite what certain people close to me (you know who you are) say I like gadgets to have a purpose rather than just as a toy.

Of course it helps if the gadget is cute. The Apple iPhone for instance is utterly gorgeous. Now that we can get hold of the latest 3GS model I don’t see why anyone who can afford one would buy anything else. Easy to use, incredibly powerful, it does everything from surf the web, play music, play free games, update your Facebook page, record meetings, get weather forecasts, take pictures and video, see maps of where exactly you are, the list goes on and on. And of course, it’s an Apple product, so if you buy one you will instantly become charismatic, charming and sexually irresistible. I know this, I have an iPhone myself as well as a MacBook so I must be astonishingly attractive. I must say it’s very good of people to keep it so well hidden.

I’m boring you with all of this just as a way of saying that I’m not against technology. Technology can be great and can do useful things. It’s just not the answer, in itself, to any of life’s problems.

In the Daily News late last week there was a story entitled “e-government strategy formulation on process”. No, I don’t know how you can be “on process” either. It reported on a briefing given by a senior public servant at a council meeting regarding “e-government”. The official apparently said that:
“Government is in the process of developing the national e-government strategy for the period of 2010-2016”
and that this is:
“a progressive e-government programme as a way of accelerating the delivery of the national information communication technology policy”.
Considering the benefits of this project, she said that:
“e-government had a lot of benefits that included efficiency whereby service delivery would be faster than before. Also, she said e-government was transparent, cost effective and would assist in the consistency of service delivery”
I have a problem with all of this. Actually I have several. Firstly that’s all meaningless, consultancy woffle. It’s amazing how many words can be used to say so little.

Then there’s one of my main irritations in life. People confusing Government and the Public Service. The Government are those people we elected to Parliament who rule us, who approve laws, direct the nation as a whole and who work hard to improve our lives. No, don’t bother commenting.

The Public Service on the other hand are the people you and I encounter every day. Whether they’re traffic police, nurses in public hospitals or the person renewing our driving licence or Omang, they are the Public Service. They’re the ones actually serving the public. The so-called e-government project should actually be called the e-Public Service project.

Before I started criticising the whole business of “e-government” I should begin by declaring an interest. I know it sounds like a confession but here we go. I work with the Public Service. Not as an employee but I’ve been engaged by them many times to do various things. One thing I’ve learned in my time with them is they’re a very mixed group of people. I think we all know this but there are, in fact, working in the Public Service, some profoundly talented people, people with intelligence, imagination and a tremendous work ethic. They are people who understand that their job is no different to their friends who work in banks or insurance companies. They exist solely to serve their customers.

Unfortunately I think we all know that there also exists within the Public Service another group of people who do their very best to keep themselves hidden away from gaze, doing as little as they can other than taking the money at the end of the month.

This, I think is part of the problem with “e-government”. Throwing technology, web sites and “portals” at a system that is already flawed isn’t going to help anyone. The technology is neither the cause nor the solution to the problem of service delivery in the Public Service. The problem AND the solution are the people and they way they operate. Fix those things and THEN you can think of spending lots of money technologising things.

I also think that currently “e-government” is enormously off target. How many people will truly benefit from it? Some Ministries have already begun to offer various forms for download from the web which is useful but how much more do we actually need? Will anything else actually help the people that matter most, the people we need to raise out of poverty? No.

My guess is that too many Public Servants have been to presentations by big IT companies, have spent too much time “benchmarking” in the countries we like to compare ourselves with, that are in fact diametrically different to us, and have fallen for the line that spending tens of millions on technology is the answer to our problems. Well it’s not true. They’re just expensive toys that benefit, if anyone, a tiny proportion of the population and I’m even sure how they would benefit.

I think that particularly in times of financial hardship there are better things to spend taxpayer’s money on, don’t you?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I got an email and phone calls from Bizz Awards, saying that we have won this award. Please advise if they are genuine.

No, they are NOT genuine. As you’ll see from our blog (here, here and here) we investigated these people in October and November last year. Many companies received emails announcing that they had won this award. The award itself is free but the only way you can receive it is to attend their gala awards celebration. Last year this was supposed to be in Houston, Texas (which the hotel they mentioned knew nothing about). To attend you obviously have to pay your airfares, your accommodation costs, your food and drink AND you have to pay the Bizz Awards US$ 3,500. That’s about P20,000. The total cost per person to attend from Botswana would be around P60,000 or more.

The Bizz Awards is a scam. Visit our blog and you’ll see that they lie, they offer these joke awards to companies that don’t even exist and they attempted to bribe us into stopping speaking about them.

If you get an email from the Bizz Awards you should do one of two things. Either delete it immediately or send them a hugely insulting email saying that you know they’re crooks.

Prokard update

A few weeks ago we criticised the way Prokard, a hotel discount scheme, gathers new customers. They phone you with offers of hotel discounts and then ask for your credit card details, so they can check “if you’re eligible for gold membership”. A little later you see that they’ve charged you over P1,000 without your consent. This week we got an email from someone calling himself “Dennis” from Cape Town. He said:
"I read the report on the "Prokard Scam". If you have not investigated the benefits of the card, then how can you make a comment as you do? I was a member for three years, and found that the card gave me absolutely excellent value for money."
Well we have investigated the "benefits" of the card and there aren’t any. If you see our blog entry on 12th February you'll see that I DID actually research Prokard. I could find significantly better accommodation at a significantly lower price than the Prokard card could offer me. Also, and this is a critical thing about Prokard, it offers mainly discounts. You have to spend money before you get any supposed benefit.

The facts speak for themselves.

Facebook warning

Like many people I received an email that appeared to be from “Your Facebook team” that said:
“Because of the measures taken to provide safety to our clients, your password has been changed. You can find your new password in attached document. Thanks, The Facebook Team.”
In fact this isn’t from Facebook at all. Attached to the email was a zipped file that if you open it (please don’t do this!!!) opens a program called “Facebook_details_443.exe”. This is only going to affect people with computers that run Microsoft Windows but unfortunately that’s most of us. If you run this program it will open your PC to what’s called a Trojan. This is a program that will hide itself on your computer and can allow a hacker to take control of it. It will then either distribute spam or other viruses or it will cause severe damage to the data you have stored on your PC. It could even install a keylogger program on your computer which will record any sensitive information you enter when you’re accessing your bank account online, log into your email or access your companies business systems.

Please just delete the email immediately and then remove it from your Recycle Bin to get rid of it forever.

Email warning

You’ll have seen in last week’s Voice a front-page story about a Member of Parliament whose email account was hacked by someone who then sent an email to everyone in his address book. The email claimed that he was stranded in the UK, and begged all the friends to send him money to help him out.

Luckily some of these friends called him and he was able to confirm that this was all a pack of lies designed to scam the friends into sending money. Almost certainly the money would have been sent to someone using Western Union and would never have been seen again.

One question I ask myself repeatedly is do Western Union have any idea how much their payment mechanism is used by criminals? I can’t remember a scam that didn’t involve Western Union. You’d think by now they could do something about it, don’t you?

Obviously I don’t know how this MP’s email account was hacked but I suspect it was either using a keylogger program like I mentioned above, or he might just have used a password that was easy to guess. We’ve all done it, we’ve all used our partner’s name or the name of one of our kids or our birthplace as a password but these days you have to be a LOT more careful. One tip that’s often given for choosing passwords is not to use a real word so a hacker can’t use a dictionary to check all possible passwords. My recommendation is slightly different. Choose a simple word that you CAN remember like “telephone” but then change it slightly so it’s no longer a real word. Make it “tele7hone” or “telep%one” instead. All you have to remember is the easy word and the one change you’ve made. Then change it every few months. It’s an irritating bother but it might save you a lot of trouble in the end.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Breaking news - First Morgan Capital

We received an email from a businessman in Francistown who had applied for venture capital from a company calling itself First Morgan Capital Group.  They offered him US$ 323,600 (over P2 million) as a loan. However he became suspicious when they demanded he pay 7% of the loan amount as a security deposit to a bank account in Singapore.

The web site for First Morgan Capital Group looks impressive but there are clues if you look carefully. They give an address in Zurich in Switzerland that doesn't actually exist. Their phone numbers in both Switzerland and Peru either don't work or are answered by automated machines that also don't work properly.

Then there's the suspicious nature fo the whole idea they present. Why would a venture capital invest large sums of money in a company they'd never actually met?

Finally, the web site appears on a list of sites used by "advance fee" scammers. Is that enough evidence?

It's a scam.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Facebook - Virus warning

We've received... | Facebook: "Facebook Security We've received reports of a new spoofed email that asks people to update their Facebook account agreement. This email is fake and did not come from Facebook. It contains an attachment with a virus and should be deleted immediately. If an email looks strange, don’t click on it, and warn your friends."

Thursday, 18 March 2010

New list published of 250 words the public sector shouldn't use

New list published of 250 words the public sector shouldn't use

"The annual list of words that shouldn’t be used by the public sector to talk to people has today been published by the Local Government Association.
The latest list of 250 words has been taken from the European Union, central government, quangos, regional government, business management speak and public relations phrases. Council leaders are concerned that in the midst of such a tough financial climate a failure by the public sector to explain to people the benefits from what they pay in taxes could make the difference between an individual staying afloat or going bankrupt.

The list includes new words such as:
  • Trialogue
  • Wellderly
  • Goldfish bowl facilitated conversation
  • Tonality
  • Webinar
  • Under-capacitated
  • Clienting
  • Disbenefits"

We get mail - Prokard

Following our criticism of Prokard and their suspicious ways of gathering new victims, sorry, customers, we got an email.  It began:
"I read the report on the "Prokard Scam". If you have not investigated the benefits of the card , then how can you make a comment as you do? I was a member for three years , and found that the card gave me absolutely excellent value for money."
I have investigated the "benefits" of the card and frankly I couldn't see any. If you see our report in Mmegi on 12th February this year you'll see that I DID actually research the numbers. I could find significantly better accommodation at a significantly lower price for instance. Also, and this is a critical thing about the Prokard, it offers mainly discounts. You only get a discount when you spend money to begin with. You have to spend to get the supposed benefit.

He continued:
"I would recommend the Prokard to anyone who is serious about quality dining & accommodation.  Protea Hotels & Prokard will always have my support. Keep up the good service guys.
Dennis Vermaas - Cape Town"
I think the facts speak for themselves "Dennis".

A New Era?

I could begin by wondering whether we’re entering a New Era of customer service in Botswana but I don’t think there’s much point. We’re not. But that’s just the way customer service is, things don’t change overnight. Yes, a new restaurant or supermarket might open with dramatically better service but the average quality of service takes much longer to change than that. Of course, as a passionate believer in the power of the free market I think that a new influence, such as that new restaurant, or a bank with heightened service, can exert “pressure” on the average level of service because of that almost miraculous business influence: competition.

That’s perhaps our greatest hurdle in Botswana, the lack of large-scale competition. If you’re in Jo’burg and you want to buy a new car there are dealers representing every manufacturer you can think of on every corner. In fact, when I did an on-line search for Toyota dealers in Gauteng I found 45 of them. Of course we’ll never have such choice, being such a small community. We need to resign ourselves to choice between brands, not between dealers.

Incidentally, I got that Toyota dealer figure from the Toyota web site. Isn’t it curious that Botswana doesn’t appear as a separate country on their site, even though we all know we have Toyota dealers here? No, on the Toyota web site, you can find Botswana as a “Region” on the South African page. Charming. Not.

In fact the reason I’m talking about a New Era is that I want the two words “New Era” to appear as many times in this article as possible. When it’s posted online my ambition is for this article to appear high up on the list of Google search results whenever anyone does a search for “New Era” and “Botswana”. Here’s why.

In October last year one of our readers booked a hotel stay for his wife who was going on a trip to Kenya. He did this through a company called Uniglobe New Era Travel at the Craft Workshop in Broadhurst Industrial. He paid them P7,695 and New Era confirmed everything was OK.

However when she reached Nairobi she found that no booking had been made, there was no hotel room for her, the hotel had never heard of her. Luckily she was with friends who helped out but it was nevertheless embarrassing, irritating and stressful. Back at home her husband called New Era to find out what had gone wrong only to be told that the manager had gone on holiday to South Africa, her phone didn’t roam and she couldn’t be contacted.

Once she was back from her holiday she provided an excuse. She’d been busy and had never actually made the booking. Sad, eh? Aren’t you sympathetic? No, neither am I.

Naturally you’ll be pleased to hear that the New Era manager gave the consumer a refund? Of course she did. It’s just a shame it was refused for “insufficient funds”. Then began a series of feeble excuses and promises, none of which actually delivered.

We suggested that this was no longer a time for being moderate and considerate. A crime had been committed.

Section 23 of the National Clearance and Settlement Systems Act 2003 states that:
"Any person who knowingly draws or issues a cheque… against which there are no sufficient funds in his account at a financial institution on which the cheque or other payment instrument is drawn shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding P1500 or 3 months imprisonment or to both."
That’s simple enough. Write a cheque that won’t be honoured and you really might end up in prison.

Our consumer went to the local Police station and laid a charge against her. This is our tip for the year. Help the Police do their job, make their difficult jobs a little easier. He went there with copies of everything, receipts, emails, the lot and even quoted the law to them. Then, in the company of a large cop (OK, I don’t actually know if the cop was either male or large, it just amuses me to think he was) they visited New Era Travel and explained to the manager the error of her ways. The cop made it clear that she would agree a repayment plan immediately and if she failed to abide by it she’d be in deep trouble with the law.

However, that’s when things stalled. She did, in fact pay him back a pathetic P500 but he’s still owed over P7,000. New he’s faced with the struggle of legal action to get it back.

However, there’s some good news. As soon as this began we contacted Uniglobe, the owners of franchise that New Era operate. They seemed to be as appalled as we were by New Era’s conduct. They promised to cancel her franchise if she didn’t do the right thing. This has taken a while but we heard recently that they’re certainly going to take action. We’ll keep you informed!

So here’s our simple suggestion. Don’t deal with New Era Travel. Avoid them. DO not give them any of your money. There are plenty of decent travel agents but New Era isn’t one of them. You can’t trust them.

An update

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the store that was selling fake iPhones and refused to give refunds when customers found out they were fake. We asked whether we should name the store. Many people have contacted us saying we must. Here you are: Gertmore Fashion Store at Westgate Mall.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

My brother passed away on the 9th October last year and the District Commissioner made a letter requesting his bank to close his Account and give me all his savings as his estate executor. I went to the bank and was told that his account had P16,000 but he had taken a personal loan with a balance of P21,000, and they were unable to give me his savings as he was owing them the balance from his savings and the loan was not insured. I went to the bank adjudicator on 1st December 2009 to lodge a complaint but the bank wrote a reply letter to say that their loans are not insured.

Could you please assist as I feel that this is not fair.


I’m very sorry to hear about your bereavement. I’m also sorry to hear the problem you have encountered with the bank. However I don’t think there’s much you can do.

If it’s true that your brother had an outstanding loan for P21,000 then the bank is perfectly entitled to offset that against the amount he had in his savings account. I think they’re morally entitled to do that but also legally and contractually. I’m sure we’ve all seen the small print in our loan agreements (yes, of course we all read them!) that say that if you default for whatever reason in repaying a loan, they are entitled to take the money from other accounts you have with them.

Despite this I would request that the bank gives you a full set of closing statements about all the accounts your brother held with them so that you can check everything has been calculated correctly.

The lesson of course is insurance. It’s always worth considering an insurance mechanism when you are in debt just in case things like this happen.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

We heard from a consumer who had received an unsolicited email that she was convinced was a scam. The email claimed to come from the “UPS West London Center” and related to an undelivered package. Note to begin with the scammer’s mistake. If they’re really in London surely they would spell it “Centre”, not the American way?

Then there’s the email address it came from: upsfasttrack7@peoplepc.com. Surely a message from UPS, a massive international shipping company, would come from someone with an email address like “someone@ups.com”?

The email said:
“This is to inform you that we are in possession of your Parcel which includes a certified cheque worth of £250,000.00 and other vital documents that we facilitate the clearance of the cheque in your country. Be rest assured that, your cheque has been confirmed valid and true and delivery will be made once you have met the necessary requirements.
Note that as soon as our Delivery Team confirms your information’s, it will take only two working days (48 hours) for your package to arrive it designated destination.”
Later the email says:
“For your information, the Mail, VAT and Shipping fees have been paid by the Lottery Award Promo Board before your package was registered. What you need to pay is the Security keeping fee of the UPS Company as stated in our privacy terms & condition page, in order to secure your Package. The cost for the Security keeping fee is £165 GBP.”
That last bit is what they’re after. That’s the “advance fee” these scammers are seeking. As you can imagine everything else is fake, that £165 is all they want. Once you’ve sent it you can bet you’ll start receiving other demands for more and more money until you figure out you’ve been scammed.

As with most email scams I think you can rightly suspect any unsolicited email that has English as bad as this one. You can also remember that nobody has ever won a lottery that they didn’t enter.

Of course the final give-away is that they need this money paid using Western Union which seems to be a common denominator among all scams these days. Surely UPS would have better payment methods than this?

If you receive an email like this make sure you delete it immediately. Don’t be tempted to become a victim!

Finally my thanks and congratulations to the reader who sent this in. It’s good to know there are skeptics out there who care about their neighbours.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

Unfortunately we heard of another type of scam that we haven’t seen so far in Botswana. It’s one of the most despicable types that the scamming industry have ever invented. All scams exploit people’s gullibility to some extent but this is lower than low.

This scam is a prolonged romantic seduction of the victim. Yes, literally romantic. Over a long period the scammer flatters and sweet-talks his victim, encouraging her to fall in love with him, and, like all scams, eventually demands money. In this case he claimed to have sent his victim a package full of jewellery, gifts and money, only for it to be “held up at customs” in a foreign country. He claims to be away from his office so he couldn’t pay the amount himself, and yes, you’ve guessed it, the victim was then asked to transfer money by Western Union to his account. And then he disappears.

Of course all scammers are despicable crooks but some are obviously a lot more despicable than others.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

BOPA | Consumer education vital - Malesu

BOPA | Consumer education vital - Malesu

"Consumers should form lobby groups to protect their interests and rights, says trade and industry minister, Ms Dorcas Makgatho-Malesu.

She said consumers should take the lead in the advancement of their interests and the protection of their rights."

Mmegi Online :: Pastor falls victim to cyber crime

Mmegi Online :: Pastor falls victim to cyber crime

"Crime has become more sophisticated as traditional forms of theft are replaced with the more modern use of the computer and internet, a craft aptly coined cyber crime.

Recently, a pastor with the Community Empowerment Ministries, Percival Mtetwa fell victim to cyber crime when more than 20 people on his contact list received an email on Tuesday from his yahoo account (which he did not compose himself) soliciting financial assistance."

Friday, 12 March 2010

The worst passwords to use online | Yahoo! Finance

The worst passwords to use online | Yahoo! Finance

"Thousands of consumers are leaving themselves at risk from fraud and identity theft because the shortness and simplicity of their online passwords leave them susceptible to basic, brute force password attack."

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Amateur hour

According to Wikipedia “the Original Amateur Hour” was a radio program broadcast in the USA beginning in the 1940s and continuing for several decades. It was the forerunner of all the talent shows we see on local and international TV these days. Complete amateurs, often completely without talent (see, nothing really changes) could present their talents on air and be judged by the public.

Please don’t tell anyone but I’ve been known to watch these shows, if only to remind myself how ridiculous the human race can be. Yes, I know every so often they find someone with an astonishing, previously unknown talent, but in order to find these rare creatures they have to sift through the enormous mass of completely talent (and dignity)-free humanity.

At this point I suspect that some of the more pious Mmegi readers will be commenting that we’re all born with some divinely-donated talent, we only have to find it. Rubbish. As evidence I give you American and European bankers and, in particular, their respective governments. These incompetents have demonstrated their complete lack of ability by almost ruining various economies and have had an enormous impact on everyone around the world. Do I need to remind you that it was these governments that bribed their idiotic banker friends to lend money to people who would never be able to repay it, all so the contemptible politicians could buy a few votes?

Despite what many people are saying I don’t actually think it was the system itself that was to blame. Blaming capitalism for these problems is like blaming Toyota if your taxi driver takes a wrong turn. It’s the driver that was wrong, not the tools that were at fault.

Unfortunately, like with the Western bankers, there are some people that seem to have no discernible talent or, perhaps as bad, people who have no talent in the area in which they work. We’ve all seen this. We’ve all heard it as well. Why, I can’t help ask myself, would a radio station appoint as a brand new presenter to a critical slot in their schedule, someone who had never presented a radio show before? What were they thinking? How could the management think it would work? I know that when you see radio stations portrayed on TV it always shows loads of fancy equipment and, behind a glass screen, a producer who handles the phone calls, the sound levels, the research and probably the coffee as well. Well, that’s NOT how it works in ANY of the radio stations I’ve visited here in Botswana. Every single presenter I’ve seen has worked solo, pushed the buttons, played the music, connected to the news and the adverts, got the coffee himself or herself. So I can’t understand how a supposedly professional radio station can appoint someone to a job as demanding as this who’s never done it before. And who clearly had been put through NO training at all. I’m sorry but the first few mornings were embarrassing. You could almost hear the sound of people in traffic jams switching over to another radio station.

The same goes for customer service specialists. I’ve met and worked with a number of people whose job is meant to be about improving the quality of service their organisation provides and it’s astonishing how much they vary. Of course there are some who are brilliant at it. They just have that combination of genes, experience and education that make them naturally right for the job. On the other hand there are some who are wholly unsuitable. They don’t care, they don’t understand WHY customer service is important (making lots of money) and they often end up causing more harm than good. The surprising thing is that it’s not industry-specific. There are excellent service specialists in parastatals and even in the Public Service while there are some in the private sector who absolutely, completely and comprehensively suck at customer service.

The big question for HR people and their customer service customers is whether you can train people to be good at customer service. The answer is simple. No, you can’t. Feel free to call me politically incorrect but I think there are certain professions you need to be born into. Nursing is one, teaching is another. If you aren’t born with the aptitudes needed in these professions you are going to find it VERY hard to be successful in them. Customer service is yet another example.

If you are ever faced with the decision, please don’t recruit anyone to a customer service position unless they either have a proven track record that you know about or they have passed some serious psychometric testing to see if they have the required personality and skills to do well. Please don’t just appoint someone because it would look good on their CV (or yours). Please appoint professionals and let’s put an end to amateur hour.

Some updates

Just to repeat our most recent warnings. Please have nothing to with Dalberto Sponsors, TVI Express or Uniglobe New Era Travel. They are all crooks that will take your money and then run away laughing at you.

This week’s service stars
  • Lesego at BPC for brilliant service.
  • The BPC call centre for being “great”.
  • CafĂ© Dijo at Kgale Shopping Centre in Gaborone, yet again!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received an email from someone saying they were recruiting football players for the new season. The email says they will pay for my travel expenses to Scotland as well as all my accommodation and living expenses while I’m there. Can this be true?


No. This is all a lie, yet another scam. Not even a very good one. The email you sent us, apparently from “Scots united club” provides so many clues, it’s amazing anyone would fall for it. The first paragraph of the email is so terrible it’s worth quoting in full:
“We are recruiting players for 2009/10 for the new season. If you can play active football well or if you can not play.Mrs Liz Scot the president of Scots united club Scotland., is a non governmental organization that promotes talented/untalented footballers and re-opened early this year. Services of an English coach that has been a former assistant coach in a premiership side in England, services of many technical advisers and assistant coaches I trust that with their services and that of footballers the sky will be the limit for Scots fact.”
You can see this is a scam, can’t you? Let’s overlook the barely understandable English and just think about a football team that actively recruits “untalented footballers”? You can make up your own joke here. What about “But my favourite team do that already?”

The email goes on to explain that everything will be paid for and even includes this amazing, hilarious sentence:
“No fee what so ever is required from each player as the royal Scotland government under his majesty the king is sponsoring the camping exercise”
Errr… What? Is the author of the email insane?

By now I’m sure you’ll have seen the usual clues. Dreadful spelling and grammar, made up facts about a mythical King of Scotland and a complete absence of sense.

The email gives a web site you can visit to find out more about this fictitious team and it doesn’t make any better reading. It’s full of yet more spelling mistakes and ludicrous claims.

Of course what this is all about is another “advance fee”. I guarantee that at some point just before you think you’re going to get your tickets to fly off and become the next David Beckham, they’ll come up with a last-minute problem that requires cash. From you. Lots of it. It might be a “visa fee”, an up-front hotel reservation or a recently invented tax, it doesn’t matter what. That’s what the whole scam is about, getting your money. It’s then that they’ll either go quiet and never be heard from again or they’ll try to string you along demanding more and more money from you.

This and all other such approaches are scams and you should NOT respond to them. Not if you want to keep your hard-earned money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I’m in Tanzania and have seen in a news paper that there is a company offer jobs in the UK known as Dalberto Sponsors. Is it true that this company is genuine as there are no physical contacts other than an email address.

Please advise?

Yes, Dalberto Sponsors is a scam, no doubt about it. There’s plenty of coverage on our blog where we show you evidence that they’re crooks running a scam. Luckily we’ve only heard from one person in Botswana who actually lost money to them, I hope this means that everyone else has been more skeptical?

Their scam is a simple one and is currently the most “fashionable” of all the scams around. They say they’ll get you a fancy job abroad, earning vast amounts of money and all you need to do is give them some cash up-front. They’ll keep demanding more and more money until either you finally realise you’ve been scammed or you simply run out of cash.

Take a look at the blog for all the evidence about their scam and even that they stole their staff pictures from other places on the web, including, by coincidence, a picture of convicted corrupt politician from Detroit.

Finally isn’t it nice that Consumer Watchdog and The Voice are providing support to people around the world? In the last few months we’ve had emails from consumers all over the world not knowing that we’re in Botswana but asking for our help in their home countries.

Updates

Several people have been in touch asking for an update on the Uniglobe New Era Travel situation. That’s the travel agency that took P8,000 from a customer for a hotel booking but just kept the money instead of making the booking. So far all they’ve given him is a refund cheque that bounced and a mere P500 in cash, despite the Police getting involved. There’s still no good news unfortunately so all we can suggest is this:

Don’t deal with Uniglobe New Era Travel. Don’t give them any money. If you’ve already paid for something check that your tickets are valid, check the reservations have been made, check you’ve got what you paid for. If not cancel the order right now and demand a refund IN CASH. Don’t hang around, they’re likely to be out of business very soon indeed.

Uniglobe New Era Travel can’t be trusted.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Five people imprisoned for bouncing cheques

Daily News story here.

A few selected quotes:
"He [Assistant Finance minister, Mr Charles Tibone] said since the promulgation of the act, the number of dishonoured cheques due to lack of funds as at last December is P200 000 or an average of 40 000 cheques per annum."
and
"However, he noted, between 2008 and 2009 there were 736 cases which were reported to the police countrywide by commercial banks in which cheques were dishonored for insufficient funds.
Of the offenders reported to the police, many pleaded guilty and were fined P200 and paid the bounced cheques by other means.
In addition, said minister, commercial banks impose a deterrent fee ranging from P192 to P275 per cheque referred to drawer for lack of funds.
Between 2008 and 2009 there were five people imprisoned as a result of failure to pay penalty fee."

Friday, 5 March 2010

Want an iFake?

Can you get an Apple iPhone for P400?

You probably think you can’t, at least I hope you do. Nevertheless we got an email from a consumer who was unhappy to have learned the hard way that it wasn’t possible. He went to a fashion store in a shopping centre in Gaborone that was offering the iPhone at a remarkably low price. On the box it said it the phone had iTunes, Youtube, Facebook and internet access. All the store wanted was a P400 down-payment towards a lay-bye purchase.

Already you might be asking yourself why a fashion shop was selling a premium cellphone. Good question. I often wonder why people buy things from certain stores. For instance why do people buy computers from furniture stores? Even in our small community we have specialist computer outlets that will sell you a PC, will give you a decent warranty and will be able to fix it when it goes wrong. Is a furniture store going to be able to do that? No, its not. That’s why, if you have any sense, you’ll only buy a computer from a company that primarily sells computers. We’ve heard from several consumers over the years who have paid the price for buying a computer from the wrong store.

Back to our friend and his iPhone. This store claimed he could buy a genuine iPhone from them with all the fancy features it offers for a bargain price. However, when he started telling his friends how lucky and clever he was to get such a bargain they explained to him that life might not be that simple. I’m guessing that they told him a iPhone costs several thousand Pula, not just a few hundred. I’m guessing that they might have told him that the iPhone was available only through Orange in Botswana (although rumour has it you can get a legitimate unlocked one elsewhere – we’ll let you know if it’s true).

After learning the bad news he went back to the fashion store and asked them to demonstrate that this supposed iPhone could do all the things it said on the box. It couldn’t. Not really surprising as the phone was what the store called a “Chinese iPhone”. Of course there’s nothing wrong with things made in China, I bet everyone reading this owns several Chinese products. My perfectly legitimate, name-brand phone was made in Taiwan and the battery was made in China. No problems there.

However what the store really meant by “Chinese Phone” was “Fake Phone” or “Illegal Phone”. If it said it was an iPhone and it wasn’t really an iPhone then it was a fake, simple as that. Selling fakes is illegal, we all know that.

So what happened next? Well, being rather disappointed to have been conned into buying a fake he asked for his P400 back. Not unreasonably. It wasn’t unreasonable, but it was unsuccessful. The store refused to give him back the money and insisted he take the fake phone. The store manager even refused to give him something else for the P400 he had already paid.

Our friendly consumer was, understandably, angry. He even went as far as saying that he would tell Consumer Watchdog about the situation, about the fake iPhone, about the failure to return a deposit and about the complete contempt the store and it’s management have for basic standards.

So here we are. What do you think we should do next? We could go and visit the store and explain the error of their ways to them I suppose. We could call Consumer Affairs but I suspect all they would do is visit them and explain the error of their ways less persuasively.

We could call the Police I suppose and suggest that the store is selling fake goods. These days the Police are a bit more interested in this sort of offence so its possible they’ll do something although this is hardly the crime of the century. The Police have rapes and murders to investigate and the occasional fake phone inevitably comes lower down the list.

We could talk to the government people whose job it is to think about copyright but again those wheels turn extremely slowly. It’s not going to force the store to do anything this decade.

I think we’ll get in touch with the store and by the time you read this we’ll know whether they have done the right thing. But here’s my idea. What do YOU think we should do? Do you think we should call the Police? Should we call Consumer Protection? Or perhaps we should just tell you the name of the store so you can avoid them? Get in touch and let us know what you think.

Updates

Still no legal action from the fake University of SouthCentral Los Angeles despite their ludicrous threat some months ago. Nothing more from the fake Bizz Awards and their scamming ways. Still no significant feedback from Prokard about their seemingly deceptive ways of gathering customers.

We’ve more evidence about the scammers calling themselves Dalberto Sponsors, this time we’ve conclusive proof that the pictures they claim show their staff members are, in fact, stolen from other web sites.

We’re working hard on another few travel scams so scammers should be careful. We know your names and in some cases we even have your bank account numbers so be warned!

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

It’s scam week. Yet again.

It’s been yet another week of scams and deceptions sent through to Consumer Watchdog. Will they ever end?

Enlargement advertisements

For once I’m going to be discreet about a subject because I’m sure you know what these advertisements are offering and you don’t need any unnecessary details from me. A reader got in touch about the remarkable claims made by one particular advertisement. The advertisement he read claimed that a Dr Imrani and his friend Mama Aisha could offer enlargement “from 10 to 25 cm within a day”.

As our reader explained, if these people can achieve that, surely they can help amputees re-grow limbs? Perhaps that sort of miracle is beyond even their remarkable skills.

Violence And Gangster Life

Another reader got in touch after receiving a lengthy unsolicited email from a “Rev Jim Roosevelt”, who allegedly represents “Glory of God Mission USA”, inviting him to attend a dual conference “in United States and Africa”. The email said (and I haven’t changed a single letter in this, the punctuation and grammar are as in the originals):
“The theme of the Conferences is to teach the Youths on the need to avoid VIOLENCE AND GANGSTER LIFE which is increasing everyday all over the World. The forth coming Youths Conferences is dedicated to all our beloved Brothers and Sisters who lost their precious lives during September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks here in United States.”
It goes on like this for over 300 words, inviting people to visit their web site for more details.

One interesting section of the email says this:
“All your traveling Documents will be processed here in United States through U.S.Department of State before your visit to the U.S. Embassy in your Country, where all the Participants will get their Visas each.”
In other words they are saying that we mustn’t get in touch with our local US Embassy because they would be able to expose this as a scam immediately. What I bet they’ll want you to do is send them a fee to pay for all the processing the State Department will do. That fee is what this is all email about. Yes, it’s yet another “advance fee” scam. There will inevitably be a time, just before a critical stage, like getting the visa or receiving the formal invitation letter, when you’ll be asked to give them a lot of cash. That’s when they’ll disappear.

If you have the time it’s actually worth visiting this scam’s web site just to see how unconvincing it is. It uses a free web site hosting service called orgsites.com which provides free web site hosting services for community and church groups.

The web site has pictures of rather creepy-looking priests, an enormous amount of waffle about terrorism and that old favourite, free email addresses. Surely an organisation big enough to be running a twin-location international conference could do better than a free email address, don’t you think?

The web site gives a phone number in New York but whenever you dial the number it goes directly to an automated, anonymous voicemail service.

So perhaps you’re still unconvinced that this is a scam? Wait, there’s more.

I responded to the scam email using a false name and email address asking what I should do to attend the conference. Their reply, which came through within minutes included this:
“The Organizers and Independent Donors will take care of your entire flight tickets including feeding and accomodation here in United States,but the Participants will only pay for their Hotel Reservation Payment in Ghana,Africa.”
So they will pay for everything, including flights, food and some of the hotel bills, and all I have to do is pay UP FRONT to reserve my hotel room in Ghana? Suspicious yet? Hang on, there’s more still. You can’t choose which hotel you want. You are required to stay at the “Eagle Pride Hotel” in Accra, which, curiously, doesn’t actually exist. It has a web site (of course) but it’s another of those free web sites you can create in a couple of minutes. They also give a phone number but when you call them they answer the phone with “Hello?”. When you ask who they are they say “Who do you want to speak to?”. If you then say “Eagle Pride Hotels” it’s only then that they say “Yes, this is Eagle Pride Hotels”.

What they want is the pretend room rate for the 3 or 4 nights accommodation at this pretend conference. They say their rooms range between $52 and $130 a night so you’d expect to pay them at least $150. I bet they’ll want payment by Western Union, don’t you think?

[Update: Yes, just confirmed that they DO demand payment up front via Western Union]

But here’s another question. Why do you need to pay for the accommodation BEFORE you’ve been there? That’s not the way hotels work. Ask anyone who’s stayed in hotels how often they’ve been asked by a real hotel to pay up front. They’ll tell you it never works that way.

It’s a scam.

TVI Express

A few weeks ago we responded to a question from a consumer who had been invited by a friend to join a pyramid scheme called TVI Express. We explained that it was all a deception, that only the criminal creators of the pyramids make any money and that our reader should avoid it at all costs.

A TVI Express distributor got in touch claiming that we were entirely wrong. He claims to have made R1 million from the scheme in the last 6 months, he claims the scheme makes millionaires, he claims that in India TVI distributors make $40,000 per month. So why did he insist on remaining anonymous?

It’s because he’s a liar and a cheat. All pyramid schemes are based on lying and cheating. TVI Express is no different.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Dalberto Sponsors - an update

On the Dalberto Sponsors they show a photo of someone they claim is "Adam Sewall".  "Adam" is described as and they show his picture:
Adam Sewall earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Binghamton University, in Binghamton, New York. He earned his law degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as Managing Editor for Health Matrix : Journal of Law-Medicine.

Mr. Sewall began working in the field of immigration law as a law clerk in a private law practice in New York City. Upon admission to the bar, he travelled to United Kingdom to join Dalberto Sponsors and help clients as an immigration lawyer. Attorney Sewell has represented clients applying for nonimmigrant visas and permanent residence. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Bar Association, and Maryland State Bar Association. Mr. Sewell also worked as law clerk for New York City’s Department of Homeless Services.

Adam entered the immigration law field to pursue his interest in assisting individuals in the critical and complex legal matters affecting their lives.
However, here's a curious thing.   Here's another picture of someone strikingly similar.  However this is Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit.

Of course there IS no Adam Sewall, it's just a made-up name with a picture stolen from a web site.  There's no connection to Kwame Kilpatrick at all.  However it is ironic that they've stolen a picture of a disgraced, corrupt, criminal politician, don't you think?

Rest assured that every other picture on their web site will be fake as well.  That's because everything about Dalberto Sponsors is fake.