Thursday, 24 June 2010

Stock Market Direct - an update

It's no longer correct to say that I haven't met with Stock Market Direct. I now have.

However I'm still confused about what Stock Market Direct actually offer that is of any real value. For instance they say that they "help" people in Botswana to register with PSG Online, the South African broker through which they encourage people to trade on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange but that doesn't seem too difficult to do by yourself.

They then provide information that helps you decide how and when to trade but this information is provided by Profile Media, a perfectly respectable South African information provider. All that Stock Market Direct do is sell you access to the Profile Media database, something else you can do yourself directly.

Then there are the bigger questions. SMD say that they provide "information on how to invest Directly, Actively and Successfully" and that they provide "Daily Tips and recommendations". That sounds like a financial service but are they registered with NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority?

On the other hand if they are simply an educational and training organisation are they registered with BOTA, the Botswana Training Authority?

I don't know.  Do you?


I’m in pain. I’ve pulled a muscle in my back and it hurts a lot and as a result I am feeling particularly short-tempered and grumpy. Of course some might ask how they are expected to notice the difference between this and my normal state but I think that’s just rude. Normally I have a tranquil and sunny disposition, always ready to charm my family, friends and colleagues. At least that’s what I tell myself.

I used to be dismissive of people who whined and complained about having a bad back. That was until my own started playing up. Now I am sympathetic. My wife might just say I’m sympathetic without the “sym” though.

So here I am, looking for targets for my grumpiness. It’s not hard to find them.

Lying around in the house when I first started complaining about the pain was a tube of cream that someone suggested I might try. Although I could tell quite quickly it wasn’t going to help me the tube intrigued me nevertheless. The label proudly calls it “Aloe Gel Skin Relief” and it is described as a “Skin protectant gel”. It claims that it “helps relieve dry, chapped and cracked skin plus temporarily protects cuts, scrapes and burns”. So far so good.

On the back of the tube there’s a little box entitled “Active Ingredient” which proclaims that it contains 0.5% “Allantoin” - a “skin protectant”. There’s not much I can say that’s bad about this. Allantoin IS a “skin protectant”, but it’s just a moisturiser, that’s all. In the past this compound was produced from cow urine but I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that these days it can be artificially made. Allantoin, by the way, has nothing to do with any type of Aloe.

The intriguing thing, the bit that got my attention, was another part of the label. It says: “IMPORTANT: Peel back label for Drug Facts, warnings directions and inactive ingredients.”

So I had a look. No, before you wonder, it doesn’t contain nuclear waste, anything obviously carcinogenic or cow pee. In fact the only warnings are that you shouldn’t swallow it, you shouldn’t put it in your eyes and a general warning that if parts of your body suddenly drop off you should stop using it.

Then there was the big bit. The “Inactive ingredients”. There were 14 other ingredients in the cream, all of which they confess are “inactive”. The don’t actually DO anything other than to make it either smell nice or be all creamy. Included in the list were chamomile, various type of seaweed extract and cucumber. However the Number 1 ingredient, remember an inactive one, was Aloe Vera juice after which the product is named.

In effect what the manufacturers were selling was a rather high-priced moisturiser. Underneath the peel-back label there was also a web site for the manufacturer where they list their various products. Can you guess which category the Aloe Gel can be found in? Moisturisers perhaps? Stuff that doesn’t actually do very much? Wastes of money? No, it was in the First Aid category. I think that’s a minor but noticeable distortion of the truth.

But then I AM grumpy, intolerant and short-tempered at the moment.

OK, maybe you’re thinking that all this about Aloe, allantoin and moisturising creams isn’t particularly important? Maybe not but sitting here, slightly drugged up on painkillers (no, there’s nothing noble about pain, it just bloody hurts), I couldn’t help but think of parallels with other organisations that seem to cover up facts, or to make claims that aren’t actually either justifiable or even true.

Mmegi readers will probably know about Stock Market Direct, a company based in Botswana that describes itself as:
“an educational instituiton which provides information on how to invest directly, actively and successfully in the Johannesburg Securities Exchange”.
Yes, I know that’s not how you spell institution but it’s how Stock Market Direct spell it.

This is the company that the Botswana Stock Exchange have been warning us about. I’ve been trying to get some answers from SMD for ages now. I’ve emailed them, phoned them, SMSed them and even once had a meeting booked with their Managing Director in his own office but he didn’t bother to turn up. Now they don’t even answer our emails or return our calls.

SMD claim on their web site that they are:
“an innovative company providing services in the financial services arena. The company has been operating for several years with offices in Johannesburg, Mbabane, Maseru, Windhoek, and now Gaborone.”
Just like I did with the Aloe Gel I though I might peel back Stock Market Direct’s label and see what it said underneath.

Here’s a funny thing. Stock Market Direct don’t appear to be a registered company in South Africa. I found a web site called but it doesn’t appear to do anything. I can find no address for them, nor a phone number. I called the office in Gaborone and asked for their South African office number only to be told that they didn’t “have it to hand right now”. I asked for any number in SA but all I was given was the South African cellphone number that the Botswana MD uses when he’s in SA.

Here’s another funny thing. Despite what they claim on their web site they don’t actually appear to exist in Swaziland, Lesotho or Namibia either.

Is it possible that Stock Market Direct are the same as Aloe Gel? A product that hints it does one thing but in fact does very little at all?

Maybe I’m just being grumpy.

This week’s stars
  • Jenny and her team at Kalahari Quilts for their creativity.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

A reader contacted us with a very long story about a car that had been involved in an accident in February 2009. The biggest problem he had was actually with the towing company that retrieved his car from the scene. After a series of delays apparently beyond the owner’s control the towing company ended up storing the car for about 15 months. When he approached them recently to get the car back they demanded P20 per day for storing the car for him. That makes a total of P11,000 plus VAT they say he should pay before he gets his car back.

He asked if that was reasonable.

I think that’s only acceptable IF he agreed to that storage fee up front. I don’t think they can come back to him after all this time and demand he pay for a service he never agreed to. What do you think?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

We heard from a Voice reader who asked:

“Can you please find out for me whether this is not a scam?”

She attached an email that I think it’s worth quoting in full. The reader had earlier registered on the web site.
“Hello Au Pair/Nanny,

I hope my mail meets you in good state of health. I am Mark Lennox, 41 years of age from United States. I am a Consultant Contractor and I reside at #162 Macarthur blv. Hauppague, NY, 11788, USA. As part of the information you may require, I have a 4 years old wonderful and interesting to be with twins namely Chris and Sheani. Due to the nature of my work and the unexpected transfer of my wife to Portugal, I hardly have time for my lovely Kids which prompted an idea of seeking an Au Pair/Nanny. After scrolling through your profile on, both myself and my Wife consider you worthy of the job vacancy in my Home.

Your duties includes taking the kids to school/bringing them back home, play with them, go to Museums, Playground, Cinema Hall, prepare/fix their meals and snacks. You will have your Private Room which consist of Air-Conditional, Television, 12 hours Internet Access and a Telephone to keep you in touch with your friends, families and maybe relatives as often as you may desire, a Bathroom and Toilet. You will have Saturdays and Sundays as your off days, so to enable you have enough time for yourself otherwise, you will be paid for extra services. As for your salary, I will be willing to pay you 2,000 Dollars for every 4 weeks and a pocket fee of 500 Dollars weekly which I suppose should be enough for your primary needs. Regards my family pictures, I will send some upon request.

With all due respect, I will be hoping to hear from you as soon as possible if interested at the said position. Bye for now and may the gentle breeze of all moment blow cool memory into your brain, Amen!

Warmest regards,
Mark Lennox & Family
Do I really need to explain that this is a scam? The usual clues are there, just like with every other scam. Let’s begin with the poor English. The first sentence is surely evidence enough but just read the rest and you can see that rather than being a “Consultant Contractor”, our friend “Mark Lennox” is almost certainly West African, don’t you think?

There’s quite a simple piece of evidence if you do a Google search for the email address used. You’ll find that this particular email address has been used before and is recognised as being from a scammer. They’ve used exactly the same email address, the same name, the same address and phone number. I think it’s safe to assume that they’ve sent this email to thousands of people.

Then there’s the simply unbelievable nature of the offer he appears to be making. $2,000 every 4 weeks plus another $500 every week? That’s $52,000 per year, more than P350,000. For an au pair? They must be joking.

Actually they’re not joking, they’re appealing to our sense of greed. I think most of us instinctively know that this is nonsense but maybe a few of us will wonder if there’s anything to lose by replying? Of course anyone gullible enough to reply is soon going to have their gullibility ruthlessly exploited. I guarantee that sooner or later there will be a last-minute hitch, a visa fee, a deposit, a compulsory bank account opening fee, something that requires YOU to send money to an anonymous Western Union recipient.

That’s what this and almost all other scams are about: the “advance fee” that gives this scam it’s name.

My original suggestion was going to be to ignore the email and pretend it never happened. However I think it’s time for us to try another approach.

I would urge every Voice reader with an email account to email this scammer and tell him exactly what you think of him. Make sure you include something along the lines of “if you think we are that stupid in Botswana…” and feel free to be a rude as possible. In fact let’s be incredibly rude. Let’s make it clear to the scamming community that Botswana is a nation of skeptics, we’re not stupid and we’ve had ENOUGH of scammers thinking they can fool us.

Please make sure you send a copy of the email to us at as well so we can have a laugh!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

We get more email

I want to start by thanking all the people who emailed us in the last few weeks about scams. Several skeptical readers have been in touch alerting us to email scams they’ve received, a few have asked us to investigate whether a scam is true or not and some have just written to say thanks for the information we provide. It really is a pleasure. If we can prevent just one person falling for a crooked scam then it’s all worthwhile.

We don’t just get emails about scams. We get them about a huge variety of issues but there are common issues.

Store credit is one of the commonest. I would have thought that most people would complain about the scandalous interest rates charged by stores, about the hidden charges, the delivery charges, the fake insurance schemes and the compulsory retrenchment protection schemes that they force you to enter only to discover, when you need them, that they say the scheme only covers customers in South Africa.

Actually the commonest complaint we get about store credit seems to come from people who just don’t understand the whole concept of credit at all. Last week a consumer contacted us for advice. She bought an item last year on a 2-year credit deal for about P3,500 but almost immediately had problems paying the instalments. A couple of months ago she finally was able to sent them a mere P200 and was surprised when, by coincidence, a few days later a debt collector was in touch demanding the entire amount be paid. She felt that she was entitled to wait until the end of the entire 2-year period before the store could demand the money.

Really, some people shouldn’t be allowed out without their Mums, don’t you think?

I think the problem is that some people don’t understand what a store credit agreement is. When you sign a credit agreement you are actually borrowing the money from a money-lender. They lend you the money to buy the item you want, you get to take it home and you are then required to pay them back the price of the item over the period you agree along with massive finance charges.

It’s just like a bank loan only without the regulation that covers banks and the moderate charges banks make from loans. Just like with a bank if you fail to make regular repayments the store credit company is going to get angry with you and come chasing after you to get their money back. Importantly, if you show that you aren’t a good payer the store isn’t going to want to take the risk of waiting for you to finish the repayment plan, they’re going to want all their money back in one go. That’s when it can get painful. You’ll need to pay them back the price of the item you bought AND all the finance charges they planned to make from you. And probably the costs incurred with chasing you for the money you owe them.

We’ve had a series of emails over the last year or two about Stock Market Direct. People have asked us if they are legitimate, having seen statements from the Botswana Stock Exchange warning us about dealing with them.

I got in touch with SMD and asked them some simple questions. For instance, they offer the ability to trade on the Joburg Stock Exchange but this is, in fact, restricted to registered JSE brokers and SMD are not themselves registered brokers. So how do they trade on the JSE?

Despite many emails, SMSs and phone calls they refused to answer the question. I even had a meeting planned with their MD but he didn’t have the courtesy to turn up for it even though it was at their office. So I expanded my search and I approached a real JSE broker, PSG Online, who I suspected were the broker that SMD use.

PSG Online were courteous enough to confirm that:
“Stockmarket Direct uses/recommends trading through PSG Online as they are a client of ours.”
So why were SMD so unwilling to confirm that they use a South African broker? I wonder. Do they have something to hide?

Occasionally we get emails that I don’t actually understand. Take this one for instance. The email was entitled “If u a real consumer watchdog Action is now.” Can you make out what the writer wants?
“U see there are so many things that are happening here in GC and if you don’t know which are punishable by law you will never know which ones to report about and to whom such practices one should report to. Yes I know that any person has the right to apprehend people found committing offences or about to commit such but take for instance what would you do about businesses that are run by Batswana in the streets (and of course poverty forced them to open such outlets) are not registered lawfully and these businesses provides services to the public and these services area pure hazard (detail is withheld for confidentiality). Lets talk I am waiting.”
I think the writer has a problem with the street food vendors but I may be wrong. If these vendors are, in fact, the subject of his anger then I must respectfully disagree. I have enormous respect for people who get off their backsides and start trading like this. They are the true backbone of our nation, not Debswana, the cellphone companies or the banks. It’s the spirit of entrepreneurship that they show that will make our nation succeed or not. None of them are likely to become multi- millionaires but they might make a decent living, pay their bills and give their children a better start in life than they experienced.

If it’s a hygiene issue then I also disagree. A friend who is a food hygiene specialist once told me that she would rather eat from a street vendor than from some of the restaurants in Gaborone.

If you want to contribute towards the development of our nation here’s my tip for the week. Buy your lunch from a street vendor who is obviously showing some basic standards of hygiene and who has long queues of hungry-looking people.

And keep the emails coming in!

This week’s stars
  • Elizabeth at Data Dominion Computers at the Carbo Centre at Riverwalk for being incredibly friendly and cheerful.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I am writing to enquire about the problem that I have with Hollywood Household Supplies. I purchased a pressure cooker from them amounting to total of P3665.20 in October 2009 which I was to pay within two years, but due to some cash contrain I encountered some payment problem which lead to arrears of which I communicated to them.

In May 2010 I deposited P200 in their account and I was surprised to get a call from some Debt Collectors saying I have been handed over to them. Now my question is; when is someone supposed to be handed over to debt collectors, because I have been thinking that someone can only be handed over at the end of contract and failing to settle amount owed? or when am in arrears I can still be handed over?

I need your assistance regarding this matter, because these people are saying I have to settle in six months, while I know that I still have some months to go to pay up and my contract with Hollywood is not yet over.

I’m sorry but you have completely misunderstood your agreement with the store. They are perfectly within their rights to hand you over to a debt collector whenever you fail to honour your agreement with them. There is absolutely no requirement for them to wait for two years before you pay them, that’s would be completely unreasonable. Would you really think it’s reasonable for someone who has lent you money to wait that long? So why should a store wait?

I suggest that you go back and read the credit agreement you signed with the store. In that agreement somewhere will be a description of your obligations and it will certainly say that you have to repay your debt according to the agreed schedule.

In fact I suspect that the store have been very reasonable in giving you 6 months to settle the debt, they could have demanded it all in one payment.

Finally, the only criticism I can make of this store the is VAST cost of the pressure cooker you bought. That’s an outrageous price. Either that or the store is charging you a staggering amount of money for the privilege of buying it on credit.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received an email from the “Civil concept foundation” inviting me to a conference on “Human trafficking and spread of HIV” in Seattle in the USA and in Portsmouth in the UK. Do you think it’s legitimate or is it a scam?

It’s a scam. There are too many clues for this to be genuine.

Firstly, I don’t understand why a conference would be at two locations so far apart. It’s just not believable. Then there’s the usual scam warning: poor English. The authors of the email seem not to have a very good command of English, certainly not as good as you’d expect from people organising a conference in two English-speaking countries. The first sentence of the email is a good example:
“We at Civil concept foundation sends our warn greetings to our entire members worldwide.”
The next most obvious clue is the usual one. Free email addresses. You’d think that an organisation prestigious enough to host international conferences would be able to afford it’s own email addresses, wouldn’t you? In fact the invitation came from a free Hotmail address and they ask you to reply to a free Yahoo address hosted in Hong Kong. This obviously isn’t a real organisation.

And why would a conference as prestigious as they make this one out to be invite total strangers by email? Where are the advertisements in the newspapers and on the web sites of legitimate organisations in this field?

Finally, you only have to do a quick Google search for “Civil Concept Foundation” to find several web pages reporting on the scam.

As it happens we’ve seen this scam several times before. Not with these exact details but the same basic idea. What happens is that after the usual exchange of emails, the scammers, pretending to be conference organisers, announce that although everything else in the conference is free, YOU have to pay for one of the hotel stays up front. Of course, nobody in the world really has to pay for hotels before they’ve arrived, it’s just not how hotels operate but by that stage you’ve been seduced by the scammers. Needless to say they’ll ask you to pay, not with your credit card or directly to the hotel but via Western Union, the hallmark of all scammers.

Please don’t even consider replying to this email. Even sending them a rude message telling them to leave you alone will only confirm to the scammers that your email address is real. You might just end up with more scammers bothering you.

Western Union

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Western Union. However, although Western Union are not themselves criminals their service is one that is used a great deal BY criminals.

Here’s a simple rule I think you should adopt when someone asks you to send them money using Western Union. Consider using Western Union to send money to people to whom you are related, with whom you would trust your children or to whom you would happily lend money but ONLY if they don’t have a bank account you can send the money to instead.

For every other situation, you should NOT use them.

Friday, 11 June 2010

We get email

OK, we get lots of email. Some weeks we get several from people who ask for our help in transferring fortunes from their late relative’s bank accounts in places in West Africa. We get even more emails from people who have also received such offers and are now understandably skeptical. Correction, people don’t seem to be skeptical these days, there’s no need to be skeptical any more, I think we all know this is nonsense, don’t we?

Actually we don’t. Within the last few weeks we’ve heard about two people who were actually falling for this old scam. One had been electronically seduced by a beautiful young woman calling herself Hariet U. Yeboah who claimed to be in a Senagalese refugee camp and who had told our victim that “she has money in the royal bank in scotland which was left by her father before he died in the ivory coast wars in 2006.”

I won’t go into the full details but I’m sure you can guess the rest. All “she” wanted was for the victim to transfer some money via Western Union that would allow her fictional lawyer to transfer the fictional money to the victim’s account. The tragedy was that our victim still believed that this young woman really existed. He had never met her in the flesh and had never even spoken to her on the phone. The only contact he ever had with her was email. It’s a shame he never asked how she could send emails but couldn’t receive a phone call.

What we had to tell the victim, in the gentlest of ways, was that this girl didn’t exist. In fact all that existed was a single scammer, almost certainly a man, certainly not young and beautiful and with no fortune to give away.

Unfortunately it didn’t take must investigation to establish that this was a scam. You only had to read his email to see. However, just to underline our certainty I did a Google search for “Hariet U. Yeboah” and there was another report of the scam, showing the various pictures the scammer had sent out claiming they were of her. Strangely they weren’t all even pictures of the same girl, clearly he’s not a very consistent scammer.

I haven’t heard back from the potential victim since, I imagine he is a little embarrassed, but at least we got there before he started sending money to “her”.

Others haven’t been so fortunate. We also heard from the sister of a victim who was very concerned that her sister was offering everyone an end to debt because of the fortune she was about to acquire. She had also befriended someone on the internet claiming to be in a similar situation, also stuck in a refugee camp with a fortune to liberate. However the family of this victim were worried because she had already withdrawn large quantities of money that had disappeared. Needless to say it was too late to get that back, it was already in the hands of West African organised crime. However we were in time to stop her sending them a final payment of P200,000 before the fortune was meant to come her way.

I got a very intriguing email from someone called Lauren. It read:
“Hello Dear, Good morning or whatever the weather may be over there,how is the weather in your country?,my name is Lauren I'm tall and nice looking girl i just decided to drop you some words just to say hello and how was today,i saw your profile at and i will like to known more about you, please i will be very happy if you can reply me so that we can go further to known each other,we can be good friends,write me direct to my mail box, Hope to hear from you. yours Lauren.”
Well, that’s very nice. Or rather it would be if I actually had a profile at, which I don’t. It would also be flattering if “she” hadn’t sent it to everyone else in the world.

But, just to see what happened, I replied, using a different email address, one of my many scam-investigating Gmail addresses. Guess what? She’s in a refugee camp in Dakar! What a small world.

And do you what’s the best thing I found out? The pictures “Lauren” sends to potential victims are exactly the same pictures as those sent out by “Hariet U. Yeboah”! Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence?

The lesson is the same one I’ve mentioned again and again. Don’t trust anyone on the internet unless you know them in another way first. The internet is a perilous place to be.

Even at home there are perils. In the Daily News this week the Botswana National Sports Council announced that they were launching a new web site, which is clearly very modern and worthy. However, much as it pains me to say this, please don’t visit it. I went there and instantly Google popped up a security warning saying:
“Warning: Visiting this site may harm your computer! The website at appears to host malware – software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that hosts malware can infect your computer.”
It went on to say:
“Of the 2 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 1 page resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-06-07, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2010-06-07.”
Be careful out there on the internet!

This week’s stars
  • Elizabeth at Data Dominion Computers at the Carbo Centre at Riverwalk for being incredibly friendly and cheerful.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I’m a 17-year old girl looking for a modelling agency. I recently searched for agencies on the internet, i came across a website which offered an endless list of top modelling agencies. I want to believe that this website ( is not a scam. I want to enter the model search which the website offers, however, I am required to pay $129 for submitting my photo or pay $149 for submitting my photo and being entered into the model search. I don’t know if this website is a scam or not, I want to be sure that I wont be throwing my hard earned pennies away by sending the required fees, could you please help me find out whether this website is a scam or not. Thank you.

I think you’re right to be cautious, this is way too suspicious. I checked the web site you gave and while it and the company seem superficially impressive it doesn’t take too much research to find many people who have raised many concerns about this particular company and others like them.

Basically my main concern is that like recruitment agencies, the legitimate modelling agencies don’t require YOU to pay THEM to recruit you. Modelling agencies, like recruitment companies, make money from the clients, not the recruits. Obviously I’m not an expert on the modelling industry but I’m sure what this company wants can’t be the way it should work. I also would be very worried indeed if a sister of mine, or more likely a daughter, got involved in a company that based itself on recruiting pretty young women, taking their money and then making them feel extremely optimistic. You can no doubt imagine the rest, can’t you?

Please don’t waste your money on this. Find a real model agency that doesn’t demand cash up front, you’ll be a lot safer.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I am planning to purchase some laser products from a company called LaserRaymax. The website is The website seems not to give information as to where the company is located geographically. When I sent my enquiry about the products, I received a reply via yahoo email. The address of the sender is Allen Selseleh []. I am suspicious of the yahoo email whether it is a genuine distributor of the product or a scam. Please find our for me before I commit my money..

Someone else who is wise to be cautious. The products this consumer is asking about are “Hair and skin rejuvenation systems”. The idea, according to the web site the consumer mentions, is based on “Low level laser therapy” which they claim “employs a very low dosage of coherent laser light that has been proven to vitalize the cells by increasing the mitochondrial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in the cell”. This apparently increases nutrients flow to the hair follicles which miraculously “stimulates and accelerates hair growth”.

I won’t bore you with the endless parade of pseudoscientific rubbish that follows but it can be summarised as “shine a light on your head and it will make it hairy”. We all know that’s nonsense, don’t we?

Anyway, our advice is give it a miss. If you’re going bald then learn to live with it. Besides, don’t women seem to flock towards the cool bald guys anyway?

A warning

Last week we reported on an Orange customer who contacted us because his mobile internet bill had soared from around P400 per month to over P20,000. Yes, twenty thousand Pula for just one month.

It may sound a tremendous amount but it could actually be quite easily to do this. For instance a DVD feature film takes up about 4 gigabytes (a gigabyte is a thousand megabytes) and as the cheapest excess download charge is around P1 per megabyte you can see how a film could cost as much as P4,000 to download. Download a few films and you could easily get a bill of P20,000 at the end of the month.

However Orange have explained that normally their mobile internet packages have a capping mechanism that will warn customers as they approach their free monthly allowance and certainly when they reach it. It seems that for some customers this mechanism didn’t work in April and May. They’re still researching this particular case but they’ve promised to get back to us and the consumer once they’re figured out what happened.

The lesson is clear. You must read and UNDERSTAND your mobile data contract BEFORE you start using it for anything out of the ordinary. An allowance of something like 150MB is almost certainly enough for a few emails and a bit of web-surfing but be very careful indeed if you do anything more than that.

Friday, 4 June 2010

We’ve lost a great friend

Consumer Watchdog is in mourning. Last week we lost one of our good friends. We never publicised it but Baledzi Gaolathe MP, the former Minister of Finance and later Minister of Trade and Industry was an enormous source of support and advice to Consumer Watchdog. His office was always open to us, his advice flowed freely and he gave us great moral support. He was a reminder that politicians can still be decent human beings, can still demonstrate a commitment to the people and can be what my late father would have called a true gentleman.

We miss him and his family are in our thoughts. Our nation is poorer place because of his absence.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Action This Day!

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was famous for a number of things. He was, for instance, well known as a consumer of staggering quantities of alcohol. One of the most famous quotes from Churchill comes from a conversation he supposedly had with an opposing politician, Bessie Braddock. Outraged at the amount of the hard stuff he had consumed at a dinner table she told him, “Sir, you are drunk!” Churchill, who even when sozzled had great control, retorted with “Madam, you are ugly, but in the morning I shall be sober.”

While on the subject of Churchill and his way with the ladies, another opposing female politician, Nancy Astor once told him “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.” Again Churchill was quick on his feet, no doubt lubricated by the booze yet again, and said, “If I were your husband I would take it!”

Despite the fact that there is a very long list of fantastically rude Churchill quotes it’s not my plan to fill an entire column with them. Instead I was reminded of Churchill’s habit of placing little stickers on certain key papers and memos that demanded “Action This Day!” If you worked for Churchill you didn’t want to be the person who failed to take immediate action when you saw one of these stickers. Churchill had many, many flaws but was hugely impressive as a commander and a leader when his nation was in peril.

Last week our President went on one of his walkabouts in Old Naledi again. I’m not interested in the politics behind this, what caught my eye was a sentence in Mmegi which described the President on his tour as “a military man who believes in action, precision and loyalty and seems to pay scant attention to oratory.”

Roughly translated I think that means, “he does stuff instead of just talking about doing stuff.” I can’t see that as a criticism. In fact, without wishing to sound too ingratiating, and certainly without wishing to issue a political comment, I like that a lot. One of our failings as a nation is that we talk too much. We are a nation of chatterboxes who love gossiping, talking about the news and bitching about government and the public service. Of course that’s part of democracy, the freedom to debate, discuss and generally talk a lot but it can go too far.

Sorry, while on democracy, I can’t resist another Churchill quote. In the British Parliament he once said:
“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” 
Back to Botswana. I think we talk about things too much instead of doing them. I’m not just talking about politics, I mean consumer protection as well. Instead of actually doing things to improve the service we consumers get, most organisations, and in particular those charged with protecting us, seem to do little more than talk about improving things. We deserve more. We deserve people in authority, in customer service and in the enforcement agencies who occasionally get up off their backsides and show more of action and a whole lot less oratory.

However, it’s not just action that I think we need. That other allegation made about the president is also critical: precision. It’s no good taking action blindly. It’s no good just firing a gun unless you aim it first. The problem we sometimes see is that the enforcement agencies often target their attention at anybody, not the targets that most deserve the bullet. Why, for instance, does the Health Professionals Council not regulate the real charlatans we have amongst us in Botswana? Why aren’t they investigating, for instance, the nonsensical claims of the various homeopaths and acupuncturists that they require to register with them but who are just taking our money and offering us so-called treatments that simply don’t work? Let me make it clear. There is not a single piece of reliable evidence that shows that homeopathy and acupuncture achieve anything more than a placebo effect. So why aren’t the Council showing action and precision in putting them out of business? Isn’t that what they exist to do?

Yes, it is. The Act that set up the Council stated they exist “(a) to promote the highest standards in the practice of health care in Botswana; and (b) to serve as a safeguard in protecting the welfare and interests of the public of Botswana in the practice and delivery of health care.”

I think closing down charlatans should be top of their list, don’t you? It’s such a shame that instead of doing this noble work that they’ve been distracted recently, bothering a real doctor instead of taking some precise action.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Dear Consumer Watchdog!

Here is something I would like you to help me check out. It’s a message I received on my Facebook account where it says my name appears on deaf help promotion and I am to get $200,000 USD.

It goes on to say my name was selected by Mr Mark Zuckerberg the CEO, Founder and Chief Executive of Facebook and the promotion was made to make all Facebook users benefit from the gains the company made.

They asked me to contact the payment department with full names and address on so as to proceed to give the money in cash.

Another scam, don’t you think?

Yes, you’re absolutely right, this is clearly a scam. You very smartly spotted the evidence quite quickly. Firstly, this is not how big tech companies like Facebook operate. They make lots of money and yes, some companies do give away lots of it to good causes but not to total strangers on Facebook. And if this was in fact true how can they afford to give these amounts to each of their 400 million users? It’s just not credible.

Then, yet again, is the commonest clue. If this story was true why would they give a email address? Surely if Facebook was giving away cash they’d ask you to contact someone with a email address?

There’s no doubt that this would turn out to be yet another “419” or “advance fee” scam. At some point just before you thought you were going to get the money there would be a last minute fee the scammers would demand you pay, as always by Western Union, and as soon as you paid that they’d be gone.

All Voice readers should beware of emails like this. They’re all fake and the best thing you can do is delete them immediately you receive them.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a Megapedic bed last year November for P2,199 which was advertised with 12 months warranty but on the bed it is written 25 years warranty. After only 4 months I went back to the store to complain because it was making a lot of noise but they told me that their beds have only a 1 month guarantee and then later told me that their beds do not have any guarantee or warranty at all.

Please I need your help

No, no, no and NO again. This is completely unacceptable. It is improper and illegal. It clearly contravenes Section 17 (1) (d) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which state that it is an “unfair business practice” if a company causes “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”.

Section 17 (1) (e) also forbids a store from “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”.

Finally, Section 17 (1) (f) of the Regulations forbids a store from “entering into a transaction in which the consumer waives or purports to waive a right, benefit or immunity provided by law, unless the waiver is clearly stated and the consumer has specifically consented to it”.

Did you sign an agreement, before you paid for the bed, saying that you were happy for any warranty to be ignored? No? Then the store have abused you and are trying to cheat you.

I suggest you go back to the store, show them this edition of The Voice and say that unless they act in accordance with the law IMMEDIATELY, their name will appear in the next edition.

A warning

More and more of us have cellphone contracts that include internet access as part of the deal. As well as free call minutes and SMSs these packages also include an amount of data that you can download for free. Mine for instance allows me to download up to 150MB of data each month.

For most of us 150MB each month is more than enough for those occasions when you urgently need to read your mail and you’re not near your normal computer or somewhere with a free wireless network. Luckily most phones that do this sort of thing also have mechanisms to prevent you from exceeding your allowance. Mine, like most, only shows you the subject heading of the emails before it downloads the entire message so you can choose to ignore the ones you don’t want or that might contain huge attachments.

However this can occasionally go horribly wrong. We heard from a customer last week who instead of receiving his normal monthly bill of around P400 was shocked to get one for over P20,000, just for one month. Looking at the contract he was on this is actually possible. The danger is that once you reach your limit of perhaps 150MB every other megabyte is charged at something between P1 and P3. All he needed to do was to download a couple of feature films and he could easily reach this sort of amount.

The cellphone company are still researching this particular case but the lesson is simple. Read and UNDERSTAND your mobile data contract BEFORE you start using it for anything other than everyday emails!