Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Hyundai saga - is it nearly over? No.

Today was the big day. Our Hyundai-owning reader went to pick up her car from Rustenburg nearly a year after it browk down. After a final argument over money she was able to drive away in her car with someone from Rustenburg to escort her to the border, just in case the impossible happened and she broke down again. Of course that couldn't possibly happen, having been told explicitly that the car wouldn't break down and after all the care and attention it was given in Rustenburg.

Except that's exactly what happened.

IT BROKE DOWN AGAIN.

Admittedly it was only a fuse that blew and it was repaired quite quickly but this time she managed to get a magnificent 15km from Rustenburg before it stopped.

Is there now any single part of this car that works reliably? Is there any beginning to the talents of the team that worked on this car?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

BBC News - Alert issued on danger supplement

BBC News - Alert issued on danger supplement

"Food watchdogs have issued an alert after finding that a chemical marketed online as a health supplement was similar to industrial-strength bleach.

'Miracle Mineral Supplement' is 28% sodium chlorite - which becomes bleach when mixed with citric acid.

Even taken as instructed, experts say it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea - and mixing it wrongly could lead to respiratory failure."

419ers take council for £100k • The Register

419ers take council for £100k • The Register

"A Scottish local authority lost £102,000 to an African gang after being duped by a targeted letter scam.

The letter, received at the end of July, purported to come from one of South Lanarkshire Council's legitimate suppliers, and requested that payments be made into a different account."

Friday, 24 September 2010

Contempt

I’ll start by being positive. There are plenty of stores and suppliers who understand that they should be nice to customers. They understand that customers give them their hard-earned money in return for something, that trade is a two-way street. I have some money, you have a product or a service I want, we meet and if the price is right we’ll do a deal. It’s based on some mutual respect and understanding. Most suppliers understand this. Most even truly believe it.

Some others are a bit more cynical. They understand that their financial survival is based on customer’s money and they’ll just pretend to care about us. While I obviously prefer those companies that are genuine, that really mean it, frankly I don’t care very much. So long as I get a good deal I’m not too fussy. I don’t make any particular moral demands on suppliers, just legal ones.

Then there’s the final group. There are certain companies that just don’t give a damn about their customers, they just want the cash and don’t care very much whether the customer walks away happy, or remains happy for very long.

There’s a certain store near OK Foods on the Western Bypass in Gaborone who sold a customer a fake Apple iPhone. In fact it wasn’t even that, it was a fake of a fake iPhone. When the customer realised she had been sold a fake (although frankly at the price she paid she should have been suspicious) she took it back for a refund and they just threw her out of the store. That’s fairly contemptuous I think.

Obviously multi-level marketing schemes and pyramid schemes treat their customers, sorry I mean victims, with contempt. If they had any real respect for them they would openly disclose the figures they have internally about the earnings that members of the pyramid will earn. A few of them actually do this now but only because courts and regulators around the world have dragged these details out of them kicking and screaming. That’s why we know that only a tiny percentage of Amway and Herbalife distributors actually make any profit and the few that do are the ones lucky to get into the pyramid early enough.

But maybe you’re thinking that this is just the less reputable end of the business spectrum? A well-known, international company with a brand and a reputation to maintain would never treat their customers with contempt, would they?

Are you sure?

Readers of this column will recall the Hyundai Rustenburg saga. You can see the details in previous columns and on both the Mmegi and Consumer Watchdog web sites but the basics of the story are simple.

Last October a Hyundai owner broke down in Rustenburg and wisely took her car to the nearest Hyundai dealership for repairs. A year later and despite giving them a total of P20,000 she still hasn’t got her car back. Twice she went to Rustenburg to pick up the car and twice it broke within the Rustenburg city limits. IT was a catalogue of disasters. They even lost the crankshaft at one point.

Now they claim that there is another fault with the car, one they curiously failed to notice when they first got the car and curiously failed to notice on both occasions that they said they had repaired the car and that it was ready to take home. They claim that the owner needs to pay them another P6,000 to get her car back. Despite repeated requests they have failed to give her a complete breakdown of the costs.

After many, MANY emails, several articles in Mmegi and a lot of patience Hyundai promised an investigation which concluded that she still had to cough up the cash, ignored one of the occasions she picked up the broken vehicle and generally whitewashed Hyundai Rustenburg.

Last week I wrote about this case and reported that nothing had recently happened. Just before last week’s article something DID happen. Another email came in from Hyundai in South Africa, the full text of which you can read on our blog. Here are the highlights:
“I would like to advise that Hyundai Automotive South Africa does not have any legal obligation towards a vehicle we did not sell. (…) It was noted immediately by our representative that went out to inspect the vehicle, that it was not a vehicle imported by Hyundai Automotive South Africa. Nor did I know that this vehicle was not one of ours when I first responded.

This specific vehicle was traced back to Malaysia where it was scrapped and sent to Botswana. This constitutes a “grey imported” vehicle. It is against the policy of Hyundai Automotive South Africa to do any repairs to a grey imported vehicle. Our dealers, including Hyundai Botswana, has strict instructions not to work on these vehicles as we cannot guarantee the condition of the internal workings of these vehicles prior coming into our dealership. We pride ourselves in the vehicles we sell and the quality of the vehicles we sell.

Our dealer in Rustenburg is an independent dealer and does not have the means to check whether a vehicle is one of ours or not and therefore offered to repair the vehicle to assist the customer, without being informed that this vehicle was not sold by Hyundai Automotive South Africa.

Loyalty is a two way street, Sir! With the above in mind, kindly note that this case has been closed on our side.”
Roughly translated this means that their “independent dealer” in Rustenburg is not competent enough to follow their own rules, is not trusted enough to check the origins of Hyundai vehicles and is not competent enough to repair a Hyundai vehicle even when they try.

It also means, in my not even slightly humble opinion that Hyundai are showing utter and complete contempt for a Hyundai owner.

I think we should all show them the same level of contempt back, don’t you? Do you really want to buy a vehicle from a company like this?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

There are adverts in the media about what they say is a very good business opportunity called “Buy Bridge Town”. Does this look like a genuine business or do you think it’s suspicious?

I called their office line and a sales lady encouraged me to buy fast because soon there will be nothing to buy.


There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly suspicious about the project but the amount of money they require you to invest obviously means you should give it a LOT of thought beforehand.

The Bridgetown development is planned to be a complex of 92 units in Kasane, near but not actually on the banks of the Chobe River. Their web site says that the complex will:
“function as a fully self catering luxury lodge, with the patrons having the luxury of their own restaurant, Lodge style reception, management office suite, Laundry, Spa/Wellness Centre, Children's playground, transport links and fully stocked convenience store, a HOME AWAY FROM HOME.”
You can get one of these units either by buying it outright or you can obtain one on a time-share basis. This is what I imagine most people would want to do. However, according to the reader who contacted us the entry price is P45,000 which, by anyone’s standards is a LOT of money. Apparently for that you get to stay in the complex for one week of every year for the next 25 years. However, you have to ask yourself whether you’re always going to get the week you want. There’s going to be huge competition for the popular weeks around public and school holidays and most timeshare schemes I’ve encountered actually place restrictions on these peak periods, reserving them for people who have elected to pay even more money to reserve the popular slots.

What timeshare schemes often also do is offer you an “investment opportunity” which allows you to earn back your investment by renting out your week to other people, hopefully making you a profit. However this is even more risky. If it’s hard enough to get a week when YOU want it, how difficult must it be to juggle the week you can get and the week that your potential customers want?

Let’s not also forget that any profit you make from renting out a timeshare in a property is “income”. You’ll need to tell the tax people about this before they find out and come calling on you!

The biggest concern for me personally would be that this development, as far as I can tell, isn’t finished yet. These 92 units don’t actually yet exist and nor do the various facilities they offer. In effect, by buying a timeshare you are funding the construction of the complex.

So our advice is neither to invest nor not to invest. Our advice is to do some serious research into the viability of the project. Then, and only after you’ve satisfied your scepticism, should you consider writing that cheque!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I applied for a personal loan of P82,000 from my bank. Later on, I wrote them a letter on the 10th July 2010 to cancel the loan, five days later the bank credited my bank account with the loan amount, which they later took out. When taking out their money, they took P820 from my account which they claim is an arrangement fee. My query is that the contract agreement I signed with them says the arrangement fee is only deducted from the loan amount and not the account. Now they are saying as long as you have applied for a loan from their bank, it doesn’t matter whether the following day you cancel it, they will always deduct the arrangement fee. Their agreement doesn’t stipulate that there is a penalty charge for cancelling loan applications

I suspect that this will depend very much on the exact timing of your application and what it says in the loan application form you signed.

Clearly there’s a difference between changing your mind while the ink is still wet and before a bank, or indeed any other organisation, has had a chance to start processing your application and when they have actually started to the work. If your change of mind was very rapid then I would expect a reasonable organisation to be lenient with you. However, if they had actually started doing the work, doing the credit checks, making the calls to see if you were a good risk then I think they’re probably entitled to charge you for their time.

Most importantly though is what it says in the loan application you completed. Almost certainly there is a clause in the application which says that there is a fee, in your case it seems to be 1% for arranging the loan. The fact that you changed your mind might not be relevant to that agreement. It’s possible that the bank will just say that you applied for a loan, they arranged it and you agreed to pay for it.

However I suspect the key thing is the timing. You don’t give the date you applied for the loan, perhaps you can send that to us as well as a copy of the loan application form and the terms and conditions? We’ll have a look and see if there’s any hope of a refund.

Monday, 20 September 2010

"Boiler room share scams" - BBC report

An interesting article on so-called "boiler room share scams" from the BBC. Sounds just like Ventura Capital Partners, doesn't it?

Hyundai - a contemptuous email arrives

An email comes in from Hyundai in South Africa:
"I find that we are running around in circles to try and get this matter resolved. It is therefore in short that I would like to advise that Hyundai Automotive South Africa does not have any legal obligation towards a vehicle we did not sell.

It was noted immediately by our representative that went out to inspect the vehicle, that it was not a vehicle imported by Hyundai Automotive South Africa. Nor did I know that this vehicle was not one of ours when I first responded to Ms [removed].

This specific vehicle was traced back to Malaysia where it was scrapped and sent to Botswana and purchased by Ms [removed]. This constitutes a “grey imported” vehicle.
It is against the policy of Hyundai Automotive South Africa to do any repairs to a grey imported vehicle. Our dealers, including Hyundai Botswana, has strict instructions not to work on these vehicles as we cannot guarantee the condition of the internal workings of these vehicles prior coming into our dealership. We pride ourselves in the vehicles we sell and the quality of the vehicles we sell.

Our dealer in Rustenburg is an independent dealer and does not have the means to check whether a vehicle is one of ours or not and therefore offered to repair the vehicle to assist the customer, without being informed that this vehicle was not sold by Hyundai Automotive South Africa.

Loyalty is a two way street, Sir!

With the above in mind, kindly note that this case has been closed on our side.

Kind Regards"
Let's get a few things straight:
  • They pride themselves on the quality of the vehicles they sell?
  • They refuse to repair these quality vehicles if they did not sell them themselves?
  • Their dealer repaired a car that they were not authorised to repair?
  • The dealer does not have the ability to tell whether a vehicle may be repaired or not?
  • The Rustenburg dealer nevertheless DID attempt to repair the vehicle but failed to do so as it broke down on both occasions that the customer came to collect it?
  • The Rustenburg dealer has recently identified new problems with the vehicle that were either not present on the previous occasions when the customer was told it had been repaired and was ready for collection or which have occurred subsequently?
  • The Rustenburg dealer is not willing to give the customer a complete breakdown of the entire costs to date, despite being requested to do so repeatedly?
I think that it's obvious that Hyundai in Rustenburg are not competent.  Hyundai's national systems are clearly not functional.  Hyundai in South Africa may be proud of "the quality of the vehicles we sell" but they clearly have no reason to be proud of the service they offer their customers.

Hyundai South Africa are treating this customer with arrogant contempt.

[Whether her car was an import or not, they took money from her to repair the vehicle. She IS therefore their customer.]

They say that "Loyalty is a two way street, Sir!". Are they prepared to show some to their customer?

They say that "this case has been closed on our side". Please note that it has NOT been closed on our side.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Hyundai saga continues

Mmegi readers may recall that in July and August we reported on a problem a reader had with the Hyundai dealership across the border in Rustenberg. Her Hyundai had broken down there last October so quite sensibly she had the car towed to the nearest dealership for repairs. That’s when, instead of getting it fixed, things started to go wrong. Badly wrong.

Instead of fixing the car they proceeded to CLAIM to repair it and allow her to drive it away on TWO separate occasions, only to have it break down both times within a few kilometres of the dealership. They helped her run up an enormous phone bill and took a total of P20,000 from her for the repairs. When we first got involved they even claimed never to have heard of this customer and it was only when we forwarded them the 4,000 words of email correspondence between them and her that they remembered. Since then they’ve claimed to fix the car yet again but they say they will only give it back to her if she gives them another R6,500 for the latest repairs. It really does look like they are planning to repair or replace every part of the car until it works again.

We had a very frustrating time trying to get the dealership to pull their finger out of whatever orifice contained it but then something surprising happened, something good. The message seemed to get through to the right people.

The first to get in touch was the local MD of Hyundai in Botswana who asked how he could assist. The next day the National Customer Care Manager of Hyundai South Africa was in touch saying he had only just heard of the problem. He promised a detailed response within “the next hour”. In fact it only took 38 minutes. His response seemed very optimistic. He said things like:
“sincere apologies for all the inconvenience you had to endure over the past 10 months”
“definitely NOT the level of service we expect from our staff and our dealers”
“necessary action will be taken against [the dealer] for not escalating this matter to myself earlier, that I promise you!”
“We have put an investigation team together who will be at Hyundai Rustenburg on Monday, 2 August 2010, to discuss this matter with the owner of Hyundai Rustenburg and to inspect your vehicle.”
So you might think things were getting better?

I’m afraid not. It’s time to update you on all the progress that has been achieved since 2nd August.

None.

Despite their promises of an investigation all they did was repeat what Hyundai in Rustenberg had said, conveniently excluded significant parts of the story. Do you think they were perhaps feeling defensive?

This is terribly disappointing. After that initial surge of hope and optimism I’m sure you can imagine how frustrated we at Consumer Watchdog are, but our frustration is nothing compared to that of the customer.

Anyone who has ever bought a nice car will understand how excited she was when she first got her new Hyundai Santa Fe.


Along with the picture you can see here of her car she also sent me another that she didn’t want us to publish and I can understand why. It shows her sitting in the driving seat looking like a kid on Christmas Day. It must be very difficult for her to look at that picture now.

What Hyundai have managed to do, either directly by Hyundai Rustenberg treating her so badly or by Hyundai South Africa so catastrophically mismanaging her expectations, is to entirely ruin her relationship with her beloved car. She told me that as a result of this she feels “helpless, cheated, deprived, abused, angry, hopeless, sad, weak and drained”.

Of course Mmegi-reading skeptics might be asking themselves whether the customer could somehow be in the wrong in this case? Maybe she’s not just sad but might also be mad or bad? It does happen. We get plenty of cases brought to us where in fact the customer is in the wrong but if this is the case here all Hyundai would need to do is pick up the phone or start writing an email and I would understand their side of the story. But they don’t seem to have another side to the story. There really does only seem to be one.

This is a very good example of how badly things can go wrong. Frankly I can’t see any part of this story where Hyundai in Rustenberg or Hyundai in general as a brand come across as a company you would want to buy a car from.

I should stress that I’ve no problem with Hyundai cars. I’ve owned one in the past at it was perfectly fine. They’re not BMWs or Mercedes but then they don’t cost as much either. The problem is what happens AFTER you buy a car. This is what we all sometimes overlook, or what ends up disappointing us. Before you buy a car ask everyone else you know who’s bought one from the same manufacturer, what’s the after-sales service like? Are they any good at servicing their brand? Do they treat their now-captive customers like dirt?

It’s not my job to tell anyone that they should or shouldn’t buy a particular type of car. However I do think these after-sales issues are just as important as the appearance, image, speed, comfort and fuel-efficiency of a particular model. You have to ask yourself, based on this case, whether you would choose to buy a Hyundai.

I wouldn’t.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

Our company registered in Botswana recently received an invitation to attend a Business Initiative Directions (B.I.D) World Congress in Paris, France. I am not quite sure how they got hold of our postal address because we received the invitation through mail. It is also noteworthy that our company has not been operational since 2003. What I find suspicious is the fact that we are supposed to pay 3,700 euros for participation costs. I hence call on your office to help me ascertain how factual this is.


Well, it’s certainly “factual” but it’s still a scam!

This so-called “World Quality Commitment Convention”, run by “Business Initiative Directions” is remarkably similar to the equally ridiculous Bizz Awards scam we exposed some months ago. You receive an invitation to an awards ceremony in some far-flung country, you are offered luxury, celebration and fame and all you have to do to get this is to give them VAST amounts of money. In this case you are right, they need you to give them €3,700 which is over P30,000. Included in this sum is accommodation at a hotel in Paris for two nights, but only for one room. If you go to the hotel where they require you to stay you find that the cost of the rooms will only be €560. The only other things you get for this are the “award” itself, a lapel pin and some photographs.

Don’t forget that this doesn’t include your flights to Paris. I checked the Air France prices for the dates of the “Congress” and if you wanted to stay just the two nights they suggest the cheapest return flight would costs you another P15,000. And there’s Paris itself. Trust me, I’ve been there, Paris is NOT a cheap place to be.

The most telling piece of evidence that this is a scam is your question. How can you have won an award in 2010 when your company hasn’t traded since 2003? Excellent question! This is exactly what happened with the Bizz Awards. They offered their silly awards to companies that hadn’t traded for years, they even offer ME an award when I made up a non-existent company and an assumed name and nominated myself for an award.

When you go to the “Business Initiative Directions” web site there is a lot of information to support their “award”. One section says:
A company that hasn’t traded since 2003 has passed this rigorous voting system? This really is nonsense, isn’t it?

It’s interesting to wonder how they found your details and why in these days of email they wrote to you the old-fashioned way. I think there are two reasons. Firstly I was able to find the details of your company online quite quickly. Your details appear on a web site the lists companies in Botswana that do business with companies in China. Your particular entry only gives your postal address, no email contacts. The second reason is that I think companies that are trying to persuade you that they are legitimate might think that a posted copy of the letter will have more “gravitas” and would be more likely to get you to cough up the cash they are desperate to get.

This is a scam. All they want is your money. Just like “The Bizz Awards” this award is worthless and is just a very good way of separating you from your hard-earned money.

Recruitment scam warnings

Many consumers have been in touch recently asking us to warn their fellow Voice readers to be wary of recruitment scams. There’s no space to go into details of them all but here are some general points.

Recruitment companies do not contact YOU out of the blue offering you a job. They certainly don’t when you’ve never registered with them and have never even heard of them. They most certainly don’t get in touch and offer you a job in a field you know nothing about. One reader was contacted by a company offering him a job in the oil industry despite the fact that he knows nothing about it. He was rightfully suspicious.

This wasn’t the only one we received. In the last few weeks 4 readers have contacted us, each with an “offer” from a different recruitment company. All were fundamentally the same. All you need to do to get a job, in an area where you are totally unqualified, is, yes you’ve guessed it, give them some money.

Here’s a fundamental lesson for Voice readers on recruitment companies. It’s not the recruit who pays for it, it’s the company who want to find employees who pays. Simple as that.

If you are ever contacted by a company offering you the chance of work and they want you to pay just hang up, walk away or delete the email.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Tips

There was a new story in another newspaper a couple of weeks ago entitled “Culture of tipping still to take root in Botswana”. This discussed the supposed unwillingness of the people of Botswana to tip people in restaurants.

We probably all agree. There is a perception, I think, that we don’t generally tip waiters for the service they offer us.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a column based on an experience my family and I had in Jo’burg. We had been offered fairly mediocre service by a waiter whose main interest seemed to be getting us out of the restaurant as swiftly as possible. However he had at least brought the food quickly, he hadn’t stepped on my toe or insulted my wife or kids and he hadn’t spilled wine in my lap. So there was a chance of a tip. I genuinely think that waiters deserve a tip, it’s “the done thing”.

But this particular waiter lost the tip we were about to give him when, as we were paying the bill using a debit card and preparing to leave a cash tip, he failed to see the impending cash and demanded “Excuse me, you haven’t included the service charge!”

Two things. Firstly there’s a difference between a service charge and a tip. A service charge is an extra payment that you are usually required to pay in a restaurant because of some added difficulty you have offered them, usually because you’ve turned up in a large group. I can understand this, I suppose, if I’m feeling charitable. I’ve never worked in a restaurant but I can understand how difficult it might be if you’re a restaurant manager and you are faced with a table of a dozen people who all need their freshly cooked, hot and tasty food delivered at exactly the same moment. It’s surely a lot more difficult to do this if there’s twelve people at the table rather than just two.

We’ve had various complaints over the years about service charges mainly when customers were required to pay a service charge that he hadn’t been expecting. There’s no problem with a service charge if, and only if, the customer knows about it in advance. And of course, if the service is actually acceptable. You are not required, says Consumer Watchdog, to pay a service charge of the service wasn’t good enough. By now many of us know about Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations, which says that “a supplier of a commodity or of a service shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance if (…) the service is not rendered with reasonable care and skill”. See, it states explicitly that a “service” is covered by the regulation. If the service is sub-standard, you are NOT obliged to pay for it. End of story.

Then there’s the issue of tips. A tip is an extra payment you give firstly to the waiter for the personal service he or she has given you. This is entirely up to you. You can’t or should not be forced to pay a tip. Yes, I know there are countries where tips ARE compulsory but these are clearly nations that have sold their sanity and common sense to the highest bidder.

But we’re not one of those insane nations. You and I should give a tip to reward good service but ONLY when there has actually BEEN some good service. Then be generous.

Warnings

Several readers have come to us either asking us to investigate their concerns and to warn other Mmegi readers about them.

Visiting business people

One reader was almost scammed out of a small fortune by being asked to share the cost of a flight from London to be taken by a potential investor in a business venture in Bostwana. He had sent over a genuine flight booking with KLM that had been made all the way from London to Cape Town, costing over £4,000. The first clue he had that something wasn’t right was when the “businessman” repeatedly couldn’t get his video camera to work and couldn’t use Skype to have a video meeting over the internet to talk about the practicalities.

We got in touch with KLM to check this out and they told us it was a fraudulent booking and they’ve urged the real person in question, who lives in the UK and whose name and identity had been used to call the cops. The lesson is to double check, in fact triple check the existence and identity of anyone who wants your money.

Ventura Capital Partners

A VERY dodgy Grenadan “investment company” who cold-call people inviting them to give them money to invest. The financial services authorities in both Grenada and the UK have warned the public not to deal with them. They also plagiarise the contents of their newsletter from other sources on the web. We’ve already heard from one person who claims to have sent them P200,000 and is now scared. If they call you just hang up, OK?

TVI Express

Several people have been in touch to find out more about TVI Express, the things that this particular pyramid scheme won’t tell you and you won’t find out until it’s too late. Like the fact that none of the so-called rewards you get are actually free. You have to pay “taxes and processing charges” before you can obtain the free holiday they say you’ll get. Like the fact that the vouchers they offer are obtainable much more cheaply elsewhere. Like the fact that the “free flight ticket offer” they tell you about is “valid only for domestic flights” and is only offered when you have already bought a ticket with real money.

Like they lie about their “partners”, claiming partnerships with companies like Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Avis and Marriott. Like the fact that the authorities in China, Australia, Indonesia, India and Hungary are all on their case. Like the fact that they are a classic example of a pyramid scheme. You’ve been warned!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Hey I am an independent consultant and I met his guy through Linked In website, claiming that he is also in the consulting business and has potential projects here in Botswana and has been wishing to go in partnership with someone in Botswana. Naturally, I jumped into the opportunity.

What made me suspicious is that our dialogue has lately drifted from business to personal. I use Skype for my professional chats and for the past week, this guy has struggled when I asked that we do video conferencing with my other colleagues so that as a team we can get to know him better. Up to now, his webcam has failed to work.

I have wanted him to send me something tangible because my instincts tell me that I should talk to the "watchdog"!

Now he says he is flying to southern Africa to see us and he wants me to refund him part of the money as we are talking about a business partnership.

I do not want to lose my money over a scam.

Can you check if the ticket is genuine? I have tried to Google the travel agency that sent me this ticket but could not find it. I have promised him a response by Monday so that I give you time to research and give me an informed answer.


You are right to be cautious. Firstly, the ticket states that the customer paid by cash but responsible airlines do NOT normally take cash payments these days. There are rigorous rules in place to prevent money laundering and any real airline would not accept this. The KLM web site says that they only accept cash if you are actually in their home country, in the Netherlands. However they DO accept payment by Western Union which I suspect is what this scammer will want.

I also don't think that it's likely that serious business people, like this guy claims to be, and who fly around the world Business Class use Yahoo email addresses and prepaid cellphone numbers as their primary contacts.

Then there is the nature of the trip he plans to take. His flight schedule takes him from London to Amsterdam, then to Johannesburg and then to Cape Town. Why on earth would he take such a bizarre route when he can fly directly to Joburg and Cape Town from London? I think it’s just a way of raising the supposed fair so they can get you to offer them more money.

Then there is an obvious clue – the booking agent uses an email address that isn’t actually from KLM.

The thing I found most curious about your issue is that the flight booking was actually genuine. It gives a booking reference number and you can use this to log onto the KLM web site and see that the flight has actually been booked. Something clearly didn’t add up so I got in touch with KLM in Amsterdam and asked them if they could investigate. They came back to us very quickly confirming that an online booking had been made but that the real person named hadn’t actually made it and that they had advised him to contact the police in the UK.

You were very wise to be skeptical! Readers of The Voice should follow your example!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I was recently in a store at Game City and when I left the lady at the door wanted to search my bag. When I asked her why, she did not tell me the reason for them doing so but said that they have told people that if they do not want their bags searched they will report them to the police.

I am wondering what the law says about searching personal bags when one leaves a shop.


I don't know of any law that specifically covers this but I suspect what they are doing IS perfectly legal.

You have to remember that shops are private property and permission to enter is at the discretion of the management. While you are in the store they are entitled to monitor your behaviour, particularly given the level of shop-lifting that occurs these days.

However, I DO think there are ways of dealing with this that explain the situation to customers and that don't cause unnecessary offence. In the past I've personally had arguments with security guards when I've refused to leave my laptop in it's rucksack with them. On one occasion a couple of years ago I was so angry I just walked out of a bookstore at Riverwalk when this happened and I haven't bought anything from that store since.

I'm sure it's possible for a store to put up a sign at the entrance that politely explains the need for security and perhaps even for the need for bag checks and also to train the guards sufficiently that they don't cause massive offence. Surely it can't be that difficult?

Here’s our gift to stores. Here’s an example of a sign they are free to use.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Extraordinary claims

Carl Sagan, the scientist and communicator is famous for warning us that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Sagan didn’t invent the idea, he was just a passionate advocate of scepticism and the scientific method and was a gifted broadcaster. Although he died in 1996 you can still see hundreds of clips from his various TV programs and interviews on YouTube.

Several times each week I find myself reminded about his demand for “extraordinary evidence” as I go through the emails that come to Consumer Watchdog. Rather wonderfully, fewer and fewer of these emails are from people who have been scammed, more are in act from people who are already skeptical and want us to warn their neighbours about a scam they’ve seen. They know when they see extraordinary claims and know to be instinctively dismissive of them.

Some are fairly conventional scams. You know the sort by now. Emails that arrive that don’t address you by name but which say things like:
“Are you the owner of this email address or do you have authorized access to it in the absence of the owner? If yes, then have every reason to rejoice as the result of the UK online lottery international draws has just been released and guess what? Your email address won in the sweepstakes at the first category and you are entitled to claim the sum of $2,500,000."
You and I know that this is just a scam.

Some are slightly more intriguing. A reader sent us an email that began:
“How are you today? Struggling to make money online? Cut the cord now and forget Google. Discover how to tap the pocket-sized money machine that's already Five times bigger than the internet.”
Now there’s an extraordinary claim if ever I’ve seen one. “Five times bigger than the internet”? I’m not actually sure what that means or how you could measure the internet even if you tried.

The email continued to offer an opportunity to earn “$5,511.09 per week”, “Completely on Auto-Pilot” which is also fairly extraordinary. There’ll need to be some extraordinary evidence to back up that claim, don’t you think?

There isn’t.

What this email is selling is a “product” called Mobile Monopoly. I tried as hard as I could to understand what exactly this so-called product is but all I can work out is that it’s something to do with marketing things using people’s cellphones. In typical internet marketing style the web site offers lots of hints but no actual details on how you are likely to make any money. As they say in Sales circles, it’s “all sizzle and no steak”. Plenty of sizzle though. The scary web site is full of pretend handwriting, bright colours and full of what it claims is proof that you will make that “$5,511.09 per week”. The trouble is that there’s no evidence of this. The only clues you’ll get are after you’ve paid them US$77 to buy their “course”.

That, of course, is all they’re after. You have to ask yourself if this is such a great opportunity to make so much money, why aren’t the creators of the idea out there doing it themselves instead of just selling a course on how to do it?

This is just like the pyramid schemes that abound at the moment. Schemes like TVI Express make all sorts of extraordinary claims. In fact much of what they say is extraordinary lies. They claim to offer an opportunity to make fortunes but as with any pyramid scheme this can never work. A tiny minority will make a fortune but the troops on the ground will lose out. They claim to offer valuable travel discount vouchers but similar vouchers can be bought directly online at a much cheaper price and without joining a pyramid. They claim to be partners with companies like Virgin, Lufthansa and Avis but these are also extraordinary lies.

The real extraordinary evidence about TVI Express is that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have stopped some of their distributors in Australia from recruiting more victims. What’s more they’re under investigation by the authorities in China, India, Indonesia and Hungary.

Extraordinary!

Literally as I was writing a previous paragraph an email came in from a consumer asking our opinion on a workshop to be held in Phakalane entitled “Relax And Repair With EFT” or “Emotional Freedom Techniques”.

This utter nonsense was made up by someone called Gary Craig. His profile says:
“Gary Craig is neither a psychologist nor a licensed therapist. He is an ordained minister through the Universal Church of God in Southern California, which is non-denominational and embraces all religions. He is a dedicated student of A Course in Miracles, and approaches his work with a decidedly spiritual perspective. However, there is no specific spiritual teaching connected to EFT or its Practitioners.”
In other words he’s not a scientist and it’s not scientific, he’s spiritual because he’s been ordained by a silly made-up church in the home state of silliness, but his ridiculous EFT isn’t spiritual.

In fact EFT is based on what they very scientifically call “tapping”. The EFT people say that “although based on acupuncture, EFT has simplified the realignment process by gently tapping on key meridian points on the head, torso and hands.” So they just tap you? On your non-existent “meridian points”? So it’s like acupuncture, which all the evidence suggests is pseudo-mystical, pseudo-scientific claptrap, but without the one thing that might plausibly do anything?

These charlatans claim that EFT can be used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cyctic fibrosis and even sexual abuse trauma.

Based on these extraordinary claims I say we should run these extraordinary charlatans out of town!

This week’s stars
  • Mr Keabaitse and Caroline from BBS for “pleasant, helpful, efficient service”

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

On 22 August I went into a store to buy, amongst other things, Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid. It was fortunately on special at P15.95 as shown on the shelf. When I got to the till, the Dishwashing liquid was P19.95. I told the cashier that the Liquid was on special, she checked through the advertised specials then said, “No, its actually the green liquid that is on special not this one” (I had a peach-coloured one). I told her that nowhere does it state the colour of the dishwashing liquid that is on special its just stated “Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid 750ml and this is what this is”. As I had just been to church and not in the mood for arguing I left the Dishwashing liquid on the counter?

Is this acceptable?


No, it isn’t.

To begin with it’s what the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 refers to as a “deceptive act” and an act “of unfair business practice”. Specifically, Section 17 (1) (a) forbids “making false or misleading statements of fact concerning the (…) existence of, or amounts of price reductions”

If the special offer had only referred to green washing up liquid then it should have been made perfectly clear to you when it was advertised. Surely it can’t be too difficult for the store to make it clear that only one type of washing-up liquid is discounted?

I suggest that next time, when you’re not feeling so pious and courteous, if the manager is a Christian, refer them to Psalms 103:6: “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.”

If that doesn’t work then please allow Consumer Watchdog to do it instead.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

[A consumer got in touch asking how many “fools” are out there. He had received the following email.]
To: undisclosed-recipients:

Are you the owner of this email address or do you have authorized access to it in the absence of the owner? If yes, then have every reason to rejoice as the result of the UK online lottery international draws has just been released and guess what? Your email address won in the sweepstakes at the first category and you are entitled to claim the sum of two million, five hundred thousand United States dollars ($2,500,000.00).

Your email address won in the online lottery on this free ticket number: UKL0565A75BZ and lucky number: 0831502. The online email draws was held in United Kingdom on the 25th of August 2010.

To claim your won $2,500,000.00, kindly send your name, contact address and telephone number by email to our Payment Manager:

Ms.Susan G. Wright
Payment Manager
UK Email: susanwgt@terrapins.com
I think you are right to suspect that only a fool would fall for this scam. Let’s put this simply, the clues are obvious. Bad English, an appeal to your criminal tendency (“do you have authorized access to it in the absence of the owner?”), the absence of a personal address (no “Dear Richard”), the silly suggestion that you can win a lottery you never entered. Surely it’s all very obvious?

It’s all ludicrous, unbelievable and an utter scam. I urge all Voice readers, without delay, to send an email to the non-existent “Susan G. Wright” and tell her what you think of scammers like “her”.

Please don’t feel any need to be polite.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

Lately last week my friend received an SMS from an anonymous caller named GMX. The SMS read as thus;

"Congratulations your mobile have won US$7.8M for World Bank Int'l Relief Effort Award. To claim contact Mr.D.Arnold via: wbmd01@yahoo.com.hk".

The SMS was resent again on the 25/08/10 and since I had read your column on scams I felt that you were the right people to help her find out if it is a scam or not.


You were right to be suspicious. This is certainly, 100%, without a doubt, a scam.

Organisations like the World Bank, in fact no organisation ever send out SMSs giving people money. Ask yourself this: even if they did, would they use a Hong Kong Yahoo address to contact you?

I suggest you delete the email and don’t think about it again.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

TVI's history

See here for a comprehensive history of TVI Express. I'm sure they don't want you to know most of this.

Thanks to Kasey Chang for this.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Ventura Capital Partners - are they plagiarists?

Our not-so-very-good friends at Ventura Capital Partners, they're the ones who cold call people offering investments but who are the subject of warnings from the Grenadan and British Financial Authorities, appear to steal things as well.

Their latest "newsletter" which you can download here here is a perfect copy, I mean a 100%, word-for-word copy, of an article published by Cliff Wachtel here.

Plagiarists are thieves.