Sunday, 31 October 2010

IMTA - the "International Modeling and Talent Association"

It looks like Consumer Watchdog isn't the only one concerned by IMTA whose local agents are running auditions in Botswana.
  • This is the web page that sparked our reader's curiosity and skepticism.  This includes the NY Post report that suggests that the affiliates are paid commission to bring aspiring models to the IMTA conventions that costs so much.
  • Modeling Scams has an entire page devoted to conventions like the ones IMTA run.
  • Someone claiming to have worked in the fashion industry explains how it really works.
  • Others have wondered whether IMTA conventions are worth the money.
  • Some victims have discussed their experiences.
  • Then there are many reports claiming that certain IMTA affiliates seem to be less than trustworthy.
  • Finally a report on MSNBC about one victim's experience of an affiliate in the USA and IMTA.
Is that enough to get you suspicious?

P.S. Still no response yet from the local franchisee of the South African IMTA affiliate on whether her company actually exists yet.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Warning - the "World Business Guide"

Exactly the same as last year but an email arrived today:
"Ladies and Gentlemen.

In order to have your company inserted in the registry of World Businesses
for 2011/2012 edition, please print, complete and submit the enclosed
form (PDF file) to the following address:

P.O. BOX 3079

FAX: +31 (20) 203-1129

Updating is free of charge!"
Note that last line: "Updating is free of charge".  Updating might be free but the initial entry in this stupid "Guide" is certainly not.  When you sign the form and send it over you'll probably not notice the clause that says:
"The price per year is Euro 995. The subscription will be automatically extended every year for another year unless specific written notice is received by the service provider or the subscriber two months before the expiration of the subscription."
This is a scam and I'm not the only one who thinks so. There are web sites devoted to exposing the scam, there's a Facebook Group, and loads of comments all over the internet suggesting they are crooks.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Consumer alerts

Consumers need to be alert. They need to shop not just while awake, but with all their higher-order mental faculties operating at full speed. That’s because there are threats out there every day, all over the place.

The problem is that in these days of internet based commerce the ways in which people are trying to steal our money are numerous and varied.

In the last week we’ve had several reports of scams, all internet-based. The first was an email that claimed to be from Standard Chartered Bank but clearly wasn’t really. In fact it was a very clever “phishing” attack. You can see from the picture of the email that it’s a fairly alarming thing to arrive in your Inbox.

However when you click on the red “Click to Resolve” link instead of going to the Standard Chartered web site, you go to a site that bears a striking resemblance to it but in fact is a replica.

The replica site isn’t exactly like the genuine SCB online banking site but it’s close enough to be persuasive if you were in a hurry and desperate to “resolve” your banking crisis. It would be very easy just to enter your SCB Login ID and password without taking the time to look closely at the page and, more importantly, at the details of the web site you were visiting. In fact the web site address you are visiting is:
   [link no longer works, I alerted the hosts to the "hijacking" of their web site.]

Obviously nothing to do with Standard Chartered. The Fleming Artists web site that has been hijacked appears to be perfectly legitimate but clearly someone has managed to hide their phishing page there. You have to ask yourself how often you really look at the “URL” or web address you are visiting. It was only because I was playing the detective that I noticed it. We can probably be forgiven for not noticing the difference.

I’m no web technology expert but I suspect that as soon as you enter your Login ID and password those details will be sent to the person behind the scam and before you know it they’ll have signed on to the real SCB site and emptied your account.

I said that we can probably be forgiven for not noticing that the web address we’re visiting isn’t what we expect but that doesn’t mean you can blame the bank. It’s certainly not their fault if you carelessly give away something as important as your Login ID and password. Any bank will politely say that it wasn’t their fault someone copied their web page and posted it somewhere else.

Another scam came through to us in the same week and this was a bit nastier. This was one of the “romantic” 419 scams. In this situation not only is a scammer after someone’s money but they gain the trust of the victim with romance, emailed affection and lurve. These are even scumbaggier than most scammers because not only do they leave their victims poor but betrayed emotionally. I don’t have a little sister but these guys bring out previously unknown rather violent, big brother impulses in me. Images of broken noses and missing teeth.

The basis of the scam is traditional, there’s a large (fictitious) payment promised of £280,000 (about P3 million) that our victim is asked to receive on behalf the scammer who has wooed them with love and offers of marriage. As always at the last minute there’s a hitch. This time the combined British Inland Revenue (the tax authority) and the London Metropolitan Police issue an “immediate stop order” to prevent the money being transferred because a “tax” needs to be paid by the recipient.

All she has to do is cough up £2,150 (about P23,000) and she can have her money, as well as the eternal love of the donor. Except there is no donor, there is no P3 million, there is no such combined authority and they can’t even spell their address correctly. It’s all a scam.

Just out of interest I phoned the scammer on the number he gave the victim (+44 703 174 8738) which curiously is a prepaid cellphone number and certainly not the office number of a bank. When I asked him why he thought Batswana were likely to fall for his scam he felt insulted. “Are you trying to insult me?” he asked. “Yes”, I said, “I am.” That’s when he started screaming at me.

Here’s my suggestion. It won’t cost you too much but if you feel like ruining a scammer’s day why don’t you send him a text message explaining, in less than polite terms, what you think of him? I think it’s P1 well spent.

So how can you as a consumer stay alert? By learning about scams and risks, by ALWAYS being skeptical and not believing anything you read on the internet or in your email Inbox that comes from a total stranger. You can also join the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group and you’ll automatically receive alerts of scams and deceptions as we come across them. All for free. What do you have to lose?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I received an email from Standard Chartered Bank saying that they had new New Security Features and that I had an Alert Message. It also said that “Your account is limited! Click to Resolve”. Should I believe this?

No, you certainly should NOT. This is a scam, I’m 100% certain. The email you send me is very well crafted to LOOK like a warning from Standard Chartered Bank but is nothing to do with them. When you click on that link you’re shown a very good replica of the SCB online banking web site but this is a trap to get you to enter your user name and password. PLEASE never respond to any emails like this.

Recruitment scam alert

We received a request from a reader who asked us to check out an email she had just received. The email was quite long but you can see how it begins:
“From: ceciliaibru []
Sent: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 12:34 PM
Subject: HOTEL RECRUITMENT IN Canada(Join our working team in our new hotels in Canada and Belgium)
HOTEL RECRUITMENT IN Canada(Join our working team in our new hotels in Canada and Belgium)

I am Mrs. Melissa Kenney ,Director of Marketing, Days Hotel Montreal, Quebec, Canada .We are currently on outsourcing for workers outside Canada, United States and United Kingdom and we are looking for 70 to 90 energetic young individuals to join our working team in our new Hotels in Belgium under the following positions:-
1 Chefs and Sous Chefs
2 Food and Beverage Managers
4 Secretaries and assistants(Administrative Assistants
5 Dishwashers-This persons must have good communication skills and have the ability to lift,pull and push a moderate amount of weight. This is a fast paced position that will involve constant customer interaction
6 Executive Housekeepers
7 Assistant Executive Stewards
8 Attendants: No experience is necessary as full training is provided
9 Car washers: No experience is necessary as full training is provided
10 Cleaners, and Housekeepers : No experience is necessary as full training is provided
11 Assistant Hotel Managers"
The first clue that there’s something suspicious about this is the email it came from. Why would someone representing a legitimate hotel chain that has a fancy web site email you from an address like “”, a free Indian email address? Surely that’s doubly odd as elsewhere they give an email address that seems more sensible (“”).

So far I think it’s pretty suspicious, don’t you? Then it becomes even more “iffy”. Later in the email it says:
1 Infection Control Practioner - RN/Regist 2-5 years of experience
2 Experienced General Practitioner to work Monday to Friday.
3 Anesthesiologists
4 Surgeon
5 Obstetrician/gynecologist
6 Psychiatrist
7 Internal medicine Physician
8 Pediatrics/adolescent medicine
9 Family practice phisician(without obstetrics)

Let’s ignore the strange spelling (“phisician”) and the writer’s inability to correctly use the space bar on their keyboard and just ask whether we really think this is the way hospitals hire senior medical staff, including psychiatrists. Are they insane?

Then there’s another curious thing. The web site they suggest we visit is for a specific, genuine hotel in Montreal in Canada. However the email address they give for us to respond to is different, it refers to the Days Hotel GROUP. That’s where a little detective work is called for. The web site for the Montreal hotel was registered in July 2005. Fancy guessing when the web site for the “group” was first registered? On Wednesday 6th October this year. Registered by a different, anonymous person. Alarm bells should be ringing by now, particularly when you try to visit the new “Days Hotel Group” web site only to find that it doesn’t work.

Then there is the bigger picture. Although we in Botswana aren’t suffering too badly because of the global recession, so called First World countries in Europe and North America ARE suffering badly. They are most certainly NOT engaging workers from around the world but are understandably employing their own citizens. They are certainly NOT emailing total strangers offering them high-paid jobs.

You can be certain that as soon as you approach these crooks there will be the inevitable “advance fee”, almost certainly a visa cost or an immigration fee. That’s what they’re after.

This is just another recruitment scam. Please don’t waste your time on it, or any email like it, it will only cost you money.

My response to the model auditioning "company"

The full text of my response, names removed.
Many thanks for your letter to me and to The Voice regarding the article I wrote recently that covered the "audition" that you held at Riverwalk Shopping Centre.

I'm sorry that you were disappointed by the coverage you received and by the comments I made. However I fear I'm likely to disappoint you further by standing by the comments and not retracting them. I do not believe they were derogatory, incorrect or warrant correction.

My comments were, in fact, based on research I undertook when we first received the enquiry from the sister of one of your participants. I maintain that requiring potential contestants to pay P250 for a t-shirt, a piece of paper, further participation and "a modeling lesson" of unknown quality and accreditation is suspicious for various reasons.

Firstly, I would normally assume that as an organisation offering "modeling lessons" you would be registered with BOTA but it seems you are not. Indeed further research suggests that [Company name] (or any company with a similar name) is not even registered with the Registrar of Companies in Botswana. Can you confirm if you are registered under another name? I have not yet checked whether you are registered with the Botswana Unified Revenue Service yet. Perhaps you can confirm whether you are? You also do not appear in the BTC telephone directory which I find curious for a "company" that has been running these competitions since last year.

The second suspicion related to the initial letter of enquiry we received. Our reader's younger sister was apparently invited by SMS to pay P250 for the further "selection". When she returned with her elder sister and another sister who had also participated in the initial audition at Riverwalk, the other younger sister was also invited, on the spot, to pay P250 to take things further, despite not being invited further initially. I think this calls into question the quality or validity of the assessment and selection mechanism you use.

However, my response to the enquiry that was published in The Voice did not cover your "company" and didn't even mention it by name. Instead it focussed on IMTA. There has been enough criticism of IMTA from several countries and their requirement for entrants to pay to enter their competitions that I think reporting on the criticism is perfectly valid. I believe that requiring potential contestants to pay several thousand dollars to participate is not typical of the modeling industry regardless of your claims about the initial auditions and competitions in Botswana and South Africa.

In summary I do not believe that my comments were either "derogatory", "uncalled for" or "unsubstantiated" and nor were they based on "personal assumptions". I see no need to retract anything that I wrote.



Model auditions - we get email

In the interests of openness and fairness, here is the full text of a letter sent to us and to The Voice in response to our article last week on the modeling "auditions" held at Riverwalk recently. The only adjustments I've made are to remove the name of the writer and her company and other specific people's names. I'll post my response afterwards.
Richard Harriman
Consumer’s Voice

27 October 2010

Attention: Richard Harriman

It is with great disappointment that I read your article in The Voice, Friday 22 October 2010, and your reference to “IMTA SCAM” and [Company name]. It is more surprising that you have made these statements and voice these opinions without any proper investigation or any attempt by yourself to make contact with the organisers, or the sender of the SMS your writer referred to. If you bothered to do so you would have been able to report on the true facts and not based on your uninformed opinion.

Rightfully, I quote your from your article, “I should point out that, for very obvious reasons, I have no experience in either the fashion or modelling industry” and no more of a truth was written, by yourself, than these words.

I would invite you at any time to contact me and verify the facts, which I would assume any good reporter would naturally do before publishing any article, but again in your own words “you don’t have to be an expert to smell a bad smell” when articles are published without any research or investigations into the facts.

I wish to present you with the facts for your convenience and for you to respond appropriately to your reader’s letter:

1. [Company name] South Africa assisted by [Company name] Botswana did a “scouting for talent” audition at Game City. The same “scouting for talent” was held in 2009 at the same venue, which can be verified by [name removed] at the Management offices at Game City.
2. These auditions are free to all entrants.
3. From this audition a number of possible talents are selected. They are then contacted with an option for them to carry one with the process if they wish to do so. They are under no obligation to do so.
4. To carry on with the process they are requested to pay an entry free of P250.00 which will cover the cost for:
a. A modelling lesson.
b. A T-shirt
c. Certification of proof of participation
d. Participation in the final round of selection in Botswana, which takes place at the Fashion Lounge Botswana, planned for January 2011. (Which again you are welcome to contact for verification of such events)
5. From this event, 10 models are selected to go to South Africa participating in the final competition during May 2011.
6. At this event a grand prize being an ALL EXPENSES paid trip to New York in July 2011

I am sure you would agree that paying an entry fee for the above cannot be compared to, and I quote “demand money up front for no obvious return”, as these do not come at no expense to the organisers.

Should you have taken the time to verify your facts, you could have responded appropriately to your reader and given them the following information:

1. Approximately 40 possible talents were identified during the 2009 “scouting for talent” event at Game City.
2. Final round of the Botswana competition was held and 10 models were selected to participate in the South African leg of the competition.
3. [Company name] had 4 models representing our agency in New York in 2010. References again are available for your perusal.

This is by no means a “recruitment scam” as reported by you. No promise of so called “employment or riches” are made as we only create opportunities for prospecting models. I am sure by having the facts, you would agree that if you believe you have what it takes to make it to New York, the participating entry fee of P250.00 is a drop in the ocean to the real cost of such an opportunity.

We would not have a business if there were no charges involved. Each and every potential model has a chance of winning. The eventual outcome of the models that will stand the chance of going overseas does NOT rest on my shoulders, but on the judges in the final competition. So I therefore re-iterate, the P250 for the models selected are for expenses involved.

You are more than welcome to contact me, to verify any of the above information that I have presented to you in this letter. Your article was uncalled for considering that you made no attempt to justify the unsubstantiated statements that you made.

I would appreciate a retraction of your derogatory comments.

I take extreme pride in my work and my Company and I am angry and frustrated that my time must be wasted justifying my honesty and integrity to someone that printed an article based on personal assumptions


Friday, 22 October 2010


Anyone who knows me understands that I have a passion for Apple products. I’m writing this on an Apple Macbook, next to me sits a Mac desktop computer that the kids use, my wife and I both use an iPhone, there’s an iPod in the kitchen on a set of speakers and there is even an iPad charging on the desk as I write.

Yes, of course I can’t deny that part of it is just how cute Apple products look. Most laptops are ugly lumps of grey plastic with all the appeal of an ugly lump of grey plastic. My laptop is a sleek piece of brushed aluminium that looks adorable. The same goes for all other Apple devices. I don’t think there’s anything shameful in wanting a functional device like a laptop or a phone to look appealing, do you?

But it’s more than just good looks, there’s a much more fundamental difference between Apple Products than all the rest. It’s not just that Apple consistently score better than every other company in the IT industry when they measure customer satisfaction. Nor is it that Apple’s stock-market value is now higher than that of Microsoft and second only to an oil firm.

The real difference is in their philosophy. Like all technology innovators they are obviously concerned with what their devices can do but the difference with Apple is that they seem genuinely to be more interested in HOW their products do things. On my laptop, if I want to zoom in or out of a picture, all I do is make a pinching gesture with two fingers on the mousepad. To rotate a picture I just rotate two fingers on the mousepad. To go forwards and backwards in a sequence of web pages I swipe right and left with three fingers. After doing these things just a couple of times they become as natural as clicking my fingers or scratching my head. It’s the How that matters.

The same goes for customer service. Any fool can stand behind a counter and say No, that’s out of stock, you’re not entitled to a refund because you broke it or the warranty has expired. Any moron, and there are so many of them, can say your plane has been delayed or cancelled, that your car repair will take another week or that it’s store policy to check your bags for stolen property as you leave.

The issue is HOW any of these things are said. I can imagine ways in which any of these pieces of bad news can be broken to a customer in a way that will obviously disappoint them but won’t completely piss them off. Most of them involve the magic word (“sorry”), the secret customer service solution (something free to say sorry) and, above all, that most challenging of things, sincerity. Say sorry to the customer, give the impression you mean it and then offer them a free drink and almost every customer will turn around and give you the chance to recover fully. It really is HOW you do it that matters.

A person who shall remain nameless arrived back home in Botswana yesterday after a pair of South African Airways flights from hell. Some of it was genuinely beyond the airline’s control, a mixture of weather and safety concerns. Nobody can really complain about these issues. Nobody wants to get on a plane that is likely to be unsafe. I’ve been there often enough, it’s frustrating but you understand it’s nobody’s fault. However she was then told that it WAS her fault that she didn’t make her connecting flight in time as a result, that she possessed an illegal boarding pass and that she should cough up an additional R600 just to get on the next flight home.

At no point during her exhausting, stressful and frustrating journey home did anyone take the time to apologise, or even express regret and understanding at how frustrated she must be. Yes, of course the airline can’t go around saying they take responsibility for things beyond their control but that doesn’t mean they can’t look as if they care and do their best to make you happy.

The danger of course is they run the risk of completely alienating their customers. However I don’t think that SAA care about their customers. I suspect that they rely on three things. Firstly the understandable loyalty of our South African cousins who prefer to fly with them, secondly the advantage they have when making connecting flights throughout South Africa and finally the currently abysmal state of OUR national airline. I know it’s not fair to beat someone when they’re down but Air Botswana is becoming or perhaps has already become a laughing stock. It’s expensive, unreliable and, dare I say it, risky? I don’t think you need to be an expert in the airline industry to understand that Air Botswana no longer being fully affiliated with IATA is a bad thing. Are customers meant to ignore this and just assume the airline is still safe? Are they meant to ignore the numerous technical failures that the press have reported in the last couple of months? Are they meant to ignore the fact that even Air Botswana can’t rely on it’s own planes and prefers to charter hugely expensive planes instead? Are they meant to ignore the fact that their CEO has just stomped off in a huff?

Are they also meant to ignore the astonishing amounts of money that you and I are throwing into a massive hole called Air Botswana?

So HOW do we get to Joburg if SAA treat us with contempt and our own airline can’t be trusted? We adopt the Apple approach and take control ourselves. Drive.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

My younger sisters went to an audition at Game City organised by Figures Models Talent International based in South Africa – in conjunction with IMTA from the US. It was held in the open area near Ola Milky lane – targeting people between the ages of 10 – 27 years old.

One of my sisters received a SMS (call back) because she had passed the first set of auditions. She was been requested to go back the next day and bring P250 – which includes a branded T-shirt, certificate and Invitation package to IMTA New York convention where they meet with numerous agents and have a chance at winning the contest. The P250 set the alarm bells because it really does not come with any guarantees, and seems too early in the game - neither is it a small amount of cash to pay.

We have researched both organisations online, while they appear legit and the P250 seems to only be a registration fee, a few reviews on Easy Background Check, come out revealing that the chances of anyone winning are close to nothing – and this is after parents and candidates have spent thousands of dollars to get to New York. It is an exciting idea for someone to be within the same league as Katie Holmes and other IMTA winners but parents must approach this with serious caution. Are they pouring their cash into a bottom less pit?

Perhaps you can do your own investigations and see if this is a worthy concern.

I think you are VERY wise to be cautious.

I should point out that, for very obvious reasons, I have no experience in either the fashion or modelling industry. However you don’t have to be an expert to smell a bad smell. I am ALWAYS suspicious of organisations who demand money up front for no obvious return. So you get a t-shirt, a piece of paper with your name on it and this “invitation package”? You realise of course that this invitation will be no more than that, don’t you? There won’t be any free flights, accommodation or living expenses. It will just allow you progress to the next stage of their scheme. The cost to fly your sister and someone to chaperone her to New York will be around P30,000 and that’s just for the flights. Are you really prepared to waste such an amount on a remote chance of her being seen by a talent spotter?

It didn’t take too much internet research to discover that there is huge scepticism about
IMTA. A Google search for “IMTA scam” came back with 3,650 responses. Of course this isn’t scientific but it should prompt you to dig a little deeper. The essence of the IMTA approach is requiring potential “models” to pay thousands of US dollars to attend conventions to get a chance to be selected by visiting scouts from modelling agencies. However there are plenty of competitions around that offer exactly the same opportunity to be spotted but which do NOT require them to cough up a fortune to be there.

Here’s a suggestion. Turn back to page 3 of this newspaper but please don’t get distracted and forget to come back. Do you really think that the pretty girl on page 3 paid The Voice to appear there? Of course not.

To me this sounds just like one of the many recruitment scams we’ve reported on over the last few years. A “registration fee”, a promise of employment and riches and a requirement to part with large quantities of cash for travel and accommodation, it’s all the same thing.

Please avoid this, it’s way too suspicious. Instead encourage your sister, if you think she has the necessary qualities, to approach a real modelling agency. A legitimate company won’t demand your money up front. If they do, just walk out.

Yet another scam

A reader sent over the following email he had received. Can you identify all the clues that it’s a scam? I can spot 17 clues, including grammatical ones. See if you can beat my score!

Meanwhile if you feel like wasting a few thebe why don’t you SMS this scammer and tell him what you think of him? The time has come to take the battle BACK to scammers.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My response to Hyundai's threatening letter

My response to the very scary threat from Hyundai's lawyers (quiver, quiver, shake, shake, tremble, tremble), sent to them this afternoon.  See below for their letter.
Mona A Kaluzi
Kamushinda Kaluzi Attorneys
PO Box 45084

By fax to 3182090

19th October 2010

Dear Sir or Madam

Re Hyundai

I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 14th October 2010 which I received today.

Unfortunately your letter contains a number of inaccuracies and errors and one fundamental mistake.

We have never called into question the quality of the Hyundai brand, nor have we criticised any products or services from Hyundai in general. We have, however, criticised the behaviour and quality of service offered by their dealership in Rustenburg when they attempted, and more often than not failed to repair a specific vehicle owned by a customer in Botswana. Nevertheless I will respond to the issues you raise, using the numbering system you use in your letter.

1 Noted.

2.1 Correct.

2.2 This contradicts 2.1 above where you state that the vehicle “was taken for repairs to Hyundai Rustenburg” and is incorrect. The vehicle WAS taken to the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg as you state in 2.1. How else would they have had it in their possession for nearly a year?

2.3 Incorrect. At no point have I said such a thing. Have you or your clients actually read what was published? For instance you have overlooked the phrase I used in an article on 1st September this year when I said “I should stress that I’ve no problem with Hyundai cars.”

2.4 Incorrect. At no point have I stated, suggested or implied that she bought the car new from HASA. The word “new” referred to her ownership of it. You also use the word new in exactly the same way in your letter when you say that the vehicle “may have been new to the owner”. Reasonable people such as readers of Mmegi and The Voice understand that the word “new” can be used to mean “already existing but seen, experienced, or acquired recently or now for the first time”. The origin of the car was made clear in our article in Mmegi on 24th September 2010.

I question how you can correctly infer my intentions (“intentionally deceiving”) when the information on which you are basing your conclusions is patently incorrect?

2.5 Incorrect. See above.

2.6 Fascinating but irrelevant.

2.7 Incorrect. I think you mean to say that HASA does not “intend to offer support or carry out repairs” to “grey imports”. You state in paragraph 2.8 that “Rustenburg agreed to repair the Hyundai motor vehicle” but admit this was done in error. On this occasion, whether by error or not, the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg offered exactly these services. On at least one occasion a Hyundai dealer has voluntarily and freely offered to repair such a grey import.

2.8 You state that the “Rustenburg dealers failed to check the origin of the Santa Fe”. Frankly that is their problem. By accepting money and delivering services a contract existed between them and the owner of the vehicle: a contract that required the services to be delivered fairly, promptly and with reasonable care and skill. This they conspicuously failed to do.

2.9.1 Considering that we made it clear that our criticism was of the service delivered by the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg and that any contractual relationship was solely between the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg and the owner of the vehicle I don’t see how this is relevant.

2.9.2 See my response to 2.4 above.

2.9.3 Incorrect. This was explained fully in our article in Mmegi on 24th September 2010.

2.10 Don’t be ridiculous. Feel free to comment on my words and actions but I doubt you have the clairvoyant skills required to infer my intentions. All the Hyundai parties to this story have had ample opportunity to respond constructively but have failed to do so. This is not our fault.

2.11 Correct. I published comments from Corne Theron that he emailed to me on 14th September 2010. However the so-called disclaimer at the bottom of his email is absurd. The same email was sent to me, the owner of the vehicle, David Astbury and Allan Reinhardt so can hardly be seen as confidential.

Furthermore the email in question was sent to someone he knew already was writing about the case in newspapers published in Botswana. If he had wanted something to be kept confidential he should have sought my agreement in advance before sending it. In such a situation I would have made it clear to him that I would not agree to any such confidentiality requirement.

What’s more, a retrospective requirement for confidentiality, which can only be seen AFTER reading an email is a silly concept. Finally, once that email, without any advance agreement of confidentiality, was received by me it became mine. It is currently stored on MY computer, using MY licenced software and uses MY electricity to display it. It belongs to me and I will use it as I see fit, subject to the constraints of Botswana law.

Just for my interest and better understanding, can you explain which particular Botswana law you believe I have broken?

I note also that you do not complain about the quotations from his earlier emails that I published that were more flattering.

3. Nonsense. Please show me evidence of this. If there were to be any damage to Hyundai’s reputation and the public perception of it’s brand (which I dispute) this would be entirely due to the activities of the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg and the inactivity of Hyundai in South Africa. We have reported the story factually at all times and cannot be held accountable for the effects of any failures of another party.

4. I have repeatedly given David Astbury, the representative for Hyundai in Botswana, the opportunity to intervene and help resolve this problem. On 12th August he told me that he would “monitor the situation and will obviously assist where I feel I can move the matter to the end solution.” On 13th September he assured me that he would “continue to assist where I can.”

The fact that he and HAB have taken no apparent action is not my fault. Despite this at no point have I criticised the Hyundai dealership in Botswana.

Your comments regarding the “objectives” of Consumer Watchdog are perplexing and impertinent. I respectfully suggest that I am in a better position to decide these objectives than you are. We commonly state that our objectives are to “support consumers in Botswana, educate them on their rights, help them to fix problems and expose scams.” In this case we have clearly followed the first three of these.

5.1 I have no plans to apologise. You have not yet identified any way in which our coverage was incorrect. It is the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg who should be apologising for their shameful treatment of the owner of the vehicle. Any further apology should be from Hyundai in South Africa for failing to ensure that their authorised representative in Rustenburg maintains the standards of service and courtesy to which I am sure they aspire.

5.2 No retraction will be published for the reasons explained above. We have reported the facts given to us, published the positive comments from Hyundai in Botswana and South Africa, commented on the lamentable quality of the service delivered by the dealership in Rustenburg and have questioned the impact such levels of service might have on the perception of the brand by consumers. I retract none of this.

5.3 I had no intention to publish any further articles on the shameful way in which the owner of the vehicle has been treated. I believe the story to be concluded. In fact, please allow me to quote Corne Theron’s comments in an email to me on 14th September (even before the car was finally reunited with it’s owner) when he asked me to “kindly note that this case has been closed on our side”. It was already closed on our side too until Hyundai re-opened the issue by instructing you to threaten us.

6. No thanks.

You should note that throughout this regrettable saga we have never questioned or criticised the Hyundai brand and our only criticism of Hyundai South Africa has been related to their failure to intervene effectively to resolve this situation and to address the woefully inadequate and incompetent service delivered by the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg.

For your information, please consider the following extract from an email that Corne Theron sent to the owner of the vehicle on 30th July 2010. I think this confirms that Hyundai in South Africa realize that the service delivered by their dealership in Rustenburg was sub-standard. It is very disappointing that this helpful and positive tone did not continue.

“Firstly, please accept our sincere apologies for all the inconvenience you had to endure over the past 10 months. I can assure you that this is definitely NOT the level of service we expect from our staff and our dealers. The necessary action will be taken against Rowan for not escalating this matter to myself earlier, that I promise you!

When expecting service one can either receive bad or good service but not this level of service and again, I sincerely apologise on behalf of Hyundai Automotive South Arica, including Mr Alan Ross.

This matter will also be dealt with on dealer level and appropriate action will be taken to ensure that a similar situation does not repeat itself in the future.”

You will see, if you take the time to read the various articles we have published on this subject, that following repairs and while being driven home this vehicle broke down three times. Clearly this calls into question the competence of the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg. This is obviously a subject for comment and criticism.

Some further unanswered questions include:
  • Why certain faults with the car only appeared after the dealership in Rustenburg took possession of the car, agreed to repair it and after they had completed these initial repairs and gave the car back to the owner to drive home (only for it to break down on two such occasions)?
  • Why did the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg fail to give the owner any form of guarantee regarding the work they had undertaken?
  • Why did they fail to give her any cost breakdown of the repairs?
  • Why did they refuse to attend to her when the car broke down for the third time, despite assuring the owner and us over the phone that the car was now perfectly roadworthy?
I think that this is all very telling about the quality of the service delivered by the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg. Our comments have been prompted by poor service such as this and have remained solely to do with this dreadful quality of service. Instead of attempting to bully their critics with unsupportable threats of legal action I believe that their money would be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps by addressing their failure to ensure that their authorised representative in Rustenburg dealt with the owner of a Hyundai decently and promptly?

Finally I refer you to Sections 195 (a) and 197 (g) and (h) of the Penal Code of Botswana regarding defamation and the situations when comment is conditionally privileged.

Please note that your letter and this response will be published on the Consumer Watchdog blog in the interest of fairness, openness and to offer both “sides” to this story.


Richard Harriman

The nice people from Hyundai threaten to sue us

Following the long-running but recently concluded Hyundai Rustenburg saga we get a letter from their lawyers.  Scary.  I'll post my response later today once I've sent it to them.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Don't use email

Yes, I mean it.

Sometimes email is the VERY worst means of communication. Of course it’s fine for most purposes, for inviting people to meetings, for telling your boss or your tutor you’ll have your assignment in on time, for sending pictures of your kids to your distant relatives but it’s also a tool that can be extremely dangerous.

The problem is that unlike a face-to-face meeting and on the phone, you have no clues about how someone FEELS when you read or write an email. When someone is standing in front of you or you can hear their voice there are hundreds of little clues you can pick up on to tell if they’re happy, sad, pretending to be happy but really sad, depressed and putting on a brave face, any of the thousand emotions we can show. Just as dogs can smell things with exceptional acuteness we great apes are masterful at reading expressions. But only when we can see or hear the other person. That’s not possible with email.

A reader got in touch recently to tell us about a problem she’d experienced with roof trusses. Not the most exciting of subjects I know but the email correspondence she had with the supplier certainly was thrilling to read. It was a classic example of rudeness escalation.

She started with some rather forthright comments about his company’s “dishonesty and lack of professionalism” and asked for the problems to be resolved urgently. The first email from the supplier was actually very restrained and promised to get to the bottom of the situation.

Then it got serious. Two days later he emailed her saying:
“Your carpenter is lying about all those things he has been telling you. Your carpenter is the one who does not know how to put up trusses ans its your fault because you are the one who employed an incompetent person who is taking chances with your roof (…) But please do not insult the credibility of my company because professional people do not do that.”
She then accused him of being unprofessional again and of being arrogant so he accused various people of lying, being incompetent and suggested she was trying to intimidate him. He also wrote the hilarious line: “Problems can not disappear by sweeping them under the carpenter.”

My point is that things wouldn’t have gone so far and become so inflamed if these conversations had taken place over the phone, or better still face-to-face over a cup of tea. The nature of email makes it much more likely for tempers to flare.

Very sensibly the reader decided not to make things worse. She told us “I’m actually very angry at this moment and have decided against replying his e-mail”. A very wise move. This is the time to put the kettle on and chill out.

That’s perhaps another of those Consumer Watchdog conflict resolution tips. Put the kettle on, make a pot of tea and chill out before answering an angry email. I did that recently, for 4 days in fact. One of the emails in the long-running Hyundai Rustenburg story pissed me off SO much I decided it would be best if I had a tea-drinking marathon instead. Eventually I calmed down and was able to show some restraint in my response to this incompetent, discourteous, disrespectful and utterly horrible dealership. The ones who might be doing the same to us now. They no longer reply to our emails.

It’s not exactly comparable but a few years ago we had an argument by fax with the Holiday Club, technically a company called Suntide, about the nature of their lifetime contracts, the ones that need special dispensation from the Pope or the Secretary General of the United Nations to cancel. That also got rather out of hand, with the faxes from their lawyer getting longer and longer and, no doubt, increasingly expensive. Eventually, we all decided to get together face-to-face for a cuppa to talk it through. Suddenly things became a lot more civil. Nobody threatened anyone, we were all grown ups and we parted no further forward but at least they saved some money in legal fees.

But it’s more than just anger management that email undermines. It’s spelling. No matter how carefully I proof-read these articles I write for Mmegi, I have learned to print them first before sending them in. I find a spelling or grammatical mistake every single time in the printed version that I hadn’t seen on screen. How professional do you think it looks if you send a business email that contains mistakes?

Finally there’s all the silliness email inspires. Many companies these days put mandatory disclaimers at the bottom of all company emails. Some of them are fairly sensible, saying for instance that anything written in an email won’t ever constitute a legally binding contract. Fair enough. However others go a bit mental.

One company I know doesn’t even publish the disclaimer in the email. Instead it gives a link to a web site which says that the email:
“is meant solely for the intended recipient. Access to this email by anyone else is unauthorised. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted in reliance on this, is prohibited and may be unlawful.”
What utter crap. If this is to be believed, if they send you an email and you forward it to me then I’m a criminal? Let me make it perfectly plain to anyone reading this who might be tempted to email me. Once it’s in my computer it’s MINE, OK? I can print it, delete it, publish it, make love to it, I can do anything I want to it because it now belongs to me.

If you have anything to say then please email me. Just check your spelling first.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I was a student in South Africa between 2001 and 2005 and during that time I opened an account at Edgars in Pretoria. I came back to Botswana unexpectedly and as a result my account suffered in the process as I wasn’t working. The balance was around R1,000 then. Edgars in SA passed the account to their lawyers who started calling time and again. They advised me to pay at least P100 but when I went to Edgars in Gaborone (coming from Mahalapye) they declined my payment saying they don’t do foreign accounts. When I got back to the lawyers they didn’t believe me and dismissed it as tactics to avoid paying. The games continued until this year (2010) when upon my insistence they sent me a R4,300 statement and details of an FNB account where I was meant to deposit money. I deposited two P500 instalments in July and August.

Just a few weeks back I contacted Edgars for a statement as the lawyers refused to send me one. To my horror I was told the account details I was sent were incorrect and I should call the firm to trace my money. I was given another account detail of a different company. I do have money to clear the account but I’m afraid to lose my money. How do I trust them? Even the statement that the lawyers had sent me has my address in Kwa Zulu Natal and I’ve never lived there. Please help me sort this mess?

Firstly let me congratulate you for not trying to avoid your obligations. Unlike some people we hear from you are prepared to settle the debt that they claim you owe. However they have clearly made a complete mess of this situation and they were clearly negligent by giving you the wrong account details to pay them the money you owed. You must not be made to pay that money again, that’s up to them to sort out.

Also, the fact that they have a wrong address for you suggests that they’ve mixed you up with someone else. I can understand how that can happen in a busy debt collection company but it’s clearly not your fault and it’s their job to fix it.

We’ll get in touch with Edgars and see if they can’t come up with a solution to this problem. Meanwhile I suggest that you send them a letter, copy it to the lawyers saying that you are fully prepared to pay them everything that you owe them, provided that they credit you with the P1,000 you paid in to the wrong account because of their mistake and once they’ve given you a complete and up-to-date statement of your account.

Shoes update

Last week we reported on a story of a reader who bought three pairs of shoes from a store in the Main Mall in Gaborone only for the pair she was wearing to break less than 20 minutes later, before she even got back to her office. When she went back to the store to complain and demand a refund she was told that she had have known that for P100 three pairs of shoes were going to be defective.

We advised her on her rights and suggested that she educate the owner of the store on the Consumer Protection Regulations and the store’s obligation only to sell things that are of “merchantable quality” and that are “fit for the purpose”.

The result? A complete refund.

This is a great example of a consumer refusing to be abused and standing up for her rights. We all should follow her example and start saying No to stores that disrespect us.

Scam updates

Several readers have been in touch asking us to confirm whether emails they’ve received from total strangers can be believed.

No, the answer is no, they can NOT be believed.

No, the manager of the “United Nation Bonded WareHouse Wales Branch” (who strangely uses a free Portugese email address) does not have a box of money for you. Nor is “Dr.Pinkett Griffin” of the “microsoft promo selection system (ESS) London Uk” (another free email address) going to give you £750,000 once you given him all your ID details. Nor is “Miss Mirable” who emails total strangers inviting them to get in touch offering love and affection real. She’s almost certainly a rather fat, sweaty guy in a scam factory in Lagos.

All the usual signs were there in the emails. Reputable organisations so not send out important emails from free web-based email systems like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail. They also employ people who can either spell correctly without help or who know how to use spell-checkers on their computers. Above all, total strangers don’t approach you with unbelievable offers that come without consequences. In all of these cases there would have come a point when the scammers would have demanded their “advance fee”, sometimes a legal fee, sometimes a customs duty, sometimes a bribe all to be paid via Western Union. That’s when they would have disappeared with your cash for ever.

Just delete them, OK?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Let's be positive

Before anyone who knows me panics and imagines I’ve abandoned skepticism and joined the ranks of the woo-woo, New Age, claptrap-peddling, positive thinking movement, let me put them straight. I’m still the grumpy old grouch I always was. Or so they think.

I actually do believe that having a positive outlook in life is the best way to operate. It’s not always easy, life throws it’s disappointments at all of us with alarming frequency and there are times when circumstances are pretty dire. However I know personally that the negative, pessimistic approach is not the best. I’m certainly don’t believe that there’s any magical effect of thinking positively, I just believe that the best way to live your life, regardless of your circumstances, is to enjoy what you can, while you can.

But it’s sometimes hard, as someone who spend perhaps too much time thinking about consumer rights, to remain positive. I spend rather too much of my time exasperated, infuriated and utterly pissed off as a result of the way some suppliers, stores and manufacturers abuse their customers.

For some strange reason the most obviously offensive abusers, the pyramid schemes, the fake investment companies, the stock market deceivers are the ones that don’t irritate me that much. Of course I want to see them all in jail but I find myself thinking of them a bit like the flu virus. It’s been around for ever and because it changes every year it will always be there, moderately spoiling most people’s lives and ruining the occasional one.

Of course it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight them and do our best to minimise the suffering but like death and taxes, scammers are certainties in life.

But let’s not forget the good things. Let’s be positive.

We heard from a reader who had one of those car repair stories that reminded me of a Greek epic that goes on and on and on. The shortened version is that she owned a Volvo. She took it to a garage in Gaborone for a service and repairs to the cigarette lighter and the boot light. They said it would cost around P1,200 but when she went to pick it up this figure had grown to nearly P2,000. This was even though there was a sign on the wall saying that:
“No additional work shall be undertaken without prior customer consent.”
When she argued their response was that as a franchise they weren’t permitted to offer discounts. Ridiculous, I know.

The next day on the way to work she had to be stopped on the Western Bypass because her car was haemorrhaging vast quantities of fuel all over the road. After being taken in by the same garage for repairs and a lot more mishaps and confusion she eventually got her car home, finally imagining that things would be OK even though her car was held together with “cable ties and a whole lot of insulation tape”.

When she got home she was horrified to discover that one of the tyres was held on by only three wheel nuts. A closer examination showed that every other one of the wheels had been similarly buggered. Quite why this silly, ridiculous excuse for a garage who were only doing a routine service and fixing a few lights thought it necessary to remove her wheels is beyond me.

So anyway, that’s when she came to us to see if we could do anything. Unfortunately, despite our many skills, our talents and our charm we can’t perform miracles. However we do have a phone and email. Recognising that this was a Volvo, and not a suspicious imported one, we called Barloworld, the official Volvo importer in Botswana. We didn’t ask them for any favours but asked if they could just give the vehicle a quick glance and tell the owner if it was safe at least.

Just a few days ago I got a very contented email from the owner of the Volvo. Barloworld had taken the car in for a few days, runs some checks, adjusted a few things, tinkered a little bit, aligned the wheels, given her some sage advice, planned a proper inspection next month, confirmed that it was safe to drive and had generally made her a happy Volvo driver again.

It’s not my job to promote Barloworld. Your buying decisions are entirely your own. However you have to ask yourself which suppliers send you away feeling homicidal and which leave you feeling positive. Which ones do you want to give your money to?

Hyundai update

Our long-running saga with Hyundai in Rustenburg is now over. Almost.

Our reader finally managed to get her car back but only after they increased the ransom they were demanding from her before she could get behind the wheel. Having picked it up twice before only to have it break down within the Rustenburg city limits each time she was understandably nervous about driving it back again. After begging the Hyundai dealership they finally allowed one of their team to drive the car with her. Good decision because, yes, you’ve guessed it, the car broke down again 15km into her journey. Luckily this time it was only a blown fuse and could be fixed quite easily.

Oh and the car was filthy, they refused to guarantee the work they had done and they still haven’t had the courtesy to give her a breakdown of the costs they claim to have incurred.

I believe that the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg are incompetent, discourteous and have shown massive contempt to one of their customers. I don’t know why they think they can be like this but I’m sure it’s nothing to do with her being black, female and assertive. Of course not.

Avoid them.

This week’s stars

  • Well, obviously the entire team at Barloworld.
  • The team at Perfume World for being a decent store who do the right thing.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I used to share a house with a lady and my monthly share of the rent was P1,200 and in the first month I paid her P2,400 (one month’s rent and another for the deposit).

I served notice that I was leaving in August and at some point she told me that I am going to lose my deposit money as I gave her short notice. Later on she apologized and told me she was stressed. I vacated the house on the 4th September. She advertised the house for P1,100 and I suspect she has been cheating me because I have been paying her P1,200 and she is the one who signed the lease before I stayed with her.

She promised to give me back the deposit during the first week of September but she failed. Instead she would send me messages making excuses. Last week she told me that she is expecting money after the 17th. On the 20th she sent me a message saying that her cheque will be ready on the 21st but I didn’t hear any more from her. On the 22nd I went to her to make a follow up on my money but I didn’t find her. Instead I found a gentleman who told me that he is the new housemate and informed me that the latter was not around. I then phoned her and she said ‘where do you expect me to get the money?’ I realized that she is not intending to give me my money.

I hope you will help me.

I’m sorry you’re having trouble getting your deposit back. However you are clearly entitled to have it refunded and your former housemate’s comments are no more than excuses. I suggest that you tell her that she has 7 days to refund you or you will take her to the Small Claims Court for their judgement. So far we’ve been really impressed with the Small Claims Court, they really seem to offer rapid and effective justice.

Hopefully your former housemate will know this by now and will realise that she has no option but to find a way of paying you back your deposit.

However I don’t think you can really complain about the rent you were paying. The fact that she is now asking for only P1,100 is just a commercial decision, it’s up to her and her new housemate how much she charges just as it was up to you and her how much you paid when you were living there. I can understand how it’s frustrating but that’s just the way of things.

Do let us know how you get on and whether you get your money back.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

In December last year I entered into a 24 month contract with Orange for internet services. I was provided with a dongle for Internet Everywhere and a voucher for a laptop. Having been a loyal customer to Game and enjoyed the services that they offer e.g. guarantees, insurances, lowest prices in town etc I used the voucher at Game to purchase a laptop.

Now 9 months into the contract last week Friday I got home to find my house broken into. I immediately reported the matter to the police and the CID is currently carrying out its investigations. The same day I reported the matter to Orange through their customer service lines and in particular requesting them to block the internet line so that it might not be abused. I have taken up the matter with Orange and they are adamant that they do not sell laptops but just provide an internet service. On the other hand Orange insists that I will still have to keep paying the balance of the contract but there will be no replacements.

I am very much alive to the fact that the contract I have with Orange is still in full effect, but what has really surprised me is that there is no insurance for these items. Indeed there were lots of papers that I signed with Orange but little did I know that there was no insurance.

Game say that they too don’t offer insurance in these cases since a customer buying with a voucher is like buying in cash. Granted, but between Game and Orange there is a contract and what does this contract say about items bought for contract purposes? Orange took business to Game and the reverse is true. Surely no one can be expected to pay for goods that are not there?

Please help.

I’m sorry but I don’t think there’s any obligation on either Orange or Game to replace the items you lost for free. Game are correct that you effectively bought a laptop for cash from them. Yes, they would have an obligation to fix it if it went wrong in the warranty period but it’s not their fault that it was stolen from you. Similarly with Orange. It’s not their fault that your Internet Everywhere dongle was stolen. I suspect that they will offer you a replacement but they’re entitled to ask you to pay for it.

This is a key lesson for us all. You absolutely MUST insure these sorts of items, either as part of your normal household insurance policy or as specific items. I know that the cost of insurance sometimes seems high but you’ll realise how cheap it is when you’re faced with a situation like this.

One last tip about computer security. Make backups of everything. Frequently!