Thursday, 31 March 2011

Degrees of abuse

I am surrounded by clever, well-educated people. Many of them are much more qualified that I am. I know several people with Masters Degrees and a couple of them with PhDs and I admire enormously the hard work and sacrifices they made to get them.

However I actually don’t believe that qualifications are the most important thing for most jobs. What matters more are skills a person possesses and their experience in using them. Of course there are professions where certain qualifications are important. I want my doctor, my lawyer and my accountant to be fully qualified. I don’t care that much if my bank manager has an MBA or not, so long as she manages her branch effectively and motivates her staff. That’s not a set of skills you can get from a college or a university.

But if people DO have qualifications I want them to be real. I don’t want people pretending to have genuine qualifications when really they bought them off the internet with their credit card.

That’s why I’m becoming a fake qualifications bore. And no, I’m not going to stop going on and on about how I think people with fake qualifications are low-down cheats. These people are stealing job opportunities from people who have REAL degrees, who worked hard to get them.

In the past I’ve mentioned a variety of the fake universities that I’ve come across like Belford University, The University of SouthCentral Los Angeles and the utterly lunatic Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology. These are all “virtual universities”. They don’t actually exist in the real world. None of them have a campus with lots of busy-looking academics thinking lofty thoughts and stressed looking students running from room to room for their next lecture or seminar.

All they have is a postal address, a phone number, a web site and an email address. We could all set up those in an hour.

What they DO have is an impressive sounding name. Let’s take an example. Doesn’t “Knightsbridge University” sound impressive? Anyone with a little knowledge of London will know that Knightsbridge is a very prestigious part of London full of embassies, enormously over-priced shops and the most expensive apartment ever sold (it sold for over P1 billion, yes I DID mean Billion). It’s also close to Kensington, an area full of universities and museums so “Knightsbridge University” sounds good, doesn’t it?

It would if it didn’t actually operate from a post box in Denmark.

It’s not real, not even slightly. This one doesn’t even seem to have a web site.

Over the years a number of people have been exposed as cheats for claiming to have a Knightsbridge University degree. In 2000 a senior government official in Mpumalanga was “forced to resign” after claiming to have a doctorate from them. There have been several subsequent controversies when other people working for charities and parastatals around the world have similarly been exposed as cheats and lost their jobs and reputations as a result.

Then there’s the rather amazing “Ashwood Unviersity”. This one is much more high-tech and has it’s own web site. One of the first things on the web site is this appealing claim:
“No Need to Take Admission Exams, No Need To Study, Receive a College Degree for What You Already Know!”
Better still is the link on their web site which says:
“Click here to place an order now and receive your degree in 15 days!”
For a mere $1,249 you can have a PhD and be a doctor in a range of disciplines including Nursing and Medicine. If you’re feeling flush you can splash out an extra $1,000 and they’ll even throw in your thesis for you.

Tempted?

No, you shouldn’t be because you’re not a cheat and a liar, are you?

There are plenty of other fake universities out there that offer the same fake qualifications, the Wikipedia page on non-accredited universities lists over 200 of the them. But are there seriously any people in Botswana claiming to have such a qualification? Who knows?

If there are and you’re one of them I have a suggestion for you. If you told your employer that you have a degree from Ashwood University, Knightsbridge University, Belford University or any of the other fake establishments then sooner or later you’re going to be found out and fired. What’s more your employer would be perfectly entitled to call the cops and have you dragged away. The reason? You committed a fraud. You took something (your salary) on false pretences. You’re a crook and like all crooks the best thing you can do now is to go straight. Either keep quiet and take your chances, confess and see if you can negotiate some leniency from your boss or just resign quietly.

Do you really want your boss to learn that you lied to him or her when you were hired? Can your skills and experience get you off a charge of fraud?

Do you really want a colleague who doesn’t like you, or who wants your job to expose you?

I doubt it so just do the honourable thing before you get found out.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received an email from someone offering me the Global Gas Card saying that I can earn $1 million. Can this be true?


No, it can’t be.

This is a pyramid scheme. It didn’t take long to confirm that this is the latest scheme invented by an American serial pyramid scheme architect called Eric Dalius. He’s created a number of these schemes that promise you a fortune but actually offer you nothing. However they all make him lots of money, you can rest assured of that.

This latest scheme that you heard about is no different to any other pyramid scheme. You are required to pay $125 to join a scheme which requires you to buy further discount cards for buying petrol (“Gas” in the USA). Like all pyramid schemes the maths doesn’t work out correctly, it can’t last for long. Finally there’s the usual question you need to ask about any business scheme you are invited to join. If the business idea is so wonderful why do they need new members? Why don’t they keep the idea to themselves? Is it perhaps because the scheme only survives by recruiting new members?

Stay away from anything like this. You won’t make a thebe from it.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I noticed with alarming dismay that the All Gold 750ml Tomato Sauce bottle has been replaced with the new 700ml bottle in the same type of bottle yet the price has soared up from P9.95 to P12.95. Nothing was communicated to the consumer, or maybe its just me who hasn’t seen anything being communicated to us consumers. Are we being cheated? Because if we weren’t being cheated, there would have been some form of communication for example when soft drinks were being reduced by 10ml from 340ml to 330ml all was communicated well. Are the All Gold Tomato Sauce manufactures preying on the consumer’s ignorance and what can be done about it? How can I as a consumer protect myself??

I think you might be asking a bit much from stores if you want an announcement every time they put a price up. There’d be no room left in the newspapers for news, gossip and scandal. Do you really expect a manufacturer to actually advertise that they’ve put up their prices? A few might do so but that doesn’t mean we can expect it from everyone.

I strongly believe that it’s within a store’s rights to increases prices as they see fit. Just like we as consumers have the right not to buy their products as we see fit if we think we’re being ripped off. That’s the nature of the free market.

It’s perhaps one of those truisms that like death and taxation, price increases are one of those inevitable things in life.

My only concern here is if the size of the bottle has decreased. That would be a bit sneaky. However I haven’t checked to confirm this. [Update: I have now and the bottle I saw is now indeed only 700ml.]

However the good news is that we have consumers like you who have an eye for the detail. Have you considered a career in the police? We need cops who spot details like this.

Unknown courier companies

A reader contacted us asking about a demand she received from a shipping company based in Malaysia. She said:
“A friend of mine wanted to transport something through them and they want money from me but my friend already paid for all the transactions.”
Before I even heard more details my first suspicion was that this was part of a scam. We’ve heard from several victims of the “romantic advance fee scams”. This involves a growing romance that usually begins via a dating site on the internet or a traditional email out of the blue. Instead of offering shares in inheritances or stolen money locked in a foreign bank account these are more disturbing. Very gradually, using email and occasional phone calls the scammer seduces the victim into forming a romantic attachment. I know it sounds unbelievable but I’ve spoken to several genuinely heartbroken women who’ve been victims of this.

The essence of the scam comes later. Once love has blossomed the lover overseas promises a shipment of goodies. Sometimes it’s money, other times jewellery or electronics, sometimes it’s all of these things. Just before the presents arrive there’ll be a hitch. So far every time it’s been a shipping company who want a fee before the goods can be delivered. However when you start digging you find that the shipping company is not quite as real as you would hope. Operating from a free email address and a cellphone number this fake shipping company will, of course, demand the payment via Western Union, not a transfer to their bank account as a real company would require.

I suspect that this is the case here. Don’t worry, I’ve warned her not to send a single thebe.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A final email from The "Northern Ireland" scammers

I received various emails from the ludicrous "Northern Ireland Institute of Business & Technology (British)" asking that I publish their latest rant. They said:
"Internet Terrorist Richard Harriman,
Our Senior Manager for International Affairs had answered all your questions clearly and precisely.  He would like you to publish it, to allow the public to judge who would look more ridiculous eventually."
OK, here goes. You can judge for yourself which of us is most ridiculous.

There original statements are in black. My subsequent comments are in red. Their latest responses are in blue.
"To Mr Richard Harriman Much of your comments on NIIBT is ridiculous and utter nonsense [Evidence?] (our evidence? In what form? How should I present it?) HERE?

Please do your homework before posting your comments. [I did.] (ok.evidence ?_)

1. We are registered on British Virgin Islands. [So why do you call yourself "British" and use "Northern Ireland" in your name?] (STUDY YOUR GEOGRAPHY BEFORE ASKING THIS QUESTION?)

2. We have been operating legally for many years (probably long before you were born) [I'm 46 years old.] (hello, Mr Harriman)

3.Our students have been successful in business and in the work force [Give me the names of FIVE independently traceable students.] (WHO ARE YOU? STUDENT RECORDS ARE PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL! WHY SHOULD WE PROVIDE PERSONAL DETAILS EVEN WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT?)

4. our courses are world class (you should sign up and learn ) [You are not accredited by a recognised accreditation body. How can your courses possibly be " world class"?]" Our materials are used world wide with students from UK, US including Asia Isn’t that some sort of world class?unless you want to go into details over the definition. Of course we are no match for Harvard. Yale,Princeton , Cambridge or Oxford and Stanford (which university are you from?)

Here some simple questions that I think deserve simple answers:

1. Why do you call yourselves the "Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British)" when you have nothing to do with Northern Ireland and you're not British? (still swinging at this juncture?) Anyway for your information. We are registered !

2. Why can I find no trace at all of any of the academic staff you claim to employ? Which staff are you looking for? Most probably I can help.

3. Why does a Google search for "Richard Lim" and "Northern Ireland Institute" return no results at all? Can you give me an email address that reaches you directly? Do you actually exist? I google your name too. You don’t exist as well. Email address is officially in our website. Certainly we exist. Alive and well too.Real people, real students and centre as well. What crap are you talking?

4. Why is there no trace of "Dr. R. Hempfing", who you claim is your "President cum Chairman of Board of Examiners"? WHO ARE YOU? DO YOU WANT TO MEET HIM? WHAT PURPOSE? WE CAN LOOK INTO IT

5. Likewise for "Dr. E.C Kow", who you claim is your "Director-General cum Senior Examiner"? DR EC KOW IS A BUSY MAN , TRAVELLING FROM STATE TO STATE AND COUNTRIES ..IF YOU WANT SEE HIM, WE CAN LOOK INTO IT HE IS ALSO ALIVE AND KICKING!!!

6. Why do you claim accreditation from a body that is not entitled to accredit anyone or anything? Be more specific with this question?

7. Why have you (hilariously) threatened me with the FBI and now Interpol rather than answer any of these questions? THREATENING YOU ON FBI AND INTERPOL?COME ON? MARK YOUR own WORDS!!! YOU SEEM TO BE LITTLE THESE NATIONS IN YOUR BLOG WE WERE TOLD TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST YOU.. NO OFFENSE

P.S YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK??? WE DO OURS TOO.. THANK YOU FOR TIME AND COMMENTS.. EMAIL US. IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE AROUND, CALL US WE CAN BRING YOU FOR A CUP OF HOT COFFEE.
Frankly I don't think any of their responses is worthy of comment. They haven't answered a single question that I asked. Let's make it simple so that even THEY can understand.

The so-called "Northern Ireland Institute of Business & Technology (British)" is a fake educational establishment operated by crooks who are seeking to defraud their victims. It's a scam.

Yahoo News: The 10 most common scams

Many already covered on this blog but an interesting review of the likely losses UK victims will experience. The 10 most common scams

Monday, 28 March 2011

Insanity

I often meet incompetence. I occasionally encounter stupidity. Very, very occasionally I come across madness.

Before anyone panics, no, I’m not talking about any of my family, friends, colleagues or even my clients. No, they’re all perfectly reasonable, sensible and sane. Well, most of them are. OK, some of them are almost normal.

However, there have been a few occasions when I’ve encountered someone completely and utterly bonkers. Mad as a hatter, bats in the belfry, nutty as a fruitcake.

I had another one last week.

As readers will have seen I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months looking into fake educational establishments. The “Atlantic International University”, “Belford University”, “Omega Global University” and the “University of SouthCentral Los Angeles:, the list goes on and on. None of them are real universities at all, they’re all fakes that award fake degrees. There is a page on the Wikipedia web site that lists many of these non-accredited universities, it’s worth examining next time you hire someone who claims to have a qualification from somewhere you’ve never heard of.

One of these fake establishments calls itself the “Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British)”. Despite this name, they have nothing to do with either Northern Ireland or Britain, they just used those place names to gain a bit of credibility, they’re actually based in Malaysia. They do the usual things, they claim to employ various academics, none of whom can be traced, they claim to be accredited but in fact their accreditation is from an unrecognised body and they claim to be based in places where they aren’t even registered as a company.

I’ve mentioned them a few times in Mmegi and on our blog and eventually they got in touch. That’s when I encountered the madness. They began by telling me that:
“FBI is watching your uncorrectable behavior. You better watch out!!!”
and:
“To avoid unforeseen serious consequence will come after you”
Meanwhile a reader got in touch with them and asked them some questions. They responded by email and copied it to me. I won’t burden you with the nearly 400 words they sent but here are some highlights.
“From the beginning, we sensed that you had been used by the internet terrorist Richard Harriman. Our sixth senses were accurate.”

“NIIB(British) is a genuine establishment providing comprehensive education training by distance learning, home study, open distance education and research activities in the field of education. It provides training people from unemployment to professionals from professionals to businessmen. An internet terrorist Richard Harriman should not discredit our genuine services to mankind.”

“Richard Harriman comment is totally baseless, misleading and lying.”

“Entertainment: He even rudely comments that he would go bald and a tooth drops out. You may tell him that the people of Botswana will cheer if he would boil his mini bald cannon and two flat balls until both of them drop off.”

“Do you think Richard Harriman is an accredited blogger? The answer is no. The public suspected that he is a modern internet terrorist. The Interpol Police are watching him with an eagle eye. The public urge you to distant yourself from Richard Harriman because his actions tell the public that he is an anti European, anti American and anti Asian. He has been classified as an internet terrorist by international community. His action is liable to invite disaster to mankind and unrest to the country.”

“The Interpol police would take action against anyone who runs foul of the law. They are monitoring closely on the internet terrorist (Richard) activity. Warn him to stay away from this unproductive, unpopular and very stupid and indecent job.”

"Strongly urge him to remove all the slanderous and defamation remarks on so many establishments in Europe, USA, Asia and many regions around the world from his illegal blog immediately.”


“Hello, Richard, can you behave yourself and learn more from Madam Theresa than terrorism”
I don’t know where to begin. I’m not the only one who senses that the author of that tirade is not entirely normal, am I? Maybe I should just be charitable and I shouldn’t mock the afflicted?

Let’s just say that I think you can judge the quality of an educational establishment by the sanity of it’s spokesperson. The “Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British)” is completely bonkers.

But, you might ask, what about the people who buy degrees from these crooks? Aren’t they equally to blame? Yes. I agree, they are. I don’t think there can be any sane people who think that a qualification you buy over the internet without doing a significant amount of real work is real. They’re not mad if they think this is how things work, they’re bad.

So here’s a suggestion. If you got a job or a promotion using a fake degree or if you have simply told your employer that you have such a degree you need to come clean and confess. Or just resign. You really, REALLY need to do either of these things as soon as possible because we are going to be naming these fake universities for everyone to see. Do you want to be found out?

Resign or come clean now before we expose you. You’d be insane not to.

This week’s stars
  • Irfan from Citizen Design. Go and buy a “Re Mmogo” t-shirt today.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I am a concerned consumer. I saw a ticket for a big show in Gaborone and the ticket had a clause that said that if the show is canceled there will be no refunds made. I wanted to know if this is legal?


Almost anything can be legal if you agree to it. But did you? Did you agree, before you handed over your money, that you were happy not to be given a refund if the show was cancelled? I bet you didn’t.

When you buy something you have certain rights. You have, for instance, a right to actually get what you are buying. If a shoe shop changes it’s mind about selling you some shoes after you’ve handed over your money you know you have a right to demand your money back, don’t you? Likewise if you refuse to hand over the money, the store can take back the goods you’ve taken. A deal, as they say, is a deal.

However… Here’s comes a BIG however. You CAN waive your rights if you agree to do so. A seller CAN agree with you that certain rights will be cancelled if both you and the seller agree. For instance, you can agree to ignore the warranty that comes with a cellphone, if you agree to do so before you hand over your money. And, very importantly, so long as you “specifically consent” to waiving that right.

Section 17 (1) (f) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that it’s an “unfair business practice” if a seller enters:
“into a transaction in which the consumer waives or purports to waive a right, benefit or immunity provided by law, unless the waiver is clearly stated and the consumer has specifically consented to it”
I believe that “specific consent” means that you signed something. Surely that’s how sellers would protect themselves? If you don’t sign something then how can they later prove that you signed away your legal rights?

Finding a comment on a ticket for a show that you can only read AFTER you’ve paid is clearly unfair.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received an SMS stating: “Congratulations your mobile have won US$9.8m for World Bank Award. To claim contact Mrs Hahn Doyle via: wbaw01¡gmail.com”

This isn’t an email address, is this a hoax?


It most certainly is! An obviously fake email address, a fake award, the terrible English and the overwhelming fact that you can’t win a lottery that you didn’t enter!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

I got an email inviting me to attend a conference on “Violence against women and children” hosted by the “Right for Women Foundation”. The conference is due to take place in May this year in Seattle in the USA and then later in Southampton in the UK. They say that they will pay for everything except the hotel bills in the UK and that they will process all the visas we need.

They say I must send them copies of my passport and confirmation that I’ve booked my hotel in the UK before they can proceed but this makes me suspicious. Can this be true?


I’m afraid that this is yet another scam.

I’ve seen many of these two-venue conference emails in the last few months. It’s one of the common email scams around these days. They all involve an invitation out of the blue to attend a pair of linked conferences in two totally different locations. They all also include an offer to pay all your costs, with the exception of one hotel bill that you are required to pay. That payment is what they’re after, that’s what the scam is all about.

It didn’t take long to confirm that there is no such conference, there is no such body as the “Right for Women Foundation” and that the hotels they demand you stay in don’t exist either. What’s more, the scammers don’t give any phone numbers that actually work, just a variety of free email addresses.

But actually I don’t think I needed to check these things to confirm that this is a scam. Let’s be realistic. Why would a genuine organization offer to pay for total strangers to fly to the opposite side of the planet for a conference? Why would they do such a thing? And why would they split a conference between two different continents? It’s just unbelievable.

Finally, why would they require you to pay for a hotel bill for one location in advance? Has any reader EVER paid for a hotel stay in advance, anywhere in the world? I know I never have.

I contacted the so-called organizers of this so-called conference pretending to be a potential victim, just to see how the scam progressed. Of course they didn’t notice that I hadn’t originally been on the invitation list, presumably because they’ve invited millions of potential victims.

Unsurprisingly I was required to get in touch with the hotels and pay them in advance using, you’ve guessed it, Western Union. All the clues are there, don’t waste your time responding to them unless you want to send them an incredibly rude email?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

"As disasters spread, so do online scammers"

Interesting article from Windows Secrets on the reaction of online scammers to recent disasters.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dual venue conference scams

We've had several emails sent to us that invite people, better described as "victims", to a conference on some worthy cause which will be held in two different venues, usually on different continents.

The scam is that they offer to pay for all of your flights, accommodation, food and drink EXCEPT for one hotel bill, always in the second venue. They demand that you pay this hotel bill yourself. In advance. Using Western Union. You sense the scam already?

So far we've seen invitations from:
  • The "Administrative of Social Humanitarian Activist Organization" offering a conference on "Human Trafficking and Child Abuse"
  • The "Right for women foundation" and their conference on “violence against women and children” 
  • The "Ideal Concept Foundation" had a conference on "Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking"
  • The "Civil concept foundation" are interested in "Human trafficking and spread of HIV"
  • "We care2" like the subject of "Racism & Child Abuse"
They're scams, don't fall for them!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Debt Collectors Use Social Media to Find Debtors

Be warned, Facebook can be used to trace you.  I know, I've used it for exactly this purpose myself.

Courtesy of the Caveat Emptor blog.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Where are we?

Don’t panic, this isn’t going to be one of those intensely dull, thoughtful pieces about where we’re going as a nation, that state of our morals or our failures since independence. I mean it literally.

Do we know where we are, geographically?

I wonder sometimes if we do. More particularly I wonder whether certain stores know where we are.

A couple of years ago we campaigned to have all stores that sell on credit advertise the full credit price when they advertise their enormously over-priced, second-rate goods. Eventually we achieved this and despite the occasional mishap they are all obeying the law now. However at the beginning, after we’d written to them all outlining their legal obligations one of them wrote back and proudly announced that they “abide by South African law”.

Well, that’s nice. I was genuinely pleased for them that they thought they operated legally in their home country (overlooking the fact that actually they didn’t). I hoped that it gave them lots of pleasure. Actually, none of that is true. I don’t give a flying whatsit whether they abide by South African law because THIS ISN’T SOUTH AFRICA!

Shortly after we got that message I updated our web site to include a map that helped remind South African store executives that Botswana was not, in fact, a mysterious 10th province of SA.

Unfortunately it seems that this lesson still hasn’t been learned. I heard from a consumer last week about an experience she had in a local large hardware store. She had accidentally purchased the wrong item, a set of kitchen taps that were the wrong size. Luckily she noticed before she tried to install them, before she had opened the package so she didn’t expect any difficulty when she returned the taps and asked for a suitable replacement. Unfortunately life wasn’t that simple.

She went back and was told that yes, they WOULD replace them with the correct taps (which she had seen were exactly the same price) but they would charge her a 15% handling fee.

I don’t actually have a problem with the handling fee although 15% seems a bit steep. I’m sure that it’s a bother to put the taps back on the shelf and give the consumer the correct ones. I’m sure it’s also a tremendous hassle to press a couple of buttons on their fancy, high-tech, computerised Point of Sale terminal to record the fact that item A is back in stock and they have one fewer of item B now. I’m sure it also provides the management with great psychological trauma and the need for extensive psychotherapy to cope with the nightmares this situation has caused.

But that’s not my point. At no point when she originally bought the taps did the consumer know that there was a such a penalty for returning things. Knowing a bit about her rights she asked the store manager how she was supposed to know about this penalty? There’s a sign, she was told. Where? Over there. You see the sign that’s completely hidden behind a poster, that can’t be read by anyone unless they move the poster to one side, the sign that is effectively invisible. Yes, that sign.

Yes, that sign that is meaningless, worthless and pointless. That sign that is a pathetic attempt to claim some fake right as a supplier to abuse, belittle and stamp on their valued customers.

But that’s not the worst of it. Hidden away in the text of the sign was a line which said:
“South African law shall apply”
Oh no it won’t.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine you went to buy a cellphone from a store owned by an Arabic gentleman. Imagine there was a sign on the wall that said that women can’t buy from the store without their husband’s permission, that the rights of women shoppers are worth only half of those of the male clientele and that anyone caught shoplifting would have parts of their bodies sliced off. Imagine that you complained about this (assuming you’re a man of course) and that the owner smiled and pointed at a sign on the wall that said “Saudi Arabian laws apply in this store”.

What would your reaction be? I suspect that you’d be stunned, then shocked and finally very, very angry at the absolute cheek of the owner. You wouldn’t tolerate such a thing. You’d tell all your friends, neighbours and relatives, anyone you met in the street that looked like they were planning to enter the store and you’d write to Mmegi expressing your outrage.

What’s more the cops would eventually come round and probably escort the store owner to the nearest border post.

So why do we put up with it from the type of South African store that seems to think we’re a funny little neighbouring country to be exploited? I think we all know that there’s a “type”, don’t we? Of course we all know that most South African companies, like most white South Africans are perfectly decent people who have truly learned some lessons from their country’s history and are better people for it. But there is still a legacy with certain companies that needs to be overcome.

And the best way to overcome this is not to take it. Next time something like this happens to you, just pretend to be a Tunisian. Or an Egyption. Or a Libyan. People power can bring change, in fact it might be the only way change will ever come about.

This week’s stars
  • Mr Mafhoko of Game Stores who “provided excellent service coupled with extraordinary patience”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I am a Botswana citizen and was looking for an online school and came across the AIU (Atlantic International University). Now they want me to enroll with them.is this one of the scams or what.

Your help will be appreciated?


Yes, Atlantic International University is CERTAINLY a fake university. We covered this in The Voice a few weeks ago. You can see the article on our blog and on The Voice web site.

Atlantic International University play quite a clever trick by claiming, truthfully, to be an accredited university. HOWEVER when you dig deeper you discover that this is a trick. In the small print they concede that they are “not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education”. They are, in fact, accredited by the “Accrediting Commission International (ACI)”. This is a fake accreditation body that even AIU confess is also “not regulated or approved by the US Department of Education”.

They’re a fake university accredited by a fake accreditation body.

Their web site is full of curious things. For instance the profiles of some of their senior staff appear to be false and others can’t be traced at all. Some of them seem to have awarded themselves their only qualifications from their own non-accredited university.

The problem for fake universities like Atlantic International is that more and more people are realizing that they are crooks. More and more employers are realizing this too. Please don’t run the risk of ruining your career by thinking you can improve it with a fake degree.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received an email from the Russell Hotel in London saying that they wanted to hire workers. Is this true?


This is a scam.

The email says:
“Salary: is very attractive depending on experience to be found in applicant. Our salary and benefit which will be forwarded to you for your perusal.

The hotel management wants the whole thing settled in 45days time. If you can meet our requirement please reply for further procedures. The management will take care of your feeding, accommodation including your air ticket. We will provide all the relevant backup documents to enable the applicant get his or her visa at UK-Embassy in the applicant country.”
“Feeding”? Yes they clearly think of their victims as cattle.

Let’s face a few facts. Why would a hotel in London be recruiting total strangers from around the world and paying for their air ticket, food and accommodation? Why would they email from a free email address? They’re supposedly a hotel in central London so why can’t they string a sentence together in the Queen’s English?

You can bet they’ll yet another “advance fee” payable by Western Union as soon as you reply to them.

Green card scams

We’ve been contacted by many people over the last few weeks who received emails claiming they have won the US Diversity lottery. This is a genuine scheme that people can apply for but these scammers are exploiting people’s ignorance of how it really works to steal their money.

The emails typically offer an unbelievable amount of free accommodation, health care, education and a job. And guess what? They want about US$800, which they want to be paid via Western Union. Of course this seems too good to be true and that’s because it IS too good to be true. It’s a scam.

I’ve posted links to official US State Department web sites that describe the scam on our blog but whatever you do, please don’t respond to them and certainly don’t send them any money. You’ll never see it again.

See warnings from the US State Department, the Federal Trade CommissionWikipedia (look at the "Frauds and scams" section) and Consumer Fraud Reporting. See also this warning from the US Embassy in Botswana (courtesy of GabzFM).

VERY late bills

How long can a company wait before sending you a bill for their services?

A reader got in touch to tell us about the bill she just received from a major utility company here in Botswana. I won’t say which one but there aren’t that many to choose from so you might guess. It was for the magnificent total of P166.25. The letter she received went on to give her 14 days to pay up otherwise they would refer her to ITC.

The reader, being a honest consumer. had no problem in principle with paying her debts, but asked them what exactly it was for. They demanded that she come to their office where they presented her with a bill which they allege she incurred in 1998. Thirteen years ago!

She wanted to know if this was reasonable.

Of course it isn’t!!!!! It’s utterly absurd!

We checked with our friendly, neighbourhood lawyer and he confirmed what our understanding of the law says.

He said that a debt like this can only be enforced for “3 years from the date on which the debt fell due or the date on which the creditor could first reasonably have been expected to know the claim arose”.

See, we have some wonderful laws in Botswana. Sensible, just laws that genuinely protect you and me. It’s just a shame that some companies don’t know about them.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Blog post number 500

Please forgive a moment of self-congratulation.

This is the 500th entry on the Consumer Watchdog blog and I'm feeling rather proud of myself. However, much as I'd like to take all the credit, just as much celebration and congratulation must go to Kate and a variety of other people and organisations:
  • Gideon, Brian and the entire team at Mmegi and Beata, Sinqobile and the team at The Voice for their support, "backbone" and commitment to the consumers of Botswana. They are a tribute to the newspaper media industry. 
  • To our radio "partners in crime" over the years, the wonderful Shombi, Warona, Thebe and Bonni and our current, utterly brilliant partners, Kago and the First Lady of Soul herself, Tebogo. Stars, all of them.
  • Dave Williams. The Stig of Botswana's legal world. Without a helmet. With a name. OK, not like The Stig at all. But brilliant.
Most of all, Consumer Watchdog would be nothing if it wasn't for the increasingly skeptical, challenging and demanding consumers of Botswana.

Oh, I almost forgot. None of this would have been possible if it hadn't been for the cheating, lying, abusive scumbags who try and cheat the consumers of Botswana.

Monday, 14 March 2011

More from NIIBT

A comment arrived from someone calling himself "Richard Lim" and claiming to be the "Senior Manager for International Affairs (marketing & Communication Division)" for the "Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British)".

My comments are in red.
"To Mr Richard Harriman
Much of your comments on NIIBT is ridiculous and utter nonsense [Evidence?]
Please do your homework before posting your comments. [I did.]
1. We are registered on British Virgin Islands. [So why do you call yourself "British" and use "Northern Ireland" in your name?]
2. We have been operating legally for many years (probably long before you were born) [I'm 46 years old.]
3.Our students have been successful in business and in the work force [Give me the names of FIVE independently traceable students.]
4. our courses are world class (you should sign up and learn ) [You are not accredited by a recognised accreditation body. How can your courses possibly be "world class"?]"
Here some simple questions that I think deserve simple answers:
  1. Why do you call yourselves the "Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British)" when you have nothing to do with Northern Ireland and you're not British?
  2. Why can I find no trace at all of any of the academic staff you claim to employ?
  3. Why does a Google search for "Richard Lim" and "Northern Ireland Institute" return no results at all? Can you give me an email address that reaches you directly? Do you actually exist?
  4. Why is there no trace of "Dr. R. Hempfing", who you claim is your "President cum Chairman of Board of Examiners"?
  5. Likewise for "Dr. E.C Kow", who you claim is your "Director-General cum Senior Examiner"?
  6. Why do you claim accreditation from a body that is not entitled to accredit anyone or anything?
  7. Why have you (hilariously) threatened me with the FBI and now Interpol rather than answer any of these questions?
Finally, while I was writing this another email arrived from them which just said:
"Devil will never win."
Errrr, yeah, whatever. I don't think there's much point arguing any more.

I'm an internet terrorist

So says the "Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British)", a educational establishment that claims it is "Internationally Accredited and Recognized by International Accreditation and Recognition Council, Australia".

They neglect to point out that this is an unaccredited accreditation body.  For balance you can see NIIBT's web site here.

Their email goes like this. I haven't changed a thing, other than to remove someone's name. Do you think someone didn't take their medication this morning?
"Dear [name removed],

From the beginning, we sensed that you had been used by the internet terrorist Richard Harriman. Our sixth senses were accurate.

We noted that you had passed the information to him. He then twist and turn the contents aiming to destroy the good reputation of NIIBT (British). It is rather unethical.

The British is great.

Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British) is registered with the government of British V. Islands. British V. Islands are British Crown Territory. Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British) courses are fully accredited and recognized by the International Accreditation & Recognition Council, Australia. International Accreditation & Recognition council is one of the World Quality Assessment and Accreditations.

NIIB(British) is a genuine establishment providing comprehensive education training by distance learning, home study, open distance education and research activities in the field of education. It provides training people from unemployment to professionals from professionals to businessmen. An internet terrorist Richard Harriman should not discredit our genuine services to mankind.

Richard Harriman comment is totally baseless, misleading and lying.

Entertainment:
He even rudely comments that he would go bald and a tooth drops out. You may tell him that the people of Botswana will cheer if he would boil his mini bald cannon and two flat balls until both of them drop off.
Do you think Richard Harriman is an accredited blogger? The answer is no. The public suspected that he is a modern internet terrorist. The Interpol Police are watching him with an eagle eye.
The public urge you to distant yourself from Richard Harriman because his actions tell the public that he is an anti European, anti American and anti Asian. He has been classified as an internet terrorist by international community. His action is liable to invite disaster to mankind and unrest to the country.

The Interpol police would take action against anyone who runs foul of the law. They are monitoring closely on the internet terrorist (Richard) activity. Warn him to stay away from this unproductive, unpopular and very stupid and indecent job.

Strongly urge him to remove all the slanderous and defamation remarks on so many establishments in Europe, USA, Asia and many regions around the world from his illegal blog immediately.

Hello, Richard, can you behave yourself and learn more from Madam Theresa than terrorism

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I went into a shop in Game city and bought a pair of designer jeans for P499. I then lay-byed another at the same value. Later I went to another store and I found the same jeans and they were about P150 cheaper than the price I had paid.

I went back to the first shop to tell them about the price differences and asked them to refund my money. The supervisor acknowledged that the other store was way cheaper than them and they had lost customers to them, but emphatically told me that they did not give refunds by way of money, only exchanges. There was nothing that I wanted and he told me that he could not assist me. As for the lay bye, he informed me that if I wanted to cancel, he would subtract 15% handling fee from the initial value, i.e. about P75. I told him that I thought he was unfair and he acknowledged this but still said it was a company rule and that they was nothing he could do to assist.

I insisted on talking to the manager but he said the manager was not available and out of the country. He offered to talk to his supervisor and request that they strike out the handling fee and give me the money that I had deposited with the lay-bye. I thought he would be doing me a favour by at least ensuring that I get something back even though I was still losing in the price difference. However the boss refused to do that.

Your advice please. Do I not have rights as a consumer to demand my money back when I decide I do not want something as long as I have a receipt and have not worn the item?


I’m sorry; I don’t think you do have that right. While a decent store might be reasonable and flexible in a case like yours I don’t think you can require them to be. Remember that the first store didn’t force you to buy from them. You freely gave them your money and got something in return. It’s the same with the lay-bye. You voluntarily entered into that agreement with them and paid them a deposit.

It’s not as if there’s anything wrong with the jeans you bought. If they had been faulty you would have a right to demand some action, either a replacement or a refund.

I think the lesson here is very clear. Shop around BEFORE you spend your money because otherwise it might be too late.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a bed from a store in 2009 and it soon developed faults. I reported the faults to the shop and they took a very long time to attend to it. Along the way I lost my job and couldn’t afford to pay for the bed and at the same time I had to go to school of which I am self-sponsored. I went to the shop and told them my story, requesting them to take back the bed or freeze the account until I finish school but they refused.

They took the bed in for repair around December 2009 and since then the bed was not brought back to me. They always call me asking me to pay for the bed, but how do I struggle through thick and thin to pay for something I’m not using. Please Consumer Watchdog advise me on this one.


There is very rarely any good news in these situations but you might be different.

When you sign a credit agreement you are committed. You’ve signed an agreement and that’s it, there’s no way to get out of it. What we often hear about are cases where people get into trouble and then ask the store to take things back and think they are then free from the debt. That’s simply not so. The store will auction the goods for a tiny amount but you’ll still be left with the outstanding debt.

HOWEVER…

Your case might just be different. Yes, you are clearly behind with your repayments but I think the store is just as guilty here. They took your bed for repair 15 months ago and haven’t given it back to you yet. That’s such a serious breach of your agreement with them that I think you’re even.

We’ll get in touch with the store and suggest that this might be one of those rare occasions where it’s probably best to write the whole thing off. Yes, they could probably make your life difficult but do they really want you to tell the world that they can’t even repair a bed that goes wrong? Do they want to be known as the store that can’t even make a decent bed?

I can’t make any promises but we’ll see what we can do.

Scam alerts

Please don’t believe any emails you get that say they’re from the United Nations offering you compensation for previous scams. It’s a scam as well. Likewise don’t believe emails that come from total strangers suggesting friendship or “more”. They’re scams as well, all of them.

Above all, NEVER believe any email that you receive that appears to come from a bank that contains a link for you to click on. NEVER. No respectable bank will ask you to do this.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A Women's Day scam

Ironically on International Women's Day, an invitation arrives to fall for a scam! The two-venue conference idea is very common among scammers these days.
The clue is in this sentence:
"All delegates will take care of their feeding and accommodation in the UK as our resources do not cover that."
The full email goes like this:
"Greetings

We at RFWF (Right for women foundation) sends our warn greetings to our entire members worldwide. And with great enthusiasm, we wish to invite individuals, groups,and women focused organization to be part of our forthcoming combined conference with Theme “violence against women and children” taking place in the United States and the United Kingdom .

[Shouldn't that be "Rights", not "Right"?]

The conferences are of two segments.

Firstly, one shall commence in Seattle, Washington , USA . On the 3rd of May till the 6th of May, 2011 at Plestcheeff convention centre 1424 4th Avenue , Seattle , WA 98101

The second segment shall take place in UK and shall commence on the 9th of May till the 12th of May, 2011 at 72 High Street Hamble, Southampton , SO31 4JE

[Massive clue - a two-centre conference on two different continents? Why?]

Through these events, we aim to strengthen the capacity of voluntary sector organizations that are working to influence policy and improve the status of women and also among other things as below.

1. To discuss and understand current proposals on legal aid and the implications for women’s access to justice

2. To re-educate and enlighten women about their rights and also promote
a common goal of building safe, supportive and good communities.

3. To create spaces for the women of the world to acquire the power of collective action, critical dialogue and community organizing to undermine violence against women

4. To equip the adult participants with vital tools and know-how that will aid them in conducting such workshops amongst themselves in their various countries.

5. This seminar will equip you with a better understanding of the way that the proposed changes will affect the women that you work with and enable you to respond to the consultation. Participants will engage in a question and answer session on the current proposals and the potential impact of the proposed changes on women’s access to justice.

We have noticed that this is an incredible means of interacting with different organizations of the world on a particular issue as it affect mankind.

This seminar and debate is open to representatives from voluntary and statutory sector organizations interested in finding out about, and campaigning on, the law and policy related to access to justice and civil legal aid. It is open to women and men and will be publicized widely.

Moreover, funding maybe provided for individuals from qualifying organizations.

Provisions have been made for all delegates to this event, all round tickets,feeding and accommodation in USA by our sponsors. All delegates will take care of their feeding and accommodation in the UK as our resources do not cover that.

Mode of application:

Interested organizations should forward the following information about their organization.

1. Aims and objectives of their organization.

2. Organization profile.

3. Achievements so far.

Only groups with delegates between the numbers of two and ten selected members would be allowed to participate from each of the selected countries. Individuals who do not belong to any organization but are interested to participate should form a group of at least two persons. All participants MUST be part of the two segments or their forms will not be processed.

Send applications now.(candyj2011@gmail.com) [← massive clue - a Gmail address]

Yours Faithfully,

Mrs. Candy Jones"

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Don't read this

Please stop reading this now if you don’t like reading rants from grumpy, short-tempered and intolerant people like me.

Sometimes I lose my carefully maintained level of tolerance and wonder how people can be so naïve?

We got an email recently from someone who is mature, clearly has a brain and who has a professional job but who had fallen for an advance fee scam. He had received an email from someone claiming to work for a United Nations agency offering him a job in the USA. As part of their training and induction in their new job they would, the emails stated, be required to stay in a hotel in Washington DC for a while. Curiously the enormously funded United Nations couldn’t pay for the hotel themselves and said that:
“all new employees are expected to pay for their expenses and get refunded on the day of their arrival in the United States by the UN along with their other benefits”
To make this payment the victim was required to contact a travel company called “Starlead International” who would deal with the hotel. I wonder why he wasn’t invited to contact the hotel himself?

This “Company” was able, as a result of their extensive efforts, to offer our reader a month’s hotel stay for a discounted $2,070. And he paid them.

Needless to say, he appears not to have checked whether either the UN agency, the travel company or any of the people involved actually existed.

It was only at this stage that he got in touch and asked “Is there any way of me recovering my money?”

No.

My anger is, of course, directed at the scumbag scammer bastards who ripped him off. However I confess that my impatience and intolerance is directed at the victim. I thought we all knew these days about scams? I thought we all knew by now that total strangers don’t get in touch from the internet out of the blue and offer you marvellous things like jobs, education and travel? It just doesn’t happen. Ever.

I also thought that everyone who could read and write knew that you don’t send large quantities of cash to total strangers that you’ve never met, particularly when they demand that you send it via Western Union. Obviously not.

I also thought that people knew by now that training is a waste of time?

Last week I had a bit of a rant about what I thought (and still think) was a ridiculous convention advertised by BNPC. This theme of this convention will be “Delivering a Signature Customer Experience: A Winning Formula for Sustainable Competitive Advantage”. The advertisement invited us to “Participate in the Application of Key Learnings to the Development of the Botswana National Service Experience Framework”.

It went on and on and on about the various “learning points” participants would experience. These involved the liberal use of words like strategy, unique, brand, differentiated and methodology. It even talked about “distilling your organisation’s ‘Customer Experience DNAs’”.

I think most of us know that any presentation, course of tuition or convention that uses such pretentious twaddle is going to be pure hogwash?

But it’s not just BNPC that seems to go over the top.

Last week there was another advertisement, this time for Customer Care Training at IDM. This course covers about everything you can imagine that relates to customer care. Communication, perceptions, interactive skills, “service supplier image”, telephone etiquette etc etc etc. Yet more blah blah blah.

But what surprised me more than all this verbal crapola is that this course is planned to last for 10 whole days. Isn’t that what is called a cruel and unusual punishment? Actually maybe that’s the idea? Instead of firing or fining wayward employees an organisation can just send them on a 10-day customer care training course? That’ll teach ‘em.

I’m not the country’s greatest expert on customer service. No, that’s my wife. But I wouldn’t know where to begin filling 10 days with valuable learning experiences that can teach someone how to deliver excellent customer service. That’s because this simply cannot be taught. I believe with all my skeptical heart that customer service skills cannot ne learned in a classroom with a lecturer boring the pants off the participants.

Did you learn to catch a ball, ride a bicycle or drive a car by sitting in a classroom? No, of course you didn’t. You learned all of these things by doing them. It’s exactly the same with customer service.

Before you respond by saying that all the examples I gave of catching, riding and driving are different because they’re all physical tasks let me disagree. Delivering excellent service IS exactly a physical task. It’s a task that involves standing, walking, talking and listening. It’s most certainly NOT a skill you develop sitting on your backside. Nor is it one you deliver on (or though) your rear end.

My recommendation is not to waste your company’s money or your employee’s time by making them suffer on courses like this one. Instead, why don’t you just let them do some work instead? Why don’t you give the money you would have wasted on the course as a bonus to your staff when they receive praise from your customers?

This week’s stars
  • Lawrence from Game Stores in Gaborone for being friendly and helpful.
  • Paulinah from Village Spar by Riverwalk for being friendly and bubbly and for making a customer smile.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I have subscribed to a funeral service provider called Lesedi funeral parlour and I am willing to terminate their service with me. I have written them a letter asking them to terminate the contract and refund me. I joined them in September 2009, so in reply by phone anyway, they told me that they can terminate the contract but cannot refund me my previous instalments and they referred me to the contract i signed but I cannot see any clause on the contract back page that disqualifies me from refunded. So I therefore would like you to look at the contract attached and see whether I cannot be refunded.


I think you’ve misunderstood what a funeral package is. It’s an insurance scheme. Every month you paid them a small amount and in the event of a specific disaster happening (your death) they would have paid you a large amount of money, in this case towards your funeral costs.

You are, of course, entitled to walk away from this scheme at any time but that doesn’t entitle you to get all those earlier premiums refunded.

Let me just check. You didn’t die, did you? You might not feel that you received a benefit but you actually did. If you had died during the time you were covered your family would have received a payment. It’s not their fault that you didn’t die.

I don’t think it’s fair to go back to them and apologise for not dying and demand your payment back. For all the time they covered you they offered you a potential benefit in case you died. Are you sorry you didn’t?

Also, one final thing. Did you not see on the brochure where it said: “schemes are non-refundable”?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2 - The Diversity Visa scam.

A number of readers have contacted us in the last few weeks regarding an email about the US "Diversity Visa" program.

They normally start like this:
“Congratulations, you've won !
Dear [xxx],
Congratulations! You are among those randomly selected and registered for further consideration in the diversity immigrant program. Selection guarantees that you will receive a United States Permanent Resident Card (also known as Green Card or Diversity Visa).”
There is actually a genuine US Government “Diversity Visa” scheme but the people sending these emails have nothing to do with that. They are operating a scam that exploits this scheme to make some money.

Their email typically offers you an unbelievable amount of free accommodation, health care, education and a job. And guess what? They want about US$800, which they want to be paid via Western Union. Of course this seems too good to be true and that’s because it IS too good to be true. It’s a scam.

I’ll post some links to official US State Department web sites that describe the scam on our blog but whatever you do, please don’t respond to them and certainly don’t send them any money. You’ll never see it again.

You can see warnings from the US State Department, the Federal Trade CommissionWikipedia (look at the "Frauds and scams" section) and Consumer Fraud Reporting.

Someone fell for a scam

We heard from a reader this week who had been completely suckered by an advance fee scam. In return for an offer of a job by the United Nations all he had to do was pay more than $2,000 in advance for a hotel stay. Unfortunately he learned the hard way that nobody pays for hotel stay in advance.

He asked us: “Is there any way of me recovering my money?” The sad news is no, there isn’t. Scammers don’t offer refunds.

Good news

Readers may recall that a couple of weeks ago we reported on a problem a reader had with some Levi’s casual shoes he bought at a store in Francistown. Unfortunately very shortly after buying them the shoes started disintegrating. When he contacted the store he alleges that they told him that he shouldn’t have gone dancing in them and that in order for the store to consider a replacement or refund the shoes would need to be sent away to South Africa for inspection.

The store management were rather angry that we reported on this issue and we offered them a full right of reply. They used the opportunity to describe their returns policy, which included this:
“We have displayed our company return policy on cash sale purchase at the main counter in every shop. Customers must read this policy before they decide to buy anything in the shop. If they are not happy with the policy they should not buy.”
Fair enough.

Meanwhile we contacted Levi’s in South Africa and gave them the details of the case. Curiously Levi’s in SA didn’t need the shoes shipped to them for inspection. They just asked that the customer take a picture or two on his cellphone of the damage and email it over to them. Within 24 hours they were in touch asking for his address and shoe size. They want to send him an entirely free pair of shoes from their new range in compensation.

That’s how it’s meant to be. A big brand like Levi’s take enormous pride in the merchandise. When there’s a problem they are willing to give the customer the benefit of the doubt and do the decent thing.

And there’s a lesson here. If you don’t get a good enough response from the store, then escalate your problem a level higher!