Saturday, 31 March 2012

Atlantic International University - fake? Yes.

"Anonymous" posted a question on the blog, asking:
"Would you please assist me in verifying that this University is not another fake one: www.aiu.edu : antlantic international university
Your quick response will be appreciate"
The answer is simple.

Atlantic International University is not genuinely accredited and it's qualifications are therefore worthless.

Its a fake university.

This is what they say themselves. Read the part in bold particularly.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Ponzi schemes

There’s a very, very small part of me that admires Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi and not just because he had an awesome name. I “admire” him in the same way that I “admire” other crooks like the creator of the So-Called Church of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard, the televangelist healer Peter Popoff and the most recent conman of astonishing proportions, Bernie Madoff.

I admire them in the same way that I admire mosquitos, cockroaches and rats. I respect the extent of their achievements and their fortitude but I still find them immensely irritating, unpleasant and worthy of a swift hit on the head with a blunt instrument.

Let me explain before you think I’m a Scientologist supporter of scammers and ripoff artists.

L Ron Hubbard achieved what many have fantasized about but few have ever achieved. He founded a religion, became immensely wealthy, had access to his choices of intoxicants and women, owned his own private navy and died in luxurious drug-addled haze. Who could ask for better? Yes, of course he lied about his military career in the US Navy (he was incompetent and considered unsuitable for command), his scientific career (he claimed to have studied nuclear physics but in fact he attended one class and got a ‘F’ grade) and his adventures as an explorer (he lied) but he did show promise as the author of ninth-rate science fiction novels. (You can see his unathorized biography here.)

It was this skill that enabled him to create his own religion and to persuade people to hand over epic quantities of money. I admire that, in a bizarre way.

Peter Popoff was (and remains) as much of a con-man. His ability to “see” the personal details of sick people who came to his conventions was remarkable. He would “know” everything about his gullible victims in the audiences, including the illnesses they were suffering and even their home addresses. Of course this was all a huge con. The attendees would all fill in a questionnaire as they arrived and then Popoff’s wife would read the details to him over a radio link to a tiny receiver in his ear. After Popoff’s scam was exposed by James Randi bankrupt rapidly ensued. However that didn’t stop him bouncing back a few years later appearing on TV selling “miracle spring water”, “holy sand” and more smarmy cons. Like Hubbard Popoff is a disgraceful conman but you can’t deny that he has backbone and a complete absence of shame.

Bernie Madoff has the great distinction of having committed the greatest financial fraud in US history. Estimates vary but the official estimate is that investors lost up to $17 billion. Yes, billion, not million. He’s currently in prison and, if he behaves himself inside, he’ll be released at the age of 201.

Madoff’s scheme was simple. He would take money from investors and instead of actually investing it, he would just deposit it into an account with Chase Manhattan Bank. When investors wanted a return on their investment he’d just write them a cheque from that account. Because most investors expected their money to stay “invested”” for a long time they rarely wanted their entire stake back. He was, as they say, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

This is the essence of a Ponzi scheme, named after Carlo Ponzi. Ponzi actually learnt the technique from a former employer, a bank that focused on Italian immigrants to Canada, Banco Zarossi. Wikipedia describe the Zarossi scam perfectly.
“Zarossi was funding the interest payments not through profit on investments, but by using money deposited in newly opened accounts.”
That’s the lesson that Ponzi learned and what remains at the heart of a Ponzi scheme to this day. Ponzi’s later scheme pretended to exploit the difference between the price of postal coupons in Italy compared to the USA. In theory you could buy them cheaply in Italy and sell them much more expensively in the US. It’s what economists called “arbitrage”. However what Ponzi wanted was investors. They thought they were buying into the postal coupon scheme but in fact they were victims of the same scheme that Zarossi had run. Interest wasn’t being earned on investments at all, it just came directly from the deposits other victims had made. It all relied on the investors choosing to continue investing rather than cashing in their profits. So long as there was enough cash in the account those fake interest payments could be made. That’s a Ponzi scheme.

They haven’t gone away.

Currently doing the rounds in Botswana is a scheme calling itself “Three Link Connections”. This is how one potential victim described their scheme:
“The company has identified a market in Africa for Chinese electrical appliances but do not have enough money to buy stock direct from the manufacturer in China. When we are recruited we are told the money we invest will be used to purchase the stock that will be later sold the ready found market in Africa at a higher price.”
You see the “arbitrage” opportunity? Buy cheap goods in Chine and sell them at a higher price here? In theory there’s no problem with that. But there’s more. The person running this scheme has already been prosecuted for running identical Ponzi schemes in South Africa. That’s enough to be suspicious I think.


Similar are the foreign exchange schemes people are investing in. I suspect that many, if not all of these might be Ponzi schemes. You can certainly tell some of them. I saw one that promised 500% in 25 minutes. Clearly that’s a scam but so are the ones who offer a few percent per day. I saw another called EurExTrade that promised 2.9% per day. A year at that rate would convert an investment of P1,000 to P34 million.

The spirit of Charles Ponzi lives on!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I engaged a debt collection company to collect a debt for me. On Monday 12th March, I phoned them to check the status of my case. They told me that they were ready to serve a summons on Friday 9th March but they didn’t find the summons in the file, which means that the summons might have been served already. They however said they had not met with other employees and could not assure me that it had been served.

I waited to hear from them until 21st March 2012 and then phoned them but the manager said he would phone me the next day. I waited until the afternoon and I phoned him since he had not phoned me as he promised. I was then answered by a lady who then told me that the manager was busy on another phone and I should phone him after two minutes. I then requested her to ask him to phone me when he finishes since he had promised to phone me.

After 5 minutes I phoned again and the lady told me that he was still busy and he said he would phone. I then waited for his call for about 10 minutes then I called again. When I identified myself she said he has gone. I complained to the lady about the way they are treating me and asked her to go and find the man and tell him that am on the line. I was told that he was busy at another office, and I requested his mobile number. When I phoned him on his mobile number, I complained to him about the way they are treating me, he said, I am not the only customer and every time when I phone I shout at them. He further said that he will show me what they have done and deduct their expenses and give me the change from the P350 that I opened the file with and part ways with me.

In short I can tell you that I do not now the status to my case even now.


I think you might need to set another debt collector on this one. Clearly this one isn’t interested in doing any work for you, just in taking your money.

I suggest that you write these people a formal letter saying that they have failed to deliver their services “with reasonable care and skill” as required by Section 15 (10 (a) of the Consumer Protections Regulations and that, as a result, you are cancelling your agreement with them. Give them 7 days to repay your fees in full. Either that or they should get the job done!

Do they really want debt collectors turning up at their door? Do they really want to be known as the debt collector who’s in debt? Do they really want a fight?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have a complaint regarding a furniture shop. I purchased a couch and LG 41 inch plasma TV from them. I ordered a plain black couch but they delivered a brown couch which surprised me. I asked them why they brought a color that I didn’t order and they told me they will deliver my the black couch three days later since its still at their warehouse in Lobatse. They claimed they didn’t want to take too long without bringing my goods. The material on the couch they delivered is peeling off and they came to the house and saw that. It's now three months without any assistance from the shop, the funny thing is that the manager is the one who was handling this matter and he always hangs up when I call him, or he promises to call back but never does. They expect me to pay them every month yet I’m not happy with their goods. I have proof of all the calls I make to the manager on a daily basis without his help.

Please help me. What can I do?


Firstly I want to praise you for not stopping your payments. That’s always a temptation but it’s the worst possible thing you could do. I’m assuming that the TV they delivered was OK? Ironically if the TV hadn’t been delivered it would be easier for you to cancel the entire deal. Nevertheless the store has failed to deliver what your ordered. A lawyer might argue that they have breached their contract with you. However the Consumer Protection Regulations are also clear.

They’ve breached Section 13 (1) (a) which states that they’ve failed “to meet minimum standards” if they deliver a commodity that “does not match any sample or description given to the consumer”. You asked for a black couch, they agreed and then failed.

I think you should write to the store and explain all of this to them. Give them 7 days to remove the couch and either replace it with the couch you bought or to give you a refund and adjust your credit agreement accordingly.

Tell them that if they fail to do this you will return it to them at your own cost and then go to the Small Claims Court with your case to get back the transportation costs and (more importantly) the credit value of the couch. Do they really want a fight?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The International Biographical Centre - more fake awards

Some while ago I came across the web site of a local company that offers "a wide range of business support services, mentoring and management consultancies". Their CEO, who says he "holds a Doctorate degree (PHD) in Business Administration from United States", also claims to have the "International Order of Merit and Twentieth Century Achievement Award from Britain" and to be "a recipient of honours and awards from International Biographical Centre".

Does he really think we won't find out that these are prizes you can buy for money from the "International Biographical Centre"?

Just to check this out I went to the web site of the "International Biographical Centre". On their site you can submit your own details and see if you're entitled to one of their fabulous awards.

Here's my confession. I lied. I made up an entirely fictitious identity, qualifications and experience and guess what? I got a letter. Sorry, my fake identity received a letter.


All I have to do to receive my award is send them $255. I can also get a "Suite of diplomas", a "Citation of Meritorious Achievement" and  "Medal of Intellect", all for more money.

The Department of Commerce in the Government of Western Australia states that this bunch produce no more than "phone books with fake leather covers" and that the "awards" are "an ego boost which isn’t necessarily worth the paper it is written on".

I agree. This is a scam and the people who pay for these bogus awards are bogus themselves.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Ponzi schemes?

Several people have been in touch to ask about one of the variety of Foreign Exchange trading web sites that offer massive returns for your investment. One, called EurExTrade, offers quite remarkable returns. They claim that you can earn "Up to 2.9% Daily". If this was true, and you were lucky enough to get the suggested 2.9% return every day for a month, an initial "investment" of $1,000 would now be $2,358. Not bad. That's if you believe them. 90 days at this rate would get you over $13,000.

A year earning this level of return would give you $34 million.

Let's be more pessimistic. What if you only got 1% per day? You'd still get nearly $38,000 after a year.

Let's face a simple fact. If this was possible why wouldn't banks be doing it?

But then it gets worse. Another site, with an almost identical name, "Eurex-Trade" makes even more startling promises. We'll ignore their spelling problems.

Surely this bears all the signs of a scam? My hunch was some form of Ponzi scheme where early "investors" make some returns are made but only by using the money from later victims.

Now it seems like the BBC agrees with me!

Competition

For the first time in years, perhaps even ever, I went to a conference recently and it wasn’t a waste of my time. Anyone who has attended conferences both in Botswana and elsewhere in the world will know the normal experience. Lots of sitting down, listening to people talk about rather dull subjects in rather dull ways and, above all, that horror of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Death By PowerPoint.

I really don’t know what it is about Microsoft PowerPoint that brings out the very worst in otherwise smart and (sometimes) interesting people. I’ve seen some of the most brilliant people I know go out of their way to bore me to tears with their presentations. So here are some free PowerPoint tips from someone who NEVER uses PowerPoint.
  1. Your audience is not illiterate. They are capable of reading just as well as you are so don’t read your presentations out loud. If you really want to include a lot of text on a slide, let them read it for themselves. While they are doing do, keep your mouth shut.
  2. Unless there is a VERY good reason (and it better be REALLY good), never put more than twenty words on a single slide.
  3. Your slide is not a piece of paper so don’t use a white background. When shown on a projector it will be almost impossible for your victims to read it.
  4. Never have two consecutive slides that only contain words. At least every second slide must contain a relevant picture or illustration. Remember that “a picture paints a thousand words”.
  5. Anyone who uses bullet points excessively deserves a bullet.
  6. Did I mention that you should never read things out loud?
Here endeth the lesson.

The conference I attended, the first in living memory that was actually useful, was by the still brand new, squeaky clean Competition Authority. These are the guys who, seemingly within moments of existing, were placing notices in the papers saying they were looking into proposed mergers and acquisitions of companies with only the consumer’s interests in mind. I can imagine (in fact I know) that if you are the owner of one of the companies trying to merge it’s an added irritation for you, having to wait for the new authority to make their decision but genuine competition is what consumers deserve. That’s what these new boys and girls will be doing.

The problem that the Competition Authority has been created to resolve is a big one. I know it sounds dull but competition is essential for good quality customer service. If you need evidence of this then just compare two particular industries: cellphone networks and power supply. Which of these industries offers better customer service and prices? It’s certainly NOT power. The absence of competition facing BPC is why they can afford to treat their customers with such contempt. Mascom, Orange and BeMobile, while they’re not perfect, are genuinely afraid that you or I will switch to their competitors and so offer us freebies, moderate customer service and an absence of insults. Competition helps you and me directly.

The Competition Authority’s job is to make sure that any mergers of companies or companies buying one another don’t reduce the levels of competition we benefit from. If Company A buys Company B we need to know whether the new, bigger Company A will dominate the market the way BPC does. Even if they don’t end up as a monopoly like BPC, having a dominant position in the market undermines the competition we deserve.

It’s even more complex than this. They also have the power to investigate “fake competition”. Many years ago I worked on a project with one of the largest manufacturers of light bulbs in the UK. As well as producing the light bulbs they also “branded” them. They would print not their own company name on the bulbs but the names of a huge variety of supermarket chains. These supermarkets would then sell these bulbs as if they had produced them. No problem so far, until you discovered that they all sold them for different prices. Up-market stores would sell them at a much higher price than the down-market stores would sell the identical bulbs. But all the bulbs were exactly the same.

While I’m not a believer in telling stores what prices to set for products I DO think that bodies like the Competition Authority have a right to investigate and tell the public about this. They have a job to educate us. They have the power and resources to do this, you and I don’t.

The only problem is that the Competition Authority is limited. The Competition Act, the law that created the Authority, places limits on who they can investigate. For instance they have no power to police “enterprises operating on the basis of statutory monopoly in Botswana”. Unfortunately (or perhaps because the-powers-that-be couldn’t cope with the effects) monopolies like BPC and BMC are exempt from competition. I don’t see why. Why can’t other companies generate power and feed it into our grid? Why can’t I then decide who I want to buy electricity from?

It could be just like BTC. They still own the infrastructure such as the landlines that other providers use to make their connections, but also offer their own cellular services in competition to the other two companies. Why can’t BPC be like this? They can own the cables that cover the country and others can feed in power to the grid that I can then buy. I won’t be able to select the individual electrons I use, just units of power that have been fed into the grid. This is exactly how it works in other countries, so why not here? Are we still so afraid that our monopolistic parastatal utility companies won’t survive? Do we actually care??

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I got a loan from a bank which was meant to be for 3 years. However after about 15 months I had to leave Botswana but continued to service the loan. While I was away I asked the bank to give me a settlement figure so that I could settle the loan. They did and I promptly paid. I asked for a statement to show that the settlement had been done (I have copies of email correspondence with them), but they could not provide one as all they said was that the loan had been settled. I even involved a person in the bank's Head Office who was not party to the transaction, to try and get me a confirmation. The response was that their system was giving problems and as such could not print statements, but they reiterated that the loan had been settled. This was in August/September 2011.

A few weeks ago when I was checking my bank account I noticed that they had tried to get money from my account (after 4 months), without notifying me. However because I keep the barest minimum amount of money in the account, the direct debit could not be honored and my bank charged me for this. I therefore raised a query with the bank as to what was going on because as far as am concerned I do not owe anything. I also sought a reimbursement of the bank charges arising from the dishonored debit. After a few weeks of constant bugging them, they have come back to say they provided me with a wrong settlement amount.

How should I address this matter? Am I still liable even though the mistake was on their part and not mine?


This is comprehensive incompetence on the part of the bank. Complete incompetence.

Firstly they failed to give you the correct settlement amount. Secondly they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give you a statement to confirm that you had settled the debt. Both of those are breaches of Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which requires any organization to deliver goods or service “with reasonable care and skill.”

The later issue, when they tried and failed to take more money from you without your consent, and for a debt they had indicated to you was settled is even worse. It’s incompetent, contemptuous and plain rude.

I suggest that you write to the CEO or MD of the bank and forcefully complain about their behavior. Demand a full explanation and a remedy for this. You are certainly entitled to get the bank charges back. I’ll also ask the people with banking oversight what they think of this.

Phones and memory cards

We’ve heard from several people over the last few weeks who have all reported the same problem.

They have each recently bought a fairly high-end, top of the range smart phone, sometimes a Blackberry, other times a Nokia but when they get it home they discover that some of the things they thought they’d bought weren’t there. Most importantly the memory or media card that the phone is meant to contain. For instance most recently we heard from a reader who had purchased a Blackberry 9700 Bold which, accordingly to Blackberry themselves, comes with a 2 Gigabyte, micro-SD memory card. You can upgrade that card separately if you want but Blackberry themselves say the box will contain a 2GB card. It’s exactly the same story with the Nokia phones. They come with the card in the box.

However, that’s what is MEANT to happen. It’s not what actually happens. It seems that staff in cellphone stores are removing these memory cards and selling them separately to the customers.

This is deception.

The situation is simple. When you buy something you have a right to find in the box what it says on the box. If the box says it’s a cellphone with a memory card then you have a right to expect just that. Failing to give a customer what is offered also contravenes several of the Consumer Protection Regulations. The product bought “does not match any sample or description given to the consumer” and the “representation of a commodity … [was] made with the intent not to dispose of the commodity [as] represented”. It’s completely unacceptable.

Stores that do this might find themselves out of business.

Update

I contacted one of the stores that had possibly removed the card. The store's response is in red:
"We've had a complaint that you do not supply the media cards that come packaged with certain smartphones. Is this correct? This appears to be a contravention of Section 13 the Consumer Protection Regulations. Any comments?"
"Instead of media cards we have arranged with our suppliers to substitute them with pouches which most clients prefer more than cards as many will already posses a card or feel they can get conveniently unlike a protective case which is a must have for the phone. This actually has rendered our company the only if not amongst the few that sells the phones with pouches as many companies do not. eg our network providers may give the phones with cards but they do sell the pouches separately. And on top of all this the reason why we still get a good figure of foot-ins is coz our prices are so reasonable for the market."
"But don't the manufacturers ship the phones with cards? Isn't that what's advertised on the boxes the phones come in?"
"Not all sir, it depends On the manufacture and where they come from. Well that is to my experience in the field. Besides as a small motswana retailer I will not be telling the truth if I told you that I am dealing directly with the manufacturer as our supply comes from sub dealers. I hope this makes business sense."
Actually it DOES make business sense to me. VERY short-term business sense. You'll save money by removing the memory cards but you'll lose in the long run by stealing your customer's property.

Friday, 16 March 2012

What do we cost?

Even after all these years we still occasionally get a call or an email from a reader asking how much it costs to get help from Consumer Watchdog. The answer, in case you’re wondering, is nothing. Nothing at all.

It’s time for some transparency about Consumer Watchdog is funded. We accept nothing from consumers for helping them out. More importantly we don’t ever accept anything from suppliers. Not ever. We’ve never even accepted a free drink from a supplier for anything we’ve done, not once. That’s a matter of policy. I don’t ever want anyone to be able to accuse us of being biased because we took some sort of reward from a company.

The only money we’ve ever accepted has been from our media partners, like the fantastically supportive team at Mmegi, for the newspaper columns we write. Other than that, no money changes hands at all.

Not that we haven’t been offered money.

Just recently I received an email from someone calling himself “Luigi”, using a free Gmail address, who expressed concern about things we had written that were posted on the Consumer Watchdog blog. He asked
“Do you entertain complaints removals? We have some complaints we want removed since its affecting our business. What can you guys do?”
I was curious that he didn’t say which business he represented so I emailed him asking who it was. This is what he said:
“I represent a consulting company that have many clients. These clients have negative complaints on your website. If you can remove the complaints we will pay you per negative listing. But we need guarantee that it will not be posted ever again. Work with us and we will make you happy.”
Mmmm, an offer of money! I should stress that I’m not prepared to remove comments that I’ve posted on our blog unless there’s a VERY good reason. So far, after more than 800 blog posts over more than 7 years I’ve never removed a single thing I’ve written. I’ve certainly added clarifications and updates but every blog post that I ever posted is still there. So far, I’ve not got anything wrong. I know that sounds pompous but we are extremely careful about what we write and post on the web. Who knows, I might write something tomorrow that will need correction, it just hasn’t happened yet.

This is a long way of saying that I’m never going to accept an offer of cash to remove a blog post. I don’t like people who offer to give bribes. They’re not the sort of people to whom I owe any respect. However I was extremely curious about what “Luigi” wanted me to do, who he represented and, just as interesting, how much he was thinking of offering me.

A lengthy email correspondence ensued including him saying that he does not “want our information posted or our email correspondence posted on your website or any other websites.”

That’s not something I’m prepared to do. I’ve always been perfectly clear that unless there is a VERY compelling reason, we’re very open about who we investigate, and what we feel about them given what we discover. We also immediately post any threatening or aggressive correspondence we receive on our blog. During a problem we investigated a couple of years ago this infuriated a certain South African distributor of a certain Korean car manufacturer. They got their every-so-scary lawyers to write us a threatening letter that mentioned that I had published part of an email from their client. They said that “this publication was unlawful as you ignored the DISCLAIMER AND CONFIDENTIALY NOTICE on the emails. Of course they were talking nonsense. There is no law that says I have to honor such a confidentiality clause unless I had specifically agreed to it. I hadn’t. They emailed me, knowing I had already posted some of the comments on the blog. They could reasonably expect that anything else they emailed me would also be published.

Since then all emails we’ve sent from Consumer Watchdog have included the following statement:
“Please note that any communications to or from Consumer Watchdog may be published or broadcast at our discretion. Disclaimers relating to email confidentiality will be ignored.”
Of course we’re never going to publish anything recklessly. All consumers who contact us are promised confidentiality. I promise that again here. We will never disclose your identity if you ask us not to. I don’t make that promise for the stores we contact.

So anyway, back to my new friend “Luigi”. After several emails asking which comments he wanted me to remove he stated that one referred to “Universal Degrees” and “Corllins University”, who I had described as a seller of fake degrees from a fake university with fake accreditation.

If that’s true then I’m afraid Luigi has crooks as clients. Universal Degrees had told me, during an online chat session, that I could get a Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate in Nursing all for a mere $1,576, all without any prior experience, qualifications or skills and without sitting any exams. They even said they would backdate the two lesser degrees to suitable years in the past. That’s lying, fakery and fraud.

If “Luigi” really is acting on their behalf he’s as crooked as they are.

Just out of interest I asked Luigi how much he’d offer me to sell my conscience and, after a little pushing said: “For any given removal we will be interested in paying $300 to $500.”

Unfortunately for Luigi I’m not going to accept his offer of a bribe. Instead I’ve simply published every email we’ve sent each other on the blog. You don’t think that’ll make him angry, do you?

So the answer the question is this. We cost nothing, other than to those crooks who try to bribe or threaten us. That might cost them a lot.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received two of the same emails last week from a company called Creative Employment. Is this a scam? I checked their website but what is making me suspicious is where in heaven did they get my email address and their contact number which starts with +32 looks a bit suspicious.

Kindly investigate for me?


I think you’re right to be suspicious. Although “Creative Employment Abroad” (their complete name) is a registered company in the UK there’s a bit too much that’s suspicious about them. They describe themselves on their web site as “a leading independent law firm, highly specialized in corporate and private immigration law, employment law, European and international migration law.” That’s curious.
Firstly, because they were only registered as a company on 12th September last year and secondly, no law firm with that name appears to be registered with the UK’s Law Society. The address they give in London is also suspicious. It’s the same address that’s given for at least 80 other companies because it’s just one of the many “virtual offices” you can rent online. They share this address with companies as varied as money lenders, debt advisors and even a sex toy distributor. Charming company they have.

I also find it strange that they give a phone number that begins +32 as that’s the international dialing code for Belgium. Why would that be? It’s also NOT the number that they give on their web site. Like you I am always extremely suspicious of anyone who emails me out of the blue offering me things. Particularly when, as this company does, they want your money. In order to “register” with Creative Employment you need to pay them R600.

What’s more, they make some ambitious claims in their email. They say, for instance that whether “your visa has been denied before we assist and make sure you visa gets approved”. Nobody can really make that guarantee, certainly not a “leading independent law firm” that can’t spell.

I think that all of this is too suspicious and I suggest you just delete their email.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a laptop last year January for P6,500 including insurance and I’m still paying for it with monthly installments.

This year in January my laptop was stolen by my brother from our home and I reported him to the Police. He is currently serving one year six months imprisonment for the theft because the laptop was never recovered. I went back to the store with the police report thinking I would be compensated but unfortunately they said their insurer couldn’t cover me because it was my brother who committed the crime.

So if it was someone else I could be covered? They are saying maybe there is foul play but if that was the case I wouldn’t have reported the theft to the police. I’m still paying for the laptop monthly even though its not there.


This sounds unreasonable. If they have evidence that there’s “foul play” then they should produce it. Until they produce that evidence surely the facts are simple. Someone, it doesn’t matter who, stole your laptop and is currently enjoying The State’s hospitality as a result. However I suspect the problem will be in the small print of your insurance policy. It’s likely that it will exclude thefts from the home when there’s been no forcible entry. Without a broken window they’ll be able to get out of paying you. However, please, dear readers of The Voice, don’t be tempted to fake a break-in to claim on your insurance. You’ll be the one who ends up in prison!

Nevertheless we’ll get in touch with the store and see what they say for themselves.

Investment update

We’re now hearing from many people who have encountered “Three Link Connection” the deeply suspicious pyramid scheme that’s going around the country. We heard from someone who “invested” over P5,000 and was promised a return of P26,000 within 3 months. Other people have even taken out bank loans to buy into the scheme and, of course, haven’t seen that money again. Be warned! This is a scam, it’s certainly illegal and sooner or later someone’s going to be arrested!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Three Link Connection - an update

MANY people have been in touch about "Three Link Connection", asking if this really is a scam. These are some of the things people have said:
"I joined this EARLY February this year, this coming weekend they said there will be a meeting in Joburg an I promised to be there. This is how they said it works: You buy stock for R5,400 and get R12,500 after 10 weeks. Buy special and each unit is R4,000 then get R10,000 after 16 working days."

"A friend has jus invited me to join and invest in the company, I wnt to knw if its genuine if at all you knw something about it."

"When we are recruited we are told the company is involved in selling electrical appliances sourced from China. The information is that the company has identified ready market in Africa for this electrical appliances but do not have enough money to buy stock direct from the manufacturer in China. Therefore when we are recruited we are told the money we invest will be used to purchase the stock that will be later sold the ready found market in Africa."

"I refused to join but my fiancee stubbornly secured a personal loan and invest the whole amount but up to now the she has not received the promised returns in investment. Can you please confirm if this is a scam."

"It operates like this, You deposit money into their accounts based in South Africa and after a certain specific period you get twice your money depending on the amount you have deposited. I am wondering whether its genuinely and safe to do so, or it is just another scam."
Look closely at the things these people say. You can get a 131% profit on an investment in just 10 weeks? Or 150% in just 16 working days? That business about buying Chinese electronics for Africa but the company doesn't have enough cash to buy them? Surely with 150% profits they'll be rolling in cash by now?
Add to this the apparent history of these people being investigated and, I'm told, being shut down in South Africa and you have FAR too much reason to be suspicious about them. Newspapers in South Africa reported the prosecution of the founder of the earlier scheme in South Africa here and here including this:
"Young Stars Investments told Mabyana that the company imported goods from abroad and sold them locally for a big profit. He was told that his R70000 would rake in a profit of R80000 over 12 months."
There were also newspaper reports of their demise in Uganda here which included:
"Young Star Trading then sources goods from China or Hong Kong using the money collected from its clients for sale in another country, from which the depositors are paid 30 percent interest on their investment after seven weeks.
But five months down the road, most people who deposited their money in the company are crying foul play after realising that they could have been fleeced of their money."
Does that sound familiar? This is a scam. Stay FAR away from them!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

I get a strange offer - updated

I received an email from someone called "Luigi Gasp". He made me a curious offer. See for yourself. His emails are in red, my replies are in black.
[Feb 27, 2012, at 9:19 PM]
Do you entertain complaints removals?
We have some complaints we want removed since its affecting our business.
What can you guys do? We are interested in removals from your website.
Thanks,
L
Which company do you represent?
[Mar 7, 2012, at 1:23 AM]
I represent a consulting company that have many clients. These clients have negative complaints on your website. If you can remove the complaints we will pay you per negative listing. But we need guarantee that it will not be posted ever again. Work with us and we will make you happy.
Thanks,
L
Which clients?
[07 March 2012 8:38:44 AM]
I will reveal them to you. But please can you help us out here? Will you accommodate removals? We will pay for this.
Let me know.
L
Who are these clients?
[07 March 2012 8:14:57 PM]
I am familiar with your policies and we are not comfortable in revealing information unless we feel like we can deal with you confidentially and in discreet. We do not want our information posted or our email correspondence posted on your website or any other websites. We are quite weary unless we can come to an understanding. Now tell me will you accommodate removals? I can assure you that these are legitimate clients who do not operate scam business and illegal practices.
Let me know,
L
[07 March 2012 8:20:14 PM]
Also on a side note, we are looking to build a long term relationship here that will benefit both parties. We are not willing or interested to waste your time or ours respectfully. Please get back to me on the needful.
Thanks again,
L
Given your reticence I'm sure you'll understand my assumption that your motives are less than legitimate.
[07 March 2012 9:44:59 PM]
So I assume that although we believe that these complaints are written by competitors and sometimes hired to write complaints you in no way will remove these complaints for legitimate companies?
Thanks, that's all I need to know.
[09 March 2012 7:06:49 AM]
Im confused...What does this mean?
Can you remove complaints for a fair donation towards your consumer organization / website? Will you accept that at least? I understand you guys do a good job of letting consumers know about scams but our clients are arent scam operators.
Let me know,
L.
My understanding is this. You are offering to pay me to remove posts that you allege I was paid to write that are critical of certain organizations that you refuse to name. Is that correct?
What evidence do you have that either I was paid to write anything (which I was not) or that anything I have written is incorrect?
[Mar 9, 2012, at 8:23 PM]
Hello,
I do not claim or assume you wrote these or were paid to. Quite frankly It doesn't bother me. What does interest me is your ability to remove these complaints. I tell you the complaints we want removed and you remove them, and we then make Donation. It probably wouldnt be a one time donation either but can be established as a long term partner. We will deal discreetly like we want you to as well but please confirm here that you can do this for us.
There is nothing wrong with removing complaints it's not extortion either. We are hoping that you cooperate with us so it can benefiting for both parties involved.
Thanks,
L
So which comments do you want removed?
And now we begin to understand. Or is this all part of some other scam?
[Mar 10, 2012, at 8:28 AM]
Lets start with this client of ours:
http://consumerwatchdogbw.blogspot.com/2011/04/universal-degrees-and-corllins.html
Please let me know,
L
So just out of curiosity, and understanding that I'm not planning on removing anything, here goes...
How much would you offer me to remove this comment?
[11 March 2012 7:02:00 AM]
Well you let me know how much you are looking for in USD amount and will get back to you.
Remember this is the not the only one.
Thanks,
L
Given the circumstances I think it's up to you to name the amount.
And finally, here comes the answer, the amount he SAYS he'll bribe me with to remove a blog post.

[11 March 2012 6:57:11 PM]
For any given removal we will be interested in paying $300 to $500.00USD.
Let me know,
L
Actually I'm flattered. Is that what each blog post is worth? I could be rich! With 715 blog posts at $500 each I could get $357,500!

Anyway, it's all pointless. Either "Luigi" is trying to entrap me into accepting a bribe (and he'll no doubt make it public if I hint I'll accept it), he's just trying to waste my time or he actually means it. Either way, it's going no further. Unless it becomes even more entertaining!

The blog posts, all of them, stay exactly where they are.

P.S. "Luigi Gasp" appears to be "Luigi Gasparini" who has a rather complicated history, if it's indeed the same person. See here for a complaint on scam.com, and here for a debtors report on him that connects him with a scam called Euro Exchange which I have looked at before. Perhaps that's the link?

Friday, 9 March 2012

Spotting a fake

How do you spot a fake?

Sometimes it’s quite easy. You only have to enter certain shops in Gaborone and Francistown and see the cellphones they offer. I don’t think anyone truly believes that the “HiPhone” is really an Apple iPhone, despite their efforts of the Chinese manufacturers to make it look the part. Even if you’re tempted to overlook the name, the moment you hold the phone you realize it’s a incredibly cheap and nasty fake. The same goes for the fake Blackberry phones you can find. They’re obvious when you see or hold them.

I don’t think anyone can mistake fake DVDs for the real thing either. One of my kids recently told me that he’d been shown a film on DVD. He’d been lucky enough to see the new Steven Spielberg drama “War Horse”. That’s curious, I thought, that hasn’t even been released on DVD, it hasn’t even come to our cinemas yet. My suspicion that he’d been shown a pirated copy of the film was confirmed when he told me that the box said “War House”, not “War Horse”.

My biggest gripe with fakes is fake degrees from fake universities. This isn’t something harmless and innocent. I know of people here in Botswana who have obtained responsible, highly-paid jobs with large and respectable organizations as a result of claiming to have one of these fake degrees. One of them even has two of such degrees, each from a different fake online university. This person, who claims degrees from Ashwood “University” and Rochville “University” is a fraud. He deserves to be disciplined, fired and prosecuted, in that order.

The list of fake universities is a very long one. You can see a list of the currently popular ones on our blog but I thought it might be useful to list some of the clues that can help you identify a fake university. But why is this relevant to you? I think it’s important that everyone knows as much as possible about scams and scammers. It might be that you see a colleague with a degree, perhaps someone you are recruiting, or perhaps even your boss. It might even be that someone you know, a friend or relative proudly claims to have one. It might even be you that’s tempted to get one. It’s worth knowing how to spot a fake.

The biggest clue is the speed with which you can obtain the degree. I think we all know, don’t we, that it takes years to obtain a genuine degree. Nobody can get a degree in a matter of weeks. But that’s what these fake establishments offer. I chatted online with “an advisor” representing the fake “MUST University” about getting a degree in Nursing. I asked him “How soon can I get the degree?” and he answered “in 25 working days”. Isn’t that enough of a clue? Don’t we all know that no genuine degree can be obtained so quickly?

All I had to do to get this fake degree was give them US$ 1,700 using my credit or debit card. That’s the next clue. Money matters. Real universities will be open about what their degrees will cost but they won’t advertise how incredibly cheap they are and they certainly won’t negotiate if you claim you can’t afford their fees. A reader contacted me saying that he had also chatted online with Headway “University”, yet another fake. He told the advisor that “I don’t have money and the price kept going down like it was a flea market bargain session”. Real universities don’t behave like this.

Fake universities are also remarkably reluctant to name their teaching staff. As a comparison I looked at the web site of my old university, specifically the department I attended, and there is a huge list of the teaching and research staff, with pictures, email addresses, short academic profiles and precisely no secrecy. Try finding the name of a single lecturer at any of the fake ones and you’ll have trouble. That’s because they don’t exist.

Another common thing about them is that they are all entirely online, for obvious reasons. Of course there ARE genuine universities that operate online but there aren’t any that operate entirely online. Good examples of genuine distance-learning establishments include UNISA in South Africa and the Open University in the UK. Critically though both of these establishment still have a real, physical campus. There is a building you can visit containing real human beings. The fakes don’t, they’re no more than a call center, web site and email address.

Then there’s an ironic clue. Real universities are accredited and recognized by genuine accreditation bodies. Fake ones are not. Simple. However, do you ever see genuine universities shouting about their accreditation? The irony is that the fake universities are the ones who show their guilt by so loudly proclaiming that they’re accredited. Of course the accreditation bodies they claim have checked them out are fake themselves, set up by the same people who are running the fake university. Luckily there are various official web sites you can visit to find lists of genuine accreditation agencies and departments.

The single biggest clue that links all these fakes is that you don’t have to study to get one of their bogus degrees. You don’t have to do any real work, any studying, any essay-writing or research to get their silly piece of mass-produced paper. It’s all about the money, nothing more than that. Once you’ve sent them the money the degree is yours, that’s all there is to it.

My advise is to steer clear of fakes. Sooner or later you’ll realize you wasted your money. With a fake degree it might even be from a prison cell.

This week’s stars
  • Fred and Moitse from Stuttafords at Game City for offering what a reader said was “one of the best customer service experiences I have had.”

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received an email from a friend that said:

“WARNING!!!!!! Don’t buy and drink a newly introduced bottled water product called “DEW”. The Department of Customs says it was shipped from Tanzania . It killed 180 people. Its said to contain poisonous chemical. Please forward to your departments, relatives and friends.”
Is this true?

No, this is certainly NOT true. It’s a hoax.

This email, and variations of it, have been circulating for a long time. At one point the supposed deaths had happened in Nigeria but the Nigerian authorities investigated and reported that there was absolutely no truth to the story. Surely if this was true we’d be hearing about it on the radio, in The Voice and on TV instead of by email? You really have to consider how trustworthy the medium is. Emails are NOT a very trustworthy source of information on health issues.

I suggest that you go back to the person who sent you the email, suggest to them that they should do a Google search for this and find out the facts before circulating hoaxes and wasting their employers bandwidth.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a butter cream cake at a supermarket for my kids, but we realized that the cake was not in a good state to be eaten because its taste was sour and it was having a gassy smell.

I took the cake back to the shop the following day where I was helped by a manager or shop assistant (not sure) and she told me that to her the cake is ok and they is nothing she can help me with. I asked to see her senior and she told me that she is the last person I can see as the manager is not around and she took the cake and did not refund with anything. She told me to leave as they is nothing she can help me with.


You don’t have to be a food hygiene specialist to know that this is completely unacceptable. Not only is it discourteous and disrespectful, it’s also contrary to the Consumer Protection Regulations, the Food Control Act and the Public Health Regulations. It’s potentially life-threatening. Don’t forget that although the most common victims of food poisoning are the very young, the very old and the frail and unwell, it can also kill the healthiest of people extremely rapidly. I’m sure we’ve all had minor doses of food poisoning but the next one might be the one that kills you.

Luckily this issue was sorted out fairly quickly. The store manager called the customer and apologized profusely, gave him a full refund and promised him that this will never happen again. Meanwhile the store clearly needs to train it’s staff on basic food hygiene standards as well as how to deal with customers who have reasonable complaints!

Investment update

Several people have now contacted us about an “investment scheme” calling itself ”Three Link Connection”. They require “investors” to give them P11,800 and they apparently promise that this will double within 4 weeks. As you can imagine this is yet another scam. In fact, this seems to be a reincarnation of an earlier scam that was called “Young Stars Investments”. The founder of that particular scam, Daisy Mogale, was prosecuted in South Africa but it seems like she’s back again.

The lesson is simple, so simple that it should really need to be said. There is no way you can make money as fast as these scammers will suggest. Surely if it was possible banks would be doing it all the time? The only people to get right from Get Rich Quick schemes are the scammers who invent them.

We’ll be speaking to the authorities that have the power to intervene with schemes likes these and giving then the information they need to take action. Watch this space!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Consumer Alert - Diamond Rewards

Another pyramid scheme appears, this time calling itself "Diamond Rewards".

Curiously, with this pyramid scheme there IS actually a product of sorts. The enrollment fee of US$315 buys you a 2 carat sapphire. You then recruit others with the tempting offer of the sapphire and as more and more people join and buy their sapphire you get greater and greater rewards.

But how much is a 2 carat sapphire actually worth? I found a web site that would sell me a 2.5 carat synthetic sapphire for the princely sum of, get this, $77. A bigger sapphire for less than a quarter of the price. What do you think the chances are that “Diamond Rewards” sells you a synthetic gem?

Above all, I think the following diagram from their web site illustrates everything you need to know about this scheme.


Like all pyramid schemes, where rewards are primarily linked to the recruitment of other people into the scheme, “Diamond Rewards” is based on a number of lies. A lie about the gemstone, about the profits you’ll make and a lie about the business model.

It's a pyramid scheme. Consider yourself warned!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Education

When Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, was first running for the office (and before he discarded his conscience) he famously outlined the three main priorities for his prospective government. They were, he said, “Education, education, education”.

While there are many critical things you can say about Blair that was a noble sentiment. I genuinely believe that one of the key roles of Government, along with the provision of health care, roads, defense and policing is education. Critically though I don’t think this stops when someone leaves school or university. I think the Government and its various specialist agencies have an on-going job to educate us, just like we should have an on-going desire to learn.

Some of these agencies actually have education in their job description. The Consumer Protection Unit in the Ministry of Trade and Industry was set up specifically to do this. Section 5 (2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act says that one of their jobs is to:
“disseminate information to enable consumers to acquire knowledge of basic consumer rights and obligations and the skills needed to make informed choices about goods and services”
The next section of the Act says that they must “formulate and implement consumer education programmes”.

Forgive me but I don’t see this happening. Was it that weekend when I was away?

But they’re not the only culprit. I think we need to see much more public education coming from a range of sources. The most obvious is the Ministry of Education. Why aren’t our children learning about their consumer rights at school? Why isn’t it part of the curriculum? And what about adult education? Isn’t this a critical thing that they should be doing? Educating the public on their rights?

To be fair, there are some governmental agencies that do at least operate in public. Both BOTA, the Training Authority and NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority have been known to roll up their sleeves and get rough with colleges and companies that misbehave. Just as importantly they’ve done it publicly so you and I can both see that they’re doing something. But I think we deserve more. I think we need to hear from them how they do this, what the rules are and, most importantly, how we can protect ourselves against crooks and scammers. I think we need advice from agencies like BOTA and NBFIRA on what to look out for, what the warning signs might be and perhaps even some horror stories of how things can go wrong. There’s certainly no shortage of them.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s start demanding that other agencies do the same. They’re all paid large amounts of money to exist, let’s demand just a little bit more from them.

The Bank of Botswana for instance. I know they spend most of their time doing very worthy things like worrying about exchange rates and how much money we have in the national piggy bank but they also have a responsibility to regulate business. In fact they have the power to inspect and control companies if “it appears to the Bank that the company is carrying on business in a manner which is contrary to, detrimental to, the interests of the public”. That’s fine but let’s see it being done.

A couple of months ago there was a press release from BOB announcing that they had taken action to stop a pyramid scheme operating but unfortunately it wasn’t any of the pyramid schemes that most people know about like TVI Express. However it was clearly better than nothing. But we need more, a lot more and again we need education from BOB. We need them to educate us on what to look out for, what the clues are that a scheme is dodgy.

However it’s not always difficult to spot them. Last week we were approached by a reader who asked about a scheme he had been invited to join by a colleague. Calling itself “Three Link Connection” they invite prospective “investors” to invest nearly P12,000 and guarantee a 100% profit within 4 weeks. I think it’s fairly obvious that this can’t work. There’s no investment scheme in the world that can promise to double your money in a month, we all know that, don’t we? We know that anyone saying that is a fool or a crook, don’t we?

However the story is more interesting than just a conventional scam. This is a reincarnation. It seems that this is just an old scam with a new name. The founders, South Africans apparently called Hennie Visser and Daisy Mojale, were previously investigated in SA for running another investment scam that was variously called “Young Stars Investments”, “Double Star Investments” and “Triple Star Investments”. It’s alleged that they stole millions of Rand from hundreds of people.

The problem is that, perhaps partially because we’re a small country, but also because our enforcement agencies aren’t quite as busy as we need them to be, scammers like these think they can come to Botswana and get away with their crimes more easily than in their home countries.

I think we deserve more from these agencies than we currently get. We need more enforcement action from them but also more education. It shouldn’t just be up to newspapers like Mmegi to get these things done. I look forward to a situation where the biggest fear companies have in Botswana is not from mindless and pointless bureaucracy but from effective and highly-focussed regulation. I look forward even more to a time when crooks are genuinely afraid of a highly educated population of consumers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I booked and paid for tickets for my nephews to travel to Botswana from Ghana but they were prevented from travelling because they lacked a transit visa to travel via South Africa. I had applied for a visa for them to enter Botswana but did not know about the transit visa. As it is, the adult accompanying them had a Botswana residence and work permit so apparently did not need a transit visa and he had to leave them behind in South Africa. They have applied for it and we expect it out in 5 working days but I now have to pay penalties for the tickets. This I feel is unfair because I think the ticket sales agents should have informed me of the need for a transit visa as she knew I was booking for kids who were travelling on a Botswana visa and not permits.

In addition, I have to pay extra for the children who are 12 and 3 years of age to be managed by the flight attendants as they travel alone.

Is this something I should have known and enquired with the South African High Commissioner or should the ticket sales lady have informed me?


This is tricky. My initial reaction was that I agree that the travel agent issuing the tickets should probably have told you this. Surely it’s one of the reasons you use a travel agent, to use their expertise and knowledge about all these bizarre technicalities? Aren’t they meant to be the experts?

However there is a dual responsibility here. Both the buyer and the seller in a deal have to protect their own interests. Perhaps you also should have done some checking about these things although it’s understandable why you wouldn’t think to do so. I know it’s no comfort to know that your experience will help educate readers of The Voice about these issues.

The lesson is to do some research before these things happen. If you search on Google for “south africa visa exempt countries” you’ll find that Batswana and citizens of many other countries don’t require transit visas when they’re going through SA but for some reason Ghana is excluded.

Whenever you undertake a journey you’ve never done it’s worth spending a little time beforehand doing a bit of research to prevent problems like this occurring.

Investment scheme warnings

I’ve heard of several so-called investment schemes over the last year that you really need to avoid. Each of them has been presented to potential victims as a fail-safe way of making money with minimal risk. However they are ALL cons. They are all scams.

The common link is that they all offer returns on your ”investment” that are too good to believe. TVI Express is a good example although I think the word has finally spread that this is a pyramid scheme. Unlike a normal multi-level marketing scheme there is no real product with TVI Express. Instead we’ve heard of people promised massive profits on modest investment. One reader was asked to invest P30,000 and was promised, in writing, a total return of P168,000 within a mere 3 months. Needless to say this money never materialized. It was a scam. She had to go to court to get her money back.

More recently we heard about a bunch of South Africans calling themselves Cashflow Pro who were under investigation by the SA authorities, who came here seeking our money. Again the profits they offered were remarkable. Remarkably unbelievable.

Recently we heard from a reader who had been invited to join another Get Rich Quick scheme calling itself ”Three Link Connection”. They require “investors” to give them P11,800 and they apparently promise that this will double within 4 weeks. As you can imagine this is yet another scam. In fact, it seems that it’s actually a reincarnation of an earlier scam that was called “Young Stars Investments”. The founder of that particular scam, Daisy Mogale, was prosecuted in South Africa but it seems like she’s back again.

The lesson is simple, so simple that it should really need to be said. There is no way you can make money as fast as these scammers will suggest. Surely if it was possible banks would be doing it all the time? The only people to get right from Get Rich Quick schemes are the scammers who invent them.