Saturday, 30 March 2013

A confession about Oil of Asia (updated)

A text message from one of the local organisers for "Oil of Asia" Ponzi scheme, confessing that he or she was also a representative of Eurextrade and also that "all these things are Ponzi schemes".

At last some honesty.


Update.

And then he/she becomes "threatening".


Scary.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Be positive

Several times in the last week I’ve been told that service in Botswana is dreadful. I’ve been told that service in other countries is much better. I’ve been told that compared to other countries we suck.

I’m not convinced.

I’m not sure we can compare the service we get here with the service we get in other countries for one specific reason. The service we get here at home is the ordinary, mundane service we get when we do our normal shopping whereas the service we get in other countries is largely because we’re tourists. Tourists in general get better service than locals, that’s just the nature of the tourism industry. Even here in Botswana we’ve grown to understand that although everyone is equal, tourists are “more equal” than others.

But IS service so bad in Botswana? I don’t think it’s a simple as just saying service is poor. If you were foolish enough to try and quantify it you might decide, hypothetically, that the overall service score for the nations is 30%. Let’s just assume that for a moment. But then you encounter “the average fallacy”. The average score for anything doesn’t mean everyone scores that way. Just because men are taller than women on average, you can’t assume that all women are shorter than all men. We all know some women who are taller than most men and some men who are shorter than most women. What matters most is an individual’s height, or service score that an individual achieves. Average scores hide individual scores.

Averages also hide variation. I can think of two restaurants at Riverwalk in Gaborone, both franchises. I suspect that if you measured the quality of their service they’d probably score about the same but that’s not a fair comparison. One of the restaurants (you can probably guess which) is absolutely consistent. It’s food and service are neither good nor bad, just consistently middle of the road. The other restaurant (you can guess this one too) is one day fantastic, the next day dreadful. It’s impossible to predict when you walk through the doors what service will be like today. If you were to score it over a month you’d probably get the same score as the first restaurant but that score would just hide the second restaurant’s massive variation and unpredictability.

It’s the same with customer service It’s probably true that, on average, we get poor service but that covers up the truth. Service is generally poor but it’s also massively variable. There certainly are stores, like one I can think of at Game City where the staff simply don’t give a damn, presumably because their management don’t give a damn. This is the store where the staff simply look at you when you want to be served. They do exactly the same when you want to buy their products and give them your cash. It’s like they’re doing you a favour by taking your money.

There are other stores, like the one I was in a couple of weeks ago, also at Game City where a security guard threatened to arrest me if I didn’t leave my rucksack containing my laptop with him. This was a store, need I mention, that does not sell laptops, it sells food. When I politely explained that I didn’t like being accused of being a criminal he told me that “Only you know if you are.”

However there are other stores where the service is much better than average. I can think of a certain spicy chicken restaurant where the service is very good. I can think of another restaurant at Game City which has developed a strong following of customers who delight in good food and good service.

So what makes the difference? How can there be such variation? That’s easy to answer. I have an old-fashioned view that it all depends on the leader. If the person in charge of an organisation cares about service then the organisation will. If he or she doesn’t give a damn, then no matter how caring and devoted the rest of the team might be, the organisation won’t give a damn.

The challenge is getting the message across to the people that matter most of all: the shareholders. If the shareholders or an organisation want their company to offer good service, and often they do because they understand it leads to greater profits then things might take a turn for the better. They can instruct the MD or CEO to focus on better service.

The challenge is that some companies actually thrive on poor service. Some companies only make profits by deceiving their customers. Like a lot of furniture stores.

There’s secret about furniture stores that I think is worth disclosing. This is the secret that the managers and shareholders are really keen for you NOT to know.

They’re not really furniture stores. They’re moneylenders. Many of these stores make much more money from their store credit schemes than they do from selling furniture. That’s why they sell the credit schemes so hard when you go in. They really don’t want you to pay with cash, they don’t make nearly enough money that way.

But lets be more positive. Despite the efforts of certain stores to mistreat us, there most certainly are people out there that deliver good service. There are people who have that certain something, that light in the eye, the smile, the cheerful welcome and a commitment to making us happily spend our money with them. Let’s celebrate them when it happens, you never know, it might be contagious?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
I bought a brand new car from a certain garage about three years ago. After six months it had a factory fault which they said was electrical and I had a new computer-box fixed at their expense.

Now this car dealership can not program the spare key to the car, they keep saying South Africa will send them a pin to program but they are never successful and lately when I contacted the Managing Director for answers and way forward, he issued me with a letter stating the history of the car and what he intends to do as a Manager. According to him, this letter binds him that within a short time ‘longer’ the spare keys will be ready. When I asked him to state the deadline he became unfriendly, giving me attitude that I can go anywhere I can with this issue that’s all he can do. This worries me as to how many of his customers out there are faced with this situation or are still going to come across this and he gets away with it.

I need advice on this one as the car has 5 years warranty and left with only two years to finish paying for the auto-loan and it gets out of warranty.


It sounds like you’ve been patient enough. It’s time to escalate the problem to another level. I suggest you write to the Head Office in South Africa stating that you’ve been let down by their local dealership. Give them the relevant dates and explain that they have breached Section 15 (1) (a) of Botswana’s Consumer Protection Regulations by not delivering a service “with reasonable care and skill”. Remind them that this problem was caused by THEIR factory fault and it’s their job to resolve it.

Let them know that you’ve contacted us and I’ll get in touch with them as well to encourage them to get moving.

Good luck!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Just last week I received an SMS alert from my bank indicating that I made a purchase at a store on that day. Unlike the usual SMS alerts, the exact time of purchase was not indicated. I saw this SMS when I woke up in the morning, so my guess is maybe it came in while I was asleep. When I went to the bank they printed out a bank statement for me showing the money was taken from my account on 4th March for a purchase on 26th February. I told the bank that I did not buy anything at that store on the said date but they insisted that’s what their records show. I went to the store and they could not find that payment in any of their records.

Eventually I was told it was a purchase I made during December last year. I am just wondering how it happened that it could take 3 months for a transaction to go through. Isn’t it when the paypoint says transaction approved and the cashier makes you sign the dotted line it means money has gone out of your account? When I went back to the store to ask the lady told me it was a transaction on 22nd December but she couldn’t find any speed point slips for the 22nd December so they said they will look into the speed points slips for the rest of December and get back to me and I am still waiting.

I am wondering why the store didn’t notify me if the money didn’t go through rather than for me to find an SMS after almost three months.


It certainly sounds like there’s been a communications problem somewhere. You should go back to your bank and demand that they investigate the transaction more closely. The bank should have a procedure for investigating these things. Ideally they should have told you about this before now but it seems like it’s your job to remind them about it.

If you send me the details I’ll also get in touch with the bank and see what they can do to assist.

I suppose that the lesson is to check your bank statements every time you get them but I can understand how anyone could easily overlook something like this. However it’s also a good example of how useful SMS alerts can be. Why don’t all banks offer them?

Celebrations

Collen in the bakery section at Shoprite Game City has been celebrated for “wonderful service”. Also Johnson at Sanitas offered “genuinely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful service.” Finally, we were told about Mompati from the Frame Gallery who offers “really friendly and cheerful service”.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Who are we?

I was recently at a conference that was loosely related to consumer issues and a variety of people wanted to know, yet again, what exactly Consumer Watchdog is. They knew about this newspaper column and our other media appearances but they all seemed a bit confused about who we are and how we operate. So here goes.

What is Consumer Watchdog?

Consumer Watchdog is a division of its privately owned parent company. No, we’re not registered as a society, a charity, a NGO or even a church. We’re a private company.

Who owns Consumer Watchdog?

My wife and I do. It’s a family thing, like the Mafia, the leadership of North Korea and most evangelical churches, just without the sharp suits, expensive haircuts and the stealing.

Who funds Consumer Watchdog?

We do. Other than being paid for the newspaper columns in Mmegi and another paper that features us, Consumer Watchdog has no sources of external income. All our costs are covered by the parent company. We certainly don’t get anything from consumers. There have been occasions when grateful consumers have offered us gifts but our response has always been the same. If you feel the need to make a donation give it to the Cheshire Foundation instead.

We’re certainly not funded by any other agencies, not Government, not other consumer groups and not by any international consumer bodies.

Do you want to be funded?

No, not even slightly. We’re perfectly happy with the way we are. I genuinely like the fact that Consumer Watchdog is financially independent. Not taking money from anyone means we don’t have to take instructions from anyone.

Are you allied with other groups?

No, and we like it that way. While there are other consumer organisations out there both in Botswana and elsewhere, and while they do some good work, we don’t generally collaborate with them. I wish them the very best of luck but we prefer to do things our way. Independently. That doesn’t mean we won’t appear on the same platforms as them occasionally, we might talk to them, we might even agree with them. But their business is theirs and ours is ours.

In particular we’re not allied in any way with Consumers International, who describe themselves as “the world federation of consumer groups that, working together with its members, serves as the only independent and authoritative global voice for consumers”. I’m all in favour of groups like this as sources of information, research and knowledge but I’m not sure we want to be guided like this or even to play by someone else’s rules.

There’s even a consumer body in Botswana that described itself at the recent conference as “the mother body for all consumer groups within the country”. Sorry but no, they’re not our Mum, Dad or any other relative.

As you can probably tell by now, we don’t like being told what to do.

Don’t you have conflicts of interest with your clients?

Consumer Watchdog’s parent company works for a variety of companies helping them to improve the quality of their customer service and as a result you have a right to ask if this puts us in an awkward position when we receive a complaint against one of our client companies.

No, it doesn’t. Without exception, every company we have ever worked with understands that there might be complaints about them and that we’ll do our best to resolve them. There is, for instance, a major bank we’re working with right now and about whom we’ve recently had some complaints. However that bank is mature and sensible enough to know that these are valid complaints that are worthy of investigation and resolution. If we can help them to do that they’ll end up a slightly better bank when the problem has been fixed. They understand.

Before you ask, yes there are companies who aren’t as mature and sensible. There are certain car dealerships and importers, supermarket chains, holiday clubs, quacks selling “alternative health” products, multi-level marketing schemes and suspicious “investment” and stock market training institutions that we wouldn’t work with, whatever they offered us. We have standards. And morals.

Don’t you get into trouble sometimes?

Yes and no. We’ve had more than our fair share of legal threats but only from idiots who’ve forgotten that we live in a country where freedom of expression is enshrined in our Constitution (Section 12, in case any lawyers have forgotten). They’re the same idiots who have forgotten that Section 195 of the Penal Code says that a comment isn’t defamation if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. I can’t think of a better case of publishing something for the public benefit than news of consumers being abused.

So far, every legal threat we’ve ever received has suddenly evaporated when we’ve told the lawyers to advise their angry clients that all we’ve done is report the truth. And reminded them And when we published their threats on the Internet.

We’ve also been lucky with the support we get from Mmegi and our other print media partners. Every time there’s been a silly threat from a company they’ve backed us completely. It’s a shame that the management of some radio stations don’t have the same courage and integrity.

How much do consumers pay to get our help?

Nothing. Not a single thebe. It’s entirely free. It always has been and it always will be.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In February 2012, I enrolled my son who is hearing impaired for Form 3 at a private school. In 2013 just before school opened, I paid P11,500 in school fees. When the school re-opened the following week, the Principal asked to see me.

She told me my son had not done well in Form 3 and she would therefore only admit him back to school on condition that he repeated Form 3. Throughout the year, there had not been any communication from the school that he was not doing well. I enquired about the remedial and counseling services provided by the school. She told me about other students from broken families with even more problems than my son's and that they were doing well which was not relevant to me. She informed me my son lacked focus and I enquired what they did as a school especially that we were talking about an intelligent child.

I decided that allowing my son to repeat the year would not help in anyway. I therefore wrote to the School Head informing her of my decision and requested a refund but she told me they would not refund me saying I had not given notice for the withdrawal of my son.

I argued that my son had not been admitted to the school for 2013 and that I had decided not to take up the condition attached to his re-admittance. Therefore, I was unclear about the notice required as it did not apply in this case. There has not been any further communication from the school. I have called numerous times and left countless messages, to no avail.

I am therefore appealing for your guidance and counsel on the matter.


I can understand how a school needs warning if a parent decides to withdraw their child. I can also understand if a school keeps the deposit a parent paid if the withdrawal happens at the last minute. However, from what you say, this situation is slightly different. They’re now applying a new condition to your deal with them. I’m not a lawyer but I suspect they can’t do that, unless you agreed to that when you first enrolled your son.

It also seems to be a total breakdown in communication if they only tell you that your child is being asked to repeat a year after the new school year has begun. That sounds unreasonable to me. It also sounds like a breach of Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which say that a company has failed “to meet minimum standards of performance” if “the service is not rendered with reasonable care and skill”. I think a school should tell parents immediately if they think a child is failing to perform and they should be discussing the situation in detail with you if they think a child needs to repeat a year. That would be reasonable care and skill.

I’ve contacted the school to get their side of the story and will let you know if they respond.

The car import saga

Over the last few months we’ve had various complaints about a car import company called Trans Africa Vehicle Exports who import second-hand cars from the UK. Their business model sounds simple. You select a vehicle from their web site, give them all the money up-front and a month or two later your car is delivered. In theory, not always in practice.

One complaint involved the car being destroyed in an accident on the way and not yet being replaced.
Two others involved entirely the wrong vehicle being delivered. In one of these cases I got involved and met with the local manager and his customer and he promised her a refund the same day. Are you surprised that he failed to honor his promise?

Frankly the whole car import business is suspicious. Why would anyone in their right mind pay money for a car they’ve never actually seen? A car they’ve never sat in? A car they haven’t examined? Isn’t that asking for trouble?

Add in a local dealer who consistently breaks his word and you have a formula for disaster and losing your money. I urge you to steer clear of them all and Trans Africa Vehicle Exports in particular.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

"Empower Network" - Yet another Get Rich Quick Scheme

"Empower Network" is making noise around the Internet, most notably on Facebook, doing it's best to recruit more and more victims. Their sales pitch suggests that using their scheme, which you have to pay to join of course, will allow you to make a fortune from blogging. Quite how is not made clear unless you dig deep.

A few things.

With any scheme that promises to give you the secret to make vast amounts of money you have to ask yourself this: Why are they sharing this with me instead of just making lots of money themselves?

While they have a link on their web site entitled "Products" all they do is talk in very general terms about "a blog system that sucks up cash for me 24 hours a day in ANY program I'm involved with". It doesn't get any more specific than that. Is this perhaps yet another pyramid scheme?

Then there are the minor issues.

Their Headquarters in the US is at 146 Second Street North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701 which is actually the "Palais Royale" which describes itself as offering "Commercial Offices, Serviced Executive Suites, Conference Rooms and Virtual Offices".

They also give an address in the UK, "66-68 High Road, Bushey Heath, Herts WD23 1GG". This is that address, courtesy of Google Street View.



This is not exactly impressive given that this is just an accommodation address, used by an untold number of companies. A Google search for the exact address finds more than 4 million hits, covering an enormous range of companies including internet service providers, dodgy immigration companies, suspicious investment companies and even a few companies selling webcam-based sexual encounters.

But you can't judge a company by it's cohabits, can you?

Best of all you find that Empower Network are happy to endorse obvious Ponzi scheme like "Oil of Asia".

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Profitable Sunrise is illegal all over the world

The "Profitable Sunrise" Ponzi scheme has already been the subject of an alert by the British authorities but they're not alone.

Residents of New Zealand, the US states of Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, Minnesota, California, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alaska, Maryland and Maine and also the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have also been warned that it's a scam.

You're not tempted, are you?

All credit goes to Patrick Pretty for the information.

P.S. Their web site appears down. Have they done a Eurextrade?

Friday, 15 March 2013

Discriminate!

We need to discriminate more. In fact we should be more prejudiced. I think we should be a nation that judges certain people and organisations simply by their behaviour.

Of course I don’t mean we should be racist, sexist or any other nonsensical “-ist” but I do think we have the right to demonstrate prejudice against certain things.

To begin with I think we’re now entitled to be prejudiced against any investment scheme that promises remarkable returns. Our experience with Eurextrade, a Ponzi scheme that seemed to be specifically targeted at Botswana and stole millions of Pula from it’s gullible and sometimes greedy victims now permits us the right to be prejudiced against anything that looks remotely similar.

Just a few days ago I was alerted to a similar scheme that’s just emerged. This one calls itself “Oil of Asia” and they describe themselves as:
"one of the leading investment companies globally with financial activity conducted in oil market, Oil of Asia Ltd is a truly recognized for its excellence in customer service and tons of satisfied customers in more."
Do you get the impression that English isn't their first language?

They describe their business like this:
"We collect investments from numerous customers from around the world, unite them in one investment fund while leaving some funds for reserve fund, and then purchase futures and securities sold by oil companies worldwide."
That's the closest you get to an explanation of how they say they make money. Once you look closely the usual clues are there that this is another Ponzi scheme. For instance, and this is ALWAYS the giveaway, they make some remarkable claims about the money you can earn. They claim that you can earn “3% Fixed Daily Profit for 75 business days”.


There is, I'm afraid, no legitimate investment scheme that can make 3% interest on a consistent basis. There never has been, there isn’t now and there never will be. If it WAS possible, after 75 days you would have earned an astonishing 791% return and that’s after just a couple of months. If you kept your money in for a year you'd earn 4,706,960%.


Given that a real bank is only going to give you 10% at most after a year the conclusion is obvious.

There are other clues.

They claim to be registered as a company in the UK. That's true, the company was registered in October 2012 to an address in South East London, 45 Queenswood Road, London SE23 but this address is actually that of a small and rather scruffy-looking house in Lewisham, south London, not that of an “international oil trading and investment corporation”.

What’s more, despite describing themselves as such an impressive company, they’re NOT registered with the UK's Financial Services Authority.

One last curiosity about “Oil of Asia”. On their web site they offer a list of contacts from around the world. Although the list seems dominated by Nigerians there are also a few people from Botswana on the list. One of them was on the list of contacts for Eurextrade. Clearly some people are serial Ponzi scheme recruiters. The reason of course is simple. “Oil of Asia” offer an incentive, like Eurextrade did, for victims to recruit others.


[Update: Since writing the list of Botswana contacts has increased. Now there are TWO who were formerly connected with Eurextrade.]


Needless to say there will be plenty of willing recruits to this latest scheme and it’s more than likely that they’ll lose more money, even those who should have learned their lesson from the collapse of Eurextrade.

So I think we have a right to be rather prejudiced against any investment scheme that promises remarkable daily profits. Let’s treat them the way we would treat any person we despised.

We’re also entitled to discriminate against car importers that tell lies and break promises. Like the local agent for Trans Africa Vehicle Exports who took a large amount of money from a client to buy a car in the UK but then delivered the wrong one and then refused a refund until he could find a new buyer for the wrong car. Despite eventually promising a refund (“we will refund her”) there were endless delays in actually making the payment. When the client, the importer and I eventually all met he assured us both that the refund would be made the same day. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I DID record the conversation, including his promise to pay the refund the same day.

It’s no surprise of course that he lied. No payment was made that day, nor the next day, nor the one after that. At the time I’m writing this she still hasn’t got her money back.

Unfortunately this isn’t the only problem we’ve heard of from the same company. So far three different readers have complained with similar stories of wrong cars being delivered and a long list of broken promises.

The last emails I received from the company, following the broken promise of a refund was simple.
“We do appreciate your consumer awareness articles you run in our local papers but we chose to remain silent in this instance”

[and then]

“We feel that we are not obliged to have a word on it and that it does not serve our interests. About the progress we so far made regarding our promise we made when you were present in our office, you will definitely be the first person to be updated. It has always been our policy to uphold the rights of our clients.”
That’s just untrue.

Both the “Oil of Asia” scheme and the woefully unreliable Trans Africa Vehicle Exporters here in Botswana are good examples of where prejudice and discrimination aren’t morally wrong responses. In fact they’re wise and perhaps even essential defences against abuse. Let’s show them the discrimination they so richly deserve.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Please help by checking out this "probably too good to be true" website for me www.moneyinvestments.biz. Anticipating your usual timely response.


This is 100% certainly, without hesitation, absolutely no doubt, a scam. They call themselves “Money Management International” and make some extraordinary claims.

They include:
"Stock Market Services - 8.5% to 19.0% Daily Interest"
"Liberty Reserve Investment – Receive 19.5% - 28.5% Daily"
"Online Investments - 25% - 45% Fixed Daily Interest"
"Forex Markets - Earn 400% Profit in 24 Hours"
"Kuwait Investment - 1000% Return In 48 Hours"
And so on....

Given the number of people who fell for the recently collapsed Eurextrade Ponzi scheme I think we all need to be a lot more careful when we hear claims like these. They are all lies, scams and frauds. If you want to keep your money please be skeptical and avoid anything that seems to be too good to be true.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Hi, I have a problem with a furniture store. I had an account with them in the 2010 where I took a fridge with no deposit. I do not remember well if I took it by month end February but I was supposed to pay end March but couldn’t as I had some financial problems then. They were so rude to me whenever thy called for installments to an extent that I told them to get it because I can’t afford to pay as I was not working. Thy wanted installment of that month (March) and my mum paid and they told her that will be all.

Ever since then they never communicated with me or anything concerning the matter up until 3 weeks back saying I owe them P4,136. I went to them to ask about the matter because I didn’t understand and thy told me even if they took the fridge I still owe them. I used it 2 months or less. I do not remember well but I only have one receipt when the installment was paid.


I’m afraid you misunderstood how store credit works, like so many people do. I really do think it’s time for furniture stores, in fact all stores that sell things on credit, to go a lot further to explain to us what we’re agreeing to when we sign their agreements. They’re unlikely to do this of course, they don’t want you to understand them. If we all understood them we’d all stop buying on credit immediately. We’d all see how expensive credit can be and we’d all start saving up to buy things for cash. But the stores can’t allow that to happen and the reason is simple. Furniture stores are not, primarily, furniture stores. They’re moneylenders first of all, selling furniture is just a means for lending you money.

In your case the situation is slightly more complicated. I contacted the store and the story is not quite as simple as you presented. They pointed out that you failed to pay the first installment on time and only paid it the following month and then didn’t make any further payments. You only made one payment out of the 24 your agreed to make. The store also mentioned that you were employed when you signed the contract and that the agreement included insurance that covered your installments if you lost your job. Why didn’t you tell them that you had lost your job?

Now some maths. The total cost of the credit agreement was 24 x P470 which is P5,640.

The store also told me that after they repossessed the fridge from you they later sold it for P1,402. If you subtract the single payment of P470 you made and then the resale price of the fridge you’re left with a balance of P3,768. Add on a few hundred for administration and the sum the debt collector wants sounds about right.

Unfortunately I can’t see a way for you to avoid this debt you incurred. I suggest you contact the debt collector and agree a repayment plan that you can afford and stick to.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The "Profitable Sunrise" Ponzi scheme - the Brits have been warned

A few weeks ago I mentioned "Profitable Sunrise" which I described as "yet another Ponzi scheme".
They made the usual Ponzi scheme claims of miraculous profits, in their case "2.15% daily" as well as paying "5% on your referrals".

Apat from the terrible graphics, their English and typing was, well, poor.
"You are Invited to Join: ProSun-PRI.VATE INVESTMENT PLAN Pri.vate Plan GROUP of Non-Profits,Charities, and Churches),
Changing lives together: We Believe in a Better Living Every Day. As a Non-Profit within the Christian Community, the we shares our Resources to Work to Rebuild the American Dream,One Day at a Time!"
It turns out that  the UK's Financial Services Authority has also noticed them and has alerted the British public to them.

Thanks to Patrick Pretty's site for the alert.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Read the label

I have a confession to make. I think it’s hilarious how much of a lather the Europeans, the British in particular, have got themselves into over their latest beef crisis.

In case you haven’t heard, the Brits discovered a few weeks ago that a very large proportion of the processed beef products they consume, things like frozen beefburgers and lasagne, things they’d been led to believe contained nothing but beef, in fact contained traces of horsemeat as well.

Their reaction has been a bizarre mixture of outrage, disgust and surprise. Unfortunately I think only the first of those is justified.

The Brits have every reason to feel outraged, but only because they were deceived. The labels on the packaging of their processed foods said they contained beef and in fact contained other meats as well. They were lied to and they have the right to feel abused because of that. When any of us buys a product we have a right to know what it is, what it contains and what we can do with it. When I buy a product which says it’s beef I want beef to be the only meat it contains. Not pork, chicken, donkey or horse.

But that’s the only crime that’s been committed. So far the investigations seem to have shown that it’s not the stores selling these products that are at fault. It seems that at some point between the abattoirs and the stores someone added horsemeat to the beef to make money. In the countries where horsemeat is popular it’s much cheaper than beef so diluting expensive beef with cheaper horsemeat allows someone to make greater profits.

Their other reactions are less justifiable. Their disgust at discovering they’ve been eating horse is just silly. It’s just a different meat. It’s not as if a Jew or a Muslim has secretly been given pork, or a vegetarian was given meat, anyone who can eat beef can eat horse and the fact that they didn’t notice is surely evidence enough that there’s no real difference.

The Brits are just being squeamish and that’s not a good enough reason to be disgusted.

What surprises me most is the surprise that the Brits are expressing. How did they not expect producers of processed meat products to cut corners and try and make extra money? When you demand very cheap beef products you have to understand that the product you get is going to be rubbish, at least in the UK. The situation with beef is slightly different in Botswana. Although we all know that our beef industry is in crisis, it’s a different sort of crisis, it’s not about the quality of the produce. I think it’s safe to assume that the beef we buy in local stores is of fairly high quality.

The other reason I’m not sympathetic towards the Brits is that they have completely lost any connection they ever had with how food is produced. Their national commitment to feeding their families with as little effort as possible is to blame. A whole lot of Brits seem to think that a meal is just something you take from a freezer and microwave; preferably something they bought as cheaply as possible. So why are they surprised that these cheap, processed meals turn out to be exactly what they paid for?

I have a personal confusion. Why would anyone want to eat a frozen, mass-produced burger anyway? Certainly not here in Botswana. Fresh minced beef, an onion, lots of herbs, salt and pepper and 10 minutes of your time is all you need to make a burger that will be infinitely better than anything the mass-market meat-processing industry can produce. My 14-year-old son makes them this way and they are without doubt the best I’ve ever had.

The most recent development is that the situation seems to be similar in South Africa. According to a BBC report a study by Stellenbosch University “found that 99 of 139 samples contained species not declared in the product label.” Traces of soya, goat, donkey and water buffalo were found in a variety of burgers and sausages they tested.

There’s a lesson from this crisis for the Brits, but also for us, and that’s about labelling.

It really is very important that we at least glance at the labels on things we buy, food most importantly. I think we all know, don’t we, that we should be able to identify everything we stick in our bodies?

Last week my son (the burger maker) spotted expired goods on a supermarket shelf. To their credit the store immediately removed them but why were they there at all? Why hadn’t the staff done a check on the expiry dates on the labels? Isn’t that basic practice? Clearly not.

That’s why it’s up to us to check labels for ourselves. It’s also up to us to be rational about expiry dates. I don’t think apples need them, you can just tell if an apple is OK to eat, as you can with almost all fresh produce. Your sense of sight, touch and smell should be enough. The danger is with packaged goods, the things we buy that come wrapped in cellophane. We can’t open them in the store to have a prod and a sniff, we have to rely on the labels to tell us if the products are likely to be OK.

Every time you buy milk, meat, cheese, eggs or anything else that easily goes rotten, you MUST check the label. Don’t trust the store to do it for you. Trust your sense of smell and before you allow anything into your body, by any means, make sure you’ve protected yourself.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I engaged a company to provide a tent and d├ęcor for my wedding which was scheduled for this past weekend. I paid a deposit of P13,000 but in December I received a message that due to circumstances beyond their control they could not go on with our wedding. They promised to refund our full deposit in four days which they never did, even to this date. Every time I call the lady who was assisting me she gives an excuse for delaying our refund.

I have lost patience with them and I want to lodge a criminal case against them. In fact I have been reliably informed that this qualifies as both criminal and civil case. They caused us a great inconvenience as we had to re-schedule our wedding. I am sick of it.

Kindly advise.


You have been patient enough with these people.

The good news is that if you need to take legal action against them you're within the limits of the Small Claims Court which covers issues up to P15,000. The Small Claims Court is also a VERY useful mechanism for smaller cases. They’re fast, efficient and offer us normal people access to the law without vast expense.

I contacted the company, Funktionality Event Gurus, on your behalf and I’m afraid their reply wasn’t very good. The owner SMSed me saying: “I am aware of my debt with […]. Currently i am having a financial crisis but i am working on sourcing her money and refunding her fully in 2 weeks time.”

I don’t think that’s good enough. You’ve already waited for more than two months and that’s enough. I suggest you go to the Small Claims Court as soon as you can. Take all the paperwork with you and present your case to them. Let me know how it goes.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I’m paying for a bed from a furniture store. The problem is the bed is not in a good condition right now because when I sleep on it I can feel the springs inside which means I’ve to put more blankets on it so I can feel comfortable. I approached the manager and complained about this but she told me that that’s how the bed is and next time when I buy I must check the quality of the bed before I can buy. The bed has not finished even 6 months.


They were joking, right? How exactly are you meant to check the quality of a bed before buying it? The only way I can think you can do that is to spend the night in the showroom before buying it. Is this a new service they offer?

I’ll get in touch with the store and see if they can’t come up with a better solution. It should involve respecting Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations that require them to sell products that are “of merchantable quality”. A bed that is so uncomfortable that you can’t sleep properly on it isn’t good enough. Let me know if you hear from them.

Updates

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the “Non-travel travel agent”. He took a reader’s money and printed tickets for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday but neglected to actually pay the airlines their share of the money. The family got as far as Joburg before they were stopped from boarding their next plane at the gate and were forced to return home to Botswana and buy all the tickets again, costing P70,000. I’d already heard from another customer who had the same experience, losing P15,000. I’ve now heard from yet another customer of this company, Travel Options, who are based at Molapo Crossing in Gaborone. This last victim lost P30,000 in the very same circumstances. She eventually got her money back but only after a year of struggling and support from the Police.

It’s not often that I name a company like this but when they turn out to be serial customer abusers readers of The Voice deserve to be warned.

Celebrations

Kabo from Game City for “outstanding service” and for going out of his way to help a customer.

Also Motheo Ofentse at Barclays G-West Industrial for “exceptional service rendered” and for going “out of his way to ensure maximum satisfaction.”

Keep the celebrations coming in!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Another Ponzi scheme - "Oil of Asia"



There's another Ponzi scheme going around town. This one calls itself "Oil of Asia" and they describe themselves as:
"one of the leading investment companies globally with financial activity conducted in oil market, Oil of Asia Ltd is a truly recognized for its excellence in customer service and tons of satisfied customers in more."
Do you get the impression that English isn't their first language?
They describe their business like this:
"We collect investments from numerous customers from around the world, unite them in one investment fund while leaving some funds for reserve fund, and then purchase futures and securities sold by oil companies worldwide."
That's the closest you get to an explanation of how they say they make money.
The usual clues are there. They make some remarkable claims about the money you can earn.



There is, I'm afraid, no legitimate investment scheme that can make 3% interest on a consistent basis. Never has been, never will be. If it WAS possible, after 75 days you would have earned a 791% return. That's after just a couple of months. If you kept your money in for a year you'd earn 4,706,960%.

Given that a real bank is only going to give you at most 10% after a year the conclusion is obvious.

There are other clues.

They claim to be registered as a company in the UK. That's true, the company was registered in October 2012 to an address in South East London, 45 Queenswood Road, London SE23. This is what the registered address of this international company looks like.



Impressive.

However, despite describing themselves as an "international oil trading and investment corporation" they are NOT registered with the UK's Financial Services Authority.

One last curiosity about Oil of Asia. They list contacts around the world, this time the list seems dominated by Nigerians but already there are people from Botswana on the list of contacts. One of them was on the list of contacts for Eurextrade. Some people are serial Ponzi scheme recruiters.



Please don't waste your time and money on yet another Ponzi scheme.

Update: The list of local contacts in Botswana has increased to eight, TWO of which were contacts for Eurextrade.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Disrespect

For a country that aspires to express “Botho” in its everyday dealings, it’s remarkable how much disrespect there is out there.

So much so that I think it might be one of our national disorders. Alongside our addiction to meetings, “stakeholder consultations” and “benchmarking”, disrespect often seems to dominate the customer service we offer.

Late last year we were ready to welcome John C Maxwell to our country. Maxwell is an acclaimed public speaker on leadership and a whole lot of other good things. Ignoring the fact that the only businesses he seems to have run have been churches and his public speaking company, he is nevertheless respected among the “Let’s talk a lot of mumbo jumbo about management and take the money” community. We’ll also overlook the fact that many of his books were actually “co-written” by his "Book Writing Partner", Charlie Wetzel.

Interestingly, he was due to speak alongside "Dr" David Molapo. Like Dr Maxwell, Molapo is qualified primarily in religion and on his web site states that he holds a “Doctorate in Religious Education from International Seminary".

I can’t help but observe that "International Seminary" is an American establishment accredited by a body that they concede “is not affiliated or recognized by the federal government”. So, not a real doctorate then.

This isn’t the important issue though. Shortly before it was due to occur the conference was postponed due to the weather and was rearranged for this month. When they postponed the conference they emailed all the potential attendees saying:
“kindly note that all delegates that have registered and paid for the subject conference will be able to participate in a half-day motivational leadership session with Dr. David Molapo on Monday 12th November 2012, still at Gaborone International Convention Centre. All teas, sandwiches, coffees and lunch will be complimentary. Although this conference is free of charge, kindly note that Dr. Molapo’s latest books, CD’s and DVD’s will be available for purchase.

Additionally, the same delegates who have registered and paid will automatically qualify to participate at no additional cost in the upcoming March 2013 Leadership Conference with Drs. John C. Maxwell and David Molapo.”
Note what they said: “this conference is free of charge”. Ignore the fact that they don’t know what apostrophes are for.

We heard from one of the people who booked this conference who had a slight problem. She couldn’t attend on the new date. She contacted the organisers explaining this and theire response was simple. Because she attended the “free of charge” conference with Mr Molapo she was, in their opinion, now irreversibly committed to the re-arranged conference with Maxwell this month. No, she could NOT have a refund. Not even a little one.

This is, of course, nonsense. At no point did she accept that attending the Molapo session committed her to the Maxwell one. She didn’t sign a thing agreeing to that.

OK, so far this is only moderately disrespectful. It became more so when she asked us to get involved on her behalf. I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out email correspondence we had, I’ll just quote one of the last emails from the organiser:
“Unfortunately there is no way [she] can get a refund until she has satisfied us on how she is going to compensate us for dishonestly and unlawfully attending an event she was not meant to attend if at all she wanted a refund.”
“Dishonestly and unlawfully”? So now she’s a criminal for wanting a refund? Now THAT is disrespectful. And possibly insane.

But it’s not just conference organisers who show disrespect. Car importers do it as well.

Again it’s not necessary to bore you with the details, it’s actually very simple. A customer ordered a car to be imported from the UK and they delivered the wrong one. It’s not the first time this company has done this, it probably won’t be the last. Understandably she asked for a refund. Only when we can sell the wrong one, she was told.

No, sorry, not acceptable. She paid for car A, she doesn’t have to wait for you to sell car B before she should get her money back. Then, when you DO promise a refund, don’t lie about it? Don’t make endless promises about when the money will be with her? Why not? It’s disrespectful, that’s why.

The same goes for the guy hired to construct a reader’s swimming pool who took her 50% up-front payment, begged her for P10,000 more and then left her with nothing more than a hole in her garden full of concrete. That’s because he’s “lost” the money she gave him and now says he can’t continue unless she coughs up even more. That’s certainly disrespectful. It’s even more disrespectful when he sat with her in my office and made a promise to finish it on front of both of us.

And what about the wedding photographer who offered to photograph and video a guy’s 3-day wedding celebration and neglected to turn up for the actual wedding ceremony? And who still wanted to be paid the whole amount? As I’m writing this he hasn’t even handed over the photos and video, despite being given almost half the amount as an up-front deposit.

All of these people are completely disrespectful and if we consider ourselves to be a nation that values respect we should make it known to them that we don’t approve. The very best way to do this is to spread the word. When you’re disrespected by someone who takes your money tell everyone you know. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours and the person behind you in the queue at the bank. Spread the word that disrespect is unpatriotic and the disrespectful don’t deserve to do business.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I hired a local company to shoot video and pictures at my wedding last year. The total cost was meant to be P4,000 and I paid P1,500 as a deposit.

The coverage was scheduled to last for 3 days with the second day being the main event. Unfortunately the company didn’t show up for the event in the morning of the second day missing the whole church service.

Now the company insists on full payment of the balance, which I feel isn’t fair. It is therefore that, in light of the above, I ask for your intervention and assistance.


I’m afraid that my first reaction was simple. Don’t pay them. They failed to attend perhaps the most important part of your wedding and they have caused you, I imagine, a lot of disappointment and frustration. You’ve already given them nearly half the amount you agreed and they can go without the rest.

Then I became a little bit more thoughtful and I suggest something slightly different. Give them some money. Not all of it, just some of the remaining balance. In this situation I think you need to be seen as “Mr Reasonable” so write them a letter saying that you hired them to photograph and video your ENTIRE wedding, not just certain parts of it. Explain to them that the bit they missed was the most important part of your wedding and you therefore feel obliged only to pay them part of the agreed sum. Remind them that you’ve already paid them a P1,500 deposit and you feel it’s reasonable therefore not to pay them the full outstanding balance.

In your letter you should use the phrase “breach of contract” as often as possible and remind them that Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires them to deliver services “with reasonable care and skill”.

Attach to your letter a cheque for P500 and say that this is all you think is reasonable to pay them given that they breached their contract with you. Don’t forget to mention that you contacted us about it and copy the letter to us.

And one other thing. Tell everyone you know how badly they let you down.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I took my cell phone for repair at the end of January. After a week they phoned me to say my phone is fixed and I should go and collect it. Two weeks later I went to collect it and to pay them.

The lady at the customer care department told me that my cell phone couldn’t be fixed as they only repair faults up to level two and mine is a problem level 3. This explanation was not satisfactory to me but unfortunately I could not get a better answer. I therefore requested to take my phone back and the lady brought it from the service department when she presented my phone to me I realized that the cover was broken. I explained to her that this is not the state I brought my phone to them. Unfortunately once again I did not get satisfactory answers to what has happened, I simply refused to take my phone back and asked them to follow it up and get back to me. Until now I have received no call or whatsoever from them. 
Please advise me on how to proceed in this matter


It’s time to write them a letter.

This business about Level 2 and Level 3 is a distraction. They can either fix it or they can’t and if they can’t they need to explain why they can’t. Write them a letter asking for an explanation and politely demanding to know when you can have your phone back. Make sure they know you’ve contacted us for advice, it might give them a little extra encouragement to respond promptly.

Also you should send us their contact details and we’ll add our “Voice” as well.

Here’s a tip whenever you hand things over for repair. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cellphone, a computer or a car, before you hand it over take a few pictures with your phone showing its general condition. It’ll only take a minute but it might save you a fortune if the repairer damages it.

Celebrations

From a reader, who contacted us with comments about BoswanaPost. “I would love to give recognition to the Post Office at Poso House Gaborone, the service there is super excellent from the security guard to the tellers. I was amazed at how willing they are to work and go out of their way to help a customer.”

Keep the celebrations coming in!