Saturday, 29 June 2013

And another fake university - Grant Town "University"

Grant Town "University" are fantastically direct. There's no doubt what they're really all about. Money. The opening lines of the conversation say it all.
jwalker: hi
jwalker: How are you ?
Sam: Hi
Sam: Good thanks
Sam: And you?
jwalker: Are you ready to pay ?
jwalker: good too
Sam: Pay?
jwalker: Yes are you ready to pay the fee for degree?
Sam: How quickly can I get one?
jwalker: in just 10 working days
Sam: I need a Masters in Education. How much will that cost me?
jwalker: Ok
jwalker: Master's Degree - $599
Sam: Where do I sit the exams?
jwalker: See this is an experience based program
jwalker: In this we take down your experience and convert that into the credit hours
jwalker: No Classes, No Courses, No Test
jwalker: Simply there is an evaluation process

jwalker: We have 70 Members in our evaluation committee who do a soft background check on you
jwalker: they verify your educational background your working experience
jwalker: And once your evaluation is approved we send you your degree in the next 10-15 working day at your doorstep
Sam: Are you sure my employers will recognise this degree?
jwalker: 100% Guarantee of your degree acceptance
Sam: What if they ask what grades I got?
jwalker: We will give the grade
jwalker: GPA
jwalker: Click to see Samples
jwalker: Do you see that we award each and everything
jwalker: we send you 10 documents
jwalker: Degree 1
jwalker: Transcripts 2
jwalker: Award of Excellence 1
jwalker: Certificate of Distinction 1
jwalker: Certificate of Membership 1
jwalker: Verification Letter 4
There's nothing more to say, is there? Yet another fake establishment selling fake degrees to people who are themselves fakes.

Yet another fake university - Kennedy "University"

All the usual clues but this conversation is enough I think to decide that Kennedy "University" is a fake.
Richard: I need to get a degree in Psychology. How quickly can I do this?
Derek Brown: Which Degree program you're looking to apply for?
Richard: A bachelors degree in Psychology
Derek Brown: Okay1
Derek Brown: May I know what is the last level of your Education?
Richard: I left school with A levels 30 years ago
Derek Brown: Alright!
Derek Brown: How many years of working experience you have in this field of General Psychology?
Richard: I've been working for 30 years since i left school, now as an admin assistant in a HR department.
Derek Brown: Okay! well Mr. Richard, since you're having 30 years of experience in HR, Is there any reason to proceed with the major of Psychology?
Richard: I need to get a promotion and they only promote people with degrees.
Derek Brown: Oh I can understand that.
Richard: How long will I need to study to get a degree?
Derek Brown: Well it's no problem Mr. Richard, Let me explain you how your program will work.
Derek Brown: In this Bachelor's of Psychology there are 24 Courses you need to complete in order to complete your Degree as an International Graduate, But as in your case keeping the valuable amount of working experience you have of 30 years, We will convert your complete working experience into credit hours and have your 24 Courses waived off from your program according to the International Educational Standards.
Richard: Does that mean I don't have to study at all?
Derek Brown: No, It means that you just have to study some of your courses to complete your Degree Program as an International Graduate.
Richard: How long will that take?
Derek Brown: Oh I'm sorry I mentioned 24, It's 20 courses will waived off.
Richard: How do I study these courses? Will you send me the course material?
Derek Brown: In this program there is no Time Restriction or Limitation, It depends on your pace of study, As fast as you complete your courses as fast you will complete your desired Degree Program.
Derek Brown: Once your Registration Process is completed, we will hand you over your Authorize Student ID and Password from where you will be connected to our University's International Student Area, Where you will find your 4 Courses and Complete Study Material to study those courses!
Derek Brown: Are you connected Mr. Richard?
Richard: My problem is that I need the degree very quickly. They say the vacancy I want is to be filled by the end of July.
Derek Brown: Well, that's a quite a long period, Most probably you will have your Official Degree Documents by 3rd week of July maximum.
Richard: How much will this cost?
Richard: And how difficult are the courses? I'm worried that I might not pass them.
Derek Brown: First there is no chance of getting failed in those courses since a counselor will be there with you!
Richard: And the cost?
The President of Kennedy "University"
Derek Brown: Since you know that you will be only covering 4 Courses, Regular Fee for each course is $750, Which makes the total fee of $3000, As it's the end of the month we do have a Presidential Scholarship Discount available. If you complete your Registration Process by today your complete fee will be reduced down to $1200 (you save $1800).
You don't need to know any more, do you?

One little thing. On their web site they proudly show their President, Roger Fernando. Funny that the picture they use is a stock photo that you can see here.

The original photo

Never stop questioning

You can never ask enough questions. You can certainly never ask enough questions when money is concerned.

Let’s take a real example. Let’s imagine that the reader who contacted me on Facebook last week had asked a single question before signing the credit agreement she used to buy furniture. Let’s imagine she had asked, “Can I afford it?”

No, sorry, silly me, the store would have avoided answering that question because they don’t actually give a damn.

The question she SHOULD have asked is “What will happen if you repossess the furniture because I can’t afford the repayments any longer?”

What they would have told her (if they felt like being honest) is “Well, in that case you’re screwed.” If she’d insisted on more details they might have told her that if she had difficulties halfway through the 2-year repayment period they’d come along, take the furniture away and forget to tell her that she still owed them at least the entire cash price of the things she bought.

This is how it works. If you buy furniture for P3,000 the total credit price will probably be around twice that, sometimes even more. However let’s assume that the credit price was P6,000. Halfway through the 2-years of repayments the goods are repossessed and sold. Given that the furniture was cheap rubbish to begin with, is now second-hand and is sold in a fake auction within the company to staff members, it will probably only raise a small amount. Let’s say it sells for P500. That still leaves an outstanding balance of P2,500. Add on to that the interest they’ll no doubt charge you and within weeks you’ll owe the company P3,000 again. Add on some more interest as they conveniently forget to remind you about the debt and before you know it a debt collector will be chasing after P6,000. And you still have no furniture.

If only she’d asked before.

You should also ask about cancellations. Last year we were ready to welcome John C Maxwell, a supposedly acclaimed public speaker on leadership. Unfortunately shortly before it was due to occur the conference was postponed due to the weather and was rearranged earlier this year. When they postponed the conference they emailed the potential attendees saying:
“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”, meaning the half-day motivational leadership session. Unfortunately one of the delegates had a problem. She couldn’t attend on the new date. She contacted the organisers explaining this and their response was simple. Because she attended the “free of charge” conference with Molapo she was, in their opinion, now irreversibly committed to the re-arranged conference with Maxwell. 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 anything agreeing to that.

So she did the best possible thing. She went to the Small Claims Court and they gave her the go-ahead to demand a refund from the organisers. It’s just a shame they don’t want to do the decent thing and give her the money they owe her.

If only she’d asked before.

Another issue. Universities. I think we all know by now that plenty of “universities” you find on the web aren’t even close to being genuine. They’re just web site that sell fake degrees. But it’s not always as simple as that.

You may have seen advertisements for Cyprus International University in various newspapers recently. I must start by saying that CIU is NOT a fake university. It’s real. It has buildings, lecturers and accommodation. Students at CIU sit exams, do coursework and possibly even fail. It’s a real university.

But it’s not in a real country.

A little background. The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is divided into two parts. The nation called Cyprus is a real nation, a sovereign nation with a seat at the United Nations, recognised by everyone in the world. However in 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and after a bloody war declared the northern part of Cyprus as "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus". This so-called Republic is not recognised by any country other than Turkey.

That is where Cyprus International University is located, in an illegally occupied and unrecognised region of a legitimate nation.

For me this calls into question whether any university there can be properly accredited. When someone with a degree from CIU is asked where they obtained it they have to tell an incomplete truth. They can truthfully say that they got their degree “on the island of Cyprus” but not actually REALLY in Cyprus? Who’s going to accept that?

So while I accept it’s a real university, would I want a child of mine to study there? Not a chance. I’d like them to have qualifications that would make their lives simpler, not more complicated.

So the lesson? Ask questions. Then ask some more. Then give it a moments thought and ask even more. Then go back the next day and ask more. In fact don’t stop until you are certain you know everything you need to know. And don’t stop even then.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
In 2001 I borrowed P5,000 from a major lender who approached my employer offering loans to its employees. The deal was that the employer would deduct money from the employees salaries and pay the lender. This was 12 years ago. Three years ago a lady from the lender called me to say I was owing them P5,000. I explained to her that I had paid through my employer but had long lost my pay slips that showed the deductions as this was many years back. They told me that according to their records my loan was still outstanding. They also mentioned that they had tried to sort it out with my former employer and had failed.

As I had already paid, I did not accept the debt. They then sent my name to ITC . My name has been there since.

Last week they called me and told me to pay up the P5,000 or they would be issuing me with a summons because it was my name and not the employers on their records. My questions are shouldn't they be dealing with my employer and not me? I also heard that if you owe someone and they don't ask for it, after three years it becomes null and void?


What a total cock up by the lender and by your former employer. From what you say you are the one party who has done everything you were meant to do. Both the lender and your former employer are at fault here. You are also right that there are limits on how long a debt can exist before the lender has to take legal action but the problem in your case is that regardless of court action they’ve already listed you with ITC. It doesn’t require legal action to do this, the company just has to register their debt and you’re listed.

Given that this sounded rather urgent I contacted the lender and asked them what they planned to do to fix this situation. To their credit (and this is why I’m not naming them) they were in contact almost immediately and promised to sort it out. It seems that their records are indeed incomplete and what probably happened is that your former employer deducted the money from your salary but never actually paid the lender.

The end result is that the lender has done the decent thing. They told me that they are cancelling the debt completely and will remove your name from ITC’s records as soon as possible. Good for them. If only other companies were as sensible.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I took my car to a garage for a major service in April and hoped that it will be done in 2 or 3 days at the most.

After 4 days I visited the garage and was told that the car had developed a mechanical problem. I approached management and they could not explain to me what really went wrong with the car and they also could not give me a courtesy car I could use while they were attending to my car. I ended up hiring a car for the following week at my own expense hoping they would attend to my car that week.

Two weeks later I went back to the garage now demanding my car and they still could not give it to me saying they are still attending to it and I told them I was not leaving their premises without a courtesy car as I have been greatly inconvenienced. Eventually the manager gave me his cousins car to use and I have been using it since 26th April to date. I have been making follow ups with the garage every day to check on progress and they tell me they have ordered the parts and they will let me know when its ready.

Now my point is what risks do I put myself in using this courtesy car which does not belong to the garage and belongs to the relative of the manager for such a long time? Should I ask the garage owner to write a letter authorising me to use it?


I’m very sorry to hear about your vehicle problem. It must be very frustrating for you.

I think you're right to be concerned about being lent a vehicle in this way and I think you're right to request a note of some sort from the garage confirming that you have permission to have the car. I also think you need to confirm if the vehicle has been adequately insured to cover you using it.

I also think it's time to insist on an update from the garage about your own vehicle. You should probably give them a deadline before you demand the vehicle is returned to you. Let me know how they respond.

Celebrations

Thuto in the Carpets section of Builders Warehouse is “a true star” and is apparently “courteous, professional and joyous”.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

How not to do service. Yes, Doppio Zero, I DO mean you.

So there we were, the family and I at Doppio Zero in The Firs, next door to Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg.

We've eaten there once before and it had been fine. But not this time.

I won't bore you with the detailed problems with the food but two dishes had been cooked so badly that they were inedible. Salt and Pepper Calamari (OK, I will bore you) that had been cooked to destruction and a Roast Pork Belly that was so chewy that the mouthful I was given to try took me 2-3 minutes to chew into a state that I could swallow. The calamari was sent back and replaced with another that was still overcooked but at least tasted good. The pork that they claimed has been "slow cooked" wasn't worth replacing.

To their credit a manager came and apologised for the calamari. They also deducted the price of the pork from the bill. Eventually.

When we finished we asked for the bill but were told the card machine wasn't working and we'd need to find cash. We didn't have that amount of cash on us. It's 2013 I'm told.

Eventually when the card machine started working again we decided, after thinking about it, that the meal didn't warrant a tip. The service had been slow and inattentive and the food items were rated as follows:

        OK: 2 items
        Poor: 2 items
        Bad: 1 item
        Inedible, it was so tough you could have mugged someone with it: 1 item

We paid and tried to leave, only to be accosted by a manager standing in our way. She knew we weren't happy with the food but she demanded to know why we hadn't left a tip? I told her I didn't think it was deserved, the meal and service hadn't been good enough. We're generous tippers but only when it's deserved.

This is NOT how you deal with an unhappy customer. You do not accost them and demand an explanation from THEM of why they had disappointed the restaurant. What you do instead is apologise yet again, explain what you're going to do to prevent it happening again and assure them that if they choose to visit the restaurant again that the experience will be much better.

But that didn't happen, and that's why we will not set foot in a Doppio Zero again. I'll choose to visit any of the other restaurants in the vicinity that are good, where they DO care about their customers and they do NOT serve crappy food and they don't insult them when they're unhappy. I'll be going to Piza e Vino where the ambience is consistently very good, the service top-notch and the food excellent. Where we always leave a decent tip. Because it's been earned. And we haven't been insulted.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Why Scammers Hate Skeptics

Kasey Chang on "Why Scammers Hate Skeptics". Well worth a few minutes of your time and the rest of your life following it through.

Unreasonable customers

You’ll have heard someone say that “the customer is King” but don’t believe them. It’s not true.

The customer is just another guy like you and me. He or she weren’t born into royalty, they didn’t do a Napoleon and crown themselves, they didn’t stage a revolution and put themselves in charge. It’s not just kings and queens that deserve decent service. Customers are just ordinary people, no more special than anyone else and ordinary people deserve decent service as well.

Just like everyone else the customer isn’t perfect. Sometimes he’s foolish. Other times he’s na├»ve, gullible or even ignorant. There are customers who are just unreasonable. Worst of all there are customer who are thieves.

Let’s start with one that can politely be described as a fool.

The BBC reported on a call that was made to a Police emergency number in the UK by a man who wanted to make a complaint that a service provider had failed to honour her obligations under the UK’s Sale of Goods Act. More specifically, the prostitute he had hired was not as attractive as she had claimed over the phone.

I suppose you could argue that this was a breach of promise but I can’t imagine any court being able to judge this, presumably because they’d be laughing too hard.

The Police have written the man a formal letter urging him to stop wasting their time. Nevertheless one of the Police officers involved said:
“It was unbelievable - he genuinely believed he had done nothing wrong and that the woman should have been investigated by police for misrepresentation. I told him that she'd not committed any offences and that it was his actions, in soliciting for sex, that were in fact illegal.”
Not all consumers are that foolish but a few are.

Others are maybe just uninformed, often because they’re buying something for the first time. Buying things is not always the same. Buying a loaf of bread is a different experience to buying a cellphone. Some purchases are incredibly complex. Have you ever bought a house for instance?

We heard from a reader recently who asked if it’s “lawful to include a clause in a rental agreement that the house you are renting has to be repainted at your expenses at the end of your lease”?

Errr, yes! That’s how all leases I’ve ever seen work. It’s just normal. However this person can be forgiven for this because presumably it’s the first time she’s ever signed a lease agreement.

We had another complaint about cars. A reader bought a car, a 4x4, and is now disappointed that the vehicle requires some attention, having been taken a bit too far off-road. The problem is that not all 4x4s are the same. Some are “serious” off-roaders that can traverse the Makgakgadi Pans, go up hills and drive through rivers, others are more focussed on traversing the car park at Pick N Pay and taking the kids to school. Both are equally valid, but having a 4x4 drivetrain doesn’t make a car a serious off-roader.

He’s now in a major dispute with the dealer who sold him the car claiming that his Not Really An Offroad 4x4 isn’t what he thought it would be. He has a point, but so do the dealership. His car IS a 4x4 but it’s not really designed to be in challenging off-road conditions.

He should have asked some extra questions before buying the car. The dealership should probably have checked what exactly he wanted to do with the car as well.

Both of these cases can be explained just by naivete or a lack of experience. Others are not so forgivable.

I know of two cases where owners of restaurants have been forced to ban customers from ever setting foot inside their establishments again. One was a simple case of violence. Customers that start fighting in the restaurant deserve to be banned, I don’t think any of us would object to that. The other case was more complicated, a patron who would visit, place an order, eat almost all of it and then complain that it wasn’t to her liking and suggest she shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. The restaurant owner gave in the first time, assuming something really had gone wrong. He also gave in the second time, giving her the benefit of the doubt. After the third time he asked us for our advice. “Ban her” we said, reminding him that a restaurant is private property, just like your living room is private property. The next time she visited he very politely suggested that as his food clearly wasn’t to her liking, she should consider visiting other restaurants and no orders would be taken from her at his. She went away and wasn’t seen again.

Some consumers are just unreasonable.

I heard from a builder who was hired to finish a pool that another builder had started to construct. He finished the pool after being paid a 50% deposit but when the owner filled it with water it leaked badly so he refused to pay the balance. This led the second builder to become a detective and he soon discovered that the first builder have done a third-rate job, presumably leading to him being fired. He quickly discovered that “when they built the concrete structure they initially dug a hole which was too deep for the pool and to rectify that they had back filled the hole with rubble and paper before building the concrete structure.”

Penalizing the second builder for the mistakes of the first is clearly unreasonable and the owner’s going to end up in court if he’s not careful. Frankly it’s where he deserves to be.

Perhaps we consumers should remember that it doesn’t all work one way. Just as we expect suppliers to be reasonable, so should we.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
We just want to know if it is lawful to include a clause in a rental agreement that the house you are renting has to be repainted at your expenses at the end of your lease. We feel that this is highly irregular because why are you asked to pay a deposit upfront. And the house was rented for 8 years with very little wear and tear to it as it was elderly people living in it.

And after it was painted this person had the audacity to say that it was not painted to her satisfaction. This house was not painted properly in the first place when we moved in they actually gave it a quick coat of paint and you could still see the cement wall in some places as well as the ceiling.

Could you please advise as to whom we can contact in connection with this?


Not only is this perfectly legal it’s also perfectly normal. Every lease I’ve ever signed or seen has had a clause exactly like this. It’s normal practice.

I can understand your frustration at having to repaint the property when it was originally handed over to you with poor paintwork but that was the time to raise the issue, when you moved in. It’s also normal practice when you move into a property to compile a “snagging list” of defects for the landlord to repair. The lease probably includes something about this as well. If the landlord then doesn’t fix them you have a written record that they were present at the outset.

The deposit you pay when you move in is there to protect the landlord against any damage the tenant might have caused that they didn’t fix while they were there. Perhaps even for a poor quality repainting?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

In 2009, l got a loan of P5,000. An arrangement was made for a bank stop order of P1,580.74 each month from July 2009, for 9 months. It was done up to 27 May 2010. I changed my bank account to another one. When l did they called me to say l was still owing them and should pay them. In cash l paid P2,400. l was told l had paid up.

That was the last time l heard from them until last month (22 May 2013) when they called to claim P7,136.58 from me. I went to their office and was given a hard copy showing the total history of my payments.

I just wonder why they have been so quiet for all this long. I feel a bit cheated. Give me advice please.


Something’s not right here.

Firstly I’m confused about the dates. A 9-month loan starting in July 2009 should have finished in March 2010, not May. Can you confirm the exact dates? Did you fail to make any payments?

Secondly I’m confused about the amounts you paid. 9 monthly installments at the rate you mention come to a total of P14,267 which by anyone’s standards is a HUGE amount of money to pay for a P5,000 loan. Add on top the extra P2,400 you say you paid and I make that an annual interest rate of 310%.

And now they want another P7,136? What’s going on here?

I suggest that you send us the statement you got from them and we’ll go through it and see what can be done and what’s really going on here. We might need to remind them of the “in duplum” rule which says that at the time a debt is settled, the interest may not exceed the capital outstanding. You’d think a lender would know that by now? They might also need to be reminded about the existence of NBFIRA!

Celebrations

Dudu and Thapelo at Medical Imaging Botswana at Gaborone Private Hospital. Our reader says that they “helped make what could have been a hideous three hour session of treatment for my four year old boy a lot more bearable. They were so good with him and made it easier on me!”

Also “Dr Cell” in the Main Mall for their “warm service”.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Another reader comment. Bank of Botswana, are you listening?

Another comment from a reader, this time on Facebook:
"You are doing a great job. We just don't listen. I remember my friends used to think you are jealous when you spoke about Eurex, we were even talking about you the day before it collapsed. They lost and now respect but they can't tell you because they are ashamed, one thing I can tell you, they read your articles every week!!"
My reply went like this:
"Many thanks for your very kind words. One of the things that makes me angriest about scams like Eurextrade is the position in which it leaves decent people once the scheme collapses. The shame that victims feel can be as bad as the financial loss they experience. Yes, you can argue they were gullible but that doesn't mean they aren't suffering. I just hope they can convert that shame into justifiable anger that can be directed towards the local recruiting agents for the scam. And towards the various regulators with the power to stop these schemes. Yes Bank of Botswana, I'm sorry, I DO mean you. See Section 3 of the Bank of Botswana Act. You have the power."
Section 3 of the Bank of Botswana Act includes:
"3. Authority to transact banking business

(1) No person shall transact banking business in Botswana without a valid licence issued by the Central Bank."
"Banking business" is defined in the Act as, amongst other things:
"the employment of deposits in the making or giving of loans, advances, overdrafts or other similar facilities, and in the making of investments" (my emphasis)
Eurextrade sold itself as an investment scheme, as did Oil of Asia, Felmina Alliance, even pyramid schemes like TVI Express. Bank of Botswana have the power and the duty to step in and stop these things.

Ah, you might say, but these schemes operate overseas in scammer-havens such as Panama and the British Virgin Islands. That's true, but who does the recruiting for these schemes? People in Panama and BVI?

No, our neighbours do, people right here in Botswana.

But do the Bank of Botswana have the power to intervene? They most certainly do. Section 5 of the Bank of Botswana Act ("Investigation of unlicensed banking") empowers them, if they believe someone "is transacting business in violation of section 3", to inspect and retain "all books, minutes, records, cash, securities and any other documents in such person's possession or custody".

If they find evidence of wrong-doing they can then "order such activities to be suspended forthwith".

Failure to comply with the inspection can lead to the perpetrator becoming "liable to a fine of P10 000 and to imprisonment for three years."

Failure to comply with an order to stop any illegal activities can then lead to the perpetrator receiving "a fine of P2 000 for each day on which the contravention occurs or continues to occur, and to imprisonment for three years."

So let's get on with it, shall we, Bank of Botswana?

A reader comment

From a reader, quoted with permission.
"Hi Team CW,

I am an avid reader of your column and I always take your advice to heart, especially about the endless scams and schemers that are always waiting to pounce on gullible and innocent people (or maybe not-so-innocent, after all fore-warned is fore-armed).

It's great thanks to you that I am always able to spot a scam from a mile away. A few days ago I received a text message on my mobile that I had won a cool £200,000 and to claim my price by sending an email to some address that was stated in the text (copy of which is below).

"Your Mobile NO has won 200,000 Pounds in the ongoing NOKIA-UK-PROMO, REF:NK901. For claim send REF MOBILE to email: nokiaint@live.co.uk OR CALL +447035929946"

Perhaps it's worth mentioning that I am currently unemployed and finances are a bit tight. However, as much as I (definitely) wouldn't mind a tidy sum of £200k sitting pretty in my bank account, I knew better than to dignify this random, phishing expedition with a response. And what's more, my handset is not even a Nokia, so there you have it. I used to feel sorry for people mentioned in your articles who had been conned out of their hard earned money because they fell for promises of instant riches, but now I just laugh because it seems to be the same people over and over again; when are they going to learn????

People. Just. Don't. Listen.

Even when the obvious is staring them in the face. I have worked in banks for most of my career and I can tell you now I have yet to see any bank customer realise the kind of returns promised by scams such Eurextrade in such a short amount of time, and it amazes me how the majority of the people who are taken in by these scams/schemers are highly educated people. The police are always warning the public to beware (through their tv drama Itshireletse) and so are you at Consumer Watchdog, from way back before the police made their tv production but do we take heed? NO, NO, NO!

I just wish more people would start paying attention to the advise you put out there and safeguard not only their finances but themselves as well. Kudos to you all at Consumer Watchdog team for the wonderful service you're rendering to us consumers and the public, for FREE."
I'm touched.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The constant battle

It really is a constant battle. You and me versus all those people out there who are doing their best to steal our money.

The bad news is that there’s no real good news. Even though we often see the end of a scam another one quickly appears to take its place. Almost as soon as Eurextrade collapsed it was replaced by “Oil Of Asia” which luckily never really got off the ground and collapsed soon afterwards. The bizarre irony is that many of the people who “invested” in Eurextrade then moved straight on to Oil Of Asia, presumably becoming serial victims.

I heard from one person who confessed that after losing a massive P300,000 with Eurextrade, he moved on to Oil of Asia and gave them P7,000 before they collapsed. I simply don’t understand how someone can do that, how they can be that gullible. After losing so much you think someone would crawl away and hide for a while, don’t you? Clearly in some people the gene for gullibility is a strong one.

Bizarrely, the Eurextrade is still being sold. I heard that some of the people who were recruiting further victims are still at it, promising the same miraculous profits, despite the scheme collapsing months ago. Clearly some people are so desperate to recover some of their losses they’re prepared to lie and steal from their neighbours.

It’s not going to work though, because the payment mechanism used by Eurextrade, Liberty Reserve, was recently shut down by US authorities. They said Liberty Reserve “was intentionally created and structured to facilitate criminal activity”, not just for Eurextrade but also for a range of other money-laundering activities. The authorities reckon that over $6 billion had gone through Liberty Reserve’s coffers.

But the removal of one payment mechanism just allows another to take its place. The BBC reported that “security experts have suggested a Moscow-based service called WebMoney is emerging as the favoured replacement”. If not that then the crooks are likely to start using BitCoin, a “virtual currency” that also promises its users secrecy from the prying eyes of law enforcement.

The scammers behind Eurextrade certainly aren’t going to give up. This wasn’t a once-off scam for them, they have a history of criminality. They were also behind a Ponzi scheme called Rockford Funding that the US Securities and Exchange Commission claimed had stolen over $10 million from “investors” and transferred to banks in Latvia. They’ve also been involved in shady dealing with oil rigs and pharmaceuticals. It gets worse. They were also involved in chartering a ship that transported weapons from Eastern Europe to Mombasa in Kenya, to be used by rebels in South Sudan who were then under an international arms embargo. Criminals as professional as these gun-runners don’t let one setback stop them.

But not all schemes and scams are as sinister as these. Multi-Level Marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife are already well established but the smaller one are being sold in a much wider manner now their representatives have access to tools like Facebook.

In the couple of hours before I started writing this I saw a schemes calling itself RippIn being promoted in a Botswana-focussed Facebook group. This scheme deliberately hides what it’s all about with tempting suggestions like “By reserving your spot now, you have the chance to start growing your ripple TODAY, before the rest of the world!” Who wouldn’t want to be an early adopter of something as tempting as “growing your ripple”?

It’s also made clear that RippIn is only available to a select few. Only people invited to join will be allowed in. Smart move. Making something exclusive and selective is a very good way of building loyalty, particularly when there isn’t actually anything there. It’s one of the many ways in which Get Rich Quick schemes are like religious cults.

Also like cults, these schemes are there to make money. I was finally able to find a hint that it costs either $300 or $900 to join whatever RippIn turns out to be depending how important you want to be. You then get paid $80 or $240 for the five recruits you get to join.

Without a product and with the joining fees it’s safe to assume this is nothing more than a pyramid scheme and we all know what happens to them.

More locally, we have a problem at the moment with auditions. A recent Mmegi Opinion column reported that “some unscrupulous characters who are taking advantage of talented but desperate young people out to get exposure. Most of these are unemployed youth fresh from high school, university or those who have been looking for jobs for years. Some of the companies make the aspiring actors pay for auditions whose results they never know. For instance, they are made to pay for auditions for music shows, or acting, and they come in huge numbers to try their luck. Along the way, these companies make huge sums of money from struggling young people most of whom cannot make ends meet.”

This is simply NOT how the industry works. Legitimate production companies make their money from making films, putting on shows and selling their recruits like modern-day slaves. Legitimate companies don’t make the recruits pay to be recruited. Only suspicious ones do this. Given also that many of the recruits are young women you can imagine the risks of sexual exploitation.

It’s actually quite simple. Recruits don’t pay to get jobs, employers do.

So do yourself a favour. Remember that we’re fighting a constant battle against crooks, scammers and schemers who are doing their best to separate you from our money. The best thing to do is be incredibly skeptical about anything concerning your money. That way you might actually win the battle.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
I bought a Blackberry 9300 for P1,695 on the 19th of December last year together with a pouch and a screen protector. A few months later the phone still looks new but the buttons are all soft and weak including the face it has a fake feel to it. Its still under warranty but after I consulted them they say I have to leave my phone with them so they can check the problem and after they check they say they will charge me if it means they have to replace the face cause their warranty apparently doesn't cover the face. I feel a little cheated out of my hard earned money. I still have the receipts and the box everything. Please is there anyway in which you can assist?

I consulted my 14-year old Blackberry expert and he says this is certainly NOT how a Blackberry 9300 should be after such a short time.

I think you should begin by allowing the store to examine the phone and ask to see the technical report on what’s wrong with it. Don’t let them tell you that you can’t see it, you’re perfectly entitled to. If they argue remind them that Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says a store can’t quote “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. If they say there’s a problem with your screen they’ve got to be able to prove what it is.

This business about the screen not being covered by the warranty? Not unless you agreed to that when you bought the phone. Tell them that Section 17 (1) (e) of the Regulations forbids a store from “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”. You should also tell them that Section 17 (1) (f) says you can’t have waived your rights to a warranty repair unless you “specifically consented to it”. That means you must have signed something saying you accepted the screen wasn’t covered.

Let me know what the store say and if necessary I’ll get in touch with them to encourage them to do the right thing.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have received an email last month inviting me to make a presentation at a conference of the International Scientific Conference on Future Energy and Climate Change (ISCFECC). They invited me to submit abstracts of less than 300 words. Their email said:

“We will take care of your air tickets (to and fro), travel insurance, visa fees, local transport and per diem. You are required to book and pay for your hotel reservation at the Royal Guide Hotel, London, the venue of the conference. Send in your hotel reservation receipt issued by the 'Crystal Palace Hotel' to enable the Working Group on Climate Change organizing committee issue your formal invitation letter and disburse your access grant to cover the cost of your round trip air tickets, travel insurance, visa and per diem at the earliest.”

Yesterday I received an email from them confirming that I am accepted but when trying to call them their numbers are not going through.


This is a good example of a conference scam. The idea is always the same. The so-called organizers offer what seems like a free, luxury conference with free flights, fees, transport and, in this case, a daily fee on top. The only thing not included is a hotel stay. That’s what the scam is really all about, that hotel payment.

This is NOT how conferences work. Conference organizers simply don’t pay for total strangers to fly around the world to attend their conferences. The organizers of legitimate and major conferences don't use free Yahoo email addresses and cellphone numbers like these people do. Most importantly, respectable hotels don't ever demand payment up front, it’s just not how hotels operate. They certainly don’t demand that the money be sent using Western Union. Did I mention that neither of the hotels they mention actually exist?

Finally, amusingly, the address they give is that of a road haulage company, not an international conference.

Celebrations

Logan from Kia Motors for “consistently good service”. Also the team from Skip Hire for efficient, friendly and impressive service. And then Dignity at Pick N Pay at Lolapo Crossing for her kind service at the bread counter. Finally the staff at HiFi Corporation for their friendly, efficient and rapid service.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Riverbanks "University" and its fake photos

You don't need a university education to know that "Riverbanks University" isn't a university. You can tell that they're a fake simply because they sell their fake qualifications for nothing more than a credit card payment. No exams, no tests, no assessments, no essays, no dissertations, no coursework, in fact no work at all other than typing in your credit card number.


I think it's also fair to judge an organisation like this by the photos they use. Kasey Chang takes a thorough look at the stock photos they use on their web site. Not one actually belongs to them.

Friday, 7 June 2013

How to save money

We all want to save money but the bad news is that saving money is a bit like losing weight. There are NO miracle products or solutions. The ONLY way to lose weight is to consume less energy than you use. Consume more than you use and your prehistoric body will store some of the excess for the next time there’s a drought and you can’t catch any impala. Consumer less than you use and your body will use that excess and off will come the weight.

It’s exactly the same with money. If you can’t increase your income dramatically, you have to reduce your expenditure to save money.

It’s not always easy but here are some tips. Tips that really might save you some money.

Don’t invest in Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes or anything related to foreign exchange. An “opportunitiy” to make “huge profits” from an investment scheme is ALWAYS a scam. It’s always a lie designed to part you from what little money you have. We now know about Eurextrade, the Ponzi scheme that collapsed a few months ago, the scheme that stole money from hundreds, if not thousands of people in Botswana. We also know that many people we know, our neighbours, friends and colleagues were part of it. They were the ones doing the recruitment into the scam on the promise of a percentage of whatever they conned from future victims.

The bizarre thing is that only last week I heard that despite Eurextrade having collapsed, some of its recruits are still going around trying to recruit others. I can only assume that they are desperately trying to recover some of the money they lost by stealing it from other people.

More recently even the payment mechanism used by Eurextrade, Liberty Reserve, stopped operating. It was shut down by US authorities who said that “Liberty Reserve was intentionally created and structured to facilitate criminal activity”, presumably like Eurextrade but also for a range of other money-laundering activities. They reckon that over $6 billion had gone through Liberty Reserve’s coffers.

Unfortunately these schemes are constantly reincarnating. As one dies, another emerges. At the moment people are asking me about a foreign exchange scheme called XForex. This is slightly different, it does actually seem to be a legitimate mechanism, but makes promises that are absurd. The first thing to mention is that ordinary people like you and me don’t make money by trading foreign exchange. The market is so volatile, the changes usually so slight and the companies like XForex so suspicious that we’re not going to make a fortune, if anything from it. Think of it this way. If big commercial banks don’t make fortunes this way with the trillions they have to invest, how can mere mortals like us? The only people making money from Forex trading are the people running the companies encouraging us to do so.

You can also judge these schemes by the way they recruit new victims. Eurextrade snared people by accosting them on the streets and in spicy chicken restaurants, XForex do it on Facebook by making extravagant claims. One advert on Facebook showed a room full of hundreds of scattered banknotes and announced that “Mr.Baruti From Botswana Has Made $5024 From EUR/USD Trading Last Month!”

It went on to say that “It Is So Easy To Make A Second Income! Take Your First Step In To a Wealthier Future!”

You can tell this is a scam, can’t you?

It’s the same with schemes like Three Link Connection. You can tell they’re crooked. This is still operating I’m told, but has now reached the stage where they are constantly fending off the demands of their victims for the return of their money. Apparently they’ve even suggested that the only way for them to get their original “investment back is, yes, you’ve guessed it, to hand over more money.

Another way to save money is not to fall for the imported car silliness. Buying a car online from a far-flung foreign country is NOT a cheaper way to buy a car than buying one here. It’s simply not cheaper. Once you include the costs of actually getting the car from the UK or Singapore all the way to Botswana, all the taxes, duties and fees, all the storage costs they often include you get to almost the same price as an identical car here or in South Africa. If not more. Then you add in the additional costs for parts when you later service the car, always assuming that you can get it serviced. I know dealers here who now refuse to service imported cars of the brands they sell because either the cars have been “clocked” by having their mileage adjusted or the inconvenience of finding parts for cars built for other parts of the world is so high.

Then there’s the other two critical “costs”. Who in their right mind would buy a car they’ve never test-driven? That’s The Number One Rule Of Buying A Second Hand Car. Test drive the car before you sign anything. Then go home and think about it. Then get your friend the mechanic to test-drive it as well. This is obviously impossible if the car you want is on the far side of the planet.

The final “cost” is the sort of people who often run these import businesses. Business like Westridge Holdings, who represent Trans Africa Vehicle Exports who, as I’ve mentioned before, lie, take people’s money without delivering cars and, if you’re lucky, just deliver the wrong type of car and make you wait forever for a refund. The same company who, according to another newspaper, has had it’s owner arrested on suspicion of fraud.

You can save a lot of money by simply not giving it to a companies like these.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

In 2009 I engaged a consultant to draw a business plan for me. I paid P1,000 for the work and the remaining P500 was to be paid after completing the work. He promised to deliver the work in 4 weeks time. On the 5th week I called to check how far he was gone and negotiated an extra week as he was still gathering statistics. Since that time nothing materialized. We made appointments but he never showed up, he started avoiding my calls and changed his cell number.

After some months I engaged a debt collector who promised to get the debt for me. I paid P632.50 for file opening and gave him all the details about the guy. Some months went by but nothing happened. After several visits to their office they told me that they will serve him with a summons. I paid P369.60 as a summons fee. A month later I called their office but their phones weren’t working. I went to their office only to find that they have vacated the premises. I eventually found them at their new office. The owner made some excuses and promised to search for my file and every time I call for an appointment he was always out.

Please help me get my money back from these people?


I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news. I got in touch with the guy you paid to write your business plan. He seemed embarrassed and apologetic. He’ll give you a full refund.

The bad news is that I also got in touch with the debt collector you engaged, Letsogo Debt Collectors and Auctioneers, but they were less helpful. When they thought I was a potential customer they seemed happy to respond to my messages but as soon as I asked about your situation they became a bit more cagey. They no longer respond to my messages.

Luckily you kept your receipts for the two payments you made to them because I think you need to take them along with any other documents you have to the Small Claims Court and ask for their assistance.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a Samsung Galaxy phone from a store on the 19th May for P1,150. I soon realized there was something wrong with battery because the battery didn’t last a day. I took it back and was told that they did not keep any batteries for the phone. The manager told me the owner has to make the decision and he is away. Later she told me that the owner said I should take the phone to Commerce Park to a Samsung dealer. I told her I brought the phone back within the stipulated 7 days why can’t they just change it, she said those were her orders.

[This went on with her being stalled and told that she had take the phone to the dealer, then run around trying to find the technician. She ended by saying this:]

I am not sure what should be my next step in this issue, this phone is a week old and I feel that the owner is just pushing me around to deal with Samsung and he is not at fault despite that I bought it in his shop.


You are completely correct. You’re not the store’s messenger. You didn’t buy the phone from the dealer, you didn’t pay the dealer, you have no relationship with the dealer. The store is completely responsible for fixing this situation, not you.

Clearly they’ve breached Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations by selling you a phone that isn’t “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. It’s their job to fix it, not yours.

I’ll get in touch with them and see if they’ll see reason.

Celebrations

Constable Seroko and his colleagues from Tlokweng Police Station for rapidly tracing the person who dumped a huge pile of rubbish and charging him. Well done to them all!

Also “Prof, Shelia and the team at the Cardiac Clinic - you rock! The only medical practice in Gabs that runs on time. Always so professional, friendly and helpful.”

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Scammers will be moving on. To WebMoney?

The scammers, pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes that were using the recently shut down Liberty Reserve money transfer and hiding scheme are going to need some other way of hiding their ill-gotten gains from the authorities. The BBC suggests where this might be. WebMoney.

So be warned. Any scheme you're invited to join that uses WebMoney? Avoid it.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Felmina Alliance - has it died?

Various report suggest that Felmina Alliance, an obvious Ponzi scheme has collapsed. But didn't we all know this was going to happen sooner or later, like with all Ponzi and Pyramid schemes? All such schemes eventually run out of gullible victims. It happened with TVI Express, it happened with Eurextrade, now destiny has caught up with Felmina Alliance.

It's just a shame that the gullible lost their money. It's scandalous that so many people willingly tried to dupe their friends, neighbours and family.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Romantic scammers arrested in Nigeria

Image c/o NaijaGists.com
The authorities in Nigeria have swooped in and arrested a bunch of scammers.

These were the worst type, the "romantic scammers" who charm their way into the hearts of (admittedly rather gullible) women, promising them love and riches but in fact just stealing their money.

Don't think that these scammers only target the rich and gullible in affluent countries. It's happening just as often to our sisters and daughters here in Botswana.

[Thanks yet again to Kasey Chang for the alert.]

Amway's in trouble in India

Image c/o The Economic Times of India
Behind MLM reports that the CEO of Amway in India has been arrested on charges of “financial irregularities”.

This is alongside a thorough investigation of the entire Multi-Level Marketing industry in India, presumably one of the largest recruiting grounds for all "Multi Level" and "Network" money-making schemes.

It's even thought possible that Indian authorities might ban them completely.

World Ventures is in trouble in Norway

Kasey Chang reports that WorldVentures is under investigation as a pyramid scheme in Norway.

That's because it IS a pyramid scheme.

You can read more about the investigation here on the Behind MLM site.

The Liberty Reserve take-down

Some background material on the take-down of Liberty Reserve, the money transfer scheme behind Eurextrade and a host of other scams, schemes and straightforward money-laundering.

The BBC break the news. They follow that up with a hilariously headlined report that the "arrests are causing 'pain' to criminals" (Good).

Some more details from Economic Crime Intelligence can be seen here.


Kasey Chang goes into GREAT detail here, asking "Why Was Liberty Reserve Shut Down: How Anonymous Money Transfer Systems Are Exploited By Terrorists and Criminals".

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Fake everything

It’s been a week of fakes.

You only have to visit many of the cheaper stores in the less flashy shopping malls and you’ll find racks of pirated CDs and DVDs, all with badly copied covers, poor quality boxes and hastily printed discs. When you watch these DVDs you’ll soon see why they’re so cheap. The quality is usually abysmal.

I oppose piracy like this and so should you. Buying a fake CD or DVD is stealing and I think everyone knows this. It’s not “cost-saving”, it’s just theft. It’s really no different to buying a stolen laptop from a stranger in a bar.

Sometimes it’s not just the slightly suspicious stores that sell pirated things. A reader contacted us a couple of weeks ago shortly after buying a brand new laptop. While she was in the store the assistant told her about Microsoft Office and how much it would cost. However, he suggested, there was a cheaper way to get Office. Just give him P500 in cash and he’d install it for her from his memory stick. Not being an expert she didn’t see anything wrong with this and went ahead with it. It was only later when she mentioned this to friends that she began to understand that this might not have been entirely legit.

She got in touch and I immediately contacted to the store. To their credit they took this extremely seriously and within moments the manager got involved, investigated and suspended the employee in question. They had no choice, he was stealing from everybody in sight. He stole P500 from a customer, he stole the cost of Office from Microsoft and he stole the store’s profit from selling it as well. A triple thief. He’s lucky not to have been arrested and charged.

You have to wonder how many times he’s done this. P500 each time and I imagine he was earning more from this side-line than his conventional salary. He can probably afford to be unemployed for a while.


He’s not the only peddler of fakes who deserves to be unemployed. There are people out there in both private and public sector jobs who don’t deserve to keep their jobs. The ones with fake degrees. This week I was told of yet another person in a senior position claiming to have qualifications from Rochville “University” a well-known fake. I also heard, for the first time from a new one, “Riverbanks University”. It’s exactly the same as all the others, offering degrees as high as doctorates on the basis of nothing more than “life experience”. Worryingly, like many of the other fakes, they offer pretend qualifications not just in benign subjects like Business & Management and Computer Science but also in potentially dangerous areas like Nursing, Education and Social Services. A fraud with one of these so-called degrees might end up teaching your kids, making a decision about the welfare of the kids next door or even treating one of mine. It’s scary.

But, you think, employers check these things, don’t they? They carefully research the qualifications of the people they hire, don’t they?

No, they don’t. If they did then there wouldn’t be anyone with any of these fake degrees currently employed, would there? Are there are. I know of several including parastatal Board members, teachers and lecturers, people pretending to be psychologists, pastors and business people. Some even claim to have several degrees all of which are fake.

What I don’t understand is how people have the nerve to do this. Surely anyone smart enough to get a credit card and use the internet and WANT to get a degree knows that you get one by studying, doing exams and coursework and actually working hard, not just giving a credit card number over the internet and getting a degree two weeks later? Even when you make contact with these supposed universities they’re perfectly clear. Riverbanks told me online that “You can certainly apply for a Masters now. The process will take 10 working days for you to receive the documents”. When I asked to confirm the price, “So I get a Masters degree for just $298?” their answer was simple. “yes”.

Everyone knows this by now, don’t they?

It works the same with many so-called “awards” that people and companies can “win”. The so-called “International Biographical Centre” will give you all sorts of awards including the “International Order of Merit” and the “Twentieth Century Achievement Award” and will even include you in their list of “2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century”. All you have to do is nominate yourself and you can be included in these ridiculous lists. All you need do is pay them $315 for a copy of the book. Nobody checks anything, nobody even checks that the person nominated even exists. I know this because I nominated an entirely fake identity to be included in their ludicrous “2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century”. Shortly afterwards I got a letter inviting me to send them $255 (this was last year). They also offered me 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 says that this company 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.

They’re a bit like those service awards you often see companies bragging about. You know companies pay for them, don’t you? They either cough up cash for a table at a gala dinner or they sometimes are more indirect, requiring the company to buy the awarder’s services in order to be included. I know this because one of these companies approached us last year inviting us to do the research for their awards ceremony for them. We politely declined.

These awards are just as fake as bogus degrees or pirated software. Don’t buy one, you’re buying a lie.