Saturday 28 June 2014

You're being abused

Just because more and more people are becoming aware of their rights that doesn’t mean people aren’t falling victim to abuse any more.

In fact we hear of just as many cases of abuse as we ever did.

We heard recently from a reader who bought (or so she thought) a number of cellphones from a guy she encountered on the Internet. He claimed to be the in the UK but instead of asking for payment by bank transfer, as a real business would do, he demanded an up-front payment of $200 using Western Union. That’s always a clue that the person you are dealing with isn’t a real business. Western Union and other money transfer mechanisms are fine if you or the other person don’t have a bank account but in business? No. It’s just not how real businesses operate. It’s also curious that a company that claimed to be based in the UK would want payment in US dollars?

However soon after sending the money the situation changed. Rather than dealing with someone in the UK she started getting contacts from “another branch” that was based in (no surprises here) Nigeria. Then other things started changing. She was now asked to pay the balance of more than $2,000 before delivery rather than when the phones actually arrived. Unfortunately she paid up.

Then there were stories of the shipment being delayed in Zambia and then demands for more money because the company needed to “come to a resolution that they should send me other phones”. It was only then that she became suspicious.

She asked us “How exactly can you help me either get my money back or the phones! I've spent so much money but haven't gotten anything and funny thing is he still wants me to send him more money!”

This is the part I dislike about our job: telling people the bad news that their hard-earned cash had disappeared and that they will NEVER see it again. Scammers, let’s remind ourselves, don’t give refunds. No scammer has ever taken pity on his victims and given them back the money he stole from them.

We were slightly luckier with another reader who asked us whether he should join a scheme called Karatbars. We were lucky because he hadn’t already thrown his money away on what is presented as a way to buy micro-quantities of gold but is actually no more than a pyramid scheme. In fact it’s a pyramid scheme that in Botswana at least is being sold by liars. I can say that without fear because of a blatant lie they told some months ago. They told their potential recruits that the German Embassy, the Department of Mines and BURS had all endorsed their scheme. This wasn’t true and I know this because I asked them and they all denied it. Then came an even bigger lie. They said that the “doubting thomases then went to consumer watch dog. They also gave us a thumbs up.”

That’s a complete lie. Not only have we never given then “a thumbs up”, in fact we’ve been saying that they’re a pyramid scheme and that people shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, join this ridiculous scheme.

Another reader contacted us asking about the “Gulf Project Management Association” who had emailed offering her the supposedly coveted title of “Project Management Expert”. Rather than have any qualifications or experience in the area all she actually had to do to get the title is give them $399. I did some research and I could find no evidence that the “Gulf Project Management Association” exists but there’s an even bigger clue that it’s a scam. That because a few months ago we received exactly the same email but instead of being addressed to an actual person it was sent to the Consumer Watchdog email address. This “Prestigious Title” is being offered to people who don’t actually exist.

This title is as fake as the fake degrees you can buy on the internet.

By coincidence we were also asked by a reader about Atlantic International University. He wanted to know if their degrees would be accepted in Botswana. Luckily, unlike many other people, he was skeptical, presumably because degrees from AIU can be obtained for nothing more than cash. To their credit (I suppose) AIU are clear on their web site that they are “not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education”.

Even the agency that they claim has accredited them, “Accrediting Commission International”, isn’t a real accreditation agency and is just as fake as they are. An education official in Oregon was once quoted as saying that any establishment “accredited by ACI … is either fake or substandard”.

That certainly goes for Atlantic International University. Their degrees, even though there are foreign government leaders who have them, even though there are people working in Botswana with them, are fake.

People aren’t still falling for these various scams because they’re stupid or uneducated. They can probably be accused of naiveté, perhaps even recklessness but the people running the scams are smart and convincing. They’re very good at their job. They are very good at deceiving people and persuading them to hand over large amounts of money. The irony is that if they got a real job they’d probably make a good living from it.

In fact the reason people are still falling for these scams is a profound lack of skepticism. We need consumer who ask more questions about more things. Otherwise we’ll just continue to be the victims of the enormous range of villains out there.

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