Sunday, 28 September 2014

I don’t like Luddites

The Luddites were a 19th Century group of English textile workers who objected to the introduction of labour-saving machinery. They objected not by writing letters to the newspapers or complaining to their MP but instead by invading factories and destroying the machines that were making textile production so much more efficient and textile prices much cheaper. Their resistance to the new technologies they saw was so profound that they gave their name to anyone who objects to progress.

I’m sure we all know some Luddites. They aren’t just people who are a little behind the times, they’re the type that object in principle to anything new. Modern Luddites are the people who object to Facebook and Twitter, despite not even understanding what they really are.

However, despite what modern Luddites will tell you, new technology has improved the quality of life of everyone on Earth. Even if you don’t use the internet yourself, your doctor, your kid’s teachers and the scientists fighting disease are using it to educate themselves and thus to make life better for everyone. Despite things the Luddites will object to, such as pornography, the way the internet destroys borders and its effect on language it’s nevertheless a comprehensively good thing.

Although not being a programmer myself I’ve been lucky enough to work in and around the IT industry for many years so I think I’m equipped with enough knowledge to comment on a few things. One is that despite all the powerful benefits technology brings, the vast majority of people and companies are barely scratching the surface of what they can now do.

Some of it fairly mundane. Let’s take banks as an example.

Why, for instance, don’t banks get their computer systems to automatically write a letter to every customer who has just finished paying off a loan, but who never defaulted on a payment, saying that they were a fantastic customer, the sort that makes their business easier, thanking them profusely and offering a discount on any future loans? Their systems have all the data needed to do such a thing. They can tell who the good customers are and who the bad ones are, so why aren’t they telling the good ones how much they appreciate them. If they did so, don’t you think it would create some customer loyalty? Don’t you think the knowledge that they weren’t in this privileged group would make the bad customers go elsewhere? Don’t you think this would make the bank more profitable?

What about using the data banks collect to prevent crime?

Three Link Connection victims meeting the organisers in
secret in their plush offices. Sorry, a branch of Wimpy.
For a couple of years Botswana was plagued by a scam calling itself “Three Link Connection”, apparently run by two characters called Hennie Visser and Daisy Mojale who had both been prosecuted in South Africa for a previous scam they operated. The details don’t matter particularly but what intrigued me was that thousands of victims had all, within months of each other, deposited exactly the same amount of money into one of the organizer’s personal bank accounts. Surely their bank would have noticed this as something suspicious?

Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that if a bank had a suspicion that a customer was behaving improperly they had a moral, if not legal obligation to call the cops?

Perhaps I was also wrong in assuming that the anti-money laundering rules that all banks in the civilized world are required to abide by required banks to notice suspicious behavior like this and to notify the authorities when they see it? Maybe it’s one of those rules “more honored in the breach than the observance”.

Of course most scammers avoid banks because banks are required to keep records and track the flow of money. However is it possible the banks are no more of a protection to us than Western Union, the money transfer mechanism of choice for scammers?

In the last couple of months there’s been another issue where banks have perhaps failed to exploit the technology at their disposal.

In the middle of August one of our major banks had a problem. A number of the payments made using their Point Of Sale swipe machines throughout the country weren’t actually deducted from customer’s accounts. You didn’t have to be one of their customers but if your card was swiped through this bank’s device in a store you could walk out with your shopping but your account was never actually debited with the amount you spent. It was days or sometimes weeks later that the money was taken from your account. Of course customers should have known that the money hadn’t been taken because we’re meant to check our accounts 24/7 but who, realistically, does that?

What happened was that the customers assumed that the money had been deducted and carried on spending. When the money was finally deducted it came as a shock to all of them. Some even ended up overdrawn and paying penalties as a result.

My question is this. Didn’t the bank with the problem realize that this was happening? Didn’t they see that there was a sudden, unexpected drop in money moving from one place to another? Didn’t their systems alert them to a change in consumer behavior?

Of course this sort of thing is possible, I know this for a fact. I worked with IT systems that had these “intelligence” systems 25 years ago.

Or is it possible that banks, who we often see as high-tech, advanced and progressive, the trailblazers of technology are actually a bit behind the times?

Frankly it’s not good enough. I know that in this last case customers should have noticed what had gone wrong but we pay our banks to hold our accounts for us. They have the technology to help us but you have to ask yourself if they actually care.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Mac users - the "Shellshock" vulnerability

Mac users (like me) might be alarmed at the stories of the "Shellshock" vulnerability that apparently can affect users of various versions of Unix, including the Mac operating system OS X.

Don't panic. You should only be at risk if you're running the Apache web server built into OS X. This is the technology that allows your Mac itself to act as a web server. In the most recent versions of OS X, Mountain Lion (10.8) and Mavericks (10.9), this is switched off by default but if you're using an older version of OS X this might be switched on and you should switch it off right now.

You can test to see if it's running by clicking on this link http://localhost/ (which just tries to connect to your own computer). If the link fails (like below) then your internal web server is switched off and you should be safe.


However, if you get a message saying something like "It works!" then your web server is switched on and you're vulnerable. If this happens you should switch it off right now. To do this, first open your System Preferences.


Then click on Sharing.

I took this screen shot from an older Mac running Snow Leopard (10.6).


Just make sure that "Web Sharing" is switched off and you should be a lot safer.

Those of us who use Apple Macs can often feel immune to malware and vulnerabilities and, to extent, that's true. But let's not become complacent.

Thanks to TUAW, The Unofficial Apple Weblog and CNET for the background information.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I write to complain about the bad service i received from a shop. On the 6th September I went to the shop and bought 4 plates, 4 cups, 4 saucers and 2 bowls (all white) and a brown tray. I realised when I got home that the tray had a scratch and one of the bowls had a black dot which can’t be wiped out. I decided to return the tray and the bowl but realised it was late and the shop had closed.

After a week I went back to try to return the goods but instead I received horrible service from the gentleman by the till. I tried to explain to him that their receipt indicate that there is no cash refund and yet he said they can’t exchange my stuff. He insisted that I must have used the tray and claim I bought it scratched and then he ignored me and kept assisting other customers as though I was not there which I felt was very rude. I had to contain my temper and did not waste any more time to argue with him as I realised that he was in no position to exchange the goods. Kindly assist as I cannot keep things that I have paid for and they are not in a good state.


Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations states very clearly that:
“Any supplier who offers a commodity or service to a consumer fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold … is not of merchantable quality”.
What does “merchantable quality” mean? The Regulations say it means:
“fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”. 
Crockery that is scratched and marked is, I think, not or merchantable quality. You have a right to expect that the goods you bought didn’t have scratches or marks that can’t be removed. That’s not unreasonable, is it?

Normally in situations like this you’re entitled to one of the three ‘R’s: a refund, repair or replacement. Clearly a repair isn’t possible in this case so you’re entitled either to a refund or to a replacement. However given that the store manager appears to be unreasonable I think you need to escalate the situation. Write the store a letter explain how they’ve breached the Consumer Protection Regulations and giving them 14 days to remedy the situation. Make sure that you tell them you’ve contacted us and that we’ve advised you to take action against them. See if that works!

Meanwhile make sure you tell every friend, relative and colleague that this is a store to be avoided.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
I bought taps and a mixer at a major store in May 2013 and was handed out a 5 year guarantee card. This year last month (August) the tap started leaking. I took the card back to the store to request for replacement of whatever that is causing the leakage but to my surprise I was told the part that is damaged is not covered on the guarantee. I fail to understand as the guarantee card did not stipulate exactly what is covered and what is not. I ended up buying the part for P400 because water was being wasted. I had no choice. What should I do?

You deserve to be treated much better than this.

I think you need to go straight back to the store and ask politely (well, I actually mean “demand”) to see the store manager. You then need to explain to him or her that the situation is actually quite simple. If the guarantee card you were given doesn’t specifically exclude the part that went wrong then it’s not excluded. The part is still included in the guarantee.

Alternatively if there’s a list of excluded parts that they never gave you, then you never agreed to it. How can you have agreed to something you didn’t know about?

Finally, if the staff at the store think they can decide which parts are included when they feel like it then they’ve misunderstood how consumer rights work in this country. They’ve forgotten that the Consumer Protection Regulations dictate how consumer can be treated.

They’ve also forgotten how to treat customers with basic care and decency. Either way you deserve to have your problem fixed.

If you’d like we’d be happy to contact the store on your behalf to encourage them to see reason.

Consumer Alert: "Ebola Vaccine Only Works on White People" is a lie

Don't believe everything you read on the internet. You certainly shouldn't believe things that are clearly unbelievable.

Several people have posted and reposted a story entitled "Ebola Vaccine Only Works on White People".


Let me state this very clearly.

THIS IS NOT TRUE.

It's a hoax. CDC, the Center for Disease Control have made no such statement and nor would they. In fact the story comes from a supposedly "satirical" and "humorous" story from a site called "The News Nerd".

This "Story" is dangerous and it's not funny. Ebola is too serious an issue to make stupid jokes about. Certainly not jokes like this.

Unfortunately the newspapers are repeating it which is also dangerous. Please do not spread the story. Instead please correct it every time you see it.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A notice from Barclays Bank

Following the recent problem FNB had with their Point Of Sales devices they issued a press release which you can see here.

The problem is the "delayed settlement" that occurred. Nobody had too much money deducted from their account, every deduction related to a real purchase that the customers had made. The problem was that the deductions from their accounts were made weeks after the original purchase. It didn't matter who they banked with, only that their card had been swiped through a FNB POS device in a store.

We heard from many people who were surprised to see that often large amounts of money had been withdrawn from their bank accounts, not realising that it was actually money they thought they'd spent weeks beforehand. Some were left with very little money or perhaps even nothing at all. A few found themselves suddenly overdrawn. Some customers were then charged penalties for going over their limits.

Of course the banks will say that these customers DID spent the money and they SHOULD have been checking their accounts every day to make sure than the money they spent had actually been deducted. But realistically, who does that? And should they really have to?

Barclays Bank have today issued a press release that suggests what Barclays customers should do if they were affected by the FNB problem.

Notice to our valued customers

Following a public notice from First National Bank of Botswana on the technical problems they experienced with their swiping machines resulting in delayed settlement of transactions performed from the 18th of August to 16th September 2014, some Barclays customer accounts were overdrawn. If your account was affected, we encourage you to visit your nearest Barclays branch to discuss available options. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience that this fault may have caused you and remain committed to help you PROSPER.

For any enquiries, please contact your nearest Barclays branch.
Right now it doesn't matter how irritated you might be with this situation but if you are a Barclays customer and you're in difficulties as a result of the FNB problem then talk to your branch as soon as possible. Don't delay.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Be careful what you click on

An email arrives, claiming that I've received a 4-page fax.

However it's always interesting, whenever you receive an email with a link like this one, to hover your mouse over the link, but without clicking it. Then you can see where the link will really take you.
So this "fax" is stored on a web site called "ismashahalam.net" in Malaysia? Curious. If you click on the link (don't do this, I've already done it for you, so you don't need to risk it) that's when the danger begins. Luckily my computer took charge and told me this:

Image c/o Wikipedia
The site appears to be hosting something called "Mal/BredoZp-B" which is described as:
"a particular kind of phishing scam that ...  allows criminals to take over thousands of computers simultaneously and turn them into zombies in order to carry out coordinated attacks."
"Criminals use Mal/BredoZp-B in order to make computer users believe that they have received a package or that there was a failure in delivery. Typically, these messages will include an attached file or embedded link, which leads to the actual malware infection."
"Although the law enforcement managed to bring down the criminals responsible for Bredo, the email scam that they used to deliver malware to their victims is still well and alive." 
It should be noted that this particular piece of dangerous software only affects unprotected computers running Windows. So I'm safe. But it's up to you. Do you want to be protected against these attacks or would you rather be a zombie?

Madi Majwana - Stories from your pocket

Madi Majwana is a VERY welcome joint effort by Barclays Bank and Maitisong to educate people on money matters.

Twenty episodes will be broadcast on Mondays on YaronaFM at 0650, Tuesdays on RB2 at 1930 and on Thursdays on GabzFM at 1040 until February of next year.

Barclays Bank deserve a pat on the back for funding this extremely important effort to increase the public's understanding of how money work.

If you can't listen to the shows live you can download them from the Maitisong site here. You can also join their Facebook group here.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Independence

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”.

If you’ll forgive the slightly sexist language (bear in mind that this was written by John Donne 390 years ago when people’s view of gender politics was a little old-fashioned) the point is a good one. No person, community or nation can completely isolate itself from its neighbours and be entirely independent. Everyone one of us is dependent on others for survival and that’s true for countries like Botswana, perhaps even more than others. As a nation we’re always going to be dependent on other countries for many of the essentials of life like petrol, seafood and wine. That’s just our geographical destiny.

However there are many areas where I think we can safely stand up for ourselves.


One of them is in business leadership. Despite what many people might think there ARE plenty of talented, resourceful and energetic business leaders in Botswana. The recent Consumer Watchdog conference was proof of that. As you read this Pinkie Setlalekgosi from Sprint Couriers, Catherine Lesetedi-Lesegele from Botswana Life, Jitto Kurian from BancABC, Rose Tatedi from Symphony Health and Pele Moleta from BotswanaPost are all running successful businesses. What’s more they’re not running companies that are staying still and being complacent. In fact they’re all taking their organisations through change focused on creating new business. They are all proof of the talent we have in Botswana, despite what the pessimists will tell you.


So why are we so in awe of the management gurus that occasionally visit us? Why do we show them so much respect when, in fact, so many of them are slightly less than impressive when you start to examine them?

Image c/o jtfoxxshow.com
Just a couple of weeks ago we had the bizarrely named “JT Foxx” here to guide us. This guy intrigues me. Not because of what he says but because it’s almost impossible to find out any real facts about him. This is about the only description I can find of him, a story that appears all over the Internet:
“J.T. Foxx started investing with nothing more than a rusted out Ford pick-up truck, $974 dollars and 1 cheap suit. Now just 6 years later, he has acquired over 500 properties, closed over $40 million in real estate deals, started several multi-million dollar companies, became one the most sought out speaker and recognized as one of the top coaches in the world - all by mastering the Art of partnering, branding & marketing.”
But that’s it. I can’t find any actual evidence to support this. In fact, if you trawl through the various sites that have been set up specifically to market his services you find a darker side. You find a variety of complaints, suggestions that he does nothing more than talk and even records of legal threats against him for sexual harassment. You also get a picture of a person who has entirely invented himself. You get a picture of someone who, if this is true, seems to be a bit of a creep.

Above all you get confirmation of what a number of people who attended his recent seminar in Gaborone told me they witnessed: a lot of talk and a lot of demands for truly staggering amounts of money for him to provide them with “coaching” services. One person attending told me that in order to be “coached” by "Foxx" he would need to hand over a massive P300,000 for 24 30-minute Skype-based coaching sessions over a 6-month period.

That’s an enormous P12,500 per conversation. Assuming he works part-time and does just eight of those per day his annual income will be over P20 million per year. All earned from the suckers foolish enough to think that you can learn how to do business from someone who has no obvious history of ever having run a business other than as a speaker, mentor and “coach”.

One guy who attended his seminar here told me:
“He claims to want to help struggling business people and then move up so the big guys can see how he has helped us. Now that I have been thinking about it for 2 days it seems like hogwash.”
I think he’s right.

We’ve also been visited in the past by the amazing (that’s what I’m told) Dr John C Maxwell, who is apparently going to grace us his with his presence yet again on 22nd October. Well, not quite. He won’t actually be here, the closest we’ll get is to see him on a video broadcast that’s being broadcast to us and 31 other countries around the world.

Maxwell is also worth investigating.

His doctorate is actually a “Doctor of Ministry” degree from Fuller Theological Seminary so his primary qualification is actually in Religion, not in Business. But maybe the 19 million books he has sold qualify him as a business leader instead? Actually, if you dig a little deeper it seems that much of his writing was actually done by his "Book Writing Partner”.

It seems to me that Maxwell is just another so-called guru who can talk the talk but has never really walked the walk.

Here’s an idea. Instead of listening to visiting so-called “experts” why not just listen to our home-grown, genuine experts like Pinkie, Catherine, Jitto, Rose and Pele who can talk from real personal experience rather than just talking theory while doing their best to make staggering amounts of money from us by selling us nothing more than motivation and meaningless aphorisms and parables.

And here’s a final request to all these visiting experts. If you care about us so much about developing our business sense why don’t you leave money behind rather than taking so much of it home with you?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I made a deposit payment of P15,000 to a certain venue for my wedding. I then verbally cancelled the booking about two months before the wedding. The owner of the venue is now refusing to refund me any portion of the deposit I made because I inconvenienced them. When they forwarded the quote there were no clauses on cancellation

I just want to know if what they are telling me is right that I cannot claim any thebe from the deposit I made?


Normally this sort of thing depends entirely on the written agreement you sign with such a company and it’s perfectly normal to have a cancellation mechanism in such an agreement. I’m sure you understand that it’s only fair for a venue to want some form of commitment from you when they book your occasions and perhaps even turn away other customers who come later wanting the same date. If you do later cancel your booking they don’t suffer too much if they can’t fill the gap you left in their bookings. That’s just reasonable.

However, given that there appears to be no written agreement between you the situation could be much simpler. You didn’t agree to have your money retained so I suspect they can’t legally do that.

However it’s more complicated because it’s only your word against theirs that they didn’t tell you about the cancellation penalty. It’s also more complicated because they have your money and you don’t. You now need to find a way to “encourage” them to give it back. However you’re in luck because P15,000 is the upper limit for the Small Claims Court. If you want to go down that road then you should write them a letter explaining that you are entitled to get your deposit back and that they have 14 days to refund you or you’ll take legal action against them to recover it.

Meanwhile send me their contact details and I’ll see if they’ll do the decent thing without the law getting involved.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Can you please advise me on Amway business. A colleague is pushing me to join but I am a bit reluctant. I've a principle that I will never join or subscribe to any pyramid kind of business. Is Amway a good business opportunity or is it a pyramid?


Amway is not a pyramid scheme, let’s get that straight from the beginning. It’s not a pyramid scheme.

What is a pyramid scheme? Wikipedia describes a pyramid scheme as “an unsustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public”. However a pyramid scheme can still have products that provide a cover story for the real business: recruiting other people.

So what is Amway if it’s not a pyramid scheme?

Amway is a Multi Level Marketing scheme that certainly has a large range of products. However, even though it’s not a pyramid scheme it’s still pyramid-structured. There are multiple levels of people who benefit from the people they recruit and who pass benefits up the line to the people higher up than them.

If you want to buy products from Amway then good luck to you but there’s some evidence that their products, while being of good quality, aren’t particularly cheap.

However the main reason people join any multi level marketing scheme like Amway or Herbalife is because they’ve been told they can make money from doing so. But that’s simply not true and the figures that Amway and Herbalife are required to publish in certain countries prove this. In the UK for instance in 2013 the vast majority of Amway recruits had an average income of about P7,000 per year from their business.

Remember that these figures are income, not profits. They don't take account of the costs involved in running the business such as recruiting other people, electricity, phone, transport and internet costs. The situation is exactly the same with Herbalife. Also what many MLM recruits also forget is that the profits are taxable. (BURS are you listening?)

Even in large, advanced large economies like the UK and the USA people don’t make money from Amway. Why do you think it would be any more lucrative in Botswana?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A message from FNB

From FNB, a message to their customers (and to those of other banks).


Consumer Alert - Update

Following our Consumer Alert yesterday conceding delayed transactions hitting people's bank accounts, we've have had a message from Barclays Bank Botswana that they'd like the customers to see.

As I mentioned yesterday, this problem didn't emerge within Barclays, it was caused by problems with another bank that affected customers of all banks.

Barclays say:
"One of our competitors has had a challenge with their Point Of Sales (POS) systems, which has led to them submitting previously approved POS transactions weeks after approval. They will be issuing out a statement to this effect soon. In the meantime we would like to encourage our valued customers to use Barclays POS swiping machines where we have these at all times.

We sincerely apologise to all customers who have been affected and remain committed to improving your service experience with us."

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Consumer ALERT - check your bank accounts

Information is gradually emerging about a problem many bank customers are currently experiencing.

We've heard from many people already who find that large amounts of money have been withdrawn from their bank accounts. Some have been left with very little money or perhaps even none at all. A few have found themselves suddenly overdrawn with what seems no good reason. Some customers have been charged penalties for going over their limits.

It's not entirely clear yet but it seems that a large number of Point Of Sale (POS) transactions in stores throughout the country that were made between mid-August and mid-September weren't actually deducted from customer's accounts. Those transactions have now suddenly taken effect, often weeks after the purchases were made.

It's important to note that (as far as we can tell) nobody has had too much money deducted from their account. Every deduction relates to a real purchase that customers made. However they've only been made weeks after the original purchase was made.

Yes, of course, the banks will say, we DID spent the money and we all SHOULD have been checking our account every day to make sure than the money we spent had actually been deducted. But realistically, who does that? And should we really have to?

I think we have a right to expect that banks should operate efficiently. We certainly have a right to expect them to honour Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which requires them to offer services "with reasonable care and skill".

Some of the banks have told us that they'll be communicating with us shortly via press releases but meanwhile we have to ask this. Who's going to pay the bills?

So what should you do? It's simple. Check your bank account right now. Don't make a cup of tea, don't chat to your family, friends or colleagues, stop working and check your bank account right now. Make sure you don't become a victim as well.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The scam war

There really is a war between the forces of good and scammers. It’s a war that I suspect will never be won but that doesn’t mean we should surrender and it doesn’t mean we can’t win some battles.

Since we started Consumer Watchdog ten years ago we’ve seen the scam industry evolve. In the beginning it was dominated by the traditional “419” or “advance fee” scam with their emailed pleas from a very attractive orphaned young daughter of a millionaire to assist in transferring the proceeds of an inheritance from Nigeria to a more stable country. Inevitably before this fictitious inheritance could be sent there would be the “advance fee” the scammers would demand. It might be a legal fee, the cost of opening a bank account or even a bribe, but they’d demand a few hundred US dollars up front. That was what the entire scam was about. Of course there was no orphan, no deceased millionaire and certainly no inheritance. All that was true was the payment the victim made, inevitably using a non-traceable payment mechanism like Western Union.

Then, after people became a bit more skeptical, the scammers evolved. There were new scams, some involving lottery wins (you can’t win a lottery you didn’t enter), others involving mysteriously well-paid job offers on cruise ships or oil rigs. All involved the same up-front payment, the advance fee again.

However if you think that we’re all now skeptics and advance fee scams are a thing of the past then you’re unfortunately wrong.

We heard last week from a reader who found himself a real bargain on a second-hand car sales site. A 2008 Land Rover Defender 110 TDi for a mere R39,000. Given that the normal price for such a vehicle can be as high as R200,000 this seemed too good to be true.

Are you suspicious yet?

Unfortunately the reader wasn’t suspicious. Instead he was really interested and he contacted the guy in South Africa selling the car who was very keen to talk. Only 14th July he said:
“My name is Frank Koopman, I'm a programmer and since the past month I've worked on a big project which I Won, and got a job in a big company in London UK that is paid up to 10 times higher salary then here in SA.”

He went to describe the vehicle and how be planned to sell it:
“The car has no damage and runs great, the engine runs like a cat and nothing is wrong with it, tested! I'm also a Verified Member/Trader of eBay and whole procedure (delivery/payment) will go through eBay, as they will handle everything. eBay will send you an Invoice with all the info you will need to complete the transaction. Also a 10 days refund policy will be included so if you will not like the car you will receive your money back.”

Are you suspicious yet?

Anyone who knows anything about buying and selling things on the internet will be suspicious by now. This is simply NOT how eBay works. Yes, eBay do allow subscribers to sell vehicles but they don’t actually handle the transfer of money. On their web site eBay make this perfectly clear:
“It is important to remember, eBay does not “validate” listings, provide escrow services, or make payment arrangements on behalf of sellers.”
However our reader didn’t know this, or didn’t take the time to check. He also didn’t take the time to check the other warning that eBay give about vehicle sales:
“Never pay with MoneyGram or Western Union. Western Union and MoneyGram are prohibited as a payment method on eBay Motors. eBay will never recommend that you use either to pay for a vehicle.”
Yes, “Frank” wanted to be paid for his vehicle by a Western Union. Then things got a bit worse. Our reader didn’t actually have the money to buy the car so he went to his bank and applied for a loan to buy it. On 6th August his loan was, unluckily for him, approved. A week later and R39,000 was paid into Western Union and withdrawn by someone 5 days later.

Surely you’re suspicious by now?

Then the story got even more bizarre. “eBay” emailed the reader telling him:
“We have bad news for you, in this moment we were informed that the truck on which was your caravan loaded for delivery was involved in an accident and was overturned. The good news is that you paid a delivery insurance for these unexpected things covering the amount of R300,000.”

Now I know you’re suspicious.

They didn’t take the time to explain why this car that was supposedly worth only R39,000 was insured for R300,000 but that didn’t seem to matter. All our reader had to do to get his hands on the insurance payout was, yes, you’ve guessed, pay them even more money, this time R15,000. Or did he just want to buy a different vehicle, this time a 2012 V6 Toyota Fortuner for a mere R30,000 (normally worth about R400,000)?

By this time our reader was himself suspicious and he was clearly beginning to understand that something was very badly wrong. That’s when he came to us for help. Had he been scammed?

So, yet again, I had to break the bad news to him. No, he was never going to see the Land Rover, nor would he get a Fortuner and certainly not an insurance payout for a very simple reason. None of them exist, they’re all elements in a scam. And his money? Gone. Remember that scammers don’t offer refunds.

The lesson is very simple and I think we all know it already. If something seems too good to be true then it almost certainly is.

Please don’t fall for scams like this. All it takes is a little skepticism and common sense and you’ll be safe.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer's Voice #1

I have unfortunately been gullible enough to believe I can order items of clothing off a Facebook page. I paid P1,400 to a lady called [name removed] in April. I did not receive the items ordered. I requested a refund a few months ago and I am still waiting. I get a different story every time I contact her. It's now been 5 months and I am still awaiting a refund.

I'm hoping I can get some help getting my money back and prevent others from ending up in the same situation.


Whether it's on Facebook or anywhere else the rules are quite simple. You have to deliver what you've agreed to deliver. Don't make excuses and keep your customer informed. I'm certain that if this lady had been open and honest about any problems she was experiencing you would have been tolerant and patient. It's what reasonable people do, isn't it?

However by making up stories all she's done is antagonize you and erode any trust you might have had in her.

I sent the lady a message a few days ago asking if she was ready to pay you your refund and she responded very positively, saying she'd call you and promised to repay P1,000 immediately and the remaining P400 within a few days. Let me know when you get all the money back from her?

Recruitment scam warning

We've heard from several readers in the last few weeks who have been offered jobs via email. On each occasions the jobs they've been offered have been very well paid and have come with astonishingly good packages. One recent job offer came after a reader applied for jobs on a cruise ship with a company called MS Cruise Line. Months later she received an email from a similarly named company, MS Construction offering her an entirely different job, this time as a “Customer Service Representative at MSC Construction UK with the salary amount of 7,500.00 GB Pounds per month”.

She wondered if this was legitimate.

Of course the answer is no, it's a scam. The first clue is simple. You can't get a job you didn't apply for. She applied for a job on a cruise ship and they offer her something totally different? Also the package is just way too good to be believable. They say they'll pay over P1 million a year to someone they've never actually met? Then there's all the other thing they offer: free accommodation, insurance, flight tickets, free medical expenses, two months a year paid vacation including flights back to her home country. It's way too good to be true.

Another reader received an email from a company calling itself Victech Drilling in Canada inviting him to send over his CV. In reply they sent him what they called an “e-interview” but which was nothing more than just a Word document containing some ridiculously easy questions. Within hours he received an offer letter that neglected to say what job they were actually offering him. His package included $5,700 (P45,000) per month after tax, a pension, stock options, free flights, free accommodation and “Payment of your initial six (6) months upfront salary”.

The catch in this last “offer” was that they needed him to pay them for an “Immigration Clearance Certificate”.

These payments are what this is all about. This is the “advance fee” that scammers want. Rest assured that as soon as you pay it, they'll demand payment for more and more things until you either realize you're being scammed or you run out of money.

Here are some simple tips about recruitment that everyone should know. Firstly, nobody gets a job without at least one face-to-face interview. Nobody.

Real companies who are trying to fill real vacancies don't ever use a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo address to do so. Anyone who does can't be trusted. Real companies also always have a landline number, not just a cellphone number. They certainly don't EVER use a number that begins with +447 or +448. Those are UK-based cell numbers that can easily be redirected to anywhere else in the world.

Just remember. If it sounds too good to be true, it IS too good to be true.

Friday, 5 September 2014

It's not funny

A lot of what we see at Consumer Watchdog is amusing.

However that might just be a reaction to some of the more absurd things we encounter. Our natural response is often to laugh rather than shout and scream and wave our fists around.

A few days ago a crook, liar and abuser of women calling himself "Healer Nkunumbi” managed to sneak past our extensive Facebook group screening process and posted a message in the Consumer Watchdog group, selling his preposterous services.

His claims were certainly extraordinary. His post said this:
"lost lover, Marriage problems, stop your partner from cheating on you, Men and women who can’t have Babies. Breast, Hips, Bums, penis cream/. Business boost, Penis Enlargement and power in all sizes. Win court cases, promotion at work. Is your situation getting worse? Find us in Gaborone, Botswana Cell phone: +267 75988645"

The reaction from other members of our Facebook group was predictable. A mixture of outrage, surprise and sarcasm with comments like:
"This should be illegal"
"Move over you marriage counsellors, fertility specialists, plastic surgeons, business coaches/mentors, lawyers, etc., this Healer Nkunumbi fellow is all that and more."
"Lets see your penis then we'll know you mean business lol"
"u got to give it to him though, he got balls,of steel, advertising scam on a page that seeks to protect people from scammers, thats like selling weed in a court of law"
" how did he manage to join this group? should be arrested"
"This guy has solutions to some of people's biggest problems, he should be the world's richest person!"
"'Penis enlargement & power in all sizes' this 1 kills me,i cnt stop laughing"
"The irony of it is that end of the day not only he doesn't heal anyone but it's the naive people who fall for him that heal his pockets and solve his money problems"
As you can see members of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group are a smart bunch of skeptics.

We called "Healer Nkunumbi" to hear what he said. You can listen to the 4-minute call made by a colleague who pretended to be having problems getting pregnant if you visit our blog or Facebook group.

Of course this is all very silly and humorous. "Healer Nkunumbi" is a rather comical character with his preposterous claims and his ridiculous offers of miracle remedies.

But he’s not just funny. He’s also dangerous.

I worry about the vulnerable people who might, as a result of desperation and despair, resort to his offerings. A woman with fertility problems or an illness might be tempted to give him a try if everything else has failed. So where’s the harm in that, you might ask, if everything else has failed?

The first potential harm is doubt. Who actually is this guy? What are his qualifications? What skills does he actually have, if any? We have no real idea what and who he is.

Then there’s the chance that he might actually do something rather than just talking about it. When he sees a woman with fertility problems is he going to examine her? Is he going to touch her? Given the nature of her problems a real doctor would obviously do a detailed physical examination so he’s probably going to feel like he should do so too. How would you react if you heard that an unknown man had touched your mother, sister, daughter or partner in such a way? I know what my reaction would be.

Then there’s the risk that he’ll offer her some sort of treatment for her condition and who knows what that might be. Chances are it’s be some entirely useless herbal concoction but there’s a chance whatever he gives her might actually have an effect and that’s dangerous.

Unlike the Panado you buy from a pharmacy where you can be certain that every tablet contains exactly 500mg of paracetamol, you have no idea what so-called traditional healers are giving you or what effect it might have. That’s why the majority of people see no effect whatsoever and the rest often end up dead.

I often find myself going through the same thought process when we encounter a scammer. Of course their stories are ridiculous and we have a lot of fun calling them and baiting them but that often overlooks the pain and suffering they cause. They obviously cause financial hardship when they steal money from their victims but there’s also the romantic scammers who break someone’s heart along the way. Yes, of course the victims are often enormously gullible but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer.

It’s ironic that sometimes the funnier and more extraordinary the scam appears the more successful it will be.

A researcher from Microsoft, Cormac Herley, pointed out (pdf download) that scammers do their very best to exclude skeptics in their first email. By making the clues as comically obvious as possible, every person possessing even just a trace of skepticism will reject it immediately, leaving only the na├»ve and gullible potential victims behind. The scammer won’t waste any of his time trying to persuade skeptics to part with their money because they’ve already ruled themselves out.

As Herley said, the:
“initial email is effectively the attacker’s classifier: it determines who responds, and thus who the scammer attacks (i.e., enters into email conversation with). The goal of the email is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the non-viable ones, who greatly outnumber them.”
That’s the challenge to us all. To remember that behind every comical story of abuse there’s often abuse, tragedy and exploitation.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I would like to know if there are laws that protect consumers after they get into loan agreements contracts with Financial Institutions. For instance if I took a loan at the bank and maybe along the way I encounter a financial crisis which impedes me to service my loan according to the terms of my contract with the bank and I make them aware of that but they don't help.

Next thing I start getting calls from debt collectors regarding my payments when the bank did not even intervene to try and find a way around the problem. So I want to know if that's how they should do it, what about my rights as a customer? Or does this mean I am a good customer only when I’m paying and once I encounter problems I’m no longer a customer and I’m sent straight to the debtors.

Your clarification on this matter will be highly appreciated.

Yes, there are plenty of protections for consumers but there’s not much that can be done when a consumer breaks an agreement that he or she voluntarily entered into. So long as the contract is valid and legal both sides are committed to it.

Of course a sensible company will do its best to help a consumer pay off their debts in a manageable way but there’s no obligation for them to do so. They’re entitled, whether you think it’s right or wrong, to use whatever mechanisms the agreement and the law allows them to use. That involves using debt collectors, registering you with a credit reference agency and even taking court action against you to reclaim the money you promised to pay them.

Unfortunately the answer to your question “does this mean I am a good customer only when I’m paying” is simple. Yes, that’s the definition of a good customer, one who sticks to agreements that they have signed. To them a bad customer is the opposite, someone they can’t rely on to make the payments they agreed to make.

I suggest that you speak to the bank and see if it’s possible to negotiate a repayment plan that satisfies both the bank and you. Most companies would rather have some money from you rather than nothing or going to court to get something from you. We’ll be happy to ask them for you if you prefer?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

A friend of mine bumped some gentlemans car and was charged P1,000 by the police which my friend paid. The gentlemans car was repaired by his insurance company but there was an "excess" of P1,200. The gentleman paid the excess but he's now demanding the excess he paid from my friend. Is that how things should be when insurance companies are involved?


Yes, that’s exactly how it works.

When you take out a vehicle insurance policy there is always an “excess” amount in the policy. This is the amount that YOU must pay before the insurance company will pay the rest. In this case let’s imagine that the total cost to repair the vehicle was P5,000. The gentleman’s insurance policy says that he has to pay the excess of P1,200 and the insurance company will pay the remainder, in this case P3,800.

In this situation, the owner of the car, through no fault of his own, was faced with a bill for P1,200 from whoever repaired the car, the amount that his insurance company won’t pay. He’s within his rights to demand that amount from your friend, the person responsible for the damage to the car. Remember he did nothing wrong but he’s the one suffering financially as a result.

The excess is there to encourage customers from making small claims but it’s worth knowing that the excess amount can sometimes be negotiated with an insurance company. A higher excess will usually result in lower monthly premiums you have to pay. A lower excess usually means higher premiums. When you take out an insurance policy it’s always worth asking about the excess and setting it at a level you think you can afford compared to the monthly premiums.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Xtreme Fuel Treatment - is it a pyramid? (Updated)

A number of people are extolling the virtues of "Xtreme Fuel Treatment" which they say:
"allows you to keep more of your hard earned money by saving you money at the pump and on repairs. With XFT, you start making money just by using the product."
It's quite easy to find a variety of promises that this product allegedly makes. One describes it as:
"An advanced burn-rate modifier and combustion surface modifier catalyst, which, when combined with gasoline or diesel fuel, increases the rate of the combustion reaction and changes the surface structure of the fuel to achieve a more efficient combustion process."
However, as far as I can see, there is no real, scientific evidence that any fuel additive increases fuel efficiency in normal circumstances.

Meanwhile there is another clue that this is rather suspicious. We can start with the claims made by the proponent of the scheme:


A salary of $1,500 per month and an "audi of your choice"? Aren't promises like this enough of a clue?

Then there are the proponents who are honest enough to describe the business model in simple terms.


So what sort of business model does that look like to you?



To me it seems like a scheme you should definitely avoid.

Update

The same poster gave us all an update:
This is too good a chance to miss. Someone is actually getting a new Audi? So I called him and yes, he said, he is indeed getting a new Audi as a result of Xtreme Fuel Treatment.

Well, almost.

After a short conversation he told me that he hasn't actually got it yet. And it's not exactly free. He has to buy the Audi but he's received "an incentive" towards getting the vehicle.

So it's not exactly a free Audi, is it?

Elsewhere I found references to Xtreme Fuel Treatment offering "you a car bonus payment towards your Audi". Maybe they should be a little bit more honest?

You can see some rather realistic comments on Xtreme Fuel Treatment here, here and here.

Warning - a phishing attack against Apple users

In came an email apparently warning me about a problem with my Apple account. With the subject "Apple/iCloud Service Frozen" it looked convincing:


So is this real or a phishing attack? Let's look at the clues.

Clue Number 1 - the curious email address
If you took the time to look closely you'd see that the email didn't come from someone@apple.com as you might expect. Instead it came from "secure@myideviceprofile.info".

Clue Number 2 - the link
The link I was meant to click ">>> Validate My Apple/iCloud Account" also didn't link to a page at apple.com. Instead it links to a page at "myideviceprofile.uk".

However clicking on that link (don't do this yourself) took me to a site that looked just like an Apple page:


Look more closely to see how convincing it is:


It's well done.

I entered random email address and password just to see what would happen. That's when Google Chrome decided to get involved with a warning.


Thanks Google but I'm careful, I'd not actually entered any real personal information. I decided to be brave and "visit the infected site".
Instead I was taken to the Google home page which already had a search in mind for me.


Let's assume that someone had fallen for this and had in fact entered their real Apple ID and password. What would their reaction be when seeing that their computer appears to be searching for child porn on Google? They'd be alarmed, shaken and would feel suddenly very guilty. Isn't that likely to make them forget that they've just given away their Apple password?

And isn't this, or something like it, the most likely way that a bunch of celebrities recently gave away their passwords and had some rather revealing pictures stolen?

According to the BBC story:
"Apple has confirmed that some celebrities' iCloud accounts were broken into, but says it has found no evidence that this was caused by a breach of its security systems.

Instead, the firm suggests perpetrators carried out their thefts by deducing victims' log-in credentials."
Clue Number 3 - nothing wrong
There wasn't actually anything wrong with my Apple account. I know because the first thing I did was to fire up iTunes and check my status. Everything was fine.

The lesson is simple.

You mustn't trust emails that warn of you impending disaster. You should certainly check them but never, ever, click a link in an email like this.

You can see advice from Apple themselves about such phishing scams here and here.