Saturday, 18 November 2017

Consumer fallacies

My dictionary defines a fallacy as “a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments” and I think we all know life is full of them.

For instance, it’s a fallacy to believe that a company selling you products or services will always have your interests at heart. And nor should they. More than two centuries ago Adam Smith wrote that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Companies sell us things, whether it’s meat, beer or bread or a bank account, an insurance policy or a cellphone because they want to make a profit by doing so and there’s nothing wrong with that. The “profit motive” is a healthy thing, so long as it’s done in an open and honest manner. Hopefully we profit as well from the deal. We get our dinner, a loan, cover against disasters and a phone we can use to update our Facebook profile to tell the world what we think of the weather.

Just don’t think that a company is primarily interested in you. That would be a mistaken belief, one based on unsound arguments. A fallacy.

It’s also a fallacy, one of the biggest in customer service, to think that “the customer is always right”. Let me tell you a secret. The customer is NOT always right. In fact, the customer sometimes is a jerk. Other times the customer is an idiot and occasionally even a lying, cheating scumbag doing his best to steal your company’s products, services or money.

Of course you shouldn’t assume this to begin with. When you first meet a customer they obviously deserve courtesy, respect and attention. You start the encounter by assuming that both you as a service provider and the customer should benefit from the encounter and that the best way to do this is to engage with them like a professional and find a solution that their needs. It’s only later that you can change this approach.

Some years ago we heard from a restaurant manager who had a customer arrive, order food, eat most of it and then complain that the food wasn’t good enough. Being a polite and flexible guy, he said he wouldn’t charge her for the food. The following week she came again and exactly the same thing happened. Again, he waived the bill. The following week it happened again. This time he politely explained to the customer that perhaps she’d be happier eating the food offered by another restaurant where they could satisfy her needs and she left. When she arrived the following week, he refused to serve her and explained that she was no longer welcome in his restaurant.

When he contacted us he asked if we thought he’d done the right thing and our response was very simple. Yes, of course he was right. She had effectively stolen his food and he was perfectly right to “fire” her. We suggested that his other customers, the one who didn’t abuse him, would probably agree with him as well.

I could offer you a long list of stories we’ve heard of customers who are even worse than this. We’ve heard of customers who lie, cheat and even one, very recently, who asked a supplier to forge a document to help them defraud a manufacturer of the product they falsely claimed was faulty. Obviously these are extreme cases and it’s important to understand that most customers are decent people, not crooks but I do think it confirms the truth. They’re not always right.

Royal crown curvedWhat about the common suggest that “the customer is king”. Sorry, that’s another fallacy.

We’re not all kings. Or indeed queens. We’re just ordinary people, not royalty, not people with inherited wealth, position or power, not people that everyone has to stand up to greet, not people who deserve red carpets and impressive titles. We’re just people, people who deserve respect until we demonstrate that we no longer deserve it. Most importantly, I object to the suggestion that only royalty deserve good service. Everyone does, whether we’re of royal blood or the mortals required to serve them. Isn’t it the 21st century and haven’t we long put aristocracy behind us?

Then there’s the fallacy that service has to be the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in a bank, a filling station or a government office, we all deserve respect and courtesy but I believe that different levels of service aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s natural for service to vary. The quality of service I get at the filling station doesn’t need to match the service I get in a luxury hotel. It might seem uncomfortable but the more I’m paying for something, the better the service I expect. That’s certainly the case in restaurants. If I’m grabbing something quick for lunch then I don’t want a lengthy welcome and a conversation, I just want to hand over my money, get some food and a smile is the only other thing I want. However, if I’m spending a small fortune in a high-end restaurant I deserve excellent, not just adequate service.

It also depends where you are. For instance, certain industries need to offer a slightly different quality of service. If I’m in a bank I deserve service primarily with efficiency. If I’m in a restaurant, I want friendliness. Perhaps most importantly, if I’m in a hospital, I deserve service that is, above all other things, compassionate.

In healthcare compassion isn’t just a luxury, it’s an essential thing. When people are unwell or damaged they deserve more than the usual attention. They need more than just a smile, they need to know that the person serving them genuinely cares about them and understands that they are anxious, in pain or miserable. All very unlike the experience of someone who spoke to me a few days ago. With a few wonderful exceptions, their experience of healthcare was dismissive, uncaring, sometimes even brutal. In those situations we deserve something a lot better than the norm. That’s not a fallacy, it’s a humane truth.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I’m in a mess!

Am sending this email with pain in my heart. I took credit with a furniture store of which I could not settle in time. They then contracted a debt collector to collect money on their behalf. I paid money on 9th October 2017 to them then it took me 2 weeks to receive a settlement letter from the store. Now I have issue with ITC update. The problem is ITC now its still showing and I cannot be assisted at the bank.

I am owing someone so I wanted a loan to settle and now ITC is holding me. The person wants sheriffs to take to jail and I also owe some cash loans. How can you assist me am really desperate my job is on line now. Please assist me on this issue.

This is a real mess. I know this doesn’t help you get out of your situation but this is a very good example of what can happen when you buy things on credit, more accurately called hire purchase. Even if nothing goes wrong you’ll typically end up paying twice the cash price, probably three times the real value of the items you’re buying. And to make matters worse, you’ll have absolutely no legal protection against the store if things go wrong.

My understanding is that it can take up to 30 days for TransUnion (formerly ITC) to update their records once a debt is finally settled so with luck your record will show that you cleared the debt very soon.

Meanwhile, in your position, I think you should formally notify everyone to whom you owe money that you are unable to play them right now. That means something in writing, explaining that you simply don’t have the money to repay your debts. I get the impression from what you say that you’ve approached a bank, presumably for a loan to repay the various debts you have. However, while this seems like a good idea, you might be out of luck. I suspect a bank will look at your credit record and decide that you are a very poor risk for them to take on.

In the letter you write to all your creditors, I suggest that you say that you are seeking debt counselling and will be contacting them within 21 days with a proposed repayment plan. Meanwhile I’ll put you in touch with a debt counsellor that might be able to assist you.

Good luck!

My phone can’t be repaired!

Earlier this year I bought a STK phone from a store in Broadhurst. On 14th August I dropped the phone and broke the touch screen, I went to them seeking assistance and they referred me to a specialist repair shop for the repair at my cost (fine with that because it is not a factory fault), only to be told that they do not have parts for the phone. Now I am stuck with a phone that has no after sales service.

I talked to one of the store’s reps in South Africa when they wanted their money (I do not have a problem paying them) just because I missed one instalment date. I mentioned that whilst I am to service my account, I am not enjoying my purchase. She responded by saying that they did not have warranty on the screen, I told her that I know screens are not warranted but all I wanted assistance on where I can get a replacement at my own cost but she told me it was my choice of a phone. Yes I chose the phone but was not told that it is not serviceable which is very wrong. I cannot be held accountable for a withheld information. They did not let me make an informed decision by disclosing all the information. The Caveat Emptor rule I suppose.

Please help me because I am stuck with a product that does not have after sales service. Is the shop not responsible for selling products that they know have no after sales service? Will I be wrong to demand that they take back their phone and replace it with one that has after sales?

Yes, you’re right, the caveat emptor rule (“let the buyer beware”) probably applies but I suppose one important question is whether the store knew when they sold you the phone that its screen could not be repaired in Botswana. If so, then I think they sold you something that wasn’t “of merchantable quality”, as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations but it might be hard to prove they knew this. I suspect you might be out of luck and have learned a painful and expensive lesson about where to buy cellphones!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Who’s the fool?

Who’s the greater fool, the person who buys Bitcoins today or the person who does not?

As I write this, last Sunday, the value of one Bitcoin had just reached $7,443, over P78,000. A year ago, you would have been able to buy one Bitcoin for less than a tenth of that amount, just over $700. If you’d bought into it then, your money would have grown more than tenfold. Even if you’d bought some just six weeks ago, you still would have doubled your money.

[Update: As I post this, the price has dropped to $6,931 but that's the way of things like this, they fluctuate wildly.]

So does that mean you should buy Bitcoin today? If you do, will your money double again in the next six weeks? Will the exponential growth continue?

Image c/o Coindesk

Nobody knows. Honesty, nobody does. Despite what a lot of people will tell you, the future value of Bitcoin can’t be predicted but here are some things that we DO know about Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a currency, but it’s not like any currency we've seen before. With Bitcoin there are no coins or notes, no bits of metal or paper you can put in your wallet or purse. This currency exists solely in cyberspace. It's a digital currency, sometimes called a virtual currency or more often a cryptocurrency. ‘Crypto’ refers to the fact that Bitcoin transactions are kept encrypted online. That’s one of the reasons Bitcoin has been adopted by

The biggest problem about Bitcoin is that it’s confusing. As soon as you start researching Bitcoin you encounter terms like "blockchain", "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining" and they’re hard to understand for us amateurs. There's also the confusion that your money is "out there" in cyberspace and not in your pocket. That's something new and hard to comprehend.

The "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, the online database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. There is no central repository of these transactions, they’re all over the place. That’s the “distributed ledger” you’ll hear people talk about. That idea is truly revolutionary and will probably play a role in many new ideas in the near future, not just cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

An obvious major concern with Bitcoin is security. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin seems highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is fool-proof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be instantly worthless. Say goodbye to your money.

But maybe you think this can’t happen with Bitcoin? Bad news. It already has. The “Mt Gox” Bitcoin exchange collapsed in 2014, losing 850,000, allegedly stolen by unknown criminals who had somehow managed to find a way around the security protocols built into the blockchain.

The fact that it’s completely unregulated is another concern. If a conventional currency like the Pula, US dollar or Euro showed signs of failing, central banks would do something to support it. We've seen that happen before in various countries when their currency has been under threat. But with Bitcoin, there's nobody to help you.

What’s more, when you spend Bitcoins instead of conventional banking systems there are fewer payment protection mechanisms available to you. There are no rights to refunds and no chargeback mechanisms. In December 2013, the European Banking Authority warned consumers that "No specific regulatory protections exist that would cover you for losses if a platform that exchanges or holds your virtual currencies fails or goes out of business."

Perhaps more importantly there’s a very dangerous thing happening with Bitcoin right now as you read this. Hysteria.

If you get the chance, go to Wikipedia and look up “Tulip mania” and you’ll see a story of the absurd rise in prices of tulip bulbs in the Dutch Republic in 1637, one of the first examples of what economists call a “speculative bubble”, when the price of a commodity increases rapidly, far beyond what logic and reason suggest is a valid price. That’s what happening with Bitcoin right now. The price people are paying is utterly absurd and has no connection to reality.

[Yes, I DO know that much of the tulip mania story was an exaggeration but the point is nevertheless a good one.]

Economists also talk about an idea they call “greater fool theory”, which according to Wikipedia states that “the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants”. Unlike in normal circumstances, when investors and speculators know to “buy low, sell high”, sometimes they adopt a different, more high-risk approach. With Bitcoin, many people seem to think “I know I’m a fool to buy something at such a high price, but I’m hoping I’ll find an even greater fool in the future who’ll buy it from me”.

That’s what often happens in economic bubbles. It happened in the property market, it happened with tulip bulbs and it seems to be happening with Bitcoin and some of the other cryptocurrencies. There is simply no justification for their current value. It’s not connected with the value of any real commodity, the performance of any country’s economy or any share price index. Its value is solely determined by whatever the current “fools” will pay for it, hoping that there will be greater fools in the future when they choose to sell.

But there’s bad news about economic bubbles. Like their distant cousins, pyramid and Ponzi schemes, they all eventually burst leaving their investors depressed and poor. I’m certainly not qualified to predict when this will happen but I know that it will happen sooner or later. I doubt that Bitcoin will disappear soon but its value must eventually drop to a value that’s based on reason and genuine market pressures, not just hysteria.

The question is simple. Do you want to be the fool that invested in a bubble or the fool that didn’t but at least didn’t have their bubble burst?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Botswana Magic Land legit?

Please advise me. Botswana Magic Land are advertising on Facebook asking for people to invest in their water park. Is it legitimate?

I admit I’m very skeptical about this scheme. I’ve seen the advertisements on Facebook as well and it doesn’t look good to me.

They describe their scheme as “The Biggest Park Ever In Africa” and suggest that it will be based on a “50 Hectare Land with the Latest RIDES & GAMES”. They go on to suggest that we can “BE ONE OF THE OWNERS” and that “Shares are ready NOW For You To BUY”.

A member of our Facebook group did some investigation and reported that despite what the people behind this scheme claim, no 50-hectare plot has been allocated and that they can’t even say where this plot might be. Despite offering shares for sale there is no share prospectus, no company documentation and no evidence that any of this is genuine. When he requested some evidence from the organisers that the scheme was genuine his requests were unanswered. Given that there appears to be no registered company in Botswana and the organisers only offer a telephone line based in Lebanon, I think that we have good reason to be very suspicious.

Another member of the group found that the images the organisers showed of the possible park in Botswana were taken from another, presumably genuine, amusement park scheme.

Given all this, I suggest extreme caution. I’ll also be asking some questions but for now I think it’s safe to assume that this isn’t a genuine scheme and that your money is safer in your bank account. Or even under your pillow.

Are they penalizing me?

“Is it fair to be penalised for clearing up your loan before maturity time? I'm not black mailing this bank but I want to understand whether is lawfully financially?”

Let’s start by asking why banks lend us money. Do they do it because they’re feeling charitable? Are they lending us money because they’re nice people? Are they doing it because they’re kind? No. Banks lend us money so they can make money from doing so. The interest they charge us when we borrow money from them goes towards the salaries and bonuses of their staff, their electricity, water, internet and alcohol bills. It also goes towards their profits and the dividends they pay their shareholders.

When you take a loan from a bank, that loan becomes part of the business plan of the bank. They know they’ve given you or me some money and they expect that money to be repaid over the next few years. Their cash flow expects to see our monthly repayments coming in every month. They also expect to see profits every month. That’s what we agreed with the bank when we signed the agreement.

If we later go back and ask to change that plan we’ll be affecting their plans. Most importantly, we’ll probably be reducing their income over what they thought would be the duration of the loan. They expected two years of income and now they can expect slightly less. When you ask to settle the debt early the bank will calculate a “settlement amount” that is somewhere between the amount you borrowed and the total amount they expected to get back from you.

So to answer your question, no, the bank isn’t “penalising” you for settling your debt early, they’re actually being helpful to you and not demanding that you stick to the original loan agreement you both signed. They’re offering you a compromise that allows you to settle the debt early, not pay the full amount you agreed to pay and which still allows them to make the money their shareholders and their bar bills require.

Finally, I’m glad you’re trying to repay a debt ahead of schedule. That’s always the wisest thing you can do if you can afford it. If you ever have some extra money to spare, the very best thing you can do is firstly set aside an emergency fund, and then to repay debt. Don’t buy a car, don’t invest it, don’t spend it on beer. Create an emergency fund and pay off debt before you do anything else.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Exploitation or abuse?

Twelve and a half years and five-hundred and ninety-seven articles ago, the very first Consumer Watchdog article began with this:
“The consumers of Botswana are being exploited. This isn’t really news to any of us but perhaps the sheer scale of it might still be surprising.”
Has anything changed?

Yes, I think it has. In the last decade, things genuinely have improved a great deal. There’s more choice, greater competition, and I personally believe that the general quality of service has improved. Of course, those three things are all connected. The more companies we have offering services, the more competition there will be between those companies and that inevitably leads to better quality of service for you and me. Those of us old enough will remember the days when BTC was the only choice for making phone calls and then Mascom and Orange came along and even though they still aren’t perfect, look what happened to BTC. In the late 1990s they were universally despised and now they still offer landlines but also cellular and data services across the country. Yes, as I said they’re still not perfect but at least they’re doing their best to compete with the others and their service is far, far above the levels they showed in the past.

The issue that the article twelve years ago covered was store credit and the extraordinary cost of buying things on, what was then and remains, hire purchase. That certainly hasn’t changed but I do believe that more people now understand what a terrible way it can be to buy things. Expensive, risky and unregulated.

The bad news is that there are other areas that haven’t changed as well.

Store security is one of them. For years we’ve been trying to explain to Mmegi readers that there’s a very simple rule about store security and the guards who enforce it. Despite their uniforms and their attitude, security guards are only civilians and the rights they have are only those of civilians like you and me. But not all security guards know that.

In May 2011 a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store a security guard from Scorpion Security blocked her way and demanded to search through her handbag. Rather than asking nicely he just grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. Her later complaint to the security company about the way their guard had treated her was met with a promise of an apology but this never came.

So she dragged Scorpion Security to court. And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence in defence and told the judge that his “security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.”

Not true. Not even nearly true.

In his judgment the judge found that “indeed the Defendants searched the plaintiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] The Plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.” He went on to say that she had suffered “humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society” and that she deserved compensation for that. He ordered the security company to pay her P60,000 in compensation.

Just a few days ago a consumer contacted us with the following story. He said:
“I was insulted by a security guard in Maun because I refused to be searched, they wanted to search the things I had purchased from their shop and I found that whole exercise to be inhuman and degrading. I told them that instead of being searched I would rather be given my money back and the manager was called to address the situation and he also blamed me for refusing to be searched. I ended up getting my money back and I will never set foot in that wholesale again. Is it proper for customers to be searched at the door after purchasing goods?”
Of course, we all know the answer. It’s simply NOT proper to treat customers like this. It’s exploitation and the customer was quite right to decide never to visit the store again and to exercise his right to tell everyone he knows (and the 90,000 people in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group) about his experience and decision to take his money elsewhere.

Then there’s another form of exploitation. Perhaps a better word is “abuse”.

Many of you will have read and heard of a situation where a small girl was allegedly molested by a customer at a leisure resort outside Gaborone. The bad news is that this particular resort has a widespread reputation for such things. Many of us have heard stories for years that girls and young women ran the risk of being pestered by men, sometimes groups of men. The good news is that the management of the resort seem now to have taken the issue seriously and will be setting a higher standard of entrance and conduct for patrons visiting the place.

But the wider issue is how a business, whether it’s a bank, an insurance company, a supermarket or a leisure resort can offer its patrons a sense of security. I don’t mean being illegally searched by a guard with delusions of importance, I mean real security, the safety and welfare of the consumers who spend their money there. I mean a security guard who would take care to protect the customers, not just the store’s interests.

So things have changed for the better over the last twelve years, that’s true. But there’s still a long way to go until we’re free of exploitation and abuse.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Should I join Rain International?

I was invited to attend a meeting relating to Rain International in November. They say it costs between P200 and P1,000 to attend. Do you think its worth it?

So the organisers of this event want you to spend up to P1,000 just to attend a sales pitch to join their scheme? They’re confident, don’t you think? So what is it they are so confident about?

Rain International sell health products based on seeds. Yes, seeds. Of course there’s nothing wrong with seeds, they can be nutritious and tasty things. Like nuts they can be full of nutrients and they can be part of a healthy diet. But like nuts, while they can be good for you, they can’t perform miracles. They certainly can’t, by themselves, do some of the things that Rain International advocates say they can do. I contacted one of their local distributors who told me that “Our product are seed based nutrition. They help in body restoration. And there are lots of testimonies related to that.” He also told me, when I asked, they Rain products “do help” with heart problems and with high blood pressure”. He then sent me a document that claimed that their products could “strengthen the immune system”, “improve brain function”, “lower risk of cardiovascular disease”, “improve cardiovascular health”, ”protect genetic material”, “fight cancer”, “improve vision”, “help manage and prevent diabetes” and “raise the dead”.

Ok, I admit I made up that last claim but if it can do all those other things surely it’s only one step further to claim miracles?

But here’s the big thing. I asked this distributor whether, if I joined, I would make money by selling the product or by getting other people to join the scheme. I think his answer says everything you need to know: “I would say by getting other ppl to join.”

So there we have it. Their own distributor says you can make the most money by recruiting other people rather than selling the product. It’s yet another a pyramid-structured scheme and I urge you not to waste your time, effort and money on it.

Should I buy into this idea?

As a young ambitious lady, I am always on the look out of business opportunities that can earn me extra money as well create employment for others. This year I stumbled upon this 'opportunity' but I am reluctant to take the plunge because I am not so sure if it is real or it is a scam. The business goes by the name of I Quit Smoking (IQS) and they claim to assist smokers quit smoking through pain-free electrical stimulation in the auricles or ear. I have also received a prospectus from them after enquiring about franchising opportunities with them.

If this a legitimate business I would like to franchise it and avail it locally. Please advise. Your assistance would be very much appreciated.

Forgive me for being blunt but the whole concept behind this “auricular therapy” concept is ridiculous. It’s a bizarre combination of acupuncture and reflexology. Acupuncture is based on the idea that inserting needles into “meridians” that run through your body can control magical energy levels and reflexology suggests that there are spots on your feet that are connected to all the organs of your body and that manipulating these spots can improve the functioning of the organs they’re connected to.

The polite way to describe both these ideas is “hogwash” but if you speak to me informally I won’t be that polite. Every scientific examination of these theories has shown that they actually have no effect. None.

Also, you should know that offering such services in Botswana would contravene Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which forbids a supplier from quoting “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. That hasn’t stopped a number of people offering other magical health-related products but that’s no excuse in my view.

I urge you not to waste your time and, more importantly, money on this business.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Will World Ventures make me rich?

I’ve been asked many times by many people for my opinions about World Ventures and my answer is always the same. I believe it’s a pyramid scheme.

Let’s start at the beginning. Wikipedia provides a useful definition of a pyramid scheme. It’s
"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.”
So, for instance, Amway and Herbalife aren’t pyramid schemes because they have products. They’re Multi-Level Marketing schemes that just have a pyramid structure. With these two schemes you’re certainly actively encouraged to build multiple layers of people beneath you in the structure but there are actual products being shipped. The figures that Amway and Herbalife produce show that hardly anyone makes any profit from the schemes but they’re not pyramid schemes. Not quite.

But World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. So say the authorities in Norway who investigated them and discovered that most of the money people were making from World Ventures came from the recruitment of other people in the pyramid, not the sale of any product. Similar investigations around the world have also suggested the same conclusion. So it’s not just me.

But let’s, for a moment, assume that World Ventures is a legitimate business. Let’s assume it’s not a scam. Will you make money from joining?

Almost certainly not. And who can I thank for teaching me this? World Ventures themselves.

In the USA, World Ventures publish an "Income Disclosure Statement" every year and it makes interesting reading. Like all such schemes the majority of the money is earned by a very small proportion of the people, the ones at the top of the pyramid.

The 2015 statement declared very proudly that World Ventures has 238,684 Independent Sales Representatives (“IRs”) in the United States. However, they reported that only "22.24% of all IRs earned a commission or override, while 77.76% did not". In simpler terms, three quarters of all their American recruits made nothing from the scheme. Nothing at all. Zero.

Of the quarter of recruits who earned something, the news was very good but only if you were at the top of the pyramid. In fact, 84% of all the money generated was earned by the top 19%. Or, if you prefer it the other way round, 81% of the recruits who earn something have to share just 16% of the money.

It gets worse. Two thirds (actually 68.7%) of all the income earned in 2015 went to the 3.7% lucky enough to find themselves at the very top of the pyramid. In fact, the people at the very top of the pyramid are doing very well for themselves. The 1 in 20,000 people described as "National Marketing Director" level had an annual income of $238,645. The 1 in 14,000 at "International Marketing Director" level earned an average of $409,280.

Overall, if you include everyone who made some money from the scheme, the average income was $1,348 but that's not a good indication of what the average recruit will earn because the figures are distorted by those fat cats earning a fortune at the top of the pyramid. The median income level is a much better illustration of what you can expect to earn. That's a meagre $150 per year, about P1,500.

But don't forget two important things. Firstly, like I mentioned above, less than a quarter of all the people who join earn anything. These figures just refer to the quarter of victims who earned anything at all. If you include the three quarters who don’t earn anything, the average annual earnings are a meagre $300. The median earnings, the more realistic figure, drops to a pathetic $33. Just P330 per year.

Even more importantly, all these numbers refer to income, not profits. These figures are before you take account of all the money the victims had to spend on travel, accommodation, electricity, internet access and trying to recruit potential victims. If the evidence from legitimate schemes like Amway and Herbalife can be trusted then it’s probably fair to assume that the vast majority of people who join World Ventures either make nothing or actually lose money.

In fact, all they’re doing is earning lots money for the tiny number at the top of the pyramid.

It’s the same for all the other pyramid schemes, and their cousins, the Ponzi schemes that abound. Only the people at the top ever make money and that’s always at the expense of the poor suckers at the bottom, the ones doing all the work, not even earning a salary for their efforts. Whether it’s the silly AIM Global scheme selling their illegal magical health products, Total Life Changes with their apparently disease-curing tea, Tupperware with their kitchenware, BitClub Network with their claim that people can become Bitcoin miners, Questra or alternatively Atlantic Global Asset Management with their Get Rich Quick claims, the claims are always exactly the same. With minimal effort, you’ll make lots of money.

Sometimes they’re brazen about it. One of the recruiters for Questra, a well-known “Man of God”, posted on Facebook that with Questra, there were “No Joining fees, No monthly payments, You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.”

If only life was that simple. But it’s not. There are no quick ways to make money without effort unless you win the lottery. Even then it’s not the complete truth. A lottery can only afford to give the winner a million if the losers have lost more than a million in total. The losers pay the winner’s winnings.

Pyramid schemes like World Ventures are even worse than lotteries. Imagine a lottery where the person running the lottery fixed the results and was also the winner, every single week. That’s what a pyramid scheme is like, a conspiracy organised solely to take money from the people who lose every week and give it to the winners, who also are the people who created the scheme.

Do you want to be that loser?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay to return the bricks?

Kindly offer advice on the following matter.

About a month ago I made an order for some bricks from a supplier. He delivered when I was not around and the bricks are poor quality to me but he claims the quality is good. I saw the bricks and they are not up to standard. I wanted to return the bricks because of the poor quality and he says I will have to pay 33% handling fee to him.

What I my rights in the situation? I have not made any payments. I don’t have any signed agreement with him and have never seen his company policy.

Clearly this guy isn’t the smartest of people. He delivered bricks to your place without a payment in advance and then he wants to start fooling around with you? Doesn’t he realise that you are the one in control of this situation?

I suggest you write him a letter saying that the bricks he delivered failed to meet the requirements of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations that require goods to be "of merchantable quality" which is defined as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. You should also say that as a result of the sub-standard nature of the bricks, you are cancelling the deal completely and that he is welcome to collect his bricks from your property. Don’t even respond to his silly suggestion about the 33% fee for handling the bricks that still belong to him.

Should we join World Ventures?

Richard do u know anything about World Ventures? My wife wants us to join but the way she explained it to me I smell something wrong about it. She has to come with 4 people who will bring more people for her to earn points. Please advise.

World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. That’s my opinion but it’s an opinion shared by the authorities in Norway for instance, who declared it was a pyramid scheme after they discovered that 85% of the income its members made came from recruiting other people rather that selling products. That’s the definition of a pyramid scheme.

We’ve been warning people about World Ventures since 2009 when they took over an earlier pyramid scheme called Success University. World Ventures and their Dream Trips scheme promise fantastic holidays in exotic places but they’re rarely clear that none of these holidays are free. You have to pay to join the pyramid and then all you get are discounted holidays. You still have to buy the holidays, just at a slightly cheaper price. And here’s a thing. A discount isn’t a product, it’s a reduction in the price of a product. Like the Norwegian authorities discovered, World Ventures is really all about is paying to join a pyramid-structured scheme in which you do your best to recruit multiple layers of people beneath you, just like any other pyramid or Multi-Level Marketing scheme.

The interesting thing is that World Ventures publish an "Income Disclosure Statement" in the USA every year and it makes interesting reading. To begin with, more than three quarters of all their American recruits made nothing from the scheme. Nothing at all. Zero.

Of those that made any money, the vast majority of the money is earned by a very small proportion of the people, the ones at the top of the pyramid. Furthermore, more than two thirds of all the money is made by the 3.7% at the top of the pyramid. 84% is earned by the top 19%. To put it another way, 81% of the recruits who earn money have to share just 16% of the money.

And these amounts refer to income, not profits. They’re before the recruits took account of all the money they had to spend on travel, accommodation, electricity, internet access and all the other costs of trying to recruit other victims into the scheme. The evidence from other similar schemes is that most people earn less than they spend trying to make the money. They lose money.

I suggest you tell your wife there are many better ways of spending your money!

Friday, 20 October 2017

It'll never go away! (Facebook I mean)

A relative once told me, when I was a child, “it is always better to think before you speak, than to speak before you think.”

It was true then and it’s true now but maybe it needs to be modified? It is better to think before you post, than to post before you think. Substitute the word “tweet” for “post” if Twitter is your preferred social media platform.

The problem with communication these days is that so much of it is done online. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with online communication. In fact, I think it’s one of the greatest developments in modern history. The ease with which we can converse, keep in touch with friends and relatives in faraway places, do business internationally and inform ourselves of global and local developments is wonderful. But it comes at a price.

Let’s take the example of Facebook. Much as I love Facebook and the way it allows us to communicate, learn and share information, Facebook is scary. It’s like a bar on a Friday night. Like most people in a bar, people on Facebook are a little noisier than in normal life, a lot more affectionate and flirty, a lot more likely to make fools of themselves and feel deep remorse the following morning. Also, there seems to be something about Facebook that produces a reaction in some people like a minority have to alcohol when they’re in a bar. They turn nasty. Most of us who’ve spent time in bars on Friday nights will have known someone who in normal life is the nicest, gentlest, kindest of characters but when they have their third drink, they turn into psychopathic monsters desperate to pick a fight. The same thing happens on Facebook. Nice people can turn nasty as soon as that blue and white screen appears, asking you to share “What’s on your mind?”

Another problem with Facebook and the internet in general is that everything you post is permanent. It doesn’t matter how quickly you delete the comment you posted that you realised was offensive or stupid, you can be certain that someone, somewhere will have taken a screen shot of it and either saved it or reposted it. You should always assume that everything you ever post on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet will be discoverable for the rest of human history.

Unfortunately, not every person or organisation understands this. I know of several individuals who have either been forced, or decided of their own volition, to leave Facebook completely after they posted something they later regretted. One young woman contacted us for advice when the rather embarrassing, very revealing picture she posted in what she thought was a private place on the internet turned out to be very public. Everyone who knows her now knows a great deal about her tattoos and where they can be found. All of them.

Another, much less sympathetically, posted a comment in our Facebook group that included “the K word”. Given that the person posting it was a white South African, not someone using the word ironically or in some way “reclaiming” the word, you can imagine how inappropriate it was. The firestorm that erupted was astonishing. By the time I’d seen the post, there were three hundred subsequent comments from other members of the group expressing their outrage. When the woman who had caused all the offence later apologised, she got more than 500 responses, not all of them sympathetic and supportive. Even though I deleted the post because of the rage it had caused, the bad news for the person who posted this inflammatory message is that it’s never going to go away. I know many members of the group took screenshots of the offending post and I took screenshots of every comment that was made, in case the issue ever reappears.

More recently we’ve seen a restaurant, just a matter of days after the tragedy at the National Stadium when a young woman was crushed to death and scores of people were injured, post an invitation to their restaurant to “everyone who managed to survive GIMC”. However, and to their credit, the management of the restaurant very quickly published a profound apology for the bad taste and promised that “an issue of this nature will never occur again”. But some damage was done and it will take a while for their reputation to fully recover.

Another example of how social media can escalate an issue out of control is when the leadership of a private school sent out advice on the school’s uniform code. This included various instructions on the length of skirts, shirts being tucked in and regarding the tidiness of hair, the words “No afros are allowed”.

Once most of us calmed down I think we could imagine what the principal of the school MEANT to say, probably something about length and tidiness but that’s not what DID say. He said that afros were banned. And that’s when Facebook as well as the conventional media exploded. But there’s a difference between the two channels that’s important to understand. I bet you don’t have a copy of the newspaper articles covered the story, do you? But the story is still available online and on Facebook and it always will be. Nothing online is ever lost. Not ever. Even when you delete it, someone somewhere will have a copy. A copy that will last forever.

The lessons are simple, but they are nevertheless serious. Don’t post things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Just don’t. Not until you’ve engaged your brain, checked that you haven’t consumed too much caffeine or alcohol, and that you’re not feeling over-excited, angry, depressed, excessively “romantic” or outraged. And then again, even after you’ve typed your message, take another moment before you press Post. Ask yourself what you might think of your post on Monday morning when you get to work. Ask yourself what your boss, your mother or your children would think about the comment you posted.

And then think again. Do you really want this post to remain associated with your name for the rest of your life?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Hotel Express International (yet again!)

I received a call on my landline phone from people who said they were from Hotel Express International,who told me that I have been offered a membership card for discount from some particular hotels.

I asked them repeatedly if I have to pay for it but I was told that is free. They had my 14 digits bank card number but they only wanted to confirm if they are true. Surprisingly, I asked where they got those numbers from and they told me that they got my details and recommendations from the previous hotel I used. I was later surprised to find that my money was missing.

I did not have any agreement of any sort with those people. What can I do to get my money back?

This is the seventeenth time we’ve written about Hotel Express International since 2010 and I doubt it will be the last time. Every single time the story has been the same.

Someone like you gets a call from one of their agents who explains their travel discount scheme, offering you discounts on hotels, car hires and flights. They normally explain that there’s a cost to join the scheme, usually just under R3,000. The experience in the past has been that they ask for your credit or debit card details telling you that this is to check either if you’re eligible to join or to see if you’re entitled to some special level of membership. Many of the victims who’ve contacted us have claimed that they didn’t give explicit permission for money to be deducted from their accounts but that’s exactly what happened. Without explicit permission they’ve been enrolled and their account is charged without, they claim, their consent.

Your story is different and even more worrying. The fact that they already had your card details worries me greatly. If what they said is true, someone in a hotel has given away, sold or perhaps even stolen your card details and that’s grossly improper, perhaps even illegal. I suggest that you call your bank immediately and explain that your card security has been compromised and your card was misused. Demand that they investigate.

Meanwhile there’s another issue. Why would anyone want to pay to join a scheme that offers discounts that you can get elsewhere for free? You don’t ever have to pay the full rate in a hotel. There are endless special offers and discounted rates available for you to choose from. Just a few weeks ago I stayed in a hotel in Johannesburg and do you think I paid the full rate? No, of course not. I saw a special offer online that gave me a luxury hotel room at about half of the normal rate. Did I need to pay to join a discount scheme to get this special rate? No.

We’ll get in touch with Hotel Express International in South Africa on your behalf and see what can be done. Don’t be optimistic though.

Given the number of times we’ve heard from Hotel Express International victims telling similar stories our advice is simple. If ever Hotel Express International call you, just hang up immediately. They can’t be trusted.

Must they reimburse me?

I’m writing about a problem I had with an air trip I recently undertook.

My plea is I want to be reimbursed for the over inflated air ticket I was forced to buy when I stopped over in Israel since I was not allowed to travel back home on allegations that I was told I needed to buy a connection flight from Johannesburg to Gaborone because I am not a citizen of South Africa! I ended up spending 3 extra days in Israel and I would like that money back from the airline. Can I get it back?

I suspect this might be more difficult than you might initially think. The first problem is that airlines are very anxious about flying people to countries in which they don’t have a right of residence, in your case South Africa. International flying regulations say that if a passenger is denied entry into a country for reasons that the airline could have anticipated then the airline is responsible for the cost of repatriating them. The airline would then be forced to pay for you to fly out of South Africa.

However, this doesn’t normally apply if you’re just in transit at the airport so I suspect you didn’t have a “connecting ticket”? That way the airline would have seen that you weren’t actually going to enter SA, just travel through it, not even leaving the airport. Even if it costs you a little more a connecting ticket is always a useful thing to have. Send us the details and we’ll investigate a bit further.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The current threats

What’s threatening the consumers of Botswana at the moment?

One calls itself Questra or alternatively Atlantic Global Asset Management, which they say is the company that represents Questra. One of their local representatives posted some photos of himself doing his best to recruit people into the scheme and a message which included the suggestion that you should “invest as little as P1300.00 to buy an annual package of €90 that will yield 4-7% interest every week, payable to ur account on Fridays for the whole year”.

There’s your first clue. “4-7% interest every week”? Those numbers might not seem terribly high to you. Aren’t they similar to the interest rates offered by banks? Well, that’s true, but with a bank you might get that sort of return after a year. This guy says you can earn it “every week”. Let’s assume for a moment that this is true. I’ve done the maths. If you give them the minimum of P1,300 that they suggest and you then get a €90 package (about P1,080) that will earn 4% per week, after a year your P1,080 will have grown to P7,222, a total return of 569% per year. If you were luckier and you get the 7% they suggest, your money will have grown to P36,423, an annual return of 3,273%.

That’s impossible and I hope everyone realises that. If you don’t, ask yourself this. If it was possible, don’t you think the Bank of Botswana will be investing? And all the commercial banks, pension funds and professional investors as well? I think it’s safe to assume that if they’re not doing so, then neither should we.

Another clue is something you often see with pyramid and Ponzi schemes. They very rarely give any clue about how you will earn the profits they promise. They don’t mention stocks and shares, derivatives, futures or any other mysterious financial terminology that sounds impressive.

A final clue came later in this guy’s claim. He said that there are “No Joining fees, No monthly payments, You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.”

So you can earn over 3,000% interest in a year without even lifting a finger? This is such an obvious scam, no other clues are needed.

But there are nevertheless several other clues. They’re the warnings that have been issued by the authorities in Belgium, Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Poland, Spain and the UK. The Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority said that Questra “clearly resembles that of a pyramid scheme or, at the very least, a Ponzi fraud."

There’s a final curiosity about Questra, or rather about the guy who was busily recruiting people. In 2010 the same person was trying to recruit people in to TVI Express, another pyramid scheme that collapsed leaving people poor. Then in 2015 he was again busy, this time recruiting people into the pyramid scheme selling Xtreme Fuel Treatment, a fake fuel efficiency enhancer. Clearly he’s a serial pyramid scheme recruiter.

Even busier than this guy are the hordes of Filipinos and their local recruits desperately trying to recruit people into AIM Global.

One of these recruiters posted that “We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone?”, “JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”.

Just like the evangelist selling Questra, at no point do the people desperately trying to seduce people into joining AIM Global say what the product that this scheme sells might be. They give no idea how you can earn that P3,200 every day. It must be magic.

In fact there is a product lurking behind AIM Global and it really does seem like a magical product. Their “C247” product can, so they claim, help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, heart diseases, hypertension, low sperm count, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”.

Any product that could do all these things truly would be magical. And just like all other magic tricks, it’s a deception, and an illegal one too. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code specifically forbid anyone from advertising such claims. So it’s a criminal product that has not, despite what many of the people selling the scheme claim, been “approved” by either the Ministry or Health of the Botswana Bureau of Standards. A criminal product sold by liars running a pyramid scheme.

But Questra and AIM Global aren’t the only threats. World Ventures, a pyramid scheme selling holiday discounts, is still going strong despite authorities around the world warning people that it’s nothing more than a pyramid scheme. Whether they call themselves World Ventures, or their new name, Dream Trips, it doesn’t matter. Their own figures from the USA for 2015 show clearly that more than three-quarters of their American recruits made no money at all from the scheme. Not a single cent. Of the small proportion that did make any money, more than two thirds of all the income is earned by the 3.7% at the top of the pyramid.

In fact, the median income level, the best illustration of what the typical American World Ventures recruits earned in 2015, was a meagre P1,500 per year. And that’s just income. It takes no account of the money the recruits must spend on travel, their phone and internet bills and the alcohol they probably need to drink to drown their sorrows when they finally realise that all their hard work has done is to feed the people at the top of the pyramid.

There’s also the TLC scheme, “Total Life Changes”, that sell their miracle "Iaso Tea" that they claim can help you lose 2.5kg in weight in a week and can also “reduce stress, reduce the risk of cancer, prevent cardiovascular diseases”. It also “mitigates HIV”. “prevents high blood pressure” and protects against “poisoning”. The recruiters will also tell you that it’s possible to make money from TLC just by recruiting other people, just like any other pyramid scheme.

The lesson, as always, is simple. People desperate to recruit you into schemes like TLC, Questra, World Ventures or AIM Global are desperate to make money from you, not with you.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay the school?

I need advice on an issue concerning my contract with a school that my daughter used to attend in Phikwe. I was transferred from Phikwe as my employer was closing our office there and I had a contract a school which had a clause on serving notice if a student is transferred from their school.

I notified the principal verbally in March 2017 as soon as I was notified of the office closure, that I will be transferring my daughter to Gaborone as soon as I got a date for the indefinite closure. I was advised to write a letter by the school head, and I delayed, ultimately my moving date came and I failed to make time to go to the school. The school head called me and informed that I have to pay a full term notice to them. I tried to talk to her and make her understand that my relocation was not an intentional move by me, it was a decision taken by my employer and I had no control over it. She was adamant about this. I however moved to Gaborone without making a payment to the school.

In May the school head called me and threatened that I write a commitment letter to make payments and I did but failed to commit as per the letter. I have since been summoned to court in Phikwe to answer for a debt of the full term fees to the school. I need advice or a legal person you can refer me to as I feel I am being treated unfairly.

Firstly, I should state that I’m not an attorney so obviously I can’t offer legal advice. However, simply as a layperson I suspect you have no excuse. Firstly, you signed a contract with the school which explained what would happen if you withdraw your child. The contract includes a clause which says that you “understood that a full term written notice is required when withdrawing a child at any level from the school and that failure to do this will place me liable for an entire terms notice”. You admit that you didn’t do this.

Secondly you later signed a commitment letter saying that you would pay this fee and again you failed to do this. The school was within its rights then to go to court to get an order against you to pay the debt you’ve twice admitted in writing you owe but have still failed to pay.

I suggest that you contact the school and come to some agreement about paying the debt you owe them. However, given that you’ve twice failed to abide by such an agreement, don’t expect them to be very flexible!

Can they strip-search or punish me?

Sir does a security guard have the right to search me on suspicion of theft in a shop or do they have the right to order me to undress. Does the shop owner have permission to punish me even if they have caught me with a stolen item? 

No, they certainly do NOT have the right to search you. And they certainly don’t have the right to make you undress or to “punish” you, no matter what the situation. Any store or guard who does that has abused you and has grossly overstepped their powers.

The only right that a store has, and this includes security guards, is the same right that any private person has, and that’s to arrest someone that they believe has, or might have committed, a serious crime. That includes theft. But that’s all they can do. They can’t search you or your belongings regardless of the circumstances. Only a police officer can do that. All a store or an individual can do is detain you until the police arrive.

In a case a few years ago, a brave woman who had been forced to submit to a search of her bags as she was leaving a store took the security company who had abused her to court and won her case. She was then awarded P60,000 in compensation from the security company. The judge explained that she deserved this, ”considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society”.

It actually doesn’t matter whether you’re “an honest member of society” or a criminal, either way you have rights and those rights cannot be abused.

Friday, 6 October 2017

People power

We have good laws in Botswana. They’re not perfect, some of them need updating and there are certainly some gaps but we do rather well.

We’re always quoting the Consumer Protection Regulations but also the regulations covering packaged goods, food hygiene, the marking of goods and standards. We’re also often consulting one of the most important pieces of law we have. The Penal Code.

In particular, I’m very fond of Section 195 of the Penal Code which, while discussing defamation, says that a defamatory publication is not unlawful if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. That’s helped us considerably when companies have threatened to take us to court for saying bad (but true) things about them. All we’ve needed to do was remind them, or their extremely expensive attorneys, that what we said was true and that clearly the public needed to know it. Every single time they’ve then left us alone.

However, a much more important section of the Penal Code is at its very end. Sections 396-399 talk about what are called “prohibited advertisements”. It says that “Any person shall be guilty of an offence who as principal, agent or servant, publishes or causes or assists to be published any prohibited advertisement.”

So what exactly is a “prohibited advertisement”? The Penal Code says that it’s “any advertisement of any medicine … as being effective for any of the following purposes”.

Those purposes include
  • “the cure of venereal diseases”, 
  • “the prevention, relief or cure of cancer, tuberculosis, leprosy, diabetes, epilepsy”, “the cure of arteriosclerosis, septicaemia, diphtheria, gallstones, kidney stones and bladder stones, heart disease, tetanus, pleurisy, pneumonia, scarlet-fever, smallpox, amenorrhoea, hernia, blindness”, and
  • “the cure of any habit associated with sexual indulgence, or of any ailment associated with those habits or for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility or for the restoration or stimulation of the mental faculties”.
So why is this important? Are there really any people or companies advertising treatments for “the prevention, relief or cure of cancer”? Or for heart disease? Or sexually transmitted diseases, or as the law calls them using a rather old-fashioned term, “venereal diseases”?

Yes, unfortunately there are.

If you’re on Facebook (and I know many of you are), you will have seen messages recently from a variety of people offering a range of “opportunities”. One I saw recently, from an enterprising Filipino, said:
“HELLO BOTSWANA! We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone? DOING IT PART TIME and AT HOME. Just comment "HOW" below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. First 10 person will be prioritized!!!! HURRY!! Let Do this 7 heads INVESTMENT. JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”
Did you notice something curious about that advertisement? It doesn’t mention what the product is. What is it that can earn you up to P3,200 each day? That’s always a clue that you’ve met someone trying to recruit you into either a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme. Any legitimate business will tell you immediately what products they sell. They’ll be proud of them. A company that seems to hide what their products might be clearly has something to hide.

If you dig deep enough you can discover the product the they’re selling. But first, who are they?

Their company is “Alliance in Motion Global”, a Filipino multi-level marketing scheme that sells nutritional supplements. I should point out that there’s nothing illegal or wrong about food supplements, they’re just entirely unnecessary for almost all of us. With very few exceptions none of us need to take them. A reasonably balanced diet involving plenty of fruit and vegetables will give us all the nutrients a normal person will ever need. Supplements are an expensive waste of money.

However, the supplement that AIM Global sell is a different matter. It’s not just a vitamin pill, it’s something dangerous. They call it C247 and they make some extraordinary claims. They claim that “C247” can help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, heart diseases, hypertension, low sperm count, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”.

We know what that last one means, don’t we? They mean that their product can help people with AIDS. Add to that their claim that the product can help with cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases and you have what is clearly a series of prohibited advertisements, don’t you think? Isn’t this exactly what Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code forbid?

You might be asking yourself whether this is actually a real concern. So what if some fools sign up for a pyramid scheme and lose some money or some other people buy their ridiculous product that they claim can treat every disease you can imagine? So what? It’s harmless, you might suggest.

I beg to differ. My fear is that someone who is unwell, perhaps battling cancer or fighting AIDS will be seduced by the claims of these peddlers of lies and will stop taking their real medication, perhaps throw away their ARVs and take AIM Global’s product instead. You might think this doesn’t happen but I can introduce you to doctors who’ve told me that it does. They can tell you about their patients, desperate for a miracle cure who have done exactly this and have paid the ultimate price. They died as a result of taking a product like C247 that they were promised could perform miracles.

Luckily, we have a weapon against them. The law. The question is who is prepared to use it?

Perhaps more effective is for people like you and me to take action to stop them peddling this dangerous product. Let’s comment every time we see their advertisements on Facebook, telling them that their advertisements are illegal and their scheme is too suspicious. Who needs the law when you have people power?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Double deductions?

I am emailing on behalf of my father who has an issue with a deduction made from his bank account for his car loan. He had a car loan through the bank and was in arrears by 2 months. He received a call from reminding him about the arrears and the week after the call, he cleared the outstanding balance.

1 or 2 weeks later he saw a deduction of P1900 from his account. When he made a query regarding this deduction, he was told it was done by the car loan division. He was charged P1900 for the telephonic reminder regarding his arrears from their legal department.

He contacted the bank branch manager and even the manager said it was not correct for them to make a deduction like this. He said he will try and sort out the matter but unfortunately till date we have not been able to get assistance. It's been more than a month.

What can be done in this situation? Your assistance would be highly appreciated.

Your father deserves to be given the facts. Yes, he was in arrears by 2 months and that was an obvious breach of his loan agreement. I’m sure we all agree that he shouldn’t have been in arrears. But that’s life. Bad things happen and when they do we should expect the people to whom we owe money to behave decently. Yes, there probably is a clause in the loan agreement saying that they could penalise him, charge him a penalty fee, record his debt with a credit reference agency and seize his children and sell them to recover their losses.

Ok, I admit I made up that last bit. I suggest you advise your father to contact the Managing Director of the bank and ask for a full statement of his account so he can check whether they can do arithmetic correctly. Please don’t contact anyone else about this, only the MD is sufficient. Please also advise your father that whatever the bank might say, he can ignore their official complaints procedure. It’s 2017, the age of Facebook and consumer power. He can complain to whoever he pleases. He’s in charge.

Where’s my leather?

I bought sofas at from a store last July after being told by the shop owner that they were made of leather. In May this year the sofas started cracking and I called and told the owner about the problem and he immediately sent his employees to go and fetch the sofas. He then changed his story that the sofas were coated with leatherette on the sides that is why they are cracking and I told him that if he could have told me the truth, I wouldn’t have bought the sofas. He then promised me that he will remove the leatherette and replace it with leather where the cracking was occurring. To my surprise he did only one sofa and I immediately called him that the other sofa was cracking and I sent him the pictures again. He did not respond and I went to see him in person. He again promised me that I should call again to check if the leather was available because he was expecting it soon. I checked him again about the issue and he told me that there is nothing he can assist me with because he can’t keep on fixing the sofas time and again and that their warranty has elapsed. I then told him that the problem started when the sofas were on warranty and he was unable to give a satisfying answer. 


The store owner has breached almost every one of the Consumer Protection Regulations as well as treating you with contempt. There’s no point in listing the regulations he’s broken, I think you should go back to him and give him a letter saying that he has comprehensively abused your rights as a consumer and demanding a solution within 14 days. List the various dates and feeble excuses he’s given you and tell him in the letter that if he fails to fix the sofas within the time you’ve given him you’ll take whatever form of legal action you think necessary against him and his store.

You must also make it very clear in your letter that he was informed of his failure to honour your rights within the warranty period and that his excuse about the warranty having now expired is nothing more than nonsense and a distraction. Let’s see how that works!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Will we ever learn?

Why do we keep falling for scams? Why, as a nation, are we serial victims to scammers?

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe people only ever fall for a scam once and then they learn their lesson. Maybe each scam that hits Botswana only affects people who have never seen a scam before. Maybe each time it’s a new set of victims?

If only it was that simple. Yes, each time a new scam arrives it finds some new victims but very often it’s the same people who fall for them over and over again. Some of us really are serial victims.

Anyone in our Facebook group or who listens to us on radio will have heard us warning people about what appeared to be a suspicious recruitment exercise being undertaken by a company calling itself Voxcom Voice and Data Solutions. A letter from this company started with the following bizarre statement: “The world has never been a place where peasants have held power”. It then continued to welcome each “Prospective Employee” “to the Voxcom family” and confirmed that the recipient had been successful in their “application for a weeks training”. So far so good, you might think.

But no, not good. The letter continued by asking people to “Kindly note that your training fee of P750 has been duly noted.”

And then it got even stranger. According to the letter there was a formal dress code for the training. It insisted that “during training full company uniform must be worn, ie, black pants/skirt and jacket paired with a white shirt/blouse.”

Stop and think about that. A company that is offering a job to people (“Prospective Employee”) demands that they pay to be trained how to do the job while wearing particular clothes? Is that normal? Is that how recruitment works?

No, it’s not. It most certainly is NOT how real businesses hire people.

But it’s stranger. The logo on this letter was quite distinctive and with just a few seconds work on Google I’d found a company called Voxcom Voice and Data Solutions with exactly the same logo based in Maryland, USA. So I called them and asked if they knew anything about a company running a recruitment exercise in Botswana using their name and logo. No, they told me, they knew nothing about this.

The real Voxcom's logo

So now there’s a very good reason to be suspicious.

After we posted and broadcast warnings several people got in touch to defend the program, saying that they had willingly paid the P750 because they were going to get jobs earning P2,500 in a call center that this company was establishing in Francistown. Some even sent pictures of the trainees proudly holding certificates they’d been given following the training. So was it perhaps genuine and just a bit strange? Was it all actually legitimate?


Let’s not forget the issue of theft. The people running this program had stolen the logo and name of a company in a foreign country and while that might seem like a minor thing I think it tells you a lot about someone.

But then the whistle-blowers got in touch.

The first said:
“I saw your post warning us about Voxcom and I am one of the affected. We have been conned out of our P750 with promises of jobs. We went there every morning till month end and now the company is dodging to pay us our salaries as per our agreement.”
Another told me:
“This is totally a scam and people are kept there with so many unfulfilled promises. There is nothing going on, no furniture, no permanent offices, people are there without contracts. The so called investor has long gone and made promises that he is coming back but they keep postponing his arrival. The company’s account is at zero while the investor is busy saying he is transferring millions.”
They went to say that:
“100 people paid during my time there and went through customer service training and I did hear they trained some batch. The 1st batch was trained and got certificates. The 2nd batch didn't get their certificate.”
Yet another whistle-blower was able to offer a wealth of insider information about the finances of this strange scheme, about the troubles the organiser was having crossing the border from South Africa, and even the politicians he was trying to seduce into endorsing his business. They also confirmed the story from the others that the organiser:
“had promised the employees that they will get paid but he kept postponing dates when they will be paid and up to this day they still haven't been paid. He lies all the time about him being on his way to Botswana everyday.”
This person said that the:
“most disheartening thing is that some of the people that were promised jobs are people who had other jobs only to quit hoping for greener pastures. And to this date they are still registering more people getting P750 from them. I am of the knowledge that 50 employees have since been fired because they are said to be under 21 but you wonder why it wasn't stated in the beginning that they are unemployable yet their P750s were still taken.”
They concluded by reporting that
“When employees complain or ask when they are getting paid they get threatened that they will be fired. All in all this is a scam and its continuing. I don't know how these people can be stopped.”
The good news is that this scam has already collapsed. The bad news is that the organiser appears to have stolen at least P75,000 from people, probably a lot more. The worst news is that we’ve fallen for a scam yet again and I don’t see an end to it any time soon.

So when will we learn to be less gullible? When will we truly understand that there are many people out there whose only objective is to steal our money? When will we become a nation of skeptics? It needs to be soon!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

The knives are out for me!

I bought knives for a customer from a catering supplies company after seeing them in their catalogue and they then ordered them from South Africa. After they arrived I took them to my customer and they were rejected because it was not the one they wanted. On returning them to the catering supplies company they told me to pay the courier costs for them to take them and tax clearance for them to refund me. So I am asking whether this is the right thing to do?

This surely depends on the answer to a single, simple question. Who made the mistake?

If it was you who selected the wrong type of knives from the catalogue then yes, I think you are the one who should pay the cost of that mistake. However, if it was a mistake by the catering supplies company then no, you shouldn’t be forced to pay for their mistake. If they ordered the wrong item then the cost should be paid by them.

There’s also a third possibility. Was it your customer’s fault? Did they advise you incorrectly? In that case you could probably approach them and explain that they should pay the cost of their mistake but I’m not sure that’s the best idea. If it’s only a small amount, and they’re an important customer, do you want to run the risk of irritating them that much?

Must she keep the box?

A friend of mine bought a Huawei smart phone around March this year.  In less than a month after purchasing the phone, the phone began freezing and switching off on its own. She then took it back to the shop and they tried to fix it and when she collected it the mouth piece was damaged. They refused to fix the mouth piece. After a few days the phone began freezing and switching off on its own like before. She took it back and they tried to fix the phone but failed to fix it and then they agreed that they will give her a new phone since they failed to fix that one. Yesterday when she went to the shop they told her to bring the box of the phone. She told them she misplaced it and then they told her that they she won't be given a new phone because of the misplaced box and they can't help her anymore. 

I suspect that this store needs a quick lesson in the Consumer Protection Regulations. Firstly, Section 13 (1) (a) which requires companies to offer commodities and service that are “of merchantable quality” which means “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. A cellphone that doesn’t even last a month before going wrong is clearly not of merchantable quality. Then when they tried to repair the phone and only caused more damage to the mouthpiece, that would be a breach of section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations which requires a supplier to offer service “with reasonable care and skill”. They don’t seem either careful or skilful to me.

That bit about having to keep the box could well be a breach of Section 17 (1) (d) which forbids a company from “causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. By making up a rule that your friend must keep the box in which the phone was sold, I think they’re clearly causing confusion or misunderstanding. They’re also in breach of Section 17 (1) (e) by suggesting that they were disclaiming their obligations to offer a phone that was of merchantable quality, unless they made the condition very clear when she bought the device. Finally, I think they breached Section 17 (1) (f) by saying your friend waived her rights without her specifically consenting to doing so. To me, “specific consent” means a signature on a piece of paper saying she understood she needed to keep the box.

So there you go. Five different rights potentially abused in one sale and failure to fix a problem. Are they trying to break a record?

I suggest your friend goes back to the store with this edition of The Voice and reads this to them. See if that has any effect!