Saturday, 18 August 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay again?

I have been dealing with a certain garage and I feel they are ripping me off. My car was spilling fuel and I took it to them they said it was a pipe that was loose. They repaired the pipe and charged me P950, P650 being for towing and P200 for tightening the pipe. A week later it did the same and I took it back to them and they said the pipes were blocked and they wanted to charge P300 which I contested and they let me go. Now it has done the same after a week of so. They now say the pipes need to be replaced. I bought the pipes yesterday and they now want to charge me P650 for replacing the pipes I bought for P60. My issue now is they are charging me for the job they have charged me for again. They could have noticed that the pipes were old the first time I took the car to them. Please advise?

This might be a difficult one.

Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires that a supplier of a service must deliver those services “with reasonable care and skill”. The next section also states that the supplier has broken the rules if he or she “quotes scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. I get the impression that your mechanic might have failed to satisfy both of these requirements. He wasn’t able to fix the problem and is now making claims that he might not be able to justify.

However, the trouble is that he can claim, and this might even be true, that he was doing his best when he repaired the pipe and that he genuinely believed, based on his skills and experience, that it would fix the problem. I’m no expert on cars but I know that complicated technical matters can be very difficult to diagnose and fix. That goes for vehicles but also for computers, household appliances and even medical issues. The initial diagnosis isn’t always the final one.

I suggest that you should compromise. Why not suggest that, given that his initial suggestion didn’t work, he needs to be a bit more flexible rather than just run up a huge bill for you? If he fails to cooperate, then maybe we can escalate things a little.

They broke my phone!

I was in a supermarket and I picked a few items and I went to the till point to pay then I put my phone on top of the counter because I wanted to get money from my pocket. Then after she scanned 2kg washing powder she put it the counter and it pushed my phone and it fell and the screen got broken. I told the cashier she broke my phone and she said sorry and went on to say you were not suppose to put your phone on top of the counter. I said where is it written? She said its not written anywhere! I took seconds looking at the phone and the same cashier who broke my phone told me to move because I’m delaying people behind me who wants to pay. I told her how can you say that to me? You destroyed my phone what should I do she said she doesn’t know. Thats when I took the matter to the manager. So yesterday the manager called me and told me the fault is fine and they can’t fix my phone just like that. What can I do?

I suspect there’s not much you can do. I spoke to the management of the supermarket chain and their position was simple. They spoke to their staff and told me that because you were the one who placed your phone on the counter, a space reserved for shopping, that you were to blame for the damage to the phone. Their argument is that a consumer would have known the risk of putting a phone amongst shopping that was being scanned.

Unfortunately, while this might not seem very sympathetic by the store, I suspect it’s reasonable. The counter is a place for shopping to be moved around, not somewhere you place something as important and valuable as a cellphone. Sorry!

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 6th August 2018

Source: Wikipedia
1. Is Bitcoin a pyramid scheme 

No, but it attracts them.

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, discussed many times before.

The problem is that it's surrounded by a vast number of scams, pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes and fake cryptocurrencies such as Pipcoin, Billcoin, OneCoin, DasCoin.

If you want to experiment with these new technologies then do so. They're probably the future of money but they are currently very high risk. As with any speculations, you should only spend what you can afford to lose.

2. Is BPC stealing from us?

People are complaining about electricity costs, suggesting that the are much more expensive then ever before. Some ever suggest that Botswana Power Corporation are "stealing" our money somehow. Can this be true? Or are we using much more electricity than normal?

Firstly, BPC prices went up significantly in April.

Secondly, it's winter. It takes more energy to heat things and then to maintain a fixed temperature and more still to maintain those temperatures when the surroundings are colder. It's a matter of physics.

Thirdly, BPC have a banded pricing system. The first 200 kWh are priced at one level (currently P0.6993), then, once that quantity has been consumed, the price goes up to a high level (currently P0.9711). Not only does the cost increase when you consume more electricity, the price per unit does as well.

Fourth, and this is just conjecture, I suspect that our perceptions of electricity consumption have changed since prepaid meters were introduced.

Add all these together and I think it's easy to understand what it seems that prices have gone up so much. But no evidence that there's a sinister conspiracy to "steal our money".

3. Should stores have toilets?
“I want to understand - aren't customers supposed to be assisted with toilets in shops? I was once denied use toilet in one of the reputable shops. Today I got to one of the big shops, I was told it was for staff only. After begging for use of toilet through the manager I was let use it. I got to yet another store at I asked for toilet, I was told I should be searched before I could be allowed to use the bathroom and after telling them I would rather leave than submit to such demeaning treatment I was allowed use of toilet. My issue is are customers not supposed to have access to such important facilities especially at malls or shopping complexes, even if they can be pay toilets?”
Stores probably not, mainly for security reasons. Shopping centers? Yes? And yes, they should be free because we are already paying for them in the prices we pay the stores who then pay their rent to the shopping center.

4. Inter African Investment and Loan Company

Does it really need explaining?

5. Unknown callers
“Someone called me today from South Africa that they have been engaged to do a back ground check on my company. I requested them to send me an email including their details and also those of their principal who has sent them so I can also do a background check on them. They have not responded up to now. Please advise what should I do, tried to call the number but it goes unanswered but charges.”
How do you know the person calling is real? Adopt the approach this consumer used. Demand their ID first. Otherwise who knows who's really calling.

6. Can I return things?

A consumer bought a sewing machine for P13,500 in 2016.
“I returned back to them a week after buying, upon returning it,the manager refused to take it back saying once you have bought something from them you can't return it which is not written on the receipt.”
She went to the Consumer Protection Unit, who encouraged both parties to engage in dialogue. The store agreed to take it back and sell it on her behalf. Eventually managed to sell for P9,600 but
“they never consulted with me about the price they are planning to sell it for.”
Furthermore, the store now says they're taking a 20% charge, leaving her with a balance or around P7,000.

Firstly, did she even have the right to change her mind? No, unless the item she bought was not “of merchantable quality” of if the store deceived the consumer somehow. There's no right to change your mind.

Meanwhile, there is good news. During the dialogue the store agreed, in writing that they would only sell the item if she agreed to the selling price and that they wouldn't deduct anything from that amount.


The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Bitcoin a pyramid scheme?

Hello Richard is bitcoin a pyramid scheme?

I need to begin by explaining what Bitcoin is. Bitcoin is a currency, but not like any currency we've seen before. It's a “cryptocurrency”, a digital currency. There are no coins or notes with Bitcoin, nothing you can put in your wallet or purse. Bitcoins exist purely in cyberspace and that’s one of the things that confuses people. What’s also confusing is the terminology used when people talk about Bitcoin. They talk about things like the "blockchain", the "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining", all of which are hard to understand and likely to perplex people. There's also the simple confusion that your money is "out there" somewhere and not in your pocket.

Data source: Coindesk
Like all currencies Bitcoin’s value can go up but it can also go down. For instance, if you’d bought Bitcoins in late December last year you would have lost almost two-thirds of your “investment” by the time I wrote this. There’s no reason to think that it’s price will increase again.

Then there are security concerns. The technology underpinning Bitcoin is highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security system is fool proof doesn’t know their history. All security technologies will eventually be broken and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be instantly valueless.

The fact that it's completely unregulated is another concern. If a conventional currency like the Pula, dollar or Euro showed signs of failing, central banks can do things to support it but with Bitcoin, there's nobody to help you. The Bank of Botswana has already warned people about the dangers of speculating in Bitcoin. Another issue is that when you spend Bitcoins there are no payment protection mechanisms available to you. There are no rights to refunds. no chargeback mechanisms and Bitcoins are completely untraceable and that’s why they’re so popular with criminals and terrorists.

Bitcoin is fascinating and something like it is probably the future of money but you shouldn’t see it as an investment. If you have some money you can afford to lose then go ahead, otherwise you should be much more careful.

And then there’s the final thing. While Bitcoin is itself legitimate (but very high risk) it’s surrounded by a huge number of scams, pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes, all of which are exploiting the mixture of excitement and ignorance we all have about the subject. Just be very careful!

Where’s the tombstone?

We as a family paid P9,500 to a company in Mogoditshane for them to make us a tombstone for our grandfather to be unveiled in late July. We agreed with them and they made a promise it will all be set up by the agreed date. When we called up they promised it will be set up by Tuesday 24th July, it happened it was not so. We went to their offices and we cannot get any assistance. The owner of the company has switched off his cellphones and the officer in charge cannot assist as she says everything is done by the owner of the company.

We need help as we have incurred costs for the unveiling and we did not get our tombstone and we are so anxious and restless. What can we do?

What is it with some companies? We hear so often about companies that let people down during some of life’s most important occasions, particularly weddings and funerals. Don’t they understand that these are occasions that can’t be repeated? Don’t they know how important they are? Don’t they realise the depth of the emotions involved?

Send me the contact details for this awful company and we’ll get in touch with them and try to explain to them how horrible their behaviour has been. We’ll also explain that I removed their name from your email to give them the chance to rectify their appalling behaviour. They need to know that this might not remain the case.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Skylane Couriers - another scam

A consumer contacted us regarding a shipment they were expecting from the USA, having bought what they believed were iPhones and Apple laptops from Best Buy (a legitimate company).

However this was nothing to do with Best Buy. This was nothing more than a scam.

The clues emerged when they received an email from the shipping company, calling itself Skylane Couriers, saying that their shipment had been stopped by the authorities in Guinea "for collection of Custom Fees, Tax Charges and Importation Licenses Fee".

This is the nature of these shipping scams. They choose a country far from the supposed shipper and far from the recipient and pretend that customs have seized the package and won't release it until a payment has been made. This ignores the fact that with any shipment, duties, taxes and fees can only be charged in the country it came from and the destination. Countries in the middle do nothing unless they have reason to stop the goods if they suspect there's something criminal happening.

The email from the fake courier company said that the customs people in Guinea had told them:
"A tax levied on imports (and, sometimes, on exports) by the customs authorities of a country to raise state revenue. Customs duty is based generally on the value of goods or upon the weight and dimensions. You are been Charged for Custom Duty, Tax & Import duty.

Import License Fee*********$425 USD
Custom duty****************$250 USD
Tax Charges****************$199 USD

You have privilege of 5 days to pay up the required fees by the  Guinea Custom facility. Failure to pay up the required fees within 5 days, demur-rage charges of $55 will counts everyday that the goods stay's at Custom warehouse in Conakry - Guinea .

It is our responsibility and authority to propose and enforce laws and regulations to ensure safe, secure, efficient and clean delivery."
Payment of course was not requested by bank transfer or debit or credit card. They wanted the money sent by Western Union.

The clues...

Western Union. Real companies don’t expect payment through WU, they would want debit or credit payments or electronic transfers.

Duties. Duties on shipments are only payable at the beginning or end of a shipment, not halfway along the route. Nothing is being “imported” into Guinea so no such payments are required.

Language. The language is not what I would expect from a company if it was genuine.

The web site. The clever part (and I’ve seen this several times before) is that they’ve constructed a well-prepared web site where you can check the shopping number they give. The shipping number they offer works and appears to show a route that is bizarre. The package apparently went from Minnesota in the USA to Illinois, then to Cuba, Barbados, Cape Verde and finally Conakry in Guinea. That’s a very interesting route. Cuba? Really?

The web site (again). Interestingly, the text on the web site is exactly the same as several other shipping companies I could find. I assume they are all fakes as well because I can find warnings about scams associated with some of those other sites. Either that or one is the genuine original and the other are all copies. The single physical address they give is in the UK and is in fact owned by another, genuine company.

More on the web site. On their web site they say that the company was “formed in the year 2004” and they suggest is based in the UK or Russia but their domain was only registered in March this year to an address in Nigeria.

Unfortunately it was too late to save this victim who had already sent money to the scammers.

Be warned!

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 30th July 2018

Source: Wikipedia
1. Magellan International – CGI Global
“I received an invitation from someone in Tanzania to attend a presentation in Gaborone and training on something called Magellan International run by a company called CGi Limited. Do you think this is genuine?”
Do I think it's genuine? Yes, it's a genuine scam.

The CGI Global web site says that their business involves  “Mobile Technology”, “Online Shopping” and “Cryptocurrency Mining”. They even claim to have their own cryptocurrency that they call “Betchip”. In a facebook post they claim that this coin can be purchased for “$1 per coin* and that there will be “a huge profitable opportunity when the coin will go as high as $10,000 or more” and that “all you need to make the profit out of Betchips is to invest now while stock last.”

One curious is that while CGI Global's domain was registered in USA they say that their services are “not available in … United States of America”.

It's a simple rule. Any scheme that offers return as massive as these, a 10,000 fold increase is going to be a Ponzi scheme.

2. A success story

A consumer had a credit card with Bank A. He paid off the credit card debt and moved to Bank B where he applied for a loan. However, Bank B told him that Bank A had "blacklisted" him at CRB because of an outstanding credit card debt.
“I went to the bank livid and I was told they don’t know what really happened and they wrote a letter for me to take to my new bank to assure them that they erroneously listed me at CRB. Théy promised to solve my issue first thing tomorrow morning. I couldn’t sleep last night wondering what the implication of being listed at CRB means for my credit rating because of someone else’s carelessness in their job. I want to know the implications even if they promised to remove me on Monday morning?”
Technically credit reference bureaus don't "blacklist" people. In fact, they record almost everything about our financial lives, both the good things and the bad things. That then enables other companies to judge carefully whether to lend you money, based on your recent financial history.

We contacted Bank A and the matter has now been resolved.

3. How to complain – The Official Consumer Watchdog Complaints Procedure

Official complaints procedures are gone. In the past we offered an alternative procedure that we suggested consumers adopt instead of any company's complaints procedure.

The old, three-step procedure was:
  1. Complain to the person who offended you.
  2. Complain to the most senior person in the building.
  3. Complain to the most senior person in the company.
But even that is now outdated. The new procedure is even simpler.
  1. Complain whenever, wherever and however you please.
It's 2018 and consumers are in control.

4. Is Jamalife legit or its just another Ponzi scheme? (Yes, again)

They describe themselves as:
“an online cum offline network marketing organization and was born out of the need to build up people financially all across the globe to the point of experiencing high quality life in all areas of living”.
Sorry? What?

They claim to have products. “Human Capital Development”, “Food Security”, “Online mail”, “Flight and hotel booking”, “Assets and Property acquisition” and “Financial empowerment”.

Sorry? What?

They business has multiple levels called Builder, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Diamond, Crown diamond, Ambassador and Crown Ambassador. Each of these contains sub-levels. They suggest that someone reaching Crown Ambassador will receive "R3,900,000 and a Range Rover worth R2,210,000". However, the maths are simple. To reach this level you and the people beneath you will need to recruit a total of 16,777,214 people.

Hidden away in their web site is this:
"any rewards or earnings that are offered from Jamalife Helpers Global through the Business Plan is the result of members referring or signing up other willing members".
Their members are also quite open about how it works.

So there you have it. A pyramid scheme.

5. Crystal Cell – is it legit?

Ads on Facebook ask:
“do u have damaged organs, whether it's the eyes, brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, whatever in the body [...] If there's something wrong in our body it traces back to the cells, that's why targeting cells is the best problem solution because it helps with health in general and very specifically at the same time, which makes Crystal cell unique.”
They claim that their products are based on stem cells, saying that the "potential uses of stem cells" include stroke, traumatic brain injury, learning defects, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, wound healing, baldness, blindness, deafness, myocardial infarction, diabetes, cancers, arthritis…”

But Crystal Cell apparently contains plant stem cells, not human stem cells. So how can they have any effect at all?

This is obviously nonsense, and dangerous nonsense. There's a real risk that someone suffering from one of the conditions mentioned will swallow (literally) this ridiculous product instead of taking medical advice. Crystal Cell will then have blood on their hands.

It's also illegal.

6. Medical Aid

NBFIRA announced recently that both Itekanele and Etudiant Medical Aids have been temporarily closed. For both, they say that:
“the effect of the closure is that Itekanele shall not be permitted to issue new medical aid covers and to advertise its products. Existing members are advised that the temporary closure will not affect their medical aid policies and consequent rights and responsibilities.”
Roughly translated, this means "Don't panic". Just think carefully about who you can trust with your health.

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why have they blacklisted me?

I need your help with my old bank. I had a credit card with them that I owed P2,080 that I had paid fully in November 2017. I was shocked yesterday when I went to my new bank to get a loan to be told I have been listed at CRB by the old bank on 24 January 2018. I went to the bank livid and I was told they don’t know what really happened and they wrote a letter for me to take to my new bank to assure them that they erroneously listed me at CRB. Théy promised to solve my issue first thing tomorrow morning. I couldn’t sleep last night wondering what the implication of being listed at CRB means for my credit rating because of someone else’s carelessness in their job. I want to know the implications even if they promised to remove me on Monday morning?

Let’s start by explaining how credit reference bureaus operate. They don’t “blacklist” people, unlike what most people will say. In fact, they record everything, both good and bad. They record when we get a loan or buy something on hire purchase, they record when we repay these commitments properly and also when we fail to do so. The recent financial history they hold on us is then used by lenders to help them decide whether to lend more money to us. There’s nothing wrong with this because it helps them to take the right decisions. It helps them to lend money to the people most likely to repay it and to avoid lending to people with a recent history of not meeting their obligations.

However, mistakes are obviously sometimes made. From what you say, it seems like your old bank clearly made a serious mistake when they recorded that you still owed them money. If it’s true it’s the responsibility of the bank to fix this problem by correcting your record so that this alleged debt completely disappears and that their mistake doesn’t disadvantage you in any way.

We’ll also get in touch with them to encourage them to move more quickly!

Should I attend the presentation?

I received an invitation from someone in Tanzania to attend a presentation in Gaborone and training on something called Magellan International run by a company called CGi Limited. Do you think this is genuine?

I think it’s a genuine scam.

CGI Limited now call themselves CGI Global and on their web site they suggest that they have interests in “Mobile Technology”, “Online Shopping” and, guess what, “Cryptocurrency Mining”. They even claim to have their own cryptocurrency that they call Betchip. They say that this is “a new digital coin to the market” and that it “can be used within the CGi economy in selected stores and services online.” They go on to suggest that recruits can buy them at “$1 per coin* and that there will be “a huge profitable opportunity when the coin will go as high as $10,000 or more” and that “all you need to make the profit out of Betchips is to invest now while stock last.”

However, there’s no evidence that any of this is actually true. There’s no evidence that this “Betchip” currency really exists and it’s certainly bizarre to think that a currency that doesn’t even exist can increase in value by up to 10,000 times. Yet again, this is a scam is exploiting public ignorance about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Even though their web site is registered in the USA earlier this year, it’s strange that their web site says that their services are “not available in certain countries and territories including United States of America”. Also, almost all of the advertising seems to be focussed on Africa. This obviously conflicts with a post on their Facebook page which suggests that 52% of their visitors are from the USA and that “These are now seeing what we don't see!!!” Many things don’t add up.

The facts are quite simple. Any scheme that claims it can convert a $1 investment into $10,000 is a scam, almost certainly a Ponzi scheme. Any scheme that claims you can make fortunes from “investing” in a cryptocurrency is certainly a deception. Please don’t waste your time, effort and money on what is clearly a scam.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Radio show notes - week beginning 23rd July 2018

Source: Wikipedia
1. WC Connect – pyramid scheme alert

WC Connect describe themselves as:
"an empowerment based membership program".
and that their vision:
"is to empower our members and through them we empower people around them by just introducing them to WC CONNECT".
So are there any products? They make it clear that there is "NO BUYING" and "NO SELLING". They also claim that it's "easy for its members to own houses, cars, laptops, mobile phones and many more without paying a coin. Its all free from WC CONNECT.You stand a chance to own a Brand new bungalow worth $140,000”.

In WhatsApp conversations with some of their active recruiters I asked “Do we make money from recruiting people or from selling products?” One responded “Yes you make money from recruiting people.” and another said “Yes it’s all about recruitment dear nothing else.”

So it's a pyramid scheme.

2. PFI Digital and Vortex Profits – scam alert

Many people will remember Vortex Profits, a Ponzi scheme that described itself as:
“a remarkable investment platform with an outstanding track record of 2 years for delivering best of class investment solutions and endless income-generating opportunity”.
They promised returns of between 2.5% and 4% every day, claiming there was some connection with investments in Bitcoin, gold or oil. In fact, Vortex Profits was nothing but a scam and many people in Botswana lost lots of money.

Now something new happens

An entity calling itself PFI Digital (UK) posts alerts on Facebook asking:
“Have you lost money with Vortex Profits? Final call for submissions. ... complete your complaint form and submit it to PFI Digital (UK) before we submit the letters of complaint to the UK and European authorities. We expect a criminal investigation to be opened and the true directors of Vortex Profits to be brought to justice.”

In order for this to take place, the advertisement states that victims must send $25 to the organisers by Payeer or Moneygram.

This is a scam. Despite suggesting that this is a company registered in the UK "PFI Digital (UK)" no such company of that name is currently registered in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, they offer no more than a Gmail address and a cellphone number. The address they give, "56 Whetstone Lane, Birkenhead" in the UK is actually the address of a YMCA building.

Image c/o Google Maps
All of these facts confirm that this is a particularly shameless scam that is trying to exploit the victims of the previous Vortex Profits scam. Consumers are urged not to send any money to these scammers.

3. Policy values and "front-loading"

A consumer started a retirement annuity policy on 1st April 2017. She received a statement showing the state of the policy at 31st March 2018. This showed that she had paid premiums totalling P20,000 but they had deducted "Admin expenses" of P14,000 leaving a policy value of just P6,000. She asked if this was normal?

This is sometimes called “front-loading” and often happens with any investment of savings policy that is meant to last for many, perhaps 10 or 20 years. The sales agent or broker who sold you the policy don't want to wait for 10 or 20 years to get their commission of administrative costs, they want it now. That's why the fees are deducted from the policy value in the first year. A year or two later the premiums will have caught up with the deductions and it will start to accumulate real value. remember that these policies are for many years, not just for a short time.

The problem is that the sales agents and brokers sometimes forget to explain this. That's where action is needed.

4. Should I tell them?
“I have been paying an instalment at furnisher shop, and all of a sudden my contract is terminated and I struggle to pay. During the period I was working I really pushed to reach half of the sum. Am now owing 7k, and unfortunately our contracts ended. Should I go to the furnisher shop with letters showing them am still unemployed so that they stop putting more interest in my debt? Am willing to settle the remaining balance, but am still called by finance people reminding me to come pay though am not working. What should I do?”
Talk to them! Arrange a payment plan that you can afford and they can accept. They don’t want to go to court.

5. Car accident #1
“I am having a difficult time with an insurance company. My car was in an accident. My friend, who doesn't have a license, was driving me to the pharmacy and got hit by a guy who didn't stop at the STOP sign. My friend was charged with not having a licence and the guy was charged with negligence. [….] Insurance company told me there is a possibility of them not fixing my car even though their client did take the blame and acknowledged his fault.”
It wasn't just the guy who caused the accident and your friend who broke the law, you did as well. Section 30 of Road Traffic Act says that: “no person who owns or is in charge of a motor vehicle of any class shall cause or permit any person to drive such motor vehicle unless such person is the holder of a valid driving licence for that class of vehicle.”

I suspect that the insurance company might use this as an excuse not to compensate you. My advice is to go quiet and don’t draw attention to yourself, maybe you’ll be lucky!

6. Car accident #2
“My brother hit 3 cars last year while driving to work. He was found guilty by the police. He managed to help one of the owners to fix her car. The other 2 cars were insured so now the insurance companies want my brother to pay money close to hundred and something thousands. Is that allowed please help?”
Yes. The person who causes an accident pays to fix the damage caused. Insurance policies only benefit those who pay for them.

If your brother had his own vehicle insurance policy it would have paid the bills. Now he's going to need to find the money himself from somewhere. This is a very good example of why third-party vehicle insurance should be compulsory.