Saturday, 19 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why can't they refund me?

My mom bought rafters for roofing from on the 3rd of June 2021 and was told they would be delivered which didn't happen. She tried calling them but the phone rang unanswered, she then went to their shop and was told that they were waiting for some people from around our area to buy so that they can deliver at once, which was not the agreement. She then arranged for transport to get them herself. Today when she got there they told her that they don't have them on stock which was surprising because they never said they don't have them and they were there on display. She then asked for a refund and the person told her that I (because she was swiping with my card) have to go to my bank and request that they write a letter confirming that the account is mine.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

I think this store needs to learn a few lessons about customer service. And also what the Consumer Protection Act says about the way consumers should be treated.

Section 7 (1) of the Act says that
"A supplier shall not advertise any particular goods or services as being available at a specified price in a manner that may result in consumers being misled or deceived as to the actual availability of those goods or services".
In simpler terms, a company can't advertise things they don't have, unless they're very clear that they don't have them. It also really shouldn't matter whether they have other customers buying things so they can deliver them all at once.

The Act then outlines what happens if a company fails to abide by the Act. It says that if goods
"are not availed as advertised, the consumer shall have the right to cancel the contract (and) the supplier shall refund the consumer the amount paid".
That's really not complicated is it? The only real difficulty is that the refund needs to be made to the account that paid for the goods, in this case your bank account. However, I don't think they need anything from your bank to do that. If you swiped using your card then they can just reverse it. It's their job to figure out how to do that.

Scam alert! 

There is a guy saying that he works for Botswana Railways. He is handing out counterfeit RFQs (Request for Quotation). He emailed me from an email address looking for 6 heavy duty drainage pumps. We quoted him and the quote totalled to about P6 million. He then phoned our office in Francistown and told us to go ahead with the order. He said once the pumps arrived in Francistown he would then organize his own transportation to collect the pumps and take them to Mahalapye.

This was all too suspicious for me as he only dealt with me over the phone and email and refused to come to our branch in Francistown. I then ended up calling Botswana Railways in Mahalapye. They said the guy left BR many years ago. They also said any email coming from a government organization should never end in .com it should always end in .bw.

I'm very glad you were skeptical. I've seen a series of scams like this over the last couple of years. They always involve someone pretending to represent a government department or parastatal who claims they need a proposal to deliver expensive equipment. There are often very professionally presented and the forms they send over look authentic. They also always give the name of someone who sounds real. It's only if you look closely that you can spot the clues that it's a scam. It's things like the scammers using a .com address, not a .bw one. The other clue is that organisations like Botswana Railways don't approach total strangers and offer them business. They have procurement processes, often very slow and cumbersome ones.

Sooner or later this guy would have demanded a payment from you, either a tender fee or some import duty. Whatever they say the payment is for, that's what this is all about. It's an 'advance fee' they'll demand you pay and as soon as you pay them they'll start inventing a series of other payments until you either realise it's a scam or you run out of money. I've heard from victims who've lost hundreds of thousands to scams exactly like this. Let's all spread the word to other potential victims and help them to be as skeptical as you!

Saturday, 12 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can't I be refunded?

May you please advise on the situation below.

This past weekend I booked a room for one night P550 at a guest house in Mahalapye. I paid for the room and immediately left the lodge to go and finish what I was doing. Approximately 1 and a half or 2 hours later I called the lodge to cancel my booking. My cancellation was acknowledged and I was told to come see the owner on Saturday. Due to my tight schedule I couldn't go on Saturday and went on Sunday.

The owner was not there and I was informed that she left a message that said I will not be refunded because I inconvenienced them. I expected to be charged a penalty fee and given some of the money back because I informed them well on time but they refused. They told me that the person I talked to on the phone when I was cancelling did not work for the lodge. Now the question is can someone who does not work for the lodge be answering phones on their behalf?

Hope to hear from you soon.

Most hotels and guest houses have a cancellation policy. It's normal practice. I'm sure we can all appreciate that these places take booking in good faith and then often turn away other bookings because they thought their rooms would be occupied. If the person who initially booked changes their mind the hotel has lost money.

However, these cancellation policies need to be clear and easy to understand. Another consumer contacted us this week with a similar problem. They cancelled a booking a few weeks before they were scheduled to arrive and were surprised when they only got 75% of their booking fee back. That's because the cancellation policy said any booking cancelled more than 5 days ahead would incur a 25% cancellation fee. Cancellations later than that would result in a higher fee.

I don't know what the cancellation policy is for the guest house you checked into says but I'm certain of one thing. Anyone who cancels their booking after they've arrived isn't going to get anything back and I don't think that's unreasonable.

What should she do?

Good day. A friend bought a couch on hire purchase but now she's struggling to pay. She wants to return it but the shop says she still has to pay all the money. What does the law say about this? Kindly advise.

The bad news is that the shop staff are correct. If she returns the couch either voluntarily or if they repossess it, the store will then auction it but they'll probably only get a fraction of the original purchase price from the sale. They'll then deduct that money from the balance your friend owes but it's likely that when they add on the penalties, interest, debt collection fees and all the other costs she'll still owe them a lot of money, perhaps even more than she owes already. And the final insult is that despite owing them even more money that she does now, she won't even have a couch.

Hire purchase really is a terrible way to buy things. It's horribly expensive, the law offers you hardly any rights you can use to protect yourself and if things go wrong, you can end up in tremendous debt. I've always urged anyone who can't afford to buy something new either to save the money or to buy something second-hand instead.

We should also urge the authorities to consider a comprehensive Credit Act that governs all forms of sale on credit and hire purchase. Consumers have many protections offered by various laws but we need one that protects us against hire purchase going wrong. We've been waiting a long time.

Regarding your friend, she should talk to the store as soon as possible and explain her situation. With luck the store will help her negotiate a repayment plan she can afford.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where has her money gone?

I'm writing this email in so much pain, On 5th February we realized that more than P20,000 was been stolen from my mum's bank account. she was receiving emails alerts. We immediately called the bank to let them know that money was been stolen and Mum didn't know where it was going and she has no stop order only for a furniture store and a bank loan.

So she did block her card and she pleaded with the customer service to stop the money from going out since it showed the transactions were not yet completed but they refused saying if they do that then they can be sued. She then went through all processes from reporting and filing a case with the fraud department and they assured her that they will investigate but nothing has been done till now. They keep changing their stories.

They first said she was paying some college in UK to buying from Ali Baba, now they saying she is doing forex exchange. But she doesn't know anything about Forex. She doesn't know anything about online banking nor online payments. They are lazy to do the investigations to see what really happened to her money and it doesn't look like they will refund her money.

As I type this she is taking high blood pressure pills. It hasn't been easy for her more so that the bank doesn't take her case serious. Please assist.

I'm sorry for your mother's troubles, it must be incredibly frustrating for her.

The first thing to do is to speak to the bank and insist they investigate what might be happening. They need to check whether your account has been compromised and to establish exactly when and how these payments were authorised. I've also contacted the bank to alert them. 

However, your Mum should also check whether she has somehow disclosed her banking details to someone. It's a difficult situation but I've heard many times about situations like this when it has been a family member or friend who has been abusing someone else's bank account. Does she know of anyone who has spoken about studying abroad, buying things from overseas or experimenting with forex? Maybe you can ask your family members if they've heard about this? I know it might be difficult, becoming the family detective, but it's better to discover if someone is betraying your mother's trust and taking her money.

Must I pay them?

Hi Richard, I hope you are well and safe. I would really appreciate your advice on a problem I am facing with a college I signed up for. I enrolled into a college that trains on the stock market. The program I signed up for was a three year access to their trainings and I paid P1,500 deposit and P450 monthly deposit which I am supposed to pay for the next 3 years. However I decided to cancel 5 months in because it was becoming a financial burden that was not worth it, considering their content depth was similar to most YouTubers that provide it for free. I wanted to cancel but they told me the only way to cancel is if I pay for the whole program.

To be honest I didn't read the contract but just wanted to know if this clause was a violation of my consumer right. I asked them if they could charge me a cancellation fee but they refused. I don't understand why I should pay for the whole 3 year program to get out of a contract. Would really appreciate any advice. Thank you.

Firstly, as I'm sure you know now, you should never sign any agreement you haven't read and fully understood. You should also never agree to anything that commits you to something for so long. Every contract you sign should also have some sort of cancellation clause.

Secondly, what sort of training establishment offers services no better than you can get for free on YouTube? The answer is simple. A lot of them. Some of you will remember Stock Market Direct, a company that claimed to offer training in trading stocks and shares as well as giving their paid subscribers tip and recommendations, all for a large monthly fee. We discovered very quickly that their training was no better than you could get from surfing the web and the same tips were available for a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

The lessons are simple. Don't sign anything before you are certain you can commit to what the agreement says and do some research first. People who claim they can train you should really be experts.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my profile?

Good evening Richard, Kindly advise me on this. I had a business dealing with a particular graphic designer to design my company profile a month ago and he said I should pay the amount in full which was P600 but I told him I only had P500 in which the P100 balance will be paid when he delivers the document.

The gentleman has since started giving me excuses when I ask him for the document since I had told him that its urgent and he promised it would be ready in a weekend. As we speak it's more than 5 weeks and my concern is that I don't know the offices of this gentleman and he doesn't take my calls anymore. He picks and listens or just leaves it to ring until it cuts and he texts to say he will call and never calls. I am asking what do I do when I am treated this way. I have his names and his business names if you may need to know them. Kindly assist me with urgency you may seem fit. 

I have good news and bad news. Let's begin with the bad news. It looks like you found someone completely unreliable to develop your company profile. The sort of person who takes your money and then does nothing for it. The sort of person who then refuses to take your calls. The sort of person who you can't rely on. 

The lesson here is that even for a relatively small transaction like this, you need something in writing. It's 2021, so it doesn't need to be on paper, it can be just an email or a WhatsApp conversation but it must be a permanent record of what was agreed.

The good news is very simple. I contacted the graphic designer by WhatsApp at 1:33pm and at 1:35pm he messaged me saying that you'll get your profile in two days. Let's see if he keeps his word. 

Update: He did.

Where's my mattress?

Good afternoon Mr Harriman. I bought a bed on September 25th. The bed started getting uncomfortable and springs being easily felt on the mattress after a month of use. I reported the matter on December 4th and was told that they would place an order for a new mattress set to replace the one I had bought. On January 16th I visited the store after they never got in contact like they said the will. And they said I will have the mattress before end of February as the delays were caused by closing of the manufacturer because of holidays. On March 27th I went back to the store where I was told they cancelled the order because a certain lady who apparently shares the same surname with me said she the problem was the base not the mattress without checking our details and names. She said she will correct the mistake and we will have the bed replaced latest by 15th April which it never did. On April 20th I got a call confirming that they will come and change the mattress. The following day they said the bed hasn't arrived and she will see to it that it gets here. Friday 14th May I called them where I was assisted by a lady I didn't get her name saying she will talk to the managers and get back to me before the end of they day of which they never did.

What a mess. Just how difficult is it to get you the bed you're owed? Is it really that difficult for the store to contact their manufacturer, place an order for a replacement and then get it delivered to you? I don't see how it can be that difficult.

Section 14 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when consumers obtain services from a supplier, they have "a right to … timely performance and completion of those services (and) timely notice of any unavoidable delay".

The Act doesn't say exactly what "timely" means but I think we can all agree that your experience hasn't been 'timely' at all. Your bed started to fail in October 2020, you informed them in December, and it's taken them five months to attend to it. That can't be seen by anyone as 'timely'.

I'll get in touch with the store and see if they need a calendar. Maybe that will help them keep track of time.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my wig?

There is this company that sells hair products and other stuff and I purchased a wig from them and they haven't delivered it. It was supposed to come from the courier company which also they didn't share with me when I asked. Can you help me trace them? I was given a number to pay by ewallet but the lady denied it, saying she is a client but her names match the ones on the banking details I was given.

I tried to reverse the ewallet but she already took the money out but they still haven't delivered my hair and they have disappeared just like that. Someone helped me find out about the lady and we found that they actually work at a bank.

This is complicated. I contacted the woman you mention and it seems like she's telling the truth. She's not involved in the company selling the wig, she's another customer. She tried to buy a phone from them recently and something went wrong and they offered her a refund. However, because this company doesn't seem to have any money, they diverted your money for the wig to refund her part of the money they owed her. You paid another customer, not the company. They robbed Peter to pay Paul.

I think we now need to escalate things with the company themselves. The name they're using isn't a registered company name in Botswana and their lack of available cash suggests they're either incompetent, very unlucky or dishonest. Regardless of which it might be we need to get you your money back.

The lesson from this is to always be very careful before you pay someone for something. If you can, insist on paying money directly from your bank account to theirs. That way you can check that the person receiving the money is really who they say they are. Of course, lots of people running small businesses these days use money transfer services like eWallet. They're harder to check because they often just use a cellphone number but you should always call the number you're given first to check who it really belongs to.

Can I get my money back?

Good day Mr Richard. Just a really quick question. We bought a sink from a certain hardware store in Palapye. We decided the sink was not to our liking so we wanted to return it. The shop owner told us that he does not accept returns and if we do want to return then he will take 10% of the money. My question is, in the absence of either a written or verbal notification of this practice, was what he did legal? I need your advice as I would like to take the matter further.

I'm sorry but I don't have any good news for you.

The Consumer Protection Act is very clear when it says that a consumer "has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects". It also says that when something is faulty they must either repair it, replace it or refund you the price you paid.

However, this is the bad news for you. This is only the case when the product you bought was faulty or if the seller mis-sold it to you. If the thing you bought works as expected then you have no right to return it. You have no right to change your mind.

Of course there are certain stores that allow you to return things but that's just excellent customer service and a way of boosting the loyalty and confidence of their customers. Unfortunately, not all stores are as committed to customer service as others.

However, there are stores like this one that allow you to return things if you pay them a fee. Paying them 10% might be the best solution in this situation. A 90% refund is better than nothing.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my refund?

I am kindly seeking for your assistance. I bought an iPhone 7plus 256gb from a local business. The phone price was P4,850. I paid the deposit in December, 70% upfront. I was told the phone takes 3-4 weeks to arrive. On January 15th the phone arrived. 3 weeks down the line the camera was malfunctioning, it looks like it was manufacturer's fault, as the camera never focused. I informed the seller, and she told me to bring it so she takes it to her technician. I did that but the technician couldn't fix the camera. I was given an option to change cameras or get a new phone. I refuse to switch camera because I said the phone will lose it value once it gets opened and cameras being replaced. I opted to get a new one.

That meant the phone has to be shipped back and me getting a new one. Okay fine. On the 9th of March I was told a new phone is coming and leaving Hong Kong. Later the statement changed that the shipment is stuck and up to now its the same old story, either the shipment is stuck or they have left but they'll take long. I have asked for a refund as now its been 2 months still going back and forth. The lady tells me that she has used up her savings she has no money, I paid almost P5,000 and I have no phone and she doesn't want to refund me.

I'm asking for assistance on what to do next. Thank you.

You've been very patient, perhaps too patient.

First let's think about the phone you bought. The iPhone 7 Plus model you bought hasn't been produced by Apple since mid-2017 and I wonder where this phone has been in the last few years? Has it been sitting on a shelf in Hong Kong gathering dust? Or has it been in use for that time? Is it in fact a reconditioned second-hand phone? Of course, there's nothing wrong with second-hand phones so long as the seller is honest about that. As consumers we have the right to know whether we're buying something new or second-hand.

Either way, you had a right to a phone that worked properly and if it went wrong you were entitled to one of the three Rs, a replacement, a repair or a refund. The store was entitled to decide which of these was best for them and a replacement is probably a good choice. But they can't take forever doing this. You had a right to a replacement promptly, not after nearly three months. I think you now have a right to demand a prompt refund and whether she's using her savings or not, I don't really care. I think you should threaten to take her to the Small Claims Court and get an order from them compelling her to refund you promptly. I'll also get in touch with her and see what she says.

They want us to pay for something we don't have!

I am in need of your help. My mom once tried to buy some sofa covers from Home Choice but they never arrived to Botswana and upon that she cancelled the order and only for her to start receiving payment statements from Home Choice that she owes the sofa covers which are not in her possession. She didn't pay as she have never received the sofa covers but instead Home Choice handed the account to Norman Bisset whom they are calling her every now and then demanding the payment. She narrated the story to them and they requested for her to write a police affidavit which stated that she have never received the sofa covers and the letter was sent to Home Choice through Norman Bisset. The Home Choice guys never responded to the letter till today but instead I'm still getting calls from Norman Bisset demanding payment for items that we don't have. Can you please assist.

This seems to be a very common experience. Many, many people have approached us over the years with very similar experiences with HomeChoice. You'd think by now they would have put in place systems that allow them to deal with these situations so they don't hassle innocent consumers who've done nothing wrong.

I'll contact HomeChoice and see if they can add your mother to the list of people that eventually stop bothering. We'll also need to insist that HomeChoice ensure your mother's credit history isn't affected by this. Your mother shouldn't be disadvantaged in any way because a supplier can't organise itself properly.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want a working fridge!

I bought a second-hand fridge in February from someone in Block 3 who repairs and sells fridges. After two days it stopped working. I told him to come pick it and refund me, he promised do so, but even now, he didn't, and he not picking my calls, please help me.

Despite what people might think, just because something is second-hand, that doesn't mean you have no consumer rights if it goes wrong. Of course, we must understand that a second-hand or repaired item isn't going to be quite a good or reliable as something new and we need to have sensible expectations. For instance, a 15-year old car isn't going to be as reliable as a new vehicle. An old laptop isn't going to last as long as a new one. A reconditioned fridge isn't going to be quite as good as a new one. That's just common sense but while a second-hand item might not still have the manufacturer's warranty the person selling it should still be as clear as possible what condition the item is in.

However, Section 14 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Act says that a consumer is entitled to:
"the use, delivery or installation of goods that are free of defects and are of a quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect".
That's the important thing in my view, "reasonably entitled to expect". We can't expect a second-hand and repaired fridge to be as good as a new fridge but I think we're "reasonably entitled to expect" a fridge that works reasonably well. It should certainly work for more than two days.

I contacted the fridge guy and asked him what he was planning to do to resolve this situation. All he could say was:
"Yeah only things wre not right bt dafnately by end of this months without failure lm going to give hr wht is hers of or before cs l delayed wth a project tht we wre doing".
I hope his fridge-mending skills are better than his keyboard skills. If you're willing, let's give him until the end of the month and see if he can do the decent thing.

I was sold a stolen laptop!

A guy in Palapye, a student at BIUST, he sells stolen items. He sold us a laptop for P7,500 in November. The Police called us and took it from us claiming it's a stolen item. The guy promised to make things right, to change it or return the money but up to this day he has done nothing. Now he doesn't even pick the calls, he's just a scammer.

This is serious. This is more than just a consumer issue, more than just a failure to offer good customer service. This isn't just a breakdown in communication or a failure to respect someone's consumer rights, this is receiving stolen goods and Section 317 of the Penal Code is very clear about the penalty for this. It says that any person
"who receives or retains any property knowing or having reason to believe the same to have been stolen … is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years".
I contacted the guy in Palapye and he didn't seem very concerned. He just said "the supplier isnt responding keeps postponing. he is in gabz". Unfortunately, I don't care. He sold you a stolen laptop and whether he was involved in the theft or not, he needs to treat this issue seriously and resolve it as quickly as possible.

If this guy has any sense, he'll do his best to distance himself from his supplier and give the impression he's an innocent victim of the criminal as well as you are. The best way he can do this is to give you either a full refund or a laptop that hasn't been stolen. Is that too much to ask? Or does he want to experience 14 years of official hospitality?