Thursday 30 October 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

Two weeks ago while I was in Gaborone (I live in Francistown) I encountered a situation at an internet cafe in which I bought fifteen minutes of internet time and after waiting patiently I didn’t get a connection and the owner refused to refund me my money. To top it off he was very rude about the situation saying that it wasn’t his fault.

As a consumer who was wronged what action can I take and what penalties can be imposed on people like him who have no regard for their customers?

It sounds like you have been badly let down by this Internet cafe.

By not giving you what you had paid for (internet access for 15 minutes) they have failed to honour their obligations under Section 13(1)(a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which say that a store has failed to meet minimum standards if the commodity or service they sell is not of "merchantable quality".

The Regulations also state (Section 15(1)(a)) that they have failed to meet minimum standards of performance if the service they deliver is "not rendered with reasonable care and skill and such service and any materials used are not fit for any particular purpose made known by the consumer".

Finally they have also failed again to meet minimum standards by refusing to give you a refund when they failed to give you what you had bought (Section 15(1)(e)).

No doubt what they might say is that the problem was beyond their control and blame their Internet Service Provider or BTC but that's not your concern. You paid for something, they failed to deliver it, you deserve your money back. It’s as simple as that.

The bad news is that you are unlikely to be able to prove what you say, unless you have a receipt and can prove somehow that you had no access. However, we would be very happy to call them for you to see what they say if you can give us their contact details.

Friday 24 October 2008

Bad debt?

We got a call recently from a consumer who was in trouble with some money she owed Game in Gaborone. At no point has she denied that she owed Game the money, which at the beginning of the story amounted to just over P8,800 but her ability to repay it hasn’t been helped by how Game tried to recover it.

Before I go any further I have to say that this is not a stab at Game. They were owed the money and they were perfectly entitled to reclaim it from the consumer. Nobody argues with that. It was entirely the customer’s fault that she got into trouble in the first place. But…

Game instructed a Tlokweng-based company called Sadgewicks (Pty) Ltd whose letterhead states they are “Debt Recovery, Business Consultants and Advisors”.

Again there’s nothing wrong so far. Debt collectors are a perfectly respectable way for stores to reclaim the money they are owed.

Sadgewicks got in touch with the consumer and demanded the money on Game’s behalf. She gave Sadgewicks a number of post-dated cheques that would pay off the debt. Over the next few months she paid back just over P10,000 and was beginning to suspect that she must be close to repaying the total amount. However she made a mistake, albeit a fairly innocent one. She changed banks. That meant that the remaining post-dated cheques were worthless. However she says she contacted Sadgewicks and explained what she had done and offered replacement cheques. She claims that despite this Sadgewicks tried to cash the remaining cheques and they obviously bounced. That’s when Sadgewicks, instead of calling the customer and making a plan, called the Police and the lines of communication began to break down.

Throughout the whole saga the consumer has asked for a full statement of the outstanding debt from Sadgewicks and also from Game so she could know exactly how much was left to pay.

No statement was forthcoming. In April she wrote to Sadgewicks demanding a statement. She told them that unless she got a statement of her account she would not be liable for any further interest that might accrue on the remaining balance. She got a letter the following day from Sadgewicks saying that she wasn’t going to get a statement as she had already been given several already, something that she strenuously denies.

Months passed and despite her further complaints, the consumer, who was by now blacklisted and couldn’t get a bank loan called her lawyers who wrote to Game complaining about the lack of a statement and her resulting inability to repay the correct amount.

Again, nothing happened. So she called us.

We called Sadgewicks to see if we could help sort things out. Well, we tried. The problem is that Sadgewicks appear to operate from just two cellphone numbers. Their letterhead does give a land line number but it says in bold capitals that it’s a “FAX LINE ONLY”.

Firstly they refused to take our calls when we rang from the line in our office that withholds it’s number. So we rang again from a normal phone line. Before we could even outline the problem Sadgewicks told us that they had instructed their attorneys to write to us, presumably telling us to get lost. They then “warned” us that “when you are dealing with our company you’re not just dealing with a straightforward consumer issue, you’re dealing with legal matters.” No, sorry, it’s a consumer issue. A consumer is not being given a statement detailing her debt. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask for.

Then the call became completely bizarre. They told us that “Previously you have put our company and our lives in danger”. This referred to one of several complaints we’ve had about how

Sadgewicks deal with consumers. This one resulted in them calling the Police to remove a consumer who had gone to settle a matter. We knew the call was coming to an end when they said that they “have nothing further to say to us” and that we could deal directly with their attorneys. We were told that “I am going to report your society, association or whatever you call yourselves to the relevant Ministries as well.” We were then rather rudely told that “I am informing you and requesting you, nicely, please stop calling us concerning debtors.”

Well, OK, you did ask nicely. Almost. We won’t call again. We’ll write to you. You’ll find our letter on our web site, just near the recordings we made of the phone calls we had with you.

One last thing we need to say to Sadgewicks. Don’t bother getting legal with us and threatening to sue us for defamation, OK? Section 195 of the Penal Code (there’s a summary on our web site) says that a matter is not defamatory if:

"the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published"

Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure. I just know that when consumers try to settle their debts they should be helped to do so with some cooperation and courtesy. In fact almost everyone deserves cooperation and courtesy don’t they? This consumer had to cope without either of those things.

Don’t forget to listen to Consumer Watchdog every Thursday morning between 7:15am and 8:00am on DumaFM.

This week’s stars!

  • Jewel at Game at Game City in Gaborone for being “just brilliant”.
  • Beverley at Nandos also at Game City for being terrific, yet again.
  • The entire team at CafĂ© Dijo for wonderful food and a great atmosphere.

The Voice - Community survey – The dollar bill scam

Following the story on the dollar bill scam the Consumer Watchdog team hit the streets of Gaborone to ask people what they thought of this leaflet.

We didn’t tell them what or who was behind the leaflet, we just asked them whether they would be tempted to call the number or to send an email to the address given.

The good news is that only one third of the people we questioned would be tempted to make the call. One person said “Yes, with the strength of the dollar against the Pula, I think it’s tempting enough because you want to find out how you would get this dollar in your pocket.” Another said “Of course, Yes, I mean why not. It’s an opportunity to earn money and like it says you’ll be earning money in US dollars so it’s a great opportunity.”

Unfortunately consumers like these really need to be more skeptical. They need to ask themselves why the leaflet doesn’t say what the product is. Any normal, responsible and trustworthy piece of advertising would give you a clue what was being sold. This just offers you a get-rich quick opportunity. As the Consumer Watchdog team always say: “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.”

However the good news is that two thirds of the people we spoke to didn’t trust the leaflet at all.

Most just told us that they instinctively didn’t believe it was true. One very smart young woman told us that “There are so many adverts that are really empty adverts.” She thought it was similar to the online lottery scams. She said “You get a message in your mailbox saying that you’ve won the lottery but you’ve never joined the lottery! It’s a scam.”

Another lady who the Consumer Watchdog team thought was very wise said “My ethic when it comes to money is to do things the old-fashioned way. Earn your way up and invest. These get rich quick schemes are usually corrupt.”

However, most damning was a man who told us “These people, they are thieves! They should be arrested. Send them to prison now!”

Perhaps that last suggestion was going a bit far but perhaps not? If someone is trying to scam you out of your money with a pyramid scheme then perhaps the law enforcement agencies should be involved?

The advice from Consumer Watchdog is that consumers really MUST be more skeptical. We mustn’t believe what anyone says unless there is reason to do so. If someone offers us a miraculous medicine, an investment scheme that can’t possibly fail or a get-rich scheme then we must ask ourselves whether there is any evidence that what they are saying is true.

The bad news is that it’s often difficult to research these things for yourself. The Internet is full of scammers trying to mislead people but there are sites you can visit that try to give impartial and honest advice. You can begin by visiting the Consumer Watchdog site where we’ve given a list of other reputable sites that will give you honest consumer advice.

Remember that Consumer Watchdog is there to help you. Unlike the dollar bill advert you can see above it’s completely free. What do you have to lose?

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I was given a leaflet at some traffic lights in Gaborone last week that offered a way to make money in US Dollars. It said “Want to earn more money part time or earn a fortune full-time? Earn in US Dollars”. On the other side it gave an email address and cellphone contact numbers.

Is this for real?

No, it’s not, it’s a scam.

We’ve seen one of these leaflets and they are quite well-produced. It resembles a US bank note and says "Want to earn more money part time or earn a FORTUNE full time? Earn in US Dollars." The reverse of the note says "The best money opportunity awaits you". It then gives two Botswana-based cellphone numbers, one South African and a Hotmail email address.

One of the Consumer Watchdog team called the numbers on the note.

This turned out to be for the ridiculous Success University, a classic pyramid-structure Multi-Level Marketing scheme. This scheme encourages you to sign up for motivational course work but, and this is the critical clue that it's not legitimate, it offers you the opportunity to sell Success University yourself. Their web site even has a link that says "Learn and Earn".

This explains how you can make money. It’s the usual pyramid-selling approach. To make money you have to recruit other people who, in turn, recruit others who themselves recruit others. And so on, and so on. Of course, like all pyramid schemes there are the promises of huge amounts of money. Success University promises “up to $10,000 each week”.

At least Multi-Level Marketing companies like Amway have real products to sell. Success University has no product other than some meaningless so-called motivational speeches that they are mass producing.

Ask yourself why a total stranger would offer you an opportunity to make a fortune rather than doing so himself? Why on earth would a total stranger try and recruit people at traffic lights? Why would a legitimate business operate from a Hotmail address?

Consumers should just throw these leaflets away and not waste their time and risk their money by responding to them.

Friday 17 October 2008

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In September I went to a Chinese store called Investors View in Kasane and bought speakers costing P315.

When I got the speakers home I asked my friend to connect them for me, only to find that they weren’t working.  I took it back the following day.  The manager showed me a piece of paper that said “No guarantee for electronics” but he had never showed me that before I bought the speakers.  He told me that it is my responsibility to walk around the store and find the notice for myself.

I asked him to check the connections but he refused to listen and chased me out of the store.  He even said I should report him to the Police.  I went to the Police but they advised me to go to Consumer Affairs.

Can you tell me if there is a law regarding no guarantees?

Yes, there most certainly is!  A store simply cannot do that.  Section 17 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that it is a deceptive business practice if a store disclaims or limits “the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”.  Notice that last bit.  It’s no good having a scrappy piece of paper hidden in a drawer underneath your unpaid VAT bills that says “No guarantees”.  It must be on the wall where nobody can miss it.  The next section of the Regulations states that it’s another deceptive business practice if they get you to waive your rights unless you have specifically consented to it.  That means in writing, before you paid.

So no, they can’t do that.  We’ll get our Chinese-speaking colleague to give them a call and explain to them in simple terms where they’ve gone wrong.

Meanwhile?  If you buy anything from Investors View in Kasane then be prepared to be abused.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Letter to Mmegi regarding scams

Many people will have seen a leaflet that is being given out at traffic lights in Gaborone at the moment.  It resembles a US bank note and says "Want to earn more money part time or earn a FORTUNE full time?  Earn in US Dollars."  The reverse of the note says "The best money opportunity awaits you".  It then gives two Botswana-based cellphone numbers, one South African and a Hotmail email address.

Consumers should just throw these leaflets away and not waste their time responding to them.  This type of scam is widely used around the world and is actually quite similar to the Nigerian 419 or "advance fee" scams that anyone with an email address has seen.  At some point the unsuspecting consumer will be required to pay these scammers a membership or joining fee.  That's how they earn their money.

We consumers should be more skeptical.  We should ask ourselves why a total stranger would offer us an opportunity to make a fortune rather than doing so himself?  Why on earth would a total stranger try and recruit people at traffic lights?  Why would a legitimate business operate from a Hotmail address?

I urge consumers to do the sensible thing.  Throw these leaflets away and do not get suckered into parting with your cash.  The old saying is a good one.  If something seems too good to be true then it certainly IS too good to be true.

Richard Harriman
Consumer Watchdog

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Online lotteries

Hi there!! I read your article about scams,cons and deceptions and it got me thinkin a lot.

I'll just get to the point...........I played free lotto games in March and I was told that I won. I had to enter my personal details and I started receiving e-mails notifying me that I won $1000000.

Some e-mails consists of cheques written my name and signed by the prize coordinator.They sent me an e-mail saying that they are seeking for an International winner which is me.I also have a list of people who played the lotto and won and then claimed their prizes. Some did not claim them.

The problem is that I do not know if its true or what. I tend to believe and sometimes I doubt. I just need your clarification about this and I guess you are the only one who can help me.

The bad news is that online lotteries are a waste of time.

Some do link to official lotteries like those in the UK and the USA but you are required to pay an extra fee on top of the basic lottery ticket price. That reduces your likely financial return even further than if you had entered the lottery in person.

Then there are others that are straightforward scams. They don't actually offer you anything genuine at all.

As for the emails you're getting regarding "winnings" these are fraudulent. This is one of the most common forms of email spam at the moment and they are probably not connected to you entering lotteries online, it's jut a coincidence. For instance I don't play online lotteries but I've received emails telling me I've won big prizes many, many times. These are what they call "advance fee" scams like the Nigerian 419 scams. They tempt you to respond and before long you have to pay them an advance fee or legal fees or customs clearance fees. It's this money they are seeking. As soon as you pay they will disappear and you will never hear from them again.

My first piece of advice is to ignore online lotteries completely. You are never going to win anything and your net return will be less than the amount you pay to play. That's how they make money.

My second piece of advice is never, ever respond to unsolicited emails that say you have won money. They are ALL scams. ALL of them.

Hope his helps!

Thursday 9 October 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In 2003 I opened an account with Jet Stores in Gaborone.  This included insurance cover against all sorts of risks.  In 2005 I lost my teaching job due to illness.  From that time I failed to service my account, particularly when I spent 6 months out of the country seeking treatment.  When I returned to Botswana I contacted Jet and told them of my circumstances.  At that time my account balance stood at about P3,000.  They told me that they couldn’t help and that my account would continue accruing interest.  I tried my best to pay instalments with the help of friends and relatives.

I recently got another job and I started paying back P500 each month but I was shocked to find that my balance now stood at P7,000.  I also found out that I had been blacklisted.

My problem is that I thought I was insured against loss of employment and I think that Jet should have considered this.  I have tried to clear my name with TransUnion but they won’t do anything about it.

Can you help me? 

I’m sorry but I don’t think we can help very much.

You face several problems.  The first, and MOST significant, is that you failed to tell Jet in time that you lost your job and couldn’t make your repayments.  You really must tell a store these things instantly.  They’re not interested if you tell them months later.  Even if your policy did include insurance against losing your job it was probably too late by then.

There is probably very little that can be done regarding your listing with TransUnion.  Everything Jet told them was true.

You seem surprised that the amount you owed had increased so much.  It IS surprising how quickly the interest on a loan can accumulate if you fail to make repayments.  

You’re not a maths teacher are you?

An uncomfortable truth

The truth isn’t always what you want it to be.  That’s just one of those lessons that adults have to learn although many of us still retain one or two childish delusions into our grown-up years.  Some adults still believe in ghosts, witchcraft and thokolosi.  Some still believe that Governments are best placed to run businesses.  I confess I still believe that public transport and BX drivers CAN drive safely if they want to.

But we’re all slightly deluded if we still believe in this sort of nonsense.  Part of growing up is to put behind us the childish delusions and to embrace what is really true.  What is demonstrably true, the things that are based on real evidence.  Far from making life clinical and boring in fact this approach just makes us much more in touch with reality.  As the author Douglas Adams said “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

As consumers, as citizens, just as people we have an obligation to look around us and examine what we are told and to try our best to identify what is right and what is not.

I’ve had to do this recently and it’s not always a terribly comfortable thing to do. 

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the forthcoming alcohol levy.  Instinctively I opposed it.  One of the reasons I opposed it was that I thought just putting up the price of booze wouldn’t actually dissuade anyone from drinking.  Well I was wrong.  It doesn’t take much internet browsing to establish that there is actually quite a lot of evidence that putting up the price of alcohol reduces it’s consumption.  Obviously there’s an element of common sense in that but it struck me as being a rather crude way to achieve the aim of reducing alcohol abuse.

I also have a fundamental opposition to anything that places me in the same camp as puritans.  I am a self-confessed self-indulger and I really dislike that streak of puritanical rejection of fun you sometimes see.  A puritan has been described as a person who has the nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having more fun than they are.

However the uncomfortable truth for me is that there IS quite a lot of evidence that when countries enforce a levy such as the one our government is considering then alcohol consumption DOES actually go down.

However, I do still oppose it.  Not, as a friend pointed out, because each time it’s implementation approaches I stock up on wine and then promptly drink the stockpile in celebration each time it is postponed.

No, I oppose it primarily because it’s a bit like employing a dog-catcher rather than tying up your dog at night.  Instead of introducing something new with a range of unknown consequences why don’t we first use the tools we already have?  We already have a remarkably effective method for controlling alcohol abuse.  In fact we have thousands of them.  Very usefully they even wear easy-to-spot blue uniforms to help us see them.  The Police.  They have the training, the transport and, most importantly, the legal powers to curb excessive drinking.  They have the power to sit outside bars and make sure we don’t get into fights.  They have the power to stop someone who’s driving like a drunken moron and take their keys away.  They have the power to close down bars if they are causing a public nuisance.  All of these powers exist already.  There just not being used.

Instead of trying the levy first why don’t we demand that the Police use their existing powers and see what effect that has?  It’ll certainly be cheaper for everyone than introducing the levy.  It’ll save some jobs, save KBL some legal expenses and will earn the Police some respect from the community.  Only when there is real fear of enforcement of a law (and punishment) will it be respected.  

In fact, why don’t we go a little further?  Let’s not restrict our demand for action to the Police, let’s include all the other agencies.  Let’s demand that the Consumer Protection Unit enforce the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations.  Let’s see them throw a couple of store managers and Managing Directors in jail for a few days for ignoring the law.

The uncomfortable truth is that we are being badly let down by our law enforcement agencies.  The uncomfortable truth is that unless WE start demanding service from the authorities we will never get them.

Another uncomfortable truth is that it’s not just the public service that is letting us down.  Anyone who uses the internet regularly will have noticed some severe problems recently.  I’m told that this is down to a BTC problem.  BTC even issued a press release outlining the problem and referring customers not to BTC but to the Internet Service Provider.  Where exactly is this press release?  I don’t know.  It’s not on their web site where you might expect it to be.  The only way I know there WAS a press release is because I found a reference to it at  That’s not exactly comforting, is it?

This week’s stars!
  • Opi from Musica at Game City in Gaborone for going out of her way to deliver excellent service.
  • Boitshoko at FNB First Card for being brilliant.
  • Philemon at BPC for being really helpful and for caring about his customers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

On 8th January this year I bought a refrigerator on credit from Supreme Furnishers at Game City in Gaborone.  After a few months I had difficulty making the payments and I communicated with Supreme about my problem.

On 11th June I got home and found that the fridge was not there.  I called them and they said that they had repossessed the fridge.  On 16th July I went to them with the money I owed them for the arrears and also for some months up front.  They told me that they had already sold the fridge and listed me with TransUnion and that I still owed them the remaining balance.

My complaint is that they think they can repossess without giving me proof that they have done so.  I tried to talk to the Credit Manager at Supreme HQ but she said she couldn’t help me and that I couldn’t have my fridge back

Can you help me? 

Unfortunately this is too late.  Supreme have taken your goods, sold them and listed your bad credit history with TransUnion.  However it seems unbelievable that Supreme would have gone all the way to repossess your goods without communicating with you first.  Surely there was some paperwork from them?

We’ve seen contracts from other furniture stores that make you acknowledge that the store can come and enter your premises and take possession of your goods if you fail to pay the instalments on time.  You probably signed such an agreement when you bought the fridge in January.

We’ll get in contact with Supreme and get their side of the story.  However unfortunately I suspect that this is too late and that they will claim they went through their correct procedures before repossessing the fridge.  We’ll let you know.

Meanwhile the lesson is ALWAYS to read the contract you sign.  Do NOT sign it until you have understood it.  Do NOT sign it if you don’t want to abide by the conditions.

Funny language

Why do so many people, and some professions in particular, insist on talking in a funny language?

I confess that probably the worst offenders are consultants, that strange sub-species of humanity who wander round telling people the blindingly obvious in return for sometimes staggering amounts of money.

Here comes a confession.  I used to be a consultant.  A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, it was my job to run around telling people how to do certain things.  However I did try and keep the linguistic mumbo-jumbo to a minimum.

The other usual target of criticism for showing off with long words and cryptic phrases is, of course, the legal profession.

Just last week I was given the job of reading and amending a contract between two parties.  I’m not a lawyer but a lot of what is written in contracts is fairly simple.  Well, it is once you can fight your way through the silliness.  Early on in the contract it said “Whereas: Company A is desirous of undertaking…” and it went on and on.  “Desirous of undertaking”?  Which century do they think we are in?  

In fact I don’t think anyone ever spoke like that.  Have you ever turned to your loved one and said “It has occurred to me Darling that I am desirous of undertaking a trip to a local purveyor of delicious comestibles in order to enter into a pecuniary exchange so that I can experience some short term gustatory satisfaction”?  No, you just said “I’m going to Spar for some bread.”  Nobody ever has talked like that, nobody does now and nobody ever will.  It’s just a way for the feeble minded and intellectually insecure to sound like they have some special knowledge that you and I lack.

Well, does any of this matter to you and me?  The trouble is that I think it does.  It matters because this linguistic fooling around can be seen in almost all the contracts stores ask us to sign before we can get hold of our goods.  There’s our infamous example of a contract that was presented to a consumer (in fact lots of them) that contained the clause that described the “irrevocable offer to purchase” they were making.  What the contract should have said, which would have been much easier to understand, was “You can never withdraw from this contract without our consent”.  Isn’t that much simpler and easier to understand?

So why would this company use such a round-about way of saying something they could have said much more simply?  I can think of several explanations but one stands out as most likely to me.  They don’t want you to understand.  They know that if you figured out what it all meant there’s no way in a million years you’d sign the damn thing.  They know you’re not stupid but they suspect you won’t understand the contract before signing it.

This particular case was made more disturbing by the refusal of the company in question to let potential customers take the contract home to read overnight BEFORE signing it.  Why would they do that?  When we asked them they said they were afraid that people might steal it and use the terms of the contract in their own contracts.  They said they would explain the contract to the consumer when he or she signed it.  Yes, that’s right.  No, we didn’t think they were serious either.

It’s quite simple really.  This organisation didn’t want you to read the contract because they didn’t want you to understand it.  They didn’t want you asking your Mum or your big brother what “irrevocable” meant.  They didn’t want the contract to be seen by anyone with a rational mind.  They just wanted you to sign up for ever and a day and not be able to get out of the contract unless it pleased them to allow you to do so.  Which it wouldn’t.

In fact they were so keen for consumers not to understand how they operated that they threatened to sue us for defamation for talking about it on the radio and here in the press.

Ooooh, scarey.

Funnily enough they didn’t ever sue us.  Know why?  Because there’s a wonderful clause in our Penal Code that states it’s not defamation if what you said was true and it was in the public interest for the truth to be told.  I think their lawyer saw sense and advised them to drop it before they caused themselves more embarrassment by suing us than we had already caused them.

So be wary of the language you see in contracts.  There is absolutely no reason for companies to speak in a strange, made-up language.  Neither the law nor the community demand, require or even benefit from stores speaking in a funny voice.

Enough.  I have to go now because I’m desirous of undertaking the production of a fragrant herbal infusion.  I need a cup of tea.

This week’s stars!
  • Mpho at Chutneys Restaurant in Gaborone for always being friendly.
  • Mavis from FNB Kgale Hill Branch for preventing a problem happening rather than fixing it afterwards.
  • The entire team from Mochudi Engen filling station from a regular customer for consistently great service.
  • Shadrack from New Capitol Cinemas for a very good response to a problem.
  • Mr Sola at the main Post Office in Gaborone for caring for his customers.