Thursday 30 October 2008
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
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 Café Dijo for wonderful food and a great atmosphere.
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?
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
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?
Wednesday 15 October 2008
Tuesday 14 October 2008
Thursday 9 October 2008
- 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.
- 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.