Thursday 27 November 2008

Success University advertisements

Adverts are appearing in the papers offering people "up to $50,000 per annum" if they get involved with Success University. Unfortunately the web site mentioned doesn't seem to let me email them a complaint about pretending to be a University.

This also meant I couldn't explain to them that they were in breach of Section 17 (1) (i) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 lists a number of "deceptive methods, acts or practices shall constitute acts of unfair business practice", one of which is:
"advertising courses of instruction and implying the promise of
employment or remuneration where this cannot be guaranteed".

Thursday 20 November 2008

A visit from Success University

On Thursday 13th November I got to the office and found a delegation from Success University outside the office. They were very upset about the coverage we had given them in Mmegi.

Their General Manager for Southern Africa told me that our coverage was very damaging to them but curiously could not tell me anything in the article that was factually incorrect.

One item of interest was the press release from the Bank of Namibia which has described Success University as a pyramid scheme and has declared them illegal in Namibia. He told me that following his intervention this was going to be reversed.

So I called the Bank of Namibia to ask about this.

Not surprisingly the Bank of Namibia told me that this was not quite correct. They said they stand by their press release. They had received a lot of information from Success University and they will be updating their judgement but that saying it was going to be reversed was "not based on truth".

Meanwhile, we've received a deluge of emails from Success University participants. Very strangely though they all have exactly the same structure. Would this perhaps be a concerted campaign by SU?

Watch this space...

Are we different?

I’m writing this within minutes of my return from a trip to Johannesburg. As many of us do every so often we needed a day or two away for some wider shopping choices, a bit of healthy self-indulgence (yes, I insist that it’s good for you) and just a change of scenery.

But every time I’m there I find myself becoming all analytical and wonder about what I perceive to be the difference in service between Botswana and SA.

Like many of us, I instinctively think service is a bit better down south. I’m not saying things are wonderful there and terrible here but I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a common perception.

But does perception mean truth? Just because something feels true, that doesn’t mean it really is. We all see the Sun apparently travelling across the sky every day but we know that it’s just an illusion, we know the Earth is rotating around the Sun. We know that although distant objects appear smaller they don’t really shrink as they grow more distant. We all know that although it calls itself a church, the so-called Church of Scientology is really a business masquerading as one.

I think there are several reasons why service seems better over there. Firstly there’s the volume. Johannesburg is enormous compared to any town in Botswana. There are many more shops, restaurants and hotels in which South Africans can impress us. I’m not sure how many stores there are at Riverwalk Shopping Mall in Gaborone but I suspect that a large mall in Joburg has 10 times as many. There are simply more places to get good service.

Then there’s the fact that we simply can’t trust our perceptions. No, trust me, we can’t. So you think you can tell the difference between black and white? You can tell which of two objects is the biggest? You can tell whether something is moving or still? If you don’t believe me, visit our web site and see the new section on perceptual illusions.

Human beings, and for all I know it our ape cousins as well, are prone to a psychological effect called “confirmation bias”. This is the tendency we all have to remember those events that match, or confirm, our beliefs and prejudices, and to forget those that do not. Just think about something like the newspaper horoscopes. They’re full of the vaguest, most meaningless nonsense but every so often, just by sheer chance, they might get something right. Maybe one week you WILL have stroke of good luck, you WILL meet a new love or you WILL get a new job opportunity. You’ll remember those lucky coincidences but you’ll conveniently forget the hundred times they missed by miles.

I think that happens in service. We remember the encounters in Joburg that fulfil our pre-conceived ideas. We remember the charming waitress, the helpful shop attendant and the bank teller with the gorgeous smile and we forget every time someone is surly, unhelpful or just rude. We expect to get better service there so that’s what we remember.

Then there’s the competitive effects of wider choice. There are hundreds of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops in Joburg and far fewer in Gaborone. If you want to choose a hotel in Gabs you have a very limited choice. They’re often so fully booked that you have to take what you can get.

Not so much in Joburg. There must be hundreds of hotels there. They have to fight much harder for your money. They can do that either by cutting their prices of just doing things better than their rivals. Or both.

If you ask around one thing that some (rather unenlightened, out-dated and naïve) people will suggest is that there’s a cultural difference, maybe even a genetic difference between us and them. We can discount that one as silly from the beginning. It’s simply not true that there’s a gene for warmth and attention that differs between different ethnic groups.

Maybe it’s our history? I think this is more convincing. We all know the history of struggle for freedom and the cruelty South Africans have endured. The University I attended had a motto: “Per Ardua Ad Astra”. Through adversity to the stars. In other words it’s though hard work and struggle that things are achieved. Despite the very long way SA has still to go they have a wonderful sense of achievement and pride that I think we lack. We’ve had it too good and we show it.

Then there’s the history of business leadership they have, clearly an advantage over us. When I think of all the moments of good service I got during my trip away you could tell that there was an active manager somewhere close.

The good news is that we DO have this here. Maybe not as much as our cousins do but we have it nevertheless. Think of Primi Piatti, of Café Dijo, of Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing and the Caravela. They all have hands-on, active managers who know how it’s done.

So let’s stop putting ourselves down, stop making excuses, stop thinking we’re not capable and just get out there and do it. In short, JFDI.

[You may need to Google that if you don’t know it. Mmegi won’t allow me to explain!]

This week’s stars!
  • Mothusi, Kethani and Omphile from Wild Speed in Palapye. A consumer found a nail in his tyre on a Sunday while driving in Palapye, saw their vehicle driving past and they stopped to assist. They opened up their workshop specially for him and got it fixed. See, who says we can’t do it in Botswana?
  • The team from Electrodata in Gaborone for service above and beyond.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

A while back I registered for an online free lotto and now they are saying I won a jackpot and that I should now put in a claim by sending my details to them. How credible are this guys and how should I handle this.

Please advise.

This is as likely as flying pigs, the tooth-fairy and someone who really DOES have millions of dollars stranded in a Nigerian bank account that only you can help release.

Let’s be sensible. There are some web sites that are linked to genuine lotteries around the world. However you have to remember that lotteries, like all forms of gambling, are run by highly intelligent business people who want to take in more money than they pay out. That’s the case not just with privately run lotteries but all the state-run ones as well. The catch with the lottery web sites that are linked to these national lotteries is that they also want to make money from you as well as the lottery itself. You stand to win even less if you enter a lottery through a middle man.

However, the whole area of online lotteries is full of scammers. The clue in what you say is that the online lottery you entered was “free”. There’s no such thing as a free lottery. Every lottery requires you to buy a ticket in return for a chance to win. That’s how the lottery companies make their money. If it’s free how can it be real?

What will probably happen is that if you respond to the notification that you’ve won you’ll be asked for money up front. If you do a search on the Internet you’ll find endless stories from people who had to pay money to “validate” their prize and never got a thebe as a result.

Send us the details of the lottery you entered and we’ll research this some more. However I don’t think we’ll have any good news for you. We’ll post what we find on our web site for everyone to read.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Dear Commissioner

Dear Commissioner

[An open letter to the Commissioner of Police.]

We have recently investigated several so-called “traditional doctors” who advertised in a range of local newspapers. I believe that the products and services that they offer are illegal and that the Police Service should step in to prevent the criminal activities committed by these charlatans.

They breach the requirements of the Consumer Protection Regulations by offering “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis” but that is not a matter for the Police. More important is their criminal activities, an area where the Police can intervene.

Firstly these “healers” offer medicines in their advertisements. This is illegal. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code of Botswana make it an offence punishable by up to a year in prison to publish, in writing or by speech, anything that offers to sell any “medicine, surgical appliance or treatment”.

These sections define a “prohibited advertisement” as “any advertisement of any medicine” that offers treatment for a long list of complaints. These include sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease or “any habit associated with sexual indulgence”. The list also forbids advertising anything “for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility”.

We telephoned a number of these “healers”. A “Dr” Timba offered one of our callers a solution to the fictitious virility problems her husband was experiencing for P500. The same “Dr” Timba told another caller that he could improve her CD4 count in return for P600.

A “Dr” Benson, who described himself as a “herbalist” and a “herbacologist”, told our caller that he could resolve her fertility problems for P970. For this sum she would be given “herbs” to drink that would “assist that which has been blocked”. This was before he had even asked if it was she who was infertile or her husband.

A “Dr” Hassan told another caller that he had a cure for tuberculosis. We have a recording of him stating that “Yeah, I can cure TB”. The same “Dr” Hassan, when asked if he could cure AIDS said “Yeah, I can cure”. When she asked him if that meant she was not going to die, he told her “Yeah, I can cure all that diseases that can kill you”.

All of these charlatans are cheating the public by taking their money in return for nothing of value and, worse still, false hope in the face of health problems. However, worse than all of this is the risk that consumers are taking if they fall for this deception and take these false remedies instead of orthodox, proven, scientific medicines. My great fear is that vulnerable people with HIV will stop taking their ARVs and expose themselves to a tremendous risk to their health and, in fact, their lives.

However, the most shocking of these calls didn’t relate to health matters at all. The same “Dr” Timba who could resolve virility problems and improve a caller’s CD4 count also offered services that go way beyond mere prohibited advertisements.

Our caller told Timba a story. She said that she had a pending court case and that she would like the opposite side “to lose and to disappear”. She even wondered whether it was possible for her opponent “to have a horrible car accident”. Although Timba was initially reluctant to discuss the issue on the phone we managed to push him. She asked him “Can you help me achieve that?” he said “Yes” and “That’s not a problem”.

Clearly, Timba is a charlatan and a fraud and we entrapped him. He obviously has no genuine ability to bring about anyone’s death but his conduct seems to verge on being conspiracy to commit murder.

Section 221 of the Penal Code states that “Any person who conspires with any other person to kill any person… is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years”. We believe that although Timba clearly did not have the capability to undertake the crime he showed himself willing to conspire to do so.

Of course, we do not believe that he can actually be charged with such a crime. We haven’t produced sufficient, admissible evidence for such a charge. We are not a law-enforcement agency but we are entitled to lodge a complaint and to request further investigations.

I believe that Timba and his kind are a menace to our society and are guilty of publishing prohibited advertisements. I also wonder how each of these people, who are all foreigners. managed to enter Botswana. If they failed to declare themselves as healers then presumably they are operating illegally in that regard as well.

What is also of concern is that these so-called “healers” are almost certainly not registered as practitioners as required by the Botswana Health Professions Act, 2001. I also believe that, by all calling themselves “Doctor”, they are guilty of Cheating, as outlawed by Section 310 of the Penal Code. They may even be guilty of “Spreading infection” (outlawed by Section 184) if they encourage a consumer to stop taking their legitimate medication and replace it with their worthless products.

We believe that action is required. We believe that these charlatans need to be stopped. They threaten our people, our health and our rule of law.

I urge you to investigate these so-called “healers” and to assess for yourself the extent of their criminality.

With best regards

The Consumer Watchdog Team

This week’s stars!

  • Ditiro from The A Team builders for being charming.
  • The team at the No. 1 Ladies Opera House for excellent service

Wednesday 12 November 2008

An email regarding Success University


Many thanks for your email regarding Success University.

Despite what you suggest, everything we write IS researched carefully.  I DID look closely into Success University's business model and, to me, it satisfies the definition of a pyramid selling scheme very well.  It's not helpful to fall to the level of "ad hominem" attacks because my analysis doesn't match yours.

I don't agree at all with what you say about either SU or the Direct Selling Association.  Membership of an industry group, particularly when that group was set up specifically to protect the interests of it's members rather than their customers, doesn't persuade me.

Your statement "Because AMWAY,STRATEQUITY,QUIXTAR and even Success University are members then it means they are following good bussiness practice" is no more than "an argument from authority".  Membership of a group like the DSA proves nothing.  Did you know that SU have only been members of the DSA in the USA since June 2008?  Did you know that they aren't a member of the South African DSA?  Is this perhaps because the DSA in SA encourages people to avoid "Illegitimate Pyramid Schemes".

One of the best comments I've heard so far regarding SU is, in fact, your own.  You say "SU is not selling tangible products".  I agree entirely.  What SU, and other pyramid schemes, are selling is the illusory opportunity to make money, not from a product but from the opportunity to recruit others beneath you and to encourage them to recruit others beneath them.  THAT is a pyramid scheme.  

When we attended their presentation in Gaborone it was made clear to all attendees that this was how money could be made.  However, no mention was made of the mathematics of pyramid selling and the requirement for Malthusian, exponential "down-line" growth in order to make the impossible fortune.  

However, ignore my opinions and instead trust those of the Bank of Namibia who stated last month that:

"After carrying out its investigations, the Bank hereby declares the operations of Success University in Namibia to constitute a pyramid scheme and therefore it is illegal. The Bank of Namibia, therefore, warns all promoters of this scheme in Namibia to stop their activities immediately."

Anyway, thanks for at least expressing an opinion!  If only more people took the time to do so, even if we disagree.

Best regards


-----Original Message-----
Sent: Monday 10 November 2008 17:21
Subject: Information is power


I really love your great job of sensitising the nation on tricks that conmen usually use to rob people of their hard erned money.There is one advice i need to give you so that you dont mislead the nation in the name of consumer protection.Anything you dont understand i encourage you not to say anything about or atleast take time to research in that area so that an informative information is published.With MLM/Network marketing companies there are certain code of conducts/practice that they have to operate within.There is an international organisation called the Direct Selling Association(DSA).It is a regulatory body that that controls direct selling.It also doesnt allow pyramids.Because AMWAY,STRATEQUITY,QUIXTAR and even Success University are members then it means they are following good bussiness practice.The only problem is that SU is not selling tangible products.I suggest you enrol youself so dat you can get to know the well structured courses  inside as well as the compensation plan.Try and practice Investigative reporting.

Thank you in consumer protection

Saturday 8 November 2008

Success University - Namibia cracking down?

The Bank of Namibia has warned Namibians not to fall for Success University and even states that their operations are illegal.  See here for an AllAfrica report.  Click here for the original report from Bank of Namibia.
Good for them.  We'll be writing to the Bank of Botswana suggesting that they take the same line.

Friday 7 November 2008

Success University

We had a call this morning from Saeed Moosa who is in Botswana selling the charms of Success University. We covered this pyramid scheme in Mmegi and The Voice in the past.

Saeed said that he felt we hadn't been completely fair to Success University who he said "can sue you". I explained that I thought that would be unwise and unlikely given that everything we wrote was true and that it was for the public benefit that it be published.

He says he wants to come and see us to clear this up which he is very welcome to do.

Nevertheless we stand by what we said and what we wrote. Success University is a pyramid-selling scheme.

We'll keep readers informed.

Web and email problems

The BES and Consumer Watchdog web sites are temporarily unavailable while we move to an alternate ISP.  Things should be back to normal by Monday.

Lying to scammers

I know lying is bad but I’m sure everyone will forgive us because many of the victims of our misbehaviour have themselves been lying, cheating criminals.

Firstly there was a pyramid scheme.  

Many people will have seen these leaflets given out at traffic lights in Gaborone recently.  

One of the Consumer Watchdog team called the number on the note and she was invited to a presentation about “Success University”, a classic pyramid-selling scheme.  They encourage you to buy motivational materials but, and this is the critical clue that it's a pyramid scheme, it offers you the opportunity to sell Success University yourself.  Their web site even has a link that says "Learn and Earn".

At least MLM companies like Amway have products to sell.  Success University has no product other than some worthless mass-produced DVDs.  Consumers should just throw these leaflets away and not waste their time responding to them.

Ask yourself why a total stranger would offer you an opportunity to make a fortune rather than doing so himself unless the plan is based on exploitation?  Why would anyone try to recruit people at traffic lights?  Why would a legitimate business operate from a Hotmail address?

Then we had the email lottery scammers.  We’ve received a dozen emails in the last month saying either we’d won cash or a car in a lottery we never entered or we’d been awarded a grant by the United Nations or some such organisation.  Let’s just get this straight.  Nobody in the history of the world has ever won a lottery that they hadn’t entered.  No international organisation is going to give cash to a total stranger.  Never.

We called some of these scammers to get a taste of their methods.  Please don’t bother doing this yourself, don’t waste your money on an international phone call because we’ve done it for you already.  If you go to our web site you can hear recordings of some of our calls.

The scammers are good at their job.  When you phone them to learn more about your win they are full of enthusiasm and energy.  However this is all just a cover for two things they want from you.  Firstly they want your identity.  In order to get your hands on your fictitious winnings you have to send them your full name, address and copies of your ID documents.  Before long you’ll receive credit card bills and invoices from a range of exotic locations.  The second thing they want is much simpler.  They want your money.  In all these scams, once they’ve suckered you into believing the unbelievable and just before your imaginary LandCruiser or your non-existent fortune has reached you, there’ll be a snag.  Oh, they’ll say, there’s just the matter of the customs fee or the import duty or the legal fees. One of the crooks we called told us that to receive our lottery win we must open an offshore bank account.  OK, that’s plausible, but why would we have to pay a fee of between €1,000 and €2,000 to the scammer to open the account?

That’s all they’re after: your ID and that last-minute fee.  Give them these two things and you can rest assured you’ll never hear from them again.

Then there are the ones I think are the worst of all the scammers, the ones that do things worse than steal your money and your identity.  The ones that can kill you.

We called a number of the so-called “traditional doctors” that advertise in the newspapers.  The ones that offer cures for everything from asthma to love problems, the ones that also offer solutions to problems with your immune system.  The things they offered were startling.  Did you know that they can offer herbs to put in your bath that will guarantee you the lover of your choice?  I assume they exclude Hollywood stars and The President.

Did you know that they can solve fertility problems before even establishing that it is the woman who is infertile and not her husband?  Did you also know that they can improve your CD4 count?  They can do away with the ravages of imminent AIDS.  

Finally did you know that they can offer to have your enemies fall victim to a sudden death?  We called one who said that it was “no problem” to have someone die suddenly.

Of course he’s talking supernatural mumbo-jumbo.  He has no more ability to control someone’s fate than I do.  It’s a bit like hiring a contract killer who doesn’t actually own a gun.  But the critical thing is that he was offering to do so, regardless of his ability to achieve it.  What matters is the intent and the conspiracy to kill.  Section 221 of the Penal Code says that “Any person who conspires with any other person to kill any person… is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years”.  The conspiracy is enough.

Let’s put this to the test.  This “doctor” can presumably use his supernatural abilities to identify me.  He presumably knows I have a recording of him saying he can have someone killed.  He presumably knows that next week I plan to name him in Mmegi and give his details to the Police.  He only has 7 days left to have ME killed.

This week’s stars!
  • Suresh and his family at Knack at Kgale Hill Shopping Centre for his personal and extremely friendly service.
  • Mark at Barloworld Motors for coming up with a solution to a consumer’s problem.
  • Letiro from The A Team builders for being charming.