Friday 26 June 2009


I’m sure I’m not the only one who is constantly surprised by how many people keep falling for pyramid schemes in all their shapes and sizes. I also know that most people who finally escape the clutches of such schemes then spend ages wondering how they could have been so stupid.

Just this month a Ponzi scheme, a distant relative of the pyramid scheme was uncovered in South Africa. Seemingly very similar to the recent Bernard Madoff scandal in the USA, this scheme was allegedly run by a guy called Barry Tannenbaum. According to various sources Tannenbaum would ask for investments from his victims and promised returns of over 200% per year. In fact the returns the investors received came directly from the investments made by later investors. That’s the essence of a Ponzi scheme. You offer fantastic returns to victim A, take his money, keep it, make the same offer to victim B, take her money and give some of it to victim A. Then do the same with victims C, D and E, giving each one some of the money from the people that follow them. Of course you keep a lot of it for yourself. As you can imagine it soon becomes increasingly difficult to find victims as the numbers needed to keep the scam going get bigger and bigger. Sooner or later victim A will come back and demand more returns but there’s no longer enough money to go around. That’s when it all falls apart and you skip the country and begin a new career as a fugitive from justice.

In the Tannenbaum case one poor fool apparently invested R100 million, presumably not his own. The papers estimate the total “investment” might have been as much as R10 billion.

Of course not everyone falls for such massive schemes, the smaller ones are the ones that get you and me, those of us who don’t have R100 million to throw away. We fall for the pyramid schemes, or more likely, their distant cousins, the Multi Level Marketing schemes. These are just as simple as a Ponzi scheme but always operate at a smaller scale. Almost always these involve you being “recruited” into a scheme that offers you some perceived benefit. It might be cheap “lifestyle” products, educational material or weight-loss or health products.

However, what they are really offering you is an “opportunity”. Not an opportunity to buy their products, that’s just a cover story. The real opportunity they are selling you is the chance to make money by recruiting other people below you. The opportunity is to get a bonus based on the sales of the people beneath you. The person who recruits you also recruits others, each one recruits people beneath them and each of those people recruits other and so on. If each recruit in turn recruits several others you get a pyramid-shaped structure. The trouble is that very quickly the number of potential recruits is exhausted. At best the lower portions of the pyramid just end up buying products from the levels above them. Each level above them takes a cut of the money they spend. The vast proportion of the recruits end up losing money.

In evidence in a court case in the UK a couple of years ago when the British authorities tried to put Amway out of business, Amway were forced to admit that almost three quarters of their “distributors” made no money at all from the scheme. Only 37 distributors out of a population of 60 million made as much as the average wage from Amway.

However, and I must be honest, Amway don’t bother me that much, not nearly as much as some of the other MLM schemes. What bothers me is organisations like the ridiculously named Success University. Let’s start with the basics. They are not a University. If I call myself a doctor when I’m not actually a doctor then I’m a criminal. If I call myself a police officer when I’m not really a police officer then I’m a criminal. If I call my company a university when it’s not really a university then what am I?

Success University’s cover story is that it sells motivational and educational material. In fact what it wants is your money and for you to recruit other victims to give them their money as well. Success University is an illegal pyramid scheme. That’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of the Bank of Namibia who have declared SU illegal in Namibia. They should be illegal here as well.

Success University is not, unfortunately, alone. This week I was warned about a new pyramid scheme called “Elite Activity Resurrected”. This scam describes itself as “The World's first Interdenominational Belief System on the Internet”. When you dig through the various quotes from the Bible and the endless pseudo-religious waffle you get to the basis of the scam. You “donate” money to someone, recruit others beneath you who donate via you, each level takes a cut, the original founders make a killing and the innocent sheep at the bottom of the pyramid are fleeced.

The best clue I found regarding the true nature of this scam is on their website. They say that of you want to join you “will need to contact the participant who invited you into our belief system to become a participant yourself”. These crooks claim to be in Botswana already.

Consider yourself warned. The people behind pyramid schemes will come up with a variety of stories to persuade you to join their scam. Be constantly sceptical, don’t believe anyone who offer you wealth and happiness until you’ve done your homework. If you need advice you know how to get in touch with us.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Yet more stories this week, all of them VERY long so you’ll have to forgive me for cutting them down.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

On 13th March, I took my gearbox sample to a local spares centre to get a reconditioned one. The management advised me to leave the gearbox sample with them, so that they can compare with the ones they have in South Africa. We agreed a total cost of P3,500.

2 weeks later they called me said they had found me a gearbox and I paid a deposit of P2,000, the balance of P1,500 was to be paid on collection.

[A long series of disappointments followed. Eventually in April the customer was called to collect the new gearbox only to find out that it wasn’t correct. This gearbox turned out to be incomplete and he was then promised another. When he got this one it was the wrong type so he ended up very unhappy.]

Minutes before I sent this email, the manager called me and informed me that my gearbox will be in town by Friday. But that it may not be the right one. So he told me that if he brought the wrong one, he will refund me the full amount with immediate effect, which is still not a great option as I will never find a compatible gearbox without the gearbox I gave them.

What can I do?

Clearly you’ve had a bad experience but I think the manager has probably done nearly all that can be expected. He’s realised that he’s let you down several times and is now saying that if he fails you once more he’s going to give you all of your money back.

However you are right that you have given away the sample gearbox you needed to identify what you need. It would only be reasonable for him to make a plan for you to get a gearbox from an alternative source. Let us know if we can help.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I wish to formally complain relating to my DVD player I had given to a specialist repair company. On the 2nd November 2007, I handed over my Sony DVD player to the company for repair. It is now approximately 18 months since I gave it to the company and to date nothing concrete has been given to me as feedback in terms of the state and whereabouts of this DVD. At some stage I was informed that DVD was to be couriered to South Africa for a further attention, but was never shown any documentary proof that this was indeed the case.

Considering all the contradictory feedback that I have been given by the Workshop Manager and the length of time involved I am beginning to suspect that something is being hidden from me. It is on this basis that I kindly request for your intervention.

This is lunacy. How can a repair take this long? Your DVD is now an antique. Even if they gave it back to you today in perfect working order it would be old and nearly useless. The time has come to get very assertive with these people. Tell them that they have breached Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations because the service they delivered was not “rendered with reasonable care and skill”.

Give them a choice. Give them 7 days either to give you back a working DVD player or the price of a new one. Insist on an explanation as well. If they give you any nonsense let us know.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

I got an email offering me a place on a course on Tissue Salts for P250. Do you think this offers anything real?

No. This is yet another of those alternative health theories that is totally unsupported by real evidence. The email suggests that these “salts” are “inexpensive, taste fine and seem to be able to counteract just about every common ailment from pimples to period pain, headaches to hangovers”. That’s quite a claim.

When you dig a little further you can easily find out what these salts are. According to one web site that sells these products they are “are minerals in an energy form”. They “are mineral energies, they… have particle and light qualities” and they have “an effect not only upon the cells and tissues of the body, but also upon restoring the integrity of the bio-energetic field”.

Do you get the picture yet? It’s all utter nonsense. Don’t waste your money on silly products and training that is just a cover story to sell you silly products. Eat a balanced diet and take some exercise instead. You’ll healthier, happier, fitter and you won’t have wasted your money on silliness.

Friday 19 June 2009

Water and nonsense

I don’t like those newspaper columns that try to begin with a seemingly trivial personal experience and then generalise from that to make important philosophical or spiritual point. You know the type. “I went to the ATM this morning and it wasn’t working and that made me think about the state of democracy in our country.”

It’s always struck me as a lazy way of writing and of making a point. Nevertheless that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this column.

For the last week I’ve had no water at home. No I wasn’t cut off for not paying the bill, it wasn’t just me, it was an entire community of several hundred people who had a very dry week. Nobody is sure why we all went without water but what we have all learned is how little most of us think about our water supply, how much we take it for granted.

It really is only when you are without something that you learn to appreciate it. In this case all of us have understood how much water we use in normal circumstances and, shamefully, how much we waste. We’ve learned how much water disappears when we flush the toilet, when we wash our hands and when we brush our teeth. We all now have a much greater respect for our water supply. So, my profound and meaningful lesson this week is that we should appreciate what we have while we still have it. I’m going to stop being meaningful and self-important now because I’m already feeling nauseous. I’m beginning to sound like one of those crooked, fancy car-driving, sharp-suited, bejewelled, charlatan preachers trying to part us from our money by coming out with meaningless claptrap.

Meanwhile it would have been nice if the local authorities had told us before they cut us all off, to have given us a chance to make alternative plans and to freeze all those ice cubes for the drinks we need at the end of the day. It would have been nice if they could have found a way to keep us informed on progress as well.

I suppose it depends what it is we have to live without. Living without water is amazingly difficult when you’ve been used to it all of your life. Living without electricity is much easier as we all know by now. You might need to sit down before reading this next sentence. It is even possible to live without television. I know it’s hard to believe but DSTV is not, I repeat not, essential for life. Yes, I know we are so used to endless repeats of prehistoric episodes of Top Gear but that doesn’t mean life can’t continue without them.

Before you think I’m leading up to suggesting that what this means is that we should all show greater respect to stores and suppliers because of the very hard work they do let me correct you. I DO think stores deserve a little respect for some of the things they do, the variety they offer us and the occasional good deal they offer but only when they have earned that respect. The problem for suppliers is that this respect usually takes a while to develop but can be lost almost instantly.

Well, in principle it can. I sometimes wonder why we don’t get angrier with suppliers when they treat us badly. I don’t know why we don’t just stop shopping at certain stores when they seem to hold us in contempt.

While I was writing this, I confess in front of the TV, I saw an advertisement for something that reminded me how some suppliers really don’t seem to care very much about the consumer protections laws of Botswana. The advert was for the “Electropedic Reflexology Foot Massager”. This supposedly miraculous device is a plastic foot rest that has a digital display on it. Underneath each of your feet will be glowing red areas that emit mythical “Far infrared radiation” and “EMS Reflexology” that stimulate “known reflex points in the foot that correspond to certain other areas in the body so as to cure or prevent disease.” The manufacturers of this silliness claim that this is all “based on the premises that our nerve zones or reflex points go from the bottom of our feet to the top of our head, encompassing all vital organs on the way.”

Clearly anatomy, physiology and basic common sense were not part of the education undertaken by the marketing people from Homemark who came up with this rubbish.

This R1,000 device is a useless piece of junk that you should not buy. It is based on a nonsensical idea, a massive misunderstanding about how the human body works and clearly came from someone with a major foot fetish.

I know people who like having their feet massaged and I’ve no problem with that, just don’t ask me to do the dirty work. I’ve been known to enjoy a head massage myself and very enjoyable it was too but it wasn’t anything more than deeply relaxing.

However the worrying thing was that at the end of the advertisement they listed the stores in SA that will be stocking this ludicrous contraption and at least one of them is present in Botswana. We can all guess which one.

Of course this store and any others in Botswana will refuse to sell this product. Of course they’ll know any store selling it will be in breach of Sections 15 (1) (b) and (d) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which forbids selling a product and quoting “data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated” and promising outcomes “where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”. Of course they would want to do that, would they?

This week’s stars
  • William and Kelebogile from Game in Gaborone for “out of this world service”.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

It’s been another week of mixed complaints. Some complicated, some simple, some outrageous, some pathetic. Some even made us laugh. Let us know what you think.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a car (a Corolla Verso) at SupaCars in Gaborone and experienced problems within the first hour. The car had problems with its gear box and I eventually returned it after it disappointed me on my way to Molepolole on the 17th having to stop every now and then in traffic.

I took it to the garage on the 18th and demanded my money back. The directors there told me they had used my money to payoff the bank and I should wait for them to re-sell the car before I get my refund. I told them its not fair for me.

What do you suggest?

OK, this is the one that made us laugh. I know we shouldn’t laugh at consumer in a predicament but we couldn’t help ourselves.

This is the second complaint we’ve had regarding SupaCars recently, it sounds like we need to investigate a little further. We’ll get in contact with them for their side of the story and see what they have to say for themselves.

Meanwhile, if what you say is correct, they are being a bit cheeky. Their financial issues are really not your concern. You bought a car from them that has shown itself not to be of merchantable quality. The Consumer Protection Regulations say that a supplier has failed to meet “minimum standards” if they deliver something that is not “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”.

That last bit is important. This was a second-hand car, so you can’t expect it to be flawless but you CAN expect it to at least drive around a bit. We’ll let you know what reaction we get from SupaCars!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a bedroom suite from Lewis Store in Letlhakane last year and it was delivered to me in Tonota in June 2008. When I went home on July 2008 I noticed that it was not assembled. They took a month to assemble it. In September I found out that it wasn't well assembled as it is shaking and one of the four legged headboard is broken.

I reported this to the Manager and sales person in October 2008. Up to this time I didn't get any help. I cleared the account on April 2009.

What can I do?

First you can pat yourself on the back for paying off your credit purchase and for being very patient with Lewis.

We’ll get in touch with Lewis and see what they have to say for themselves. Of course they had an obligation to assemble your bed properly and if it can’t stay assembled properly then it wasn’t of merchantable quality.

A few months ago we had a call from a consumer who complained that the squeak in their bed had deeply traumatised his children when he and his very good friend were, err, pushing the bed to it’s limits. He claimed it was the store’s fault that his kids were upset. We didn’t agree. I hope you haven’t been troubling your neighbours in the same way?

We’ll let you know what Lewis have to say for themselves.

Friday 12 June 2009

Dear Doctor

No, for the first time in a while I’m not going make a fuss about traditional doctors. Obviously I still have very strong feelings about them and I still think that many of them are criminal scumbags who threaten the health and the lives of our family, friends and neighbours. I still think that action should be taken to curb their activities and to minimise the threat they pose to us. I still think this is a consumer issue because they’re taking our money for their ridiculous herbs and juices.

The good news is that we had some feedback from the authorities regarding the infamous “Dr” Jabu, the one who claimed to have a cure for AIDS, epilepsy, asthma and cancer. We wrote an open letter in this column to the Commissioner of Police in April regarding Jabu suggesting that he was so dangerous that action was required. We felt that his products and services were so likely to persuade a desperate person to abandon the treatments that work and instead take Jabu’s juices, that the authorities should intervene. And they did! We got a letter from the Office of the President thanking us and politely informing us that the Police and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship have dealt with Jabu. They didn’t say exactly what they had done but I suspect he’s bothering victims in another country by now!

No, this week I’m talking to a real doctor and not even a doctor of medicine. This is another one of Consumer Watchdog’s open letters, this one to the Attorney General.

Dear Dr Molokomme

At Consumer Watchdog we believe that the Attorney General’s Chambers has a number of opportunities to take actions that will deliver great benefits to the consumer of our country.

I feel that many of the problems the consumers of Botswana face are made worse by their lack of knowledge of the laws of our country. Most consumers have no idea even whether they are protected and certainly have no knowledge of what rights they possess.

In a survey we undertook last year we found that less than 20% of consumers have any idea what protections they are afforded by our Consumer Protection laws. Worryingly I suspect that this is probably the case about our laws in general. I suspect that there is considerable ignorance of our laws amongst the public and I think this exposes our people to abuse and undermines our sense of national pride.

The solution is education. We firmly believe that it would be uniquely empowering if our children were taught about the laws of Botswana in schools. Imagine the confidence and sense of national pride it would give them if they graduated from school already possessing a basic understanding of our constitution, the Penal Code and the various laws that mean something to consumers every day. Having children I also know how exciting children at certain ages find these issues. With their simple, uncorrupted view of natural justice they find stories of laws being used, of abuses being corrected and of villains being caught and punished thrilling.

Of course not all of our laws are terribly interesting but kids would find the Consumer Protection and Food Control Regulations, our Constitution and, above all, the Penal Code fascinating.

Of course I understand that this is the task of the Ministry of Education and not that of the Attorney General’s Chambers. However their task would be made much simpler if you would permit open and easy access to our laws. Put simply we believe that you should allow access to our laws on the internet.

We know this is possible. In 2006 the laws were put online for a few days but were very quickly withdrawn. The website used ( still exists but anyone outside of Government who visits this web site sees the following message:

“The online format of the laws, in its present form, is only intended for use within the Government network. The issue of making Botswana Legislation available through the Internet is currently under active consideration. It is hope to make accurate and up-to-date electronic versions of the laws accessible to the public through the Internet in the forseeable future. We sincerely apologise for any misunderstanding and inconvenience caused to the public.”

I respectfully suggest that the time has come for this “active consideration” to end and for the people of Botswana to be allowed to see their laws freely and easily. I think it is important to note that the laws do actually belong to the people, not to lawyers, Parliament or Government. They are OUR laws and we deserve access to them.

The great news is that our laws don’t require a legal education to understand them. They are written so well, so simply that all that is needed to understand them is a basic command of English. When we’ve shown them to students, teenagers and even a few bright younger children they have been able to understand them. That is a tribute to your drafting team but it seems a great waste for this simplicity not to be appreciated by the general public.

Although it seems like a small thing, something that could be achieved within hours, making our laws accessible to the public and to children in school in particular would be a dramatic contribution towards our nation’s development and the sense of pride consumers would possess.

As always our information and our efforts are at your disposal.

The Consumer Watchdog Team

This week’s stars
  • William and Kelebogile from Game in Gaborone for outstanding service.
  • Thato Marumo, from BTC BroBe division, for being unbelievably professional and courteous.
  • Ontiretse Lebang from Francistown City Council for making things happen and showing that council employees can be as good as anyone else.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

We’ve had a number of complaints recently, with virtually nothing to connect them other than in each case there is a consumer who feels aggrieved and wants help. However not all of these consumers are in the same position. Some, you might think, have been naïve. Judge for yourself.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Recently my company approached Supa Cars and looked at their bakkies specifically the Heifa loda. I liked what I saw and decided to buy the vehicle on Friday 29th May. I sent one of my directors and another member of staff to have a look at the vehicle and they also liked what they saw and chose a silver model after consulting me. They negotiated a P1,000 discount and then handed over a cheque with instruction to proceed with the sale.

However on Sunday 31st May I bought the Car magazine and saw an advert with the same type of vehicle, a Hafei Loda, being sold in Johannesburg for R55,000, about P48,000, which is P22,000 cheaper.

On Monday morning at 8:15am we called Supa Cars to cancel the purchase but were told that everybody is in a meeting, we finally got through at 9:30am and conveyed the message to cancel. I then went there at 10:15am to convey this message personally.

Supa Cars told me there was nothing he could do as the vehicle belongs to a finance company and they will decide whether to cancel or not. I called the finance company who told me that they finance vehicles and don’t sell them. I’ve since called Supa Cars on several occasions since then and their position is that there will be no refund.

What can I do?

I’m not sure there is much you can do. You did, after all, make a formal offer to buy the car at the price they asked, after your colleagues had negotiated the discount and you paid them the money. If you really wanted to play dirty you could perhaps have called your bank and stopped the cheque but that’s probably too late by now.

If the company selling the car were feeling generous you might have been able to persuade them to cancel the sale but I suspect they are rubbing their hands in glee at getting a nice profit from the car.

The lesson is to do your homework BEFORE you make an offer to buy a car. There’s a Shopper’s Guide to buying cars on our web site which might help.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I read a recent Consumer Watchdog column regarding the Holiday Club, which has also brought me to approach you about a situation I’m in.

Firstly I must admit I don’t have any contracts or records any longer, since we signed up a long time ago and have moved homes a few times. The only information I have is all the correspondence from the Holiday Club.

According to them we signed up in about 2004 and made an initial payment of approximately P2,000. In around 2006, they started contacting me for these payments with arrears and interest.

I have not benefited in any way from the club, I haven’t been on holiday at all I only joined because I attended a workshop and signed up on impulse.

Now they claim we owe them for all the previous years with interest, the P2,000 we paid is not being considered. What does it say about renewing the contract annually?

How should we proceed?

With difficulty. We’ve had dealings with the Holiday Club in the past and on every occasion it has been very difficult to help people. In fact in the past the Holiday Club even threatened us with legal action defamation just for reporting on the cases. You can see their letters on our web site if you’re interested.

The problem is that you DID sign an agreement with them. You will only have been given 5 days to change your mind and then they will claim you’re signed up for life. The other complication is that your initial payment of P2,000 was only the beginning of your joining fee which is often over P15,000. Then there are annual compulsory payments which the Holiday Club have told us in the past are to be made for life.

We’ll approach the Holiday Club on your behalf and we’ll let you and readers of The Voice what happens.

Dear Consumer Watchdog #3

I want to buy a house that is for sale for P800,000. My bank will only lend me 90% of the value of a house but the market valuation for the house I want is only P600,000 which is below what the seller wanted. That means they will only lend me P540,000 which means I have to raise the balance of P260,000 myself.

The seller said he will remove some of the installed items in the house, fittings, accessories and things which were not yet completed at the time of valuation. I want to understand whether this is fair? Coz you the buyer are desperate for the house, is it up to you whether you take it or leave it, or you include your financier in all these stripping of the house?

Why are you even considering buying a house for P200,000 more than it’s market value? You must walk away from this deal immediately.

You can’t expect a bank to lend you more money than something is worth just because you want it badly. It is their money after all. Actually, it’s not even their money, it belongs to all the readers of The Voice who have deposited their hard-earned cash with them. The readers of The Voice don’t want you to borrow their money!

Saturday 6 June 2009

"Dr" Jabu - an update

We received a letter from the Office of the President.  It says that the Police and Department of Immigration and Citizenship have taken action and that appropriate action has been taken!

Sounds like the crook has been deported!

Thursday 4 June 2009

More on healers

Say it out loud, go on. Well, I think it’s funny.

Some of the people close to me think I’m obsessed. They think I’ve developed a slightly mad devotion to certain subjects, certain groups of people and certain things that the consumers of Botswana experience.

I confess. If wanting to expose crooks makes me obsessed then I confess, I’m obsessed. If the desire to repeatedly show that some stores are ignoring the law makes me obsessed than again I confess. If exposing certain traditional “doctors” as the charlatans that they really are makes me obsessed then I welcome the label. I AM obsessed with exposing them.

In April I wrote an open letter to the Commissioner of Police about the claims of a certain “Dr” Jabu who advertised his services and products to the public. In his unbelievable advert he claimed he could “treat all types of cancer within 30-45 days”. He also claimed to have treatments, “all effective within 60 to 90 days, for paralysis, thalassemia, infertility, epilepsy, cataract, muscular dystrophy” and “other diseases of the brain”. He also claimed to have treatments for many of the conditions associated with HIV/AIDS like PCP and Kaposi’s sarcoma. (You can see his advertisements on our web site.)

The good news is that the letter has been acknowledged. The bad news is that it wasn’t acknowledged by anyone in the Police. It was acknowledged by the President’s office. We sent H.E. a copy of the letter and his people had the courtesy to write back and say they would keep an eye on the complaint. Nothing yet from the Police though.

The subject of the complaint, the so-called “Dr” Jabu, has entered the modern era. He has an email address and that seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. I emailed Jabu and posed a question. I’m afraid I lied so you’ll need to forgive me. I asked him if he had anything that could help me with my fictitious AIDS-related pneumonia. I also said I had a friend with Kaposi’s sarcoma who needed help.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting a response but rather wonderfully I got one. His 915 words of delusion went far beyond my expectations.

To begin with he confirmed that he “treatment for Kaposis, PCP and HIV/AIDS”. This was followed by a VERY long description of his ideas about AIDS. I’ve put the whole thing on our web site but here’s an excerpt to give you a flavour of his lunacy. Trust me, I’m not making this up.

“The next damage will be on Gonads which controls the digestion of the phosphorus., then this will lead to the reduction of the internal-heat., by that time a patient experincing a problem with lack of apetite which in turn leads to the creation of massive water in the body.- This is when a patient start suffering from colds and sinus. And so Anti-biotics/drugs will be advised which may result in more production of H+ after the liver's also damaged and led to Candidiasis”

So what is he offering? What miraculous things can we buy from him to cure AIDS? He states that the best solutions are herbal remedies, acupressure, detoxification, yoga, chromotherapy and most worrying of all, “green juice”.

Don’t try to see any logic in this nonsense because there isn’t any. It’s even more deranged than the normal AIDS denialist claptrap we sometimes see.

So what relevance does this have to consumers? Why is this a consumer issue?

It’s a consumer issue because he takes money for this. This criminal charlatan doesn’t do this for free, he makes his living from selling this outrageous rubbish. Luckily the law is on our side, on the side of the consumer.

Firstly the Consumer Protection Regulations declare that a supplier has failed to meet the minimum standards of performance if he “quotes scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. Clearly Jabu does this with all that nonsense about phosphorus, internal heat and liver damage.

The Regulations also forbid suppliers from promising “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”. Jabu’s “green juice” cannot cure AIDS, he’s a liar when he says it can.

More importantly he has committed some real crimes, not just minor infringements of non-enforced Regulations. For instance he broke Section 397 of the Penal Code by advertising medicines and treatments for diseases, specifically for AIDS. For that he can go to jail for up to a year. However I think I’ve found a way of perhaps sending Jabu to jail for much longer.

The problem with crooks like Jabu is that sooner or later some unfortunate, desperate person with AIDS is going to abandon their real anti-retroviral drugs and take one of Jabu’s mad treatments. They will then die earlier than they would otherwise have done so. I think it then just takes a fairly smart lawyer to argue that he had “hastened the death” of the victim. He’s then guilty of manslaughter, the sentence for which is life imprisonment.

I’m not sure that Jabu should go to prison for life. I have no evidence that he’s hastened anyone’s death, at least not yet. But I do think he is perilously close to doing so and if he wants to avoid doing hard time he should clear off before he kills someone.

[Click here to see some of the ways we're taking the battle back to the "healers".]

This week’s stars
  • Widzani from GWM in Gaborone. Apparently she was “friendly and efficient, she found a buyer for my car and she had all the banks calling me! I didn’t have to go running around from bank to bank trying to find the best rate.”
  • Tapiwa at Ackermans at Game City for being ready and willing to help a customer.
  • Suresh and family at Knack at Kgale Hill Shopping Centre for “the usual excellent, friendly and helpful service”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Yet another scam this week. I don’t know for sure if there are actually more scams out there or maybe it’s just that people are reporting more of them but I DO know that we get more of these emails than we used to. The danger is that as the economic crisis hits harder and harder scammers will need to try harder and harder to steal our money. Unlike muggers and carjackers they’re not going to get more and more violent, they’re going to get more and more subtle and convincing. Their emails are going to become more convincing and unless we prepare ourselves we are going to fall for their lies in vast numbers at the very time we need to protect ourselves more carefully.

The only defences we have against these scammers are knowledge and skepticism. We need to learn about the way they try to scam us. Consumer Watchdog and The Voice can help with this but it’s also up to you. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours if you see a scam, make sure they know how to spot a fraud. Learn yourself and teach them to read everything with healthy skepticism. Just because you read something in an email doesn’t make it true, particularly if it comes from a total stranger who offers you something that you know is too good to be true.

This week we heard from someone else the scammers had tried to con. The difference was this “victim” knew what was happening from the beginning and decided to string them along. If you have some spare time and are prepared to engage with the crooks this is actually quite an amusing pastime. “Scambaiting” is a way of taking the battle back to the criminals. Respond to their messages, ask awkward questions, waste their time and their internet connection and you might actually do some good. Every minute of their time that you waste is a minute they aren’t scamming someone more naïve or gullible.

This encounter is educational though. It shows the sort of explanations they come up with to persuade you to part with your money. Remember of course that none of what the scammers say is true, it’s all lies.

Dumela Watchdog,

I got a mail last week saying that I had won £750,000 in an Internet User draw. Very well! I answered reluctantly to find out the "cost" which I got today - $1,000!! I told them to take it from my money and transfer the rest to my bank account.

Interesting to see what the answer will be!

Explanation from the scammers

The scammers responded and said that they would:

“effect air-tight modalities to ensure the funds are telegraphically wired and plugged into your account via an Automated Online Direct Wire Transfer System operated by our bank. But first of all you have to activate this account with the banks Foreign Operations Department. The total fund deposited in our bank has been insured, this fund can only be transferred from your bank account here which must be active for processing. You are required to activate your account with $1000 USD which is the minimum deposit balance.”

This is all nonsense of course, they’re desperate to come up with some fancy-sounding justification for the “advance fee” they want from the victim.

Our reader got back to them again and asked “please tell me seriously, why should I open and activate an account with your bank if the Irish National Lottery wants to give me money?”

Response from the scammers

“As an affiliated bank of the lottery board we are saddled with the responsibility to ensure, we have your won funds transferred into any other bank account that you operate.

We manage fund regulation and transfer for the lottery board, it is meant to be a bank to bank telegraphic wire transfer. Your account in our bank must be active for this transaction that is, why we require that you activate your account in our bank with the minimum account balance of $1,000 USD.”

More meaningless nonsense.

The scam

This scam is just like all the others. It started with an email from the “Bank of Cardiff” announcing that the recipient had won a lottery, in this case the “Irish Lottery”. Then came the last minute announcement that the victim has to pay $1,000 to “activate” the bank account which will receive the money.

Apart from the obvious clue that the victim hadn’t entered the lottery so can’t have won it there’s the silliness about paying money to “activate” the account. If it was true the fictitious lottery winnings would do that, wouldn’t they?

The really smart thing about these crooks is they have a very impressive looking web site. However when we started researching we found out how clever they had been. Their web site is a very good copy of the real US-based Bank of Cardiff web site but hosted in Norfolk Island, an island the size of Mochudi in the middle of the Pacific. The fake site is very impressive if you aren’t looking carefully. You can see links to both on our web site.

The real Bank of Cardiff are so concerned about the threat to their reputation that they’ve put a warning on their web site about the scammers so we’re not the first to discover this.

This is a sign of things to come. Scammers are getting smarter, they’re trying harder to be convincing and they’re succeeding. Be warned!