Monday 27 December 2010

The World Business Guide - a tip

The World Business Guide is a scam based on a completely worthless so-called business directory that, in theory, allows a business to publicise their business.

The scam is simple. They suggest that entering your company details into the guide is free but hidden in the small print is the €995 real fee.
That's clearly a deception. After giving them your details they then claim you are committed and will hound you with letters, faxes and emails until you pay. They'll also get their lawyers involved, or at least some shark claiming to be a lawyer. Of course you don't ever need to pay because of that original deception. No court anywhere in the world will ever force you to pay these crooks.

What's more their online directory is rubbish. None of the entries in the guide appear in any internet searches. To find an entry you need to search their web site. Even then it's almost impossible to find anything as you must search either by the company's name or the "sector" it's in.

However, there is a way of doing a real search to find all the companies who have registered if you know a little techie trick. Just type % into a field and it will search for everything in the database.

It's just a tip, maybe I should tell the World Business Guide so they can actually provide a service instead of being a bunch of scammers?

Wednesday 22 December 2010

World Business Guide - have they been scammed?

Another poor fool appears to have fallen for the World Business Guide scam. These crooks are now chasing him or her for €995 for an entry in their useless on-line business directory.

You can see our earlier comments on this scam here, here, here, here and here.

So what is the irony?  It's that the victim has given them Consumer Watchdog's fax number, our postal address and even MY personal cellphone number.  We're the ones getting all the bills and threatening letters.  It's fascinating seeing their pathetic attempts to bully him or her to get their ill-gotten money.

By the way, this is all the victim gets for their deceptively, illegally obtained money:

Do you think that's worth €995 (about P9,000)?

You don't think that the World Business Guide crooks have been scammed themselves, do you?

Another job scam

A reader contacted us and asked us to check this job advertisement he was sent from the Just Landed web site.
Hi,1 new post in Jobs in Botswana
Posted: 15/12/10 in Jobs: Human Resources/Recruitment in Botswana
Labadi Beech Hotel 1 Labadi By-Pass Labadi Beach, Trade Fair, Accra, Ghana Labadi Beech Hotel, Accra Ghana, requires the services of reputable and devoted workers for the under listed job positions in our newly open branch in London.Qualified persons should send their CV to us immediately for screening and job placement.Note: Application is open to oversea applicant and also the Hotel would assist in procuring visa for oversea Applicant.Bonuses: Free accommodation (one year from resumption… more
Click here to view the ad
Regards, Just Landed
The usual clues are there, if you look at their detailed advertisement:
  • They give a cellphone number (+233 240 077 631) in Ghana, not a landline number.  That's always a suspicious sign.
  • The "vacancy" is in the "Jobs in Botswana" category but refers to a job in London?
  • They say they are hiring for a "newly open branch in London".  I can find no trace of such a hotel in London.  Besides this, the economic situation is the UK is so bad that they wouldn't be hiring foreigners to work there.
  • They claim that they offer "Bonuses: Free accommodation (one year from resumption date) medical and transportation allowances."  That's just unbelievable.
  • They can't even spell the name of their own hotel: "Labadi Beech Hotel"
I called the number given in the advertisement and the scammer is really not very good at his job.  He couldn't tell me where exactly the "newly open branch in London" is, other than "in North London".

The lesson is simple.  A job offer that seems too good to be true is exactly that.

Monday 20 December 2010

Stock Market Direct - breaking news

I’ve had some concerns about Stock Market Direct in the past. I’ve been concerned about what it is that they actually are. Their web site says they are “an educational institution which provides information on how to invest directly, actively and successfully in the Johannesburg Securities Exchange”. However the information they offer appears to be just material you can get yourself from legitimate services in South Africa such as Share Data and Profile Group.

They also say that they market “an advanced software product that integrates fundamental analysis as well as technical analysis, news, tips and recommendations to enable the investor to trade with the same kind of information that professional fund managers have at their disposal.” However it also seems that this is just a web-based account with a South African broker that they help you set up. So far, nothing actually useful for the large amount of money you need to obtain their services.

There were more concerns that were more practical. Their web site says that the company “has been operating for several years with offices in Johannesburg, Mbabane, Maseru, Windhoek, and now Gaborone.”

That’s strange because I couldn’t find any trace of the company in any of these countries except here in Botswana. There’s certainly no such company registered under that name in South Africa. While they have a South African web site that just links to their SA information sources. Even the phone number they have on the South African web page is that of Profile Group. They simply don’t exist in SA, despite their claims.

Despite all this it was a surprise when a few weeks ago a customer of Stock Market Direct came to us with a suspicious story. He claimed that at one of their presentations he decided to take their offer but rather than accepting a cheque made payable to the company one of the presenters asked him to pay P7,000 cash directly into her personal account. Curious, don’t you think?

My first thought was that this was perhaps simple fraud. Then I thought it was perhaps a way of avoiding paying tax on the money. Then I started digging. I called both the presenter who took the money and a senior manager at SMD who I have previously met and that’s when some more information emerged.

It seems, and I haven’t been able to find anyone yet who can contradict this, that their “Director” has done a runner. Some of his colleagues at Stock Market Direct had long suspected that he had been “involved in things that were not procedural”. As a result the company split with some of them remaining in the office and the other group operating from the back room of the Director’s house. Operating without a bank account which is why they needed people to pay them in cash with no questions asked.

I was later told that this Director is now wanted by the Police and Interpol were trying to trace him because he has been “taking money from people”. I’ve tried repeatedly to speak to this Director by phone, SMS and email but he doesn’t seem interested in getting in touch. I wonder why?

Meanwhile the group who remain at the office at least claim to have a bank account and an office.

If you are a customer of Stock Market Direct I would check with them urgently. If you are thinking of becoming a customer I’d buy some running shoes if I were you.

We warned consumers about dealing with Stock Market Direct as long ago as December last year.  See here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Bridgetown - an "investment"?

I received an email as follows:
A couple of weeks or months ago you wrote a piece on the real estate investment ‘opportunity’ being promoted in Kasane and your reflections on it. I wish I could re-visit the article as I read it in passing and I have someone who wants my advice on the possibility for investing in it. I will be grateful to hear from you.
I assume you mean the Bridgetown "opportunity"?  Frankly I'm very skeptical about it.

Firstly they present it as an investment but this is a time-limited ownership offer.  You only "own" the property you select for 25 years and only for a fixed number of weeks per year.  That strikes me as being a depreciating asset rather than an investment.

For instance if you choose to sell your property after 10 years you will only be selling a 15-year time-share, no longer 25 years.  Nobody is going to pay the original price for something that has a shorter life-span.  This is more like buying a car than a house.

Secondly it's not even finished yet, as far as I'm aware.  All you can see are artists impressions and architects diagrams so far.  What guarantee do you have that it will be up to the standard you desire?

Finally (although my list of questions goes on and on) what guarantees do you have that your share of the property you're purchasing will be available when you want it?  Their terms and conditions include references to "a Floating Week for next 25 Years".  It also includes:
  • "The owner must reserve his or her desired vacation time in advance, with reservation confirmation typically provided on a first-come, first-served basis."
  • "ownership of the resort remains with the developer"
  • "Bookings: should be done at least 60 days in advance or will depend upon vacancy"
Then, in addition to the purchase price are all the additional costs, including:
  • "Annual Levy" (compulsory and not yet obviously disclosed)
  • "Daily Usage Fee" (P150 per night)
  • "Admin Fee" (20% if you sell your week)
  • "Cancellation Fee"
I'm not going to advise anyone to avoid this scheme but I do think people should go into it with their eyes wide open and in full possession of all the facts.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Stock Market Direct

Breaking news.  Apparently some major developments involving money going astray, people skipping the country, cops, DIS and Interpol involved.  Watch this space!

Taunting liars

I’ve been taunting people again. Not scammers this time although that remains a popular pastime in my household. It really is spectacularly amusing and satisfying to unleash all your frustrations on someone who deserves complete contempt. That’s the key thing to remember. You and I, our friends, family, neighbours and workmates, even the people you bump into on the street all deserve at least some basic respect. Those little courtesies are a major component of our culture and they are something we must struggle to maintain as our country develops and changes.

But scammers are different. Scammers are scumbags. They are revolting, low-down, pond-life. Scammers deliberately seek to abuse and exploit us. They have no shame, no scruples, no morals. They not only don’t deserve respect, I think they actually deserve our active disrespect. They deserve to be insulted, ridiculed and abused. The only form of defence against such people is attack and I think it’s time we took the battle back to them.

A few weeks ago we received details of a scammer calling himself Tabiso Mbkeo who claimed he worked for “American Express Bank of South Africa” and he had a business proposal for me. His silly story was that a Dutch businessman had visited South Africa during the World Cup and committed suicide after his national team lost to Spain leaving lots of money that my good friend Tabiso wanted to share with me.

Of course this is a scam, we all know the story by now. However the funny thing is that I called him on his South African cellphone number and asked him how many people fell for his nonsense. He tried arguing for a long time but he didn’t seem to understand that I knew he was a scammer. When eventually he realised that I wasn’t a potential victim he got angry and started insulting me. I later decided to be as rude as possible and suggested that his romantic predilections were somewhat colourful and involved various farmyard animals. That’s when he became very angry indeed, started calling me, threatening to call the police because of my insults (the irony!) and then hinted that he wanted to kill me. Then things became totally surreal. He was so offended by my insults that he got his wife to call me and assure me that his nocturnal desires were not as eccentric as I suggested.

Of course I just prolonged the phone calls as much as possible as they were costing him money, not me. Every second of shouting about his rampant heterosexual desires for human company were costing him cash.

Before you object let me remind you of the sort of person I was dealing with. This piece of excrement would take their last thebe from widows and orphans. He’s a thief. He has no feelings, no conscience and no sense of right and wrong. He deserves to be insulted and ridiculed. His phone number is +27 735 990 807. Why not send him a text message and tell him what a scumbag he is?

But it’s not just scammers that I think deserve contempt and action. So-called traditional healers deserve it as well. I mean the loathsome leeches that advertise their services in the papers, offering cures for cancer, fertility problems and all sorts of other problems. We’ve all seen these adverts, they all seem to include a mixture of the magical, the romantic and the sort of medical breakthroughs that, if they were true, would win the “doctor” a Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Last week’s selection included a “Love me padlock (for women only)”, “Muti that attracts white lovers” and a selection of treatments for fertility problems, pregnancy problems and an endless supply of remedies for what I should probably call “performance issues”. I’m sure you can imagine what that means.

Now we all know, don’t we, that this is all utter crap? These people aren’t healers or doctors or anything remotely similar. They are just scammers. They offer something that doesn’t work for money. That’s a scam.

What’s more, they also share another quality with scammers. They prey on our basest instincts: greed and desperation. These charlatan healers offer us solutions to problems that terrify us like disease, misfortune and, for guys at least, failure to “perform”. They take our money for fake remedies to these situations so how are they different from a scammer?

They’re certainly NOT different in their responses to criticism. Last week I read a whole bunch of these advertisement and sent a simple text message to all the advertisers, saying that they were breaking the Consumer Protection Regulations, the Witchcraft Act and my favourite sections of the Penal Code. Sections 396-9 of the Penal Code outlaw what are called “prohibited advertisements” which it defines as “any advertisement of any medicine … offering to administer any treatment … for any of the following purposes”. The purposes include any “genito-urinary disease”, cancer, TB, epilepsy, heart disease and “any habit associated with sexual indulgence, or of any ailment associated with those habits or for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility”.

In short, exactly the sort of thing most of these lying crooks offer.

Just like the conventional scammers, these charlatans don’t like being confronted. I texted all the advertisers these crooks telling them that they were operating illegally. The response was mixed. Some ignored me but others actually responded. “Dr” Khamisa (75957988) responded by text message saying “I no the law tel the police to cm nw” and “I dnt hv the that time my frnd do wht evr”. “Dr” Mama Ibin (74273568) actually phoned me claiming that his medicines are just for Africans and wanted to know where I was born to see if I was qualified to comment.

Most amusingly “Dr” Kachule (75916409) threatened to have me struck by lightning next time there was a thunder storm. Unfortunately his magical aim has been a bit off recently because I haven’t been hit yet.

Am I scared? No. Because he’s as scary as a goat-bothering scammer. Pathetic and not worthy of respect. Why not SMS him and his charlatan colleagues and tell them what you think of them too? Don’t mention goats, choose your own animal.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Last week I received this suspicious mail and I have some reasons to think that it is a scam because in the first place they say their offices are in London but they say their price is in US Dollars. The information just doesn't add up because I never entered any lotto competition and they can't tell which of my mails has won.

Is this a scam?


Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I am kindly asking to be assisted to confirm if at all this girl isn’t a scammer. I got to get her contacts in website for singles who wish to meet other singles from different parts of the world and so one morning she flirted me and she told me that she is in a refugee camp in Senegal and in actual fact she is originating from Liberia but due to that her father Dr Kuru was a politician all the parents were killed and she fled to Senegal.

So she says she is the sole beneficiary of the father who has left about $6 million for her at a bank in London. She wants me to send her $320 to help her transfer the money in to my account.

So I’m not sure of her story more so that I haven’t even met her. Can you help me check if she is telling the truth? Her name is Rita Kuru.

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a scam. There is no such person as “Rita Kuru” and everything “she” has told you is a lie. I bet you haven’t even spoken to her on the phone yet to confirm that she’s really a woman?

The story about the dead politician father, the refugee camp and the bank account full of money are a very common story told by scammers, just like the “advance fee” of $320 is the usual demand. You can bet that after you’ve paid them this money, which I bet they want you to pay using Western Union, you will never hear from them again. Unless however they think you are particularly gullible and na├»ve. We’ve heard of scammers who go back to the same victims over and over again demanding, and sometimes receiving, more and more money, all with the distant and impossible promise of those non-existent millions.

The best thing you can do is to delete the emails you’ve received and never to reply to anything like this again.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

Kindly assist. I have a credit card from one of the banks which I have been using for some time now and repaying the interest regularly, although sometimes skipped a month or late repayment.

I spoke to them on the phone and asked them to make some arrangement for me to repay the outstanding balance in 3 monthly instalments and stop the facility from accruing more interest as they can also see that I am struggling to pay the whole amount to zero the balance and eventually stop the facility. Unfortunately I did not take the name of the woman I was talking to but she told me that it’s not possible, the only thing I should do is to continue paying the minimum charge every month or to pay the whole amount to clear up.

This facility has been on for some time now and I feel it’s doing me more harm than good. I would really prefer to pay at least P1,000 every month without any further interest on the outstanding balance so that I can finish the debt and cancel the facility.

Kindly investigate and advice accordingly. Your assistance will be highly appreciated.

The advice you were given, that the two options are either to pay the minimum balance each month or to pay off everything aren’t quite correct. There is a third option. You can pay any amount between the minimum balance and the total outstanding balance each month until you’ve paid off your debt. It’s really up to you to work out how much you can afford to pay each month. Needless to say the sooner you pay off the debt the better but don’t do anything silly to achieve this. Leave yourself enough money to pay for the essentials like food and rent.

As for getting the bank not to apply interest to your outstanding balance I suspect your chances are slim. Why would the bank want to do this? This is exactly how banks make money, by lending money to you (yes, a credit card IS a way of lending you money) and then charging you interest. Asking a bank not to charge interest is like asking a scammer to tell the truth, a store credit scheme to be open about their terms and conditions or a combi driver to obey a red light. It’s not going to happen.

I suggest you sit down and work out how much you can afford each month and then just get busy making those payments.

Monday 13 December 2010

Now I'm going to be cursed

I called another number related to the same scam and the so-called "Reverend Johnson" threatened to curse me.  His number is +221 777 468 225.

I get a death threat

From a scammer calling himself "Ajuna Pascal" in Senegal.  Not very scary actually.  I called him and pointed out the various mistakes on his fake ID card.

It's a long story but his scam story is that he's a lawyer acting on behalf of a girl in a refugee camp whose late father was a politician with money in a UK bank account.  The potential victim contacted us for advice.  All the scammer wants is $378 to pay the "oath fee , Notary and stamp duty fees".

I accused him of being a liar, a scammer and a cheat and that's when he got angry.  He says he's coming to get me and to "sort me".

A Google search for either his fake name or his supposed office address finds various references to him on scam warning sites.

It's a straightforward advance fee scam but the threat was amusing.  If you feel like sending him a message his phone number is +221 775 935 822.

Friday 10 December 2010

Be eccentric

I was shown a news cutting from a newspaper in Swaziland recently. It referred to a very boring development in a bank down there but there was a mistake that I thought was very funny. Rather than referring to their “customer-centric” approach to banking it described the bank as being “customer-eccentric”.

Initially I just thought this was funny and laughed at the ineptitude of the sub-editor of the newspaper but (as always happens when newspaper columnists see these things and are keen for an appealing link) I then got thinking. Actually a bank that is customer-eccentric is quite a good thing. That’s because I think customers should have the right to be eccentric, a right to be different, a right to be thoroughly peculiar.

Staff working in banks are usually focussed on the 95% of their activity that comprises perfectly routine, normal, predictable activities like taking our money, moving our money around and charging us for everything they do. It’s perfectly normal for them to charge us for breathing, for walking past the entrance to the branch, for even saying their name out loud. These are all routine things and that’s understandably the focus of their attention.

What they often forget that despite all of this, every customer is, in their own strange way, unique. With the exception of that section of customers who never do anything out of the ordinary, most customers have needs that are specific to them. I suspect that if you look at your own circumstances you’ll find something that makes your life a bit different from your neighbours. It might be a child from a former relationship, a brother or sister that needs particular support or your special need to avoid the International Court in the Hague. We’re all a bit peculiar.

So I don’t think banks should be surprised when we present them with our particular needs and ask them to reflect them in the services they offer us. It’s no different after all to ordering in a restaurant. If you go to a decent restaurant and explain that you don’t eat pork, you’re allergic to nuts or you just don’t want too much cheese on your pizza then you would expect them to be flexible. Of course if you demand that the chicken was slaughtered by a left-handed Zoroastrian priest you might have to live with disappointment. It’s the same with banks. I don’t necessarily want a type of bank account that’s unique to me but I do think that if I’m paying them for a service then I am entitled to expect a little flexibility to match my eccentricity.

Unfortunately not all suppliers have even the slightest flexibility. Just this week we had a complaint from a reader who bought a handbag in a store in Francistown. Two days later the shoulder strap broke, apparently after no ill-treatment or stress. It was when she took it back to the store that she first encountered their inflexibility. “No refunds” they told her. At no point during her purchase had she been told this, there wasn’t a big sign up on the wall explaining that this was the policy. However at least she could get a replacement? No, the store had nothing remotely like the bag she had bought. So, no refund and no replacement and they weren’t willing to repair it. No flexibility at all, no willingness to remedy a problem, no service in any sense of the word.

Our advice to the customer was to go back again and demand a refund because that’s what she’s perfectly entitled to. The store clearly broke their contract with the customer, they failed to meet minimum standards as required by the Consumer Protection Regulations and they failed be even slightly flexible. Clearly no eccentric customer should go to that store. I fact no customer at all should go there.

But, you say, you don’t know what store it is to avoid? Trust me, you will do if they don’t fix this situation within milliseconds of the customer returning again and asking politely for that refund.

Then of course are those companies who themselves are eccentric. I don’t have all the details yet but a reader contacted us having had some dealings with a well-known stock-market-related company. They’re not registered to trade on the Botswana Stock Exchange and instead offer “training” and advice on trading with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. I’m deeply suspicious about this company, mainly as they don’t actually offer anything you can’t get elsewhere more cheaply. The software they offer is nothing more than a web site, the training seems to offer nothing more than you can learn online for free, the market intelligence they offer is actually sourced from a South African company who offer it more cheaply. So I don’t understand what it is they offer other than the chance to give them your money.

It now seems that even this is eccentric. The reader who contacted us had purchased this company’s services only to be asked not to pay the company but instead to pay the price directly into the personal bank account of one of it’s employees. Eccentric, don’t you think?

I can’t help but ask whether this company is perhaps being a little eccentric with it’s tax obligations. Asking customers to pay personal cheques into personal accounts would be a very good way to avoid the gaze of the tax authorities. I wonder if BURS know about this. They will do by the time you read this.

So let’s be more eccentric with banks, but let’s also be very careful with those companies who demonstrate deeply suspicious eccentricity.

This week’s stars
  • Ronald at the Orange call centre for delivering what our reader said was “the best service I have received all year”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I signed a lease yesterday with a real estate agent but then after around 1 hour 45 minutes I called to terminate the lease because I had a problem and needed the money. Now the agent is refusing to give back my money. She says she has already used the money and therefore she is still looking for another tenant to occupy the house. She says that if she does not succeed in doing so then I will have to occupy the house and she will only pay me the security deposit.

What can I do for her to pay me the full amount that I paid because I terminated the agreement in less than 24 hours?

I’m sorry but I’m not sure there’s much you can do. You signed the lease voluntarily and the real estate agent accepted your payment and offered you the property in good faith. It’s not as if anyone has done anything wrong or abused or deceived you. You entered into a contract with the real estate agent and you now need to negotiate your way out of it.

I think you also have to realise that there is no way you can force the agent to repay you your deposit. The only way I can think of is if there was something illegitimate about the deal. I assume that the agent is registered with the Real Estates Institute of Botswana? I assume they are a registered company and pay their taxes? Send us their details and we’ll make some enquiries for you.

However I’m sorry to say that if there’s no legal means for cancelling the lease you signed you are stuck with it and can only get of it by sacrificing something.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a bag for P199.95 from a store in Francistown. Two days later while walking in the mall the bag just fell off my shoulders only to find that it was torn. I immediately returned it to the store and left it with one of the salespeople who promised to give the manager the details. The following day I went back to the store and the manager told me straight to my face that they don’t do refunds. We made a deal that he would find an identical bag to replace it. Some days later I went back and he told me that he couldn’t find the bag and they don’t do refunds. I asked him where their policy was displayed and he said it was in their office.

I made it clear that I was specifically looking for a brown bag and nothing else and that I was now reluctant to take anything from their shop as I was so disappointed. He refused to help me out so I asked for his bosses numbers. I was eventually able to call her but she just told me that they did not give refunds. I asked her about their policy which is not shown anywhere in the shop but she told me to live with it because there was nothing that she could do about it.

I told her about Consumer Watchdog and that I knew my rights but she couldn’t care less. She told me to go ahead with whatever. Help me please?

It sounds like you’ve been wronged but we’ll get in touch with the store to get their side of the story. However the basic issue is simple. You have a right to expect something you buy to be of “merchantable quality” which is defined as meaning “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. You had a right to expect that your bag would last a reasonable amount of time if you treated it with care. Two days is clearly not acceptable.

However the store is within their rights to refuse a refund so long as you knew about that at the time of purchase. In other words there should have been a big sign up clearly stating that they don’t offer refunds, only replacements. If no such sign exists then their no-refund policy simply doesn’t exist. What’s more if they can’t even find a suitable replacement then they have no option but to refund your money. No arguments accepted.

We’ll be in touch with them and will let you know what they say.

A warning from a reader

I received a cellphone message claiming to be coming from UK and they claimed I won 1,820,000 British Pounds. I decided to act dumb and followed all the instruction through the mail, I knew there was a catch somewhere. They now want me to deposit 540 Pounds before they can release my winnings!

As if this was not enough, my son received the same message and his was R1.8 million. I feel there are a lot more people receiving these kind of mails. Imagine what it does to you especially if you are in need of cash like I am. We must help people who might end up sending pounds or lots of rands to these crooks. I might be wrong, but I suspect foul play here.

Of course you’re right to suspect foul play. Many thanks for informing us and spreading the word about this scam and all others like it. Good for you for also not falling for it but exploring it a bit further to see how the scam works.

Friday 3 December 2010

Us and them

Sometimes the relationship between consumers and suppliers is conflict. Obviously it’s open warfare when it comes to scammers, they are attacking us and we have a right and an obligation to defend ourselves and even to take the fight back to them. With scammers the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply, we take no prisoners.

Even with some of the more orthodox, (presumably) tax-paying, registered companies things can be a little combative. Many of the holiday clubs and holiday voucher discount schemes insist on fighting dirty. Some neglect to mention that the agreement you sign that offers you free holidays doesn’t include any transport, food, drink or entertainment costs and only allows you to stay in your desired resort when you least want to. There are even allegations that some of these holiday clubs reserve the best locations and dates for their own sales staff as incentives. The poor schmucks who sign up for the deal are left with the dregs.

Then there are the holiday clubs who hide in the small print the minor fact that you signed their contract for eternity, until the end of time or the end of your time, whichever comes first. Of course if Consumer Watchdog exposes this then things can get rough. That’s when the ridiculous lawyer’s letters start coming in accusing us of war crimes. Luckily they aren’t very effective weapons, mainly because we just find them funny and not in the slightest bit scary.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen their relatives, the hotel discount voucher industry fighting dirty and taking people’s money. We all know about the companies that call you out of the blue selling you the benefits of their worthless schemes (why pay for something you can get free elsewhere?) and then ask for your credit or debit card details “to see if it will be acceptable” or “to check whether you’re eligible for Gold membership”. Before you know it several thousand has disappeared from your bank account and you’ve been captured, a prisoner of war. Luckily so far we’ve been able to help a few prisoners escape but sooner or later they’re going to realise that people are more willing to defend themselves. Well, Mmegi readers will be.

The good news is that despite a few enemies like these the vast majority of suppliers understand something simple. If you have a product that has real value, not just monetary value, I mean value to the customer, then both the consumer and the supplier are best served when both parties are reasonable. Set a reasonable price and reasonable customers will happily pay it. Offer reasonable customer care as well and you’ll get repeat business from these reasonable people. That’s the essence of the free market system that we are fortunate to live in. Very rarely does the Government come along and tell us that we can’t buy that thing at that price, that our purchases have to be regulated and we all need to be treated like little children who can’t be trusted with our own money.

Of course there are occasional exceptions. The Government DOES step in on things like the price of petrol and I just about understand why. Petrol is fundamental to a country like ours where almost everything must be transported by road, whether it’s goods or people. I still wonder whether allowing the prices to be determined by the market might not work but I’m not going to complain too much. We have fairly low prices compared to other countries and I have a car with a big engine so I’m going to keep my mouth shut.

But are there other areas where Government do some good instead of just ruining a company? Yes, I AM thinking of Air Botswana.

Yes, there are. Few of us think twice about the role Government plays in building roads. We see no problem in our taxes going towards Government funding road-building. Obviously they select companies from the private sector to do all the hard work but the money comes from our taxes because roads benefit us all. The same goes for our water and power supplies. We all pay for the entire country’s improvement via Government.

The trouble is I think there’s a massively overlooked area where Government has to get more involved. It’s an area where improvements are so desperately needed and which might really make or break our nation’s future.

Internet access.

As a nation we have staggeringly slow and expensive internet access. Before anyone points out the geographical challenges we face being a huge country with a tiny population density, yes, I know that, but it’s no excuse. Some people argue that we need to extend the gradual improvements in the connections we have gradually so that everyone benefits, not just those in the cities. That’s commendable but short-sighted. The economic centres of our country are the cities and that is where investment will be centred. All the talk we hear of Innovation Hubs and Foreign Direct Investment will lead to disappointment if companies come here with their wads of cash and then find they can’t afford to send an email.

I know there are problems with comparing us with other countries but I can’t help it. Why must I pay P399 each month for a connection speed at home in the bush that is exactly 32 times slower than the connection a friend in the UK gets for free. Yes, FOR FREE!

Even more disappointing is that my connection at the office is identical. How can we imagine big companies will come here and manage to survive the frustration? I’m not asking for anything free, just for Government to get things moving. What some people would call a subsidy others might just call an investment.

This week’s stars

  • Leero at CNA at Game City for being “amazing, charming and a breath of fresh air”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I got an email from a woman claiming to be a doctor saying she wants to get in touch with me. Should I trust her?

The email you received is deeply suspicious. It’s worth quoting a few lines so readers can judge for themselves:
“My name is Sarah DUFFON, Canadian-born doctor currently residing in London for a mission where I have a few days. I received your mail in the category of mail correspondence, so I take this opportunity to correspond with you, without complex, hoping to share and if possible establish a more refined at various levels.
So here is my mobile number 00447045740793 from London and I am very glad to hear your voice next time, I will send you well with your consent sure my photos and hope to sour yours if possible.”
I took the liberty of responding to “Dr Duffon” as if she had sent her email to me and not to you and what do you know? She replied offering me a job! She also sent over some pictures which “she” claimed were of her. I doubt it somehow. I don’t think that a doctor travelling the world offering total strangers employment is likely to be about 18 years old, do you? Judge for yourself, does this picture look convincing?

You can bet that at some stage this so-called Dr Duffon will demand money before you can get her job. “She” is almost certainly not a pretty Canadian girl in London, she’s a sweaty scammer in Lagos.

[Yes, in case you’re wondering it WAS my ambition to convert this column into another Page 3!]

Hotel Express International - update

Last week we published a complaint from a reader who felt she had been abused by Hotel Express International. She claimed that they had called her out of the blue and tried to sell her membership of their hotel discount scheme. She further claimed that the salesperson from Hotel Express International asked for her debit card details just so “she could check with management if the debit card would be acceptable for payments”. Perhaps not surprisingly this allowed Hotel Express International to take P2,839.33 from her account without her consent.

We got in touch with the Hotel Express International people in South Africa and after a few hiccups we were pleased to hear that they had refunded the reader’s money. Well, most of it. At the time of writing there’s still a few hundred missing that they think might be to do with foreign exchange problems but with a little luck that will be fixed soon.

Meanwhile, within hours of The Voice being published we were getting responses. Two came directly to our blog web site, both from people who preferred to remain anonymous and who were very critical of what I wrote. They were, they claimed, happy customers of Hotel Express International.

As readers will know, we believe in being even-handed so here’s what they said (without correcting their spelling):
“I donot agree with the writer because i have been in the loyalty program with Hotel Express International for the past 4 years and their service is 100%good maybe this time you met with a new consultant who didnot know what he/she is doing because corporate companies here in Botswana do have this card and it is user friendly for more information you can contact the Gaborone branch to see that this not a scam,those who got money to spend i recommend the card for better servings”
[A quick Consumer Watchdog tip: towards the bottom right corner of your keyboard is a full stop, it’s very useful.]

The second response was much longer but began:
“i would like to differ from what you are saying. I am a Hotel Express Card holder. I actually have own a group of companies, therefore I have 3 Platinum Corporate cards which my employees make use of on a week to week basis.”
and ended, very sympathetically, with:
“I dont think that it would make sense to tanish their reputation over a mere R2800”
While I’m always happy to publish comments that disagree with us, I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I treat them sceptically when they are anonymous?

However, despite having two comments like that we have subsequently heard from THREE more people who told exactly the same story of money being taken from their accounts despite them not giving explicit consent. We’ve passed every complaint through to Hotel Express International in SA and so far 2 have been at least partially refunded.

Finally, let’s face facts. As I asked last week why would you want to pay to join a scheme that offers you discounts that you can get ENTIRELY FOR FREE elsewhere? So far, every discounted hotel stay I’ve looked at on the Hotel Express International member price list can be beaten elsewhere without paying a massive membership fee up front.

So I ask again, why would you want to pay to get something you can get elsewhere for free?

Friday 26 November 2010

Be careful

You and I really need to be careful. Despite how skeptical some of us think we are, none of us is immune to the seductive charms of dubious money-making schemes. Yes, I DO mean pyramid schemes, amongst others. I’ve covered before the rather pathetic TVI Express pyramid scam. This is one of the many voucher-based pyramid schemes that is based on their silly holiday discount ploy. The “products” they claim to have are discounts against luxury holidays but they cover up the fact that a discount isn’t actually a product. A holiday can be a product but they are not offering you a holiday, they’re offering you a few percent off the price of a holiday. That’s not a product. That absence of anything tangible is what makes TVI Express a pyramid scheme and not it’s close relative, a Multi-Level Marketing scheme.

The good news is that eventually the enforcement authorities around the world have understood the real nature of TVI Express and that they need to do something about it. Some months ago the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission obtained orders restraining three individuals from promoting TVI Express and described is as “a pyramid selling scheme”. They have also come under the gaze of various authorities in China, Indonesia, Hungary and their home country of India. Most recently in September these crooks were shut down completely in the US state of Georgia. The bad news is that, just like cockroaches scurrying from underneath one rock to another when the light is shone upon them, many of the TVI Express conspirators and even some of their gullible victims are flocking to other pyramid schemes such as Pyxism.

Pyxism is a clone of TVI Express but I suppose that I should be cautious and say that I’m sure Pyxism is a legitimate fortune-earning mechanism that brings untold happiness and wealth to everyone it touches. Or perhaps, unlike the shameless, money-grubbing crooks behind all pyramid schemes, I should tell the truth. Pyxism is a pyramid scam just like TVI Express and you should avoid it like it’s a combination of the plague, the Ebola virus and swine flu. Pyxism is that good for you.

Meanwhile not all risks are as obvious as pyramid schemes. Some risks can be either just bad fortune or they come from a set of circumstances that allow things to go wrong. Just like allowing your house to become dirty and pest-infested will encourage disease, so too can companies allow things to become a little relaxed and mistakes can happen. I’m sure that this was the case with one of our latest problems. A reader contacted us and told us about the phone call he received from a company called Hotel Express International.

This is yet another holiday discount scheme that involves you paying some serious money to join a scheme that offers you discounted hotel stays and car rentals. However, things went seriously wrong during the phone call. Did the reader have a credit card he could use to join the scheme? No, he said, I only have a debit card. Not a problem said the saleslady, let me have your debit card number and I’ll just check to see if you are eligible to join the scheme.

OK, by now I imagine you can see the problem. Our bright, intelligent, worldly-wise reader has just given away his bank account to a total stranger.

The call ended with the saleslady offering to courier to the reader full details of the scheme and an application form to complete if he decided to join.

It came as a surprise to the reader, but not I suspect to you, that when he went to the ATM later that day he found his account near empty. P2,839.33 had been taken from it and the bank confirmed it was Hotel Express International who had snaffled his money. Unfortunately it was too late for the bank to stop it and, yes, he had voluntarily given them his debit card number. Yes, I know, you know and he knows that he didn’t explicitly give them permission to take his money but it’s too late, it’s gone.

When he got in touch with us we contacted the Hotel Express International people in South Africa and they did take pretty swift action. One of their senior manager people called the reader and did his level best to sell the benefits of the scheme, conveniently overlooking the fact that they had taken his money without his consent. It took a bit more persuasion before they conceded that it was time for a complete refund and no more funny business.

Regular readers will remember the problems we had with Prokard in South Africa when they dd almost exactly the same thing. In one case Prokard used the “give us your credit card details and we’ll check to see if you’re eligible for Gold membership” line. Same thing, same result. Money taken without explicit consent.

The supreme irony is that all these holiday and hotel discount schemes are based on a profound untruth. You don’t have to pay money or membership dues to get discounts. If you go to the hotel Express International web site you’ll see that in March they quoted the price for a suite at the Courtyard in Rosebank in Jo’burg at R1,050. By a strange coincidence I stayed in a suite at that exact hotel earlier this month and paid a mere R675. All I did was go to and the discount didn't cost me a thebe, a cent or a penny. Certainly not P2,839.33 that Hotel Express took from an unwilling “customer”.

The lesson is simple and obvious. Don’t give your credit or debit card details to total strangers over the phone and don’t waste you money paying for something you can get elsewhere for free!

This week’s stars
  • Sam at Naledi Motors Parts department or doing “an exceptional job”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer's Voice

Last week I was called on my cellphone by lady from a South African number who claimed to be from Hotel Express International. She said she got my number from one of their associate hotels here in Botswana, where I had booked previously. This sounded reasonable as I had just returned from a field trip where I stayed in two hotels in the North. I have also used other hotels in the past. She told me about a package where if I sign up I will be eligible for significant discounts in hotel accommodation and car rentals in various countries. She went on to ask my work address as she will later send me the necessary information and application forms by courier.

She then asked me if I had a credit card for purposes of payment once my application is approved and I replied that I did not, but that I only have a debit card. She responded by asking for the bank that I use and the type of account. She said she will need to check with management if the debit card would be acceptable for payments and didn’t sound optimistic. She then asked for the 16 digit number on my card so that she could go and confirm if it will be acceptable. I reluctantly gave her the number, as at the back of my mind I reasoned that the number is not really secret as it is printed where it can be seen easily by third parties. I also reasoned that it was only an inquiry and I would still have to fill in some forms before any monetary transactions are made. So I did not at this time become suspicious.

Later that day when I went to the ATM I realised that a large sum of money had been withheld in my account and was not accessible to me. When I went to the bank and enquired they told me of a transaction of P2,839.33 but said they will need to do further checks before they could tell me when and with who this money was transacted. It was later confirmed that Hotel Express International had taken the money.

The next day I received another call from the same lady who called the previous day from Express Hotel International. She told me that my application has been approved. I said that I had not made any application and was waiting for the package they were going to send by courier so that I could read before i could make any decisions. At this she replied that she signed me in when we were talking yesterday.

[The reader’s email then goes on in detail about his attempts to cancel the transaction through his bank but without success.]

Unfortunately we’ve heard stories exactly like this several times before. A “cold call” from a company like Hotel Express International that results in an unauthorised deduction from a consumer’s account. On each occasion the consumer claims to have given out his or her account number so the caller can check whether it’s a suitable means of payment, or perhaps to establish which level of membership they will be entitled to. Before you know it a few thousand has been taken from your account without your explicit authorisation.

We contacted Hotel Express International in South Africa and asked them to investigate to see how this could have happened. Unfortunately their first response was just for a senior manager to call the consumer to persuade him of the benefits of their scheme and all the various discounts it offers. That was NOT what was needed. We and the consumer made it perfectly clear that he did not want to be a member and he had never given his permission for the payment. Finally, after a sequence of emails the Managing Director of Hotel Express International in South Africa instructed his team to make a full refund into the consumer’s account.

Some of you may be thinking that the consumer was foolish to give out his bank account number like this. The consumer himself agrees with you but he fell victim to a very persuasive sales agent, presumably one who was paid on commission and who was prepared to push her sales skills to the limit!

The first lesson is the obvious one. Never give your bank account details to someone you don’t know and to whom you haven’t agreed to pay money. Never give those details to someone who is just checking something. NEVER.

Then there’s the second big lesson. Holiday discount schemes, whether they are pyramid schemes like TVI Express (recently outlawed in the US state of Georgia) and Pyxism, or the membership schemes like Hotel Express International or Prokard are all based on a misunderstanding.

You don’t have to pay money to get discounts. Hotels give these discounts away for free to anyone who asks for them. In the last few years I have stayed in hotels in South Africa at massively reduced rates without paying anyone anything to get the discounts. No membership fees, no deposits, no unauthorised debit card deductions over the phone. Ironically in their hotel price list (pdf format download here) Hotel Express International quote their price for a suite at the Courtyard in Rosebank at R1,050. By coincidence I stayed in a suite at that exact hotel earlier this month and paid a mere R675. All I did was go to and the discount didn't cost me a thebe, a cent or a penny. Certainly not P2,839.33.

My advice is to keep your money and get your discounts for free!

Friday 19 November 2010

Hotel Express International - update

A follow-up to our recent warning about calls from Hotel Express International.

It looks like a complete refund is on it's way. Watch this space...

Baiting a "traditional doctor"

OK, not a scammer, a traditional healer this time but a liar and a charlatan nevertheless. This is his advertisement:

I SMSed a number of "doctors" who placed advertisements in local papers yesterday and today as follows:

His response and our subsequent conversation went like this:

He is "Dr" Kachule and his cellphone number is 75916409.  I'm sure he'd love to hear from you!

Old friends

We all like to see old friends, people from our past, people we were fond of and who we perhaps lost touch with over the years. However there are also those old “friends” who we are perhaps keen to be shot of. The ones who borrowed money and never paid us back, the ones who told lies about us and the ones who impregnated our sisters and disappeared before we could break their noses.

Consumer Watchdog has encountered some old friends recently, unfortunately of this latter, you-abused-my-sister variety.

The World Business Guide is one of them. This fake business directory advertises via email this time of year, offering to place your company details in their directory which they claim is available on CD and online. Their email says:
“Ladies and Gentlemen.

In order to have your company inserted in the registry of World Businesses for 2011/2012 edition, please print, complete and submit the enclosed form (PDF file) to the following address:

P.O. BOX 3079

FAX: +31 (20) 203-1129

Updating is free of charge!”
While it’s true that “updating” your entry can be done for free entering your details the first time is certainly NOT free. Hidden away in the incredibly small print is the following:
“The price per year is Euro 995. The subscription will be automatically extended every year for another year unless specific written notice is received by the service provider or the subscriber two months before the expiration of the subscription.”
So in fact entering your details will cost you P9,000 and the bad news is that once you’ve submitted your company details they will claim you’re committed and cannot change your mind. They’ll even set their lawyers onto you if you resist. Of course this is not legally enforceable but very few people enjoy receiving threatening letters from lawyers or have the courage to stand up to them and tell where to stick their directory.

Various authorities have tried to shut these gangsters down but they keep on popping up every year to scam more and more unsuspecting victims.

The crooks behind the Transitions Abroad scam keep on emerging from under a rock as well. There is in fact a legitimate “Transitions Abroad” web site that provides all sorts of advice on working and travelling overseas but their name is being used by some scumbag scammers to steal money.

This is a fake recruitment company who claim to have all sorts of exotic jobs overseas paying enormous amounts of money. Most notably they offer some totally unrealistic jobs on cruise liners offering ridiculously high salaries. Their email says:
“We do full packages such as visa processing, air tickets, accommodation (ect) Earn a salary of up to $8,000USD per month”
As you can probably guess all they need in order for you to be accepted is a bunch of cash up front. Last year they wanted a mere P2,300 with your application. Of course your application will never get you anywhere because this is just another scam.

Even the scammers from the ridiculous TVI Express pyramid scheme are back at it again. When we’ve written about this pointless rip-off before we’ve even had criticism from people in the pyramid in Botswana, including a local preacher, saying we are defaming an honest scheme that helps people better themselves. But these have been no more than liars desperate to prop up their wing of the pyramid. (Q. Do pyramids have wings? A. Only when they’re flying from the authorities.) TVI Express has been declared a scam in Australia and was recently shut down in the US state of Georgia. What’s left of them elsewhere in the world is under investigation by pretty much every regulator.

The most recent TVI News is that all the former member of this silly scheme have jumped ship and joined the equally pyramidical “Pyxism” scheme. Again you have to pay to enter this scam. Their web site explains that to join you need to pay:
“a one off cost of $300 USD plus a $49 USD per year Associate fee.If you are living outside the United States, then there is an additional once off $25 USD processing fee”
Pyxism is exactly the same as TVI Express of course, a pyramid scheme based on worthless travel vouchers. One Pyxism web site includes this incredibly slippery Q & A:
“Is Pyxism A Pyramid Scheme?

No! When you become an associate with Pyxism, your $US300 certificate buys you $US300 worth of discounted vacation, so you are always receiving a product.”
This isn’t difficult to understand. “Discounted vacation” is NOT a product. It’s a reduction in the price of a product, a discount you can almost certainly get elsewhere more cheaply. Whenever my family and I stay in hotels in Jo’burg do you really think we pay the full price? Of course not, we go to our preferred chain’s web site and bid for a cheaper stay. Go to if you don’t believe me. It’s entirely free and you can save up to half the normal price. For FREE.

So our old friend TVI goes away and it’s sibling Pyxism takes it’s place in our affections.

Our advice is that all of these old friends are the type that you secretly are very glad you don’t hear from any more. They are the people you used to associate with but secretly you hated them and you still do. I suggest that you don’t respond to them when they get in touch and pretend your email isn’t working. Or you could just tell them that you never liked them, you’ve really enjoyed not having them in your life and would they please just go away.

This week’s stars
  • Oteng from Lesedi Motors who helped out a passer-by (Me!).
  • Nita at Maxiprest for being “really friendly and helpful”.
  • All the Mmegi readers who contact us asking us to alert their neighbours to scammers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I bought a Mercedes in 2000. At the time I ordered it the waiting time was six months before it would arrive. When I was finally told that the motor vehicle had arrived, it was not what I had ordered. My order was an E240, with a grey interior and no phone. What I got was a beige interior with a phone that I had to pay about P5,000 for. Because I had waited about six months, I did not want to wait any longer so I just took the car. I had never driven a Merc before and so I was quite excited to drive one. On the dash screen there were two identical cracks that seemed to like they were part of the car. Over the years the cracks have grown and now it's very obvious that they are cracks. I need your help on what I should do regarding this. I suspect that they sold the car to me because the person who had ordered it realised the defect and they took advantage of my ignorance. I think that they should replace the screen.

Some time ago, I lost one of my keys and I reported to the garage, so they would deactivate it. Instead, they deactivated the key that I had, and therefore I could not use it anymore. I was told that I needed to order a new key, and that it would take about three weeks to arrive. In the meantime I had to use a manual key and had to lock the car in a cumbersome manner and as a result one day I locked the key inside. I waited for the key to arrive and by that time the battery was flat so the key did not work. The gentleman who attended to the car told me they would use a wire and it would not show on the car. What he did not tell me was that the damage would show much more as the car got older. Now there are visible tears on the door and they are unsightly. I know I should've acted earlier but I hope that you can give me advice that would help me in this instance. I think the garage should pay for the damage on my car because they are responsible for the damage?

There are two issues here. The first is the original purchase of your car. Clearly the garage failed to deliver to you the car you had ordered and you may be right to suspect that you were actually given someone’s else’s order. However this was such a long time ago that there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m afraid that leaving the issue for over 10 years is way too long. The time to do something about the problem was firstly when the car was delivered. Instead of being charged extra for the phone you really should have demanded a discount for having the wrong vehicle.

The second issue relates to the loss of the key and the damage they did to the car when they tried to help you. You had a right to expect them not to do any damage unless they agreed that with you beforehand. Also the fact that they deactivated the wrong key again suggests that they probably shouldn’t have charged you, or at least given you a discount for your trouble.

However again the problem is time. You don’t say when this problem with the key happened. The lesson is to respond to failures promptly. Whether it’s a car or a cellphone you need to tell a supplier that something is wrong as soon as you realise it. Delaying can ruin your chances of getting a solution.

Blackberry update

Last week we reported on a customer who bought what she thought was a brand new Blackberry phone, only to find that it contained someone else’s photos and videos. What’s more it was a “branded” phone, originally sold by T-Mobile, we think in the USA. Finally, and after a bit of a battle, the store in question agreed to completely refund her money and she walked away with her cash last week. However then things got even better. The owner of the chain of stores got in touch saying he was appalled to read in The Voice what had happened. He assured us that second-hand phones should not be sold as new in his stores and he would like to make it up to the customer. Would she like a completely free Blackberry to say sorry?

Yes, she would thanks!

Well done to the store owner for reading the Voice, responding quickly and for fixing the problem with some style!

Scam alerts

I know I say this every week but no, you haven’t been identified by an employee of a foreign bank to extract some illegal funds from a dead customer’s account, you haven’t been selected by a beautiful stranger in a refugee camp to help her extract her inheritance from some far-flung, war-torn country and you most certainly haven’t won a lottery that you didn’t knowingly enter. No, you can’t trust anyone who contacts you to discuss a business deal who only has a Gmail or Yahoo email account and no landline phone number.

In fact don’t trust ANYONE who emails you out of the blue. Never give money to anyone you wouldn’t trust with your car, your house or your children’s safety.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Consumer Alert - Hotel Express International

Be very careful if someone calls from Hotel Express International in Jo'burg asking for your debit card details just to "confirm if it will be acceptable". You may well end up being charged P2,839.33 just for taking a phone call and without consciously authorising the payment. Of course you shouldn't give your debit card number to total strangers but if they are claiming it's just to check it the card is OK you can see how someone might fall for it.

I've contacted them for their feedback which I'll post on the blog.

Update: I just looked at their SA hotel member rates document and saw that in March they quoted the price for a suite at the Courtyard in Rosebank at R1,050. Curiously I stayed in a suite at that exact hotel earlier this month and paid a mere R675. All I did was go to Bid2Stay and the discount didn't cost me a thebe, a cent or a penny.  Certainly not P2,839.33.

Friday 12 November 2010

The Blackberry issue - concluded

The problem with the second-hand Blackberry that was sold as new has been resolved.

The store gave the customer a full refund, offered him a brand new, fresh out-of-the-box Blackberry and gave him a full apology. They've pledged to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again.

The result? A very happy customer.

Thursday 11 November 2010

New or used (or abused)?

We heard recently from a VERY disgruntled consumer who had just spent a small fortune on a new smart phone. She had visited a store at Riverwalk Shopping Centre (I should stress not one that is linked to any of the three service providers, this is an independent store) and handed over a massive P5,600 for a shiny new Blackberry 9700. By anyone’s standards that is a LOT of money but it is a lovely phone.

As you can imagine she was delighted to have such a fancy new toy and it wasn’t even Christmas Day. It wasn’t long afterwards that her joy was spoiled. The first problem was that the box it came in was battered and torn. Not what you expect for such a prestigious toy but you might think this was only a box so what does that matter? Things didn’t get any better.

When she opened the box and got the phone out it seemed ok, but when she powered it up and started using it there were some surprises.

Yes, you’ve probably heard this story before, the handset was full of photos and videos clearly taken by someone else. These weren’t just sample pictures that might have come with the phone. The new owner said they “show the previous owner posing with a friend, his dog, flight ticket, IT server room and party sessions/ celebrations.”

This was NOT a new phone.

Let’s have a little legal background. I think we can ignore the obvious, that the store lied when they told her it was a new phone, we can overlook the cheating that is outlawed by the Penal Code. Let’s focus on the hardly ever enforced Consumer Protection Regulations. Section 13 (1) (c) makes it perfectly clear that a supplier has failed to meet minimum standards if they claim that “a commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”. Simple really.

But I don’t think we need a law, a rule or a regulation to tell us that selling a second-hand, used phone as new is just crookery, do we?

Then it became even more suspicious. The consumer brought the Blackberry over to show us the pictures and videos. That when we noticed something she hadn’t mentioned yet. Slapped on the front of the phone as well as the box and every document it contained was the word “T-Mobile”. This, in case you’re not familiar with the name, is the name of one of the USA’s and UK’s major cellphone networks. Like many UK companies as well as some here in Botswana they often brand handsets with their name. Just like T-Mobile did with this Blackberry.

So you have to ask yourself this. How on earth did a second-hand, UK-branded cellphone end up being sold to an unsuspecting consumer in Botswana? Good question but I don’t know the answer. But I will soon. We got in touch with T-Mobile in the UK and sent them the IMEI number from the phone so they can trace it. We’ll let you know what they tell us.

Meanwhile we have, of course, spoken to the store manager and asked him for his reactions. He eventually confessed that this phone was indeed a T-Mobile handset from the UK, that it was second-hand and promised that the customer would get a refund. Actually what he said was that he would find a solution and when pressed he said she could have a refund.

Oh and yes, we DO have a recording of the phone call. That will go on the web if the situation isn’t fixed by the time this column is published. We’ll also make it absolutely clear which store it is that’s selling distinctly dubious phones to unsuspecting customers.

Scam update

Life isn’t all doom and gloom, we’ve been having lots of fun recently taking the battle back to scammers. We’ve adopted a new approach to dealing with these loathsome scumbags. I’ve been calling some of them just to have a conversation with them, just to ask them a few questions and to ask how many people actually fall for their stories. Unfortunately as well as missing a conscience these crooks don’t seem to have a sense of humour. One eventually asked me “Are you ringing to insult me?” and after a moment’s thought I felt obliged to tell the truth. “Yes”, I said, “I AM ringing to insult you.” That’s when he hung up.

But then it occurred to me. Why must we be polite to these thieving, scheming lumps of manure? We don’t. There is no moral imperative to be pleasant, to be polite, even to show the basic courtesy to these worthless specimens of humanity. So this is my new approach. About once a day I phone one of them, there’s no shortage of them after all, and tell him what I think of him. I’m also sending a couple of SMSs every day to them, telling them that I’m interested in their scam and asking them to call me and it’s surprising how many of them spend the money to do so. Of course I then waste their time and money for as long as possible before letting the cat out of the bag and accusing them of being a scammer. Of course by this time they are so angry that they forget that they are paying for the phone call and they rant and rave, make up silly excuses and spend a small fortune calling me from halfway across the planet.

It’s not often that you get the chance to be incredibly rude to people without any feelings of guilt and more people should join in the fun. What better way to end the day than to release all your pent up frustrations on somebody who really deserves it. Better still, given that they are more often than not a time zone or two behind us why not send them an SMS while you have your breakfast. Let’s ruin their sleep patterns! Take a look at our Facebook group for examples of the rude messages we’ve sent the buggers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

When u visit many stores or super markets, prices are not marked and its difficult to make decision on what to buy without asking shop assistant. The issue is, we don't want to be asking anyone as to the prices of items in the shop but we want to have prices marked clearly. Please, what can we do in such cases?

You can demand to see the manager or owner of the store and ask him or her how they expect consumers to buy things if they don’t know what they cost. I really think we have a right to know as we walk around a store roughly what we’re going to be expected to pay at the checkout. We also have a right to see if things are massively overpriced, or indeed are being offered at a bargain price. I suggest if you see this happening again you just tell the manager that you’ll take your money elsewhere unless it’s fixed.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received this email and wonder if it can be trusted?

“Dear Sir/Madam,
Gold Dust and Bar for Sale offer.
Our specifications are below:
Product: Alluvial gold dust
Quantity: 248 Kilograms
Quality: 23+ Carat
Purity: 97.5%
Price: USD$ 26,000 per kg
Origin: Ghana

For FCO details information, kindly contact us.

Yours Sincerely,
Joyce Adu
Traditional Royal Mining Company Ltd
15/16 Tarkwa Mining Estate
This has to be a scam. Why would a genuine gold mining company contact total strangers offering them gold? Why would such a company use a email address? Why would such a company leave no trace on the internet? Do a Google search for “Traditional Royal Mining Company Ltd” and you find precisely zero results. It’s the same for the address as well.

This has all the hallmarks (yes, that’s a joke) of a scam. A 23 carat one!

Dear Consumer's Voice #3

We got an email from a consumer who had recently bought what she thought was a brand new Blackberry Bold 9700 from a cellphone store at Riverwalk shopping centre in Gaborone. She spent an enormous P5,600 on this device so she had a perfectly reasonable right to expect it to be beautiful, sexy and adorable.

Well it would have been if it hadn’t come already full of someone else’s pictures and video clips, in a beaten up box and with the word “T-Mobile” written all over it. In case you don’t know T-Mobile is a cellphone network provider that operates in the USA and UK. Quite how this phone came to be sold in Botswana is still a mystery. However it was pretty easy to find out that T-Mobile in the USA actually sells refurbished phones to the public. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, second hand products can be a remarkably cheap option if you want to save a bit of money. The problem is buying a refurbished phone and then selling it on as brand new. That’s so naughty that’s it’s illegal.

We contacted the store that had sold her the second-hand phone and asked them what they were planning to do about the situation. They suggested that the customer, accompanied by Consumer Watchdog, should visit the Technical Manager to discuss the situation. Sorry, not good enough, not even nearly good enough. At that stage I don’t think the store realised just how badly they had abused this customer and the law. So we called them and demanded a better solution. As I write this the agreement is that the consumer will take the phone back to the store and receive a complete refund. I’m reasonably confident that they will in fact offer a refund, so confident in fact that I don’t think it’s necessary at this stage to either name the store in question or to post the recording we made of the conversation on to our web site.

But things can change. Do you think the store owner understands this? Rest assured that if he doesn’t fix this pretty damned quickly it won’t just be the Small Claims Court, the Ministry of Trade, the City Council and the boys and girls in blue who’ll be on their case, it will be the irresistible force they’ll need to deal with. The Voice!

Scam update

Make sure you visit our Facebook Group and join in the fun we’re having with scammers. We’ve given up being Mr and Mrs Nice Guy and are taking the battle back to them. Remember that scammers are low-down, lying, cheating scumbags who deserve to be abused as well as prosecuted. There is no duty to be polite to such people. We’re posting the cellphone numbers of all the scammers we come across and ask you to spend P1 to send them the rudest, most insulting SMS you can think of. Who knows, there might even be a prize for the funniest SMS sent!