Friday 26 February 2010

Who wants to be first?

A few weeks ago this column was entitled “1st, 2nd or 3rd“ and it was my feeble attempt to suggest that it’s up to us in Botswana to decide whether our country is considered a 1st, 2nd or 3rd world country.

Of course I know that some people still use these terms and base them on things like GDP, average income and other economic indicators but my point was more about how a country is perceived. More importantly I was trying to suggest that if we decide to define ourselves as a 1st world country then that is how (to a limited extent) we will appear to the people of other countries.

Yes, before you shake your head, mutter insults and dismiss me as a fool, I know that this argument is riddled with errors but nevertheless I’m very attached to it. I really DO think that our self-image determines to some extent how we are seen.

It was also a plea against that argument you hear from many people, and not just whining expatriates, that “Ah, this is Botswana, you can’t expect any better.” I think it is enormously offensive to put our country down like that, regardless of who you are and where you’re from.

Anyway, despite a few negative comments after the article, about how my view was simplistic and a couple of defeatist comments how we just ARE a 3rd world nation and we should learn to live with it, I stick with the argument.

However I can’t help thinking about this again as I sit here in a country that everyone would consider a truly 1st world nation. Shall I name the place or shall I just give you clues? Well, it’s a theocracy, the Head of State also being the Head of the official State religion. No. it’s not The Vatican, I’m not on a cross-dressing holiday. The Head of State’s inbred, chinless, eldest son recently stated that he wasn’t too happy with the enlightenment values of science, reason and progress and said life wouldn’t be worth living if there weren’t swallows nesting in his roof. No, I’m not making this nonsense up.

It’s also a nation of mollycoddled, hugely over-indulged, moaning citizens who are seemingly not content with an entirely free health system.

Yes, I’m in the Disunited Queendom.

Everyone in the world would agree that the UK is 1st world. The average wage is high, there’s free health care and education and the internet here operates unbelievably quickly. On that subject let me inspire some jealousy. The house I’m staying in has a very low internet connection speed by UK standards. It’s only 8 times faster than the fastest connection offered by Orange for instance. Instead of the P1,899 you would pay for the Orange connection in Botswana, do you know what they pay here?

Nothing. It comes free with their telephone connection.

Now of course I understand that this is an unfair comparison. You can’t really compare a “1st world” country like the UK which has a huge population in a tiny space with Botswana with it’s tiny population and enormous size. It’s one area where countries like the UK will always outstrip us.

But what about the service here? Is customer service 1st world quality? Yes and No. In parts the service is great, just like in Botswana. Also in parts it’s just crap. Just like in Botswana. On average it’s just mediocre. Just like in Botswana. Since I arrived here some service has been friendly, cheerful and attentive. On the other hand, on two occasions so far in the last 24 hours, I’ve just walked out of stores and taken my money elsewhere. Just like I’ve been known to do back at home.

I realise that I can’t really claim that we’re 1st world just because we’re as bad at service as a 1st world country but I DO think it means we can’t use our sometimes poor service delivery to justify our 3rd world self-image.

I also don’t think this means we should market ourselves as “Botswana, the country with slow internet access and service no worse than anywhere else, on a good day”. But I do think we can use this to realise that as far as service is concerned, we don’t actually have THAT far to go before we can truly claim to be as good as it gets.

We even have certain advantages over the poor Brits. I’m not sure whether it’s the appallingly dull weather, the cold climate or something to with the recession but the people here are seriously unfriendly. Several times I’ve gone into stores or restaurants and have politely greeted whoever was servicing me, only to be met with a look of shock. I’m sure they think I’m trying to proposition them, sell them drugs or kill them for meat.

It’s also startling how dissatisfied and ungrateful they are too, despite all their economic advantages and even after financial meltdown. It reminds you just starting we can be.

So I think my plea, from far, far away is for us all to decide how we want to be seen. We can’t ever compete as the technological centre of the world but I think we have the ability to compete as a customer service centre. If we tried just a little bit harder, if we showed a bit more patriotism we could certainly compete with ay country around the world. And guess what? THAT is what attracts tourists, not just lions.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

An advertisement was run in one of the local newspapers by a company called Dalberto Sponsors. They claimed to be a recruitment agency which finds employment for people overseas at an overall fee of US$500 - P3,650. I sent an application together with the above stated amount for them to process my documents. They promised to take care of everything including a visa, plane ticket, accommodation and all the necessities. After 2 weeks I received an employment offer letter but to my surprise there was another $400 to be paid which I was not informed of before. They said it was for the cruise ship package which included visa fees and I would be ready to leave the country in a weeks time. I paid the extra and waited for them to tell me to bring the passport to the American Embassy in South Africa as they had promised. They again sent me some documents this time asking me to pay another $2,600 USD in 2 to 4 working days. This is when I suspected this could be a scam. Please help me to recover my money and expose these shady dealers.

I’m afraid I have bad news for you. You’ve been scammed.

Dalberto Sponsors are crooks. It looks like you didn’t see our exposure of their scam some weeks ago after they placed a number of advertisements in various newspapers (No, NOT The Voice!) offering jobs all over the world and in all sorts of professions. We thought they were a scam then because of the clues in their advertisements and also on their web site. This led us to think they were no more than lying, scheming criminals. Your experience confirms that.

The bad news is that your money has gone. Scammers don’t give money back and by this time they’ve probably spent it. Although they gave cellphone numbers in the UK and South Africa they are probably untraceable by now.

It might not seen much comfort at this stage but at least you didn’t give them the enormous sum they wanted at the end. I think you should be thankful that your skeptical side showed itself and you were able to protect yourself.

I’m sorry but you can also be a lesson for the rest of us. Dalberto Sponsors and everything they say and do is a scam. They’re crooks, liars, cheats, swindlers and scumbags. Nobody should have ANYTHING to do with them. Ever.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I think I’ve been tricked by some guys who said they can get me a job overseas. I paid them part of the money, later I changed my decision and told them that I have no money. Now these guys don't answer their phones or come to their workplace. All they do is send me text messages making appointments that they never honour.

It sounds like you too have been the victim of a scam. Another travel scam.

Let’s face it. I think we’ve all learned over the last few months that you must be extremely careful when dealing with anyone who offers you trips abroad, particularly if they say they can get you a job overseas. They’re almost all crooks. The lesson is simple. Only deal with companies that you trust. Speak to your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues and ask them about any company that wants your money. Before you part with your money you should check if anyone else has any experience of them.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

I saw an advertisement in a newspaper recently that offered P85,000 per month and all you had to spend was P5,500 which they say we’ll recover in a week. This is over 1,400% return on investment, only matched by a lottery win!

I know this is a massive scam and what I find difficult to understand is that the newspaper is publishing this ad without care about the nature of this ad. Someone must have paid for it, and newspaper knows the source of this advert.

I think there has to be a way to limit these guys from reaching the general public.

Thanks for telling us all about this advertisement which also appeared in local newspapers (but not The Voice!). I've done a little research and have been able to identify the company as “Global Distributions” and I find them suspicious. There are various clues but I don’t think they are all they claim to be. For instance the pictures of the building they show don't actually seem to match the address they give and they give no contact details of their management team. They give no details of their business model, and the only clue they give about their product range is a dreadful picture of some cheap hair products.

I think we should all avoid this company until we know more.

An update

There’s been some progress with Uniglobe New Era Travel, a travel agent in Gaborone who took a customer’s money (nearly P8,000), didn’t make the booking he had paid for and then gave him a refund cheque that bounced. The owner of the company was recently arrested for fraud and is now helping the police with their enquiries. Good for the consumer for sticking up for his rights and good for the Police for taking action.

Our recommendation remains simple. Don’t deal with Uniglobe New Era Travel. They can’t be trusted.

Friday 19 February 2010

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I went to a store at Game City with a friend to buy some candles. When we got into the shop there were glasses packed next to some shelves displaying some cushions. I picked up one of the cushions but when I removed it from the shelf the cushion accidentally touched the table & some of the glasses that were on the table fell down and broke.

The shop assistants and manager came running and shouting that whoever broke the glasses is going to pay. I tried explaining to them that the table was just too close to the shelf but they turned a deaf ear and demanded I pay them P275 for the broken glasses. They said if I don’t pay I'm going to spend the night in a cell. I tried explaining that I didn’t have the money but they weren’t interested. Luckily my friend was able to give them P150 for me.

Some of the shop assistants tried explaining to the manager that the table with the glasses was really close to the shelf with the cushions but she told them that a thousand customers get into the shop and they don’t break glasses.

I’m asking whether it was fair for them to treat me like that while they have insurance for everything in the shop?

I think this is one of those complicated situations. It’s a great example of how there can be two sides to a story.

Firstly, and obviously, it sounds like the store made a few mistakes. Clearly they should have managed this situation a bit better. There’s no excuse for rudeness and for embarrassing you like it sounds like they did. Even if a customer has been totally reckless the store manager needs to treat them fairly.

Then there’s the issue of stacking cushions next to glasses. That sounds like asking for trouble. It was an accident waiting to happen. Again I think it sounds like the store contributed towards this accident and they need to listen to their own staff who agreed that this was a risk.

However, and it’s an important point, you need to take some responsibility for the accident as well. I know it was an accident but it was your actions that led to it happening. Most stores have a sign on the wall somewhere explaining their policy that breakages must be paid for and I think most consumers understand that.

We’ll get in touch with the store and ask them for their side of the story and we’ll let you know what happens.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I would like to complain about the Day Care Centre my child attended. As usual parents are urged to make advance payment of school fees to secure space for the kid despite being a current scholar in that school. I also subscribed to the idea of advance payment and as a responsible parent would normally pay up-front, however, this time after making an advance payment of P1,000, in December 2009, it happened that my husband was transferred to another part of the country and as a result we had to take our children to another school.

I wrote a letter to the centre just before the beginning of the school term notifying them about the situation and the reason for transfer of my daughter. I requested them to reimburse me the P1,000 already paid. I have not gotten any response from the school neither by phone nor in written form to date. I made an effort to visit the school to see the principal about the matter but was never in the office. Disclosing this to the bursar who initially received the letter, she told me that the principal advised her to tell me that money paid is not refundable at their school.

I asked the centre to furnish me with a copy of any document that confirms that there can be no refunds but they couldn’t.

I later found a document that says that money paid will not be refunded for any circumstances. I kindly request you to intervene and advise on this matter or address it with your expertise because it seems many parents are to befall such an ordeal despite its inappropriateness.

I’m sorry but I think you are being slightly unreasonable. As you say it is normal practice for schools and day care centres to ask parents to pay some sort of deposit for the next year to reserve the place for their child. I don’t think that’s unreasonable of them. They are saving that place for you and are perhaps even turning away other customers for you.

I know it’s not your fault that your husband was transferred unexpectedly but it’s not the school’s fault either. They will now need to find another child to fill the place left by your child and I think most people would understand the position they’re in.

An update

Still no progress from Uniglobe New Era Travel, a travel agent in Gaborone who took a customer’s money (nearly P8,000), didn’t make the booking he had paid for and then gave him a refund cheque that bounced. Uniglobe, the franchise owner, the customer himself and even the Police are involved and all he’s got back so far is P500 and a bunch of excuses.

Our recommendation is simple. Don’t have anything to do with Uniglobe New Era Travel. They can’t be trusted.

Friday 12 February 2010

What is a scam?

Sometimes scams are easy to spot. I think by now we all know about most species of internet-based scams. We all know about the “419” scams in which a total stranger emails you asking for your assistance in transferring a mythical fortune from one country to another and you get to keep a share.

We also all know that emails and text messages that suddenly appear announcing that we’ve won a lottery that we never entered (or even those that we DID) are all scams.

Most recently the “fashion” in scamming has focussed on recruitment. We’ve heard from people who have received emails out of the blue inviting them to apply for jobs, others have fallen for the fake advertisements from so-called companies (in fact scammers) like Dalberto Sponsors. However the essence of the scam remains the same. At some point (very early on in the case of Dalberto Sponsors) you have to pay them money and that’s when they go quiet on you.

I also think that a lot of Multi-Level Marketing schemes are scams as well. We’ve dealt with the so-called Success University, now part of World Ventures, and more recently with GenQuest who sell ludicrous magical “health” products but who mainly want you to recruit other people beneath you. Just this week we were asked about a bunch called TVI Express. This is another scheme that offers travel vouchers but is most interested in you joining and then recruiting others. On their web site there is a Frequently Asked Questions page that includes this question and answer. It’s so revealing it’s worth quoting:

Question:Do I need to sell any products?

Answer: “No. You don’t need to sell any products. TVI Express is a unique e-commerce opportunity allowing you to build the Business around the globe sitting at your home.”

They freely admit that there is no actual product involved in this scheme? THAT is a pyramid scheme. A scam.

Like other crooks, scams can appear in a number of disguises. They can pretend to be lotteries, they can fake recruitment companies and they can pretend to be travel schemes.

Over the last few weeks we’ve had several complaints about Prokard, a holiday discount scheme operated by Protea Hotels in South Africa. Their web site says that:
“PROTEA HOTELS Prokard is a status travel club that offers all members exclusive accommodation, dining and partnership privileges throughout Protea Hotels and African Pride Superior Deluxe Hotels, Lodges and Country Houses to which only our PROKARD members are entitled.”
The problem people have had is that they seem to have been deceived into joining the scheme. They all claim to have received “cold calls” from Prokard telemarketers who have engaged them in polite, friendly conversation, asked them flattering questions about their family life, pastimes and holiday habits and “sold” them the idea of joining the Prokard club.

Several of these consumers have claimed that during their conversations they were asked for their credit card details so Prokard could establish whether they would be entitled to “Gold” membership. What happened in all the cases reported to us is that, allegedly without their explicit consent, they were then charged the P1,000 membership fee.

Every one of the people who contacted us claims that they did not give explicit consent to payment. Every one of them claims they did not actually say they wanted to join the Prokard scheme. Every one of them feels like they’ve been conned.

We got in touch with Prokard in South Africa and passed over the complaints we’d received. In a couple of cases the consumers have been completely refunded their membership fees which I think suggests that Prokard realises that things weren’t as proper as they should have been.

Now, before I go any further I need to make it clear that I don’t have the evidence, I just have the stories told by the consumers who have contacted us. Prokard have told us that they record all telemarketing calls so they have evidence to back them up if they need it. I’ve asked Prokard for copies of their recorded calls but they don’t seem to want to hand them over. I wonder why?

The bizarre aspect of this situation is that Prokard is almost certainly not worth the membership fee. They claim to offer discounted hotel stays but I can’t seem to find any real savings in their scheme. To test this I went to the Prokard web site and selected a fairly normal Protea hotel in Johannesburg. The Prokard web site gave me a discounted price of R998 but when I checked whether rooms were available on the dates I chose I was told “Rooms Not Available.”

Curiously, other non-Prokard web sites said that rooms were indeed available on those dates, admittedly at a higher price.

More importantly, I then went to the Bid2Stay web site ( and looked for other hotels in the same area. For as little as R700 I could stay in a suite (yes, an entire suite!) at a significantly better hotel. I didn’t have to join a scheme, I didn’t need to pay P1,000 to join and I got the exact dates I wanted without any hassle.

So what’s the point of Prokard membership if the discounts you have to PAY money up front to receive aren’t worth it?

My dictionary defines a scam as “a dishonest scheme” and I can’t help ask myself if Prokard is a “dishonest scheme”. It offers savings that aren’t really savings and it has a habit of acquiring members in a less than honest fashion. So is Prokard a scam? I leave that up to you to decide.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer's Voice

I have been invited by a friend to join a travel club called TVI Express. In turn I also have to invite two more members to join under my name. I believe this is a pyramid scheme like the ones you had described in your previous articles in The Voice newspaper.

Please can you advise about this one?

I think you’re right to be suspicious.

TVI Express describe themselves as a Direct Selling company which is a popular term used these days by Multi-Level or Network Marketing schemes to describe themselves. Others would just describe them as a pyramid-structured selling scheme.

As with all Multi-Level Marketing schemes these days they have a very glossy looking web site that is full of pictures of happy smiling people, rainbows, private jets, sunshine and empty promises. Their main page includes an invitation to find out “how a few extra hours can build a Multi Million Dollar Business for you and your family”. Promises like that should ALWAYS a warning sign!

Elsewhere on their web site, in the Frequently Asked Questions page, is a very interesting item. It poses the question “Do I need to sell any products?”. The answer is worth quoting in full:
“No. You don’t need to sell any products. TVI Express is a unique e-commerce opportunity allowing you to build the Business around the globe sitting at your home. However, we do support leaders who take initiatives to promote the opportunity offline conducting seminars and workshops about the Opportunity.”
So all you do is join, pay them the joining fee of $250, then recruit two other people and money miraculously appears from nowhere? Scam!

When you dig deeper into their web site their model becomes clearer. It’s a classic pyramid scheme. What you are meant to do is to recruit two other people, encourage them each to recruit another two and so on down the pyramid. Every recruit must pay the $250 entry fee and those amounts soon mount up to a significant sum. Once your network has recruited 3 levels beneath you (a total of 15 victims, 6 of which have recruited others) you get $250 cash and a $250 holiday voucher. But that’s after TVI have earned a total of $3,750. Your $250 isn’t much of a reward is it?

You’ll need your network to grow even more if you want to get to the next reward level. They claim that when your network has expanded to 7 levels beneath you (a total of 255 people, 127 of which have recruited others beneath them) they’ll give you a massive $10,000. But that’s after TVI has earned a massive $63,750. Again that’s not so impressive is it? But anyway, let’s get real. Do you really think that your team will be able to find 255 people foolish enough to fall for this hogwash?

Also as you supposedly progress through the levels of the pyramid TVI Express promise to give you all sorts of vouchers for holidays. They promise “incentives ranging from Luxury cars to Private Jets and Splendid Villas in exotic locations around the world” but that’s just another part of the scam. What use is a holiday voucher if you can’t afford to go on holiday?

Like all pyramid-structured schemes TVI is guaranteed to fail. Even the more “legitimate” schemes like Amway, who at least have products to sell, have been forced to concede that extremely few people make any money.

A couple of years ago, Amway were forced by the British courts to disclose “earnings” information about it’s distributors and this was startling. Despite the claims of millionaires, yachts and private planes it turns out that the average bonus paid to their agents was a measly £20. And get this. That £20 was income, not profit. That was before they paid their business expenses. If big MLM schems like Amway who really do ship products can only offer their distributors the equivalent of P200 before expenses how much do you really think TVI Express can offer?

As well as all the usual MLM warning signs about TVI Express there are some other clues that apply to all businesses, not just pyramids. I can’t find any mention of who founded TVI Express. Nowhere do they give the name of their founder, CEO, MD or General Manager. You’d think that they’d being showing off their success don’t you?

Also, they seem to be reluctant to give phone numbers. They give one in the UK but it’s apparently very hard to get through to them. Finally, they give a business address in the UK but it turns out they aren’t registered as a company in the UK. I know, I checked.

All in all, I think TVI is unbelievable and should NOT be trusted. It’s a pyramid scheme and I guarantee that if you give them your money you’ll just be throwing it away.

An update

Last week we covered a complaint against Uniglobe New Era Travel a travel agents in Gaborone. A customer had paid them over P7,500 for a hotel stay in Kenya only to find that New Era failed to pay the hotel and when they gave him a refund the cheque bounced.

The good news is that Uniglobe who own the franchise that New Era operate has threatened to cancel the franchise if the customer isn’t refunded. The customer also went to visit New Era Travel with a friendly police officer who was very interested in the fraud they had committed. We’ll keep you informed!

Sunday 7 February 2010

BBC story - "Foreign student visas to be cut by UK"

Full story here.
The number of visas granted to students from outside the EU is to be cut in a crackdown on abuses of the system, UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson said tougher rules would require applicants to speak English to near-GCSE level and ban those on short UK courses from bringing dependants.

He said the rules were aimed at those who came to the UK primarily for work.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Visual illusions

For those of you who think you can trust your senses.

The Adelson illusion:
(Source: here)

Are these circles?  They certainly are.

(Source: here)

Move your eyes around this grid and watch the spots change colour.
(Source: here)

Nothing here is actually moving.
(Source: here)

Friday 5 February 2010

Good news - Uniglobe update

The CEO of Uniglobe, the owners of the franchise that New Era Travel operate, got in touch to outline their position. I've quoted his email with his permission.
"Thank you for the opportunity to respond. Our top priority at UNIGLOBE is customer service. Without happy customers we and our franchisees have no business (and no right to be in business). That is why over the last 30 years UNIGLOBE has invested significant time, money and effort in developing systems, procedures, policies, training and support for customer focused solutions for franchisees who wish to develop their businesses. However, at the end of the day, it is in the hands (and interest) of each franchisee to make sure they apply these in their own businesses. UNIGLOBE guards its Intellectual Property and Brand jealously and if we find that franchisees are misusing our IP and bringing the Brand into disrepute and are not willing or able to change, then we will remove this right – as we are lawfully entitled to do in terms of our franchise agreement.
Unfortunately, to date I have received no confirmation from New Era that they are willing or able to resolve Mr. XXX’s complaint.
I think that is perfectly respectable and there's a lesson for consumers here.  If you have a problem with a franchised operation and it doesn't get solved quickly then get in touch with the franchise owners because it's their reputation at stake as well.  Companies like Uniglobe will protect their reputation and that can only be good for consumers.

There's more.

The consumer did indeed visit the Police, laid a charge and went with a police officer to New Era earlier today and was given a written assurance that he would be paid some of the money today and the rest by the end of the month.  The Police have told her that they will put the charge on hold if she honours the agreement.  If she fails to...  You can guess the (ar)rest.

Revenge of the nerds

I love numbers. I’m a self-confessed numbers freak. A real nerd in fact.

I suppose it helps that I’ve always been fairly good at maths. Forgive me while I boast for a moment. I got a grade A ‘O’ Level in Maths when I was only 14 years old. Boasting over, here comes the reality. That was the only A grade I ever got in anything, ever. My academic life was downhill from there. I’ve never had an A in anything since.

However about the same time as that astounding exam my father gave me a Sherlock Holmes detective story to read and I was hooked. I realised that it was evidence that interested me and numbers are just one type of evidence.

That also started a fascination with illusions, perceptual tricks and understanding just how easy it is to fool people with pictures, signs and symbols. (Take a look at the Consumer Watchdog blog if you really think you can trust your senses.)

OK, given that I am an evidence nerd you think I wanted to be a police officer? Oh no, certainly not. I’ve worked with a number of current and former cops and I understand what they say about police work. It’s 99% boredom and 1% terror. Certainly not the right job for a cowardly Mummy’s boy like me.

These days one of my main interests is the evidence consumer are presented with. There are crucially important issues like store credit and the lies some stores tell us to encourage us to sign criminal credit agreements. Then there are the creative lies told by certain micro-lenders, loan companies and every single Get-Rich-Quick scheme. The problem is what bits of evidence are to be trusted and which should be thrown out with the garbage.

One of the key lessons about evidence is that you have to consider it’s “provenance”. Every time you encounter a fact or figure you need to ask where it came from, what is it’s origin, who discovered it (or simply made it up) and what incentive did the source of the information have for publishing it.

For instance if you look at the marketing material of all multi-level marketing schemes you’ll see very little, if any, evidence of what profit people are likely to make. Even when evidence is produced it’s incomplete or misleading.

In the UK a couple of years ago, Amway, the most famous of all the MLM companies was forced by the courts to disclose “earnings” information about it’s distributors. The information this revealed (small pdf download) was surprising. In the 9 month period between October 2007 and June 2008 a total of 2,384 “Retail Consultants” earned a “Customer Volume Rebate”, Amway’s internal bonus. The average bonus they received was a measly £47 (about P500). However that figure is itself an exaggeration because it only includes those people who actually earned a bonus. As well as those 2,384 people who earned something there was another 3,198 who didn’t earn a single penny. If you include those people the average bonus was even less, around £20.

And remember this. That was their income, not their profit. That £20 was BEFORE they paid all their travel expenses, their phone bills, their internet connection fees and the interest they were paying on their bank overdrafts.

Many Amway cult members will tell you that “Amway has produced more millionaires than any other company”. OK, give me their names. That would be good evidence. However I doubt they can. The same evidence from Amway in the UK for that 9-month period disclosed how many people had achieved the pinnacle of the Amway business, “Diamond” status. That’s someone who has brought in over £50,000. Remember, that’s income, not profit. The total number?


Only seven people in the UK took in more than £15,000 before they paid their expenses.

Let’s go back to the “provenance” of these figures. The source of these numbers is Amway itself, under threat of legal action by the British courts. I’m prepared to accept that the figures are true, just for a simple life. Amway don’t justify their figures but I don’t think they need to. If those are the best figures they can produce I don’t think we need to embarrass them any further. The figures are truly pathetic.

This is one of those situations where a company doesn’t need nerdy critics like me. It’s own data shows how little money can be made from pyramid-structured schemes like Amway.

The good news about multi-level marketing schemes and other ineffective money-making schemes is that I think there are signs of a growing scepticism in Botswana. More and more people are using their critical thinking skills and are questioning things before they commit to them. In fact I think there is an increase in that greatest of characteristics, nerdiness (or is it nerdocity?).

Consumers need to be nerds, or to have a Dial-A-Nerd service available to them. Someone they can call for nerdy, evidential, factual, critical, rational, above-all skeptical advice.

Consumer Watchdog is proudly nerdy and we’re delighted to be part of a growing nerd community.

This week’s stars
  • The team at HiFi Corporation. One of our readers went to HiFi Corp just before Christmas to find the place unbelievably busy. Hundreds of last-minute shoppers and lengthy queues. So what did the management do to ease the suffering? They started giving out festive refreshments to people in the queues.
  • Breaking news and celebration. Furnmart have just been in touch to confirm that as from this month they are clearly advertising the full credit price in their advertising materials! Good for them!

Thursday 4 February 2010

New Era Travel - an update

Uniglobe, the owner of the franchise that New Era Travel operate are now involved and are VERY cross with them.  The CEO of Uniglobe emailed New Era Travel saying:
"Should I not have a positive response to my request for you to resolve this matter by Friday 5 February 2010 , your franchise license will  be Summarily Terminate due to a material breach of contract."
Here's a valuable lesson.  Franchises are extremely protective of their reputation.   If you have a problem with a franchise operator getting in touch with the franchise owner almost always has positive results!

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

On 27th October 2009 I booked accommodation for my wife to stay in Kenya in January 2010 through a local travel agent - New Era Travel (Pty) Ltd and operating under the Uniglobe Travel Agent brand. I paid them a total of P7,695 on 13th November and the booking was confirmed by the travel agent.

My wife arrived in Kenya only to be told that the room was available but that payment had never been received and she couldn’t stay unless she paid for the accommodation which she was forced to do.

When she told me I contacted New Era Travel and they confirmed that the booking had been made but the employee there had no way of knowing whether her boss had actually sent the money to the agent in Kenya as she was on holiday in SA, did not have cellular roaming and had locked all financial information in the safe before leaving for her holiday.

Needless to say the first two days of my wife's holiday were ruined with the stress of the affair. Luckily a fellow colleague paid for my wife with her credit card. I have since reimbursed the kind colleague for her assistance.

When I eventually managed to speak to the manager on her return from her holiday in SA, she simply told me that there were many money transfers that period and that my transfer had not been done. She offered me no apology, nor did she suggest that I would be refunded.

I demanded that she pay me back and I went to her office the same day and was handed a cheque signed by her. I went directly to the bank and attempted to cash the cheque only to be advised that there were insufficient funds.

When I called her she admitted that the bank could not transfer funds from her credit card to her current account to meet the cheque but promised she would have money for me on Friday as she was expecting a payment from government.

Needless to say she received no cheque from government and I still haven’t had a refund.

I have now received a letter of apology from the manager but I don’t think this is enough.

Can you help?

We can try!

This really is outrageous. Your travel agent has breached numerous Consumer Protection Regulations. She’s failed to deliver a service “of merchantable quality”, with “suitable care and skill” and has failed to restore to you the payment you made. Clearly she’s also broken any contract she had with you, and, who knows, she might even have broken her franchise agreement with Uniglobe. Well, I hope she has. I hope that Uniglobe, an international company who franchise their brand to companies like New Era Travel, have some basic standards that they require their franchise operators to abide by.

However, perhaps more importantly, and perhaps more usefully, New Era have also committed a serious offence in this case. As most of us know by now it is illegal to write a cheque when you know you don’t have enough money.

Section 23 of the National Clearance and Settlement Systems Act 2003 states that:
"Any person who knowingly draws or issues a cheque… against which there are no sufficient funds in his account at a financial institution on which the cheque or other payment instrument is drawn shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding P1500 or 3 months imprisonment or to both."
That’s simple enough. Write a cheque that you KNOW won’t be honoured and you really might end up in prison.

We emailed New Era Travel outlining our understanding of your complaint and asking for a response. Their reply was simple. It said:
“We acknowledge receipt of your email. We will advise Mr XXX when his refund is ready.”
In other words they will refund his money when they feel like it. But that’s not good enough, is it? New Era have P7,695 of the consumer’s money and they can’t or won’t give it back to him. It’s really unacceptable.

We got back in touch with New Era Travel and asked them simply to give us a date on which the consumer would get his refund but it seems that they aren’t responding to us any more.

Our advice is that the time for fooling around has ended. It’s now time for action. Write New Era a letter which you should fax to them. Tell them that they have 72 hours in which they must make a full refund or you will be visiting the Police to lay a charge either for the bounced cheque and for “cheating” as outlawed by Section 310 of the Penal Code.

I’m not sure whether either of these charges would actually stick in these circumstances but ask yourself this. How many companies would like to be seen receiving a delegation of cops wielding lots of paper work and handcuffs? What is that going to do for the company’s reputation?

We all understand that business is hard these days but that’s no excuse at all for just taking someone’s money and spending it, leaving them stranded in a foreign country with nowhere to stay.

New Era must return this consumer’s money without delay.