Friday 5 March 2010

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

It’s scam week. Yet again.

It’s been yet another week of scams and deceptions sent through to Consumer Watchdog. Will they ever end?

Enlargement advertisements

For once I’m going to be discreet about a subject because I’m sure you know what these advertisements are offering and you don’t need any unnecessary details from me. A reader got in touch about the remarkable claims made by one particular advertisement. The advertisement he read claimed that a Dr Imrani and his friend Mama Aisha could offer enlargement “from 10 to 25 cm within a day”.

As our reader explained, if these people can achieve that, surely they can help amputees re-grow limbs? Perhaps that sort of miracle is beyond even their remarkable skills.

Violence And Gangster Life

Another reader got in touch after receiving a lengthy unsolicited email from a “Rev Jim Roosevelt”, who allegedly represents “Glory of God Mission USA”, inviting him to attend a dual conference “in United States and Africa”. The email said (and I haven’t changed a single letter in this, the punctuation and grammar are as in the originals):
“The theme of the Conferences is to teach the Youths on the need to avoid VIOLENCE AND GANGSTER LIFE which is increasing everyday all over the World. The forth coming Youths Conferences is dedicated to all our beloved Brothers and Sisters who lost their precious lives during September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks here in United States.”
It goes on like this for over 300 words, inviting people to visit their web site for more details.

One interesting section of the email says this:
“All your traveling Documents will be processed here in United States through U.S.Department of State before your visit to the U.S. Embassy in your Country, where all the Participants will get their Visas each.”
In other words they are saying that we mustn’t get in touch with our local US Embassy because they would be able to expose this as a scam immediately. What I bet they’ll want you to do is send them a fee to pay for all the processing the State Department will do. That fee is what this is all email about. Yes, it’s yet another “advance fee” scam. There will inevitably be a time, just before a critical stage, like getting the visa or receiving the formal invitation letter, when you’ll be asked to give them a lot of cash. That’s when they’ll disappear.

If you have the time it’s actually worth visiting this scam’s web site just to see how unconvincing it is. It uses a free web site hosting service called which provides free web site hosting services for community and church groups.

The web site has pictures of rather creepy-looking priests, an enormous amount of waffle about terrorism and that old favourite, free email addresses. Surely an organisation big enough to be running a twin-location international conference could do better than a free email address, don’t you think?

The web site gives a phone number in New York but whenever you dial the number it goes directly to an automated, anonymous voicemail service.

So perhaps you’re still unconvinced that this is a scam? Wait, there’s more.

I responded to the scam email using a false name and email address asking what I should do to attend the conference. Their reply, which came through within minutes included this:
“The Organizers and Independent Donors will take care of your entire flight tickets including feeding and accomodation here in United States,but the Participants will only pay for their Hotel Reservation Payment in Ghana,Africa.”
So they will pay for everything, including flights, food and some of the hotel bills, and all I have to do is pay UP FRONT to reserve my hotel room in Ghana? Suspicious yet? Hang on, there’s more still. You can’t choose which hotel you want. You are required to stay at the “Eagle Pride Hotel” in Accra, which, curiously, doesn’t actually exist. It has a web site (of course) but it’s another of those free web sites you can create in a couple of minutes. They also give a phone number but when you call them they answer the phone with “Hello?”. When you ask who they are they say “Who do you want to speak to?”. If you then say “Eagle Pride Hotels” it’s only then that they say “Yes, this is Eagle Pride Hotels”.

What they want is the pretend room rate for the 3 or 4 nights accommodation at this pretend conference. They say their rooms range between $52 and $130 a night so you’d expect to pay them at least $150. I bet they’ll want payment by Western Union, don’t you think?

[Update: Yes, just confirmed that they DO demand payment up front via Western Union]

But here’s another question. Why do you need to pay for the accommodation BEFORE you’ve been there? That’s not the way hotels work. Ask anyone who’s stayed in hotels how often they’ve been asked by a real hotel to pay up front. They’ll tell you it never works that way.

It’s a scam.

TVI Express

A few weeks ago we responded to a question from a consumer who had been invited by a friend to join a pyramid scheme called TVI Express. We explained that it was all a deception, that only the criminal creators of the pyramids make any money and that our reader should avoid it at all costs.

A TVI Express distributor got in touch claiming that we were entirely wrong. He claims to have made R1 million from the scheme in the last 6 months, he claims the scheme makes millionaires, he claims that in India TVI distributors make $40,000 per month. So why did he insist on remaining anonymous?

It’s because he’s a liar and a cheat. All pyramid schemes are based on lying and cheating. TVI Express is no different.

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