Friday 28 May 2010

Telegraph - Barking at the caravan of consumer abuse

Article in the Telegraph.

Consumer rules

How can consumers, in fact how can anyone protect themselves against abuse? By being skeptical, that’s how. But how exactly can we be skeptical? Two fundamental rules.

Rule 1. Never trust anyone unless you have an extremely good reason to do so. Even then be suspicious.

Unfortunately the world is full of people you can’t trust, lots of different types of them. It’s impossible to define exactly what untrustworthy people look like, they’re too varied but there are certain clues. For instance any slight acquaintance who makes contact with you out of the blue and wants to meet and discuss a “business proposition” can’t be trusted. Almost certainly he or she is trying to recruit you into a multi-level marketing, pyramid-structured scheme. You WILL lose money, you will NOT make a profit and you WILL end up embarrassed that you fell for it.

Almost anyone offering a job overseas in return for a large amount of money up front should also be ignored. That whole industry is suspicious.

Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who advertises any type of cure for any form of disease, who offers to improve your virility or fertility or who claims they have some concoction that will boost your immune system is a thief, a liar and a criminal.

I’m sure everyone knows this by now but if you get an email from someone you don’t know, there’s a 99% chance that they represent the Mafia and you don’t want to deal with them.

Any person who offers miracles, whether medical, religious or romantic? Show them the door.

Online casinos? They’re all crooks as well.

Business awards that require you to pay them money, either to actually get the award or even just require you to book an enormous table before you get the award? Crooks.

The entire advertising industry? Think about it. Isn’t it their job to persuade you either to buy something you didn’t need, or if you did need it, to buy from their company and not someone else? You can’t trust advertisements.

Finally, and above all, anyone who drives a BMW. Yes, you know it’s true.

Rule 2. Ask questions and demand answers. Ask questions that test what you are being told and the people who are telling you these things. Ask questions that expose the things they don’t want to tell you.

You have to understand that someone selling you something is only going to volunteer the information THEY want you to hear. You need to ask such people what it is they aren’t telling you. Yes, they’ll tell you about how good the product is, how cheap it is, how the special once-in-a-lifetime discount is only available until the end of the day so you better sign this form right now. What they won’t tell you is about the staggering amount of money you’ll pay in finance charges, delivery charges and the fact that not disclosing these details to you BEFORE you sign the form is illegal. They probably won’t tell you that the insurance scheme they force you to buy, is actually for their benefit, not yours and that some parts of the insurance scheme don’t cover us in Botswana.

That’s why you should ask them for a detailed breakdown of the total cost, in writing, that you can take home and think about. Then, when they refuse, saying that either the computer or their manager doesn’t allow that, you can ask then the second question: “Why the hell should I trust you with my money then?”

One of my favourite questions to ask any store or supplier is “Why should I buy from you rather than the store next door?” Make the store explain what’s special about them. You’d be surprised how often they simply can’t think of a sensible answer.

Then there are all the negative questions you can ask. “What features that other DVD players have does this one lack?” “What things aren’t covered by this insurance policy?” “Are there any exclusions from the cover in Botswana?” Above all: “Why won’t you put all of these things in writing for me to take away to consider?”

Sometimes you have to go for the throat with a question. It might not always be polite but when someone is trying to take your money from you’re allowed to be much more direct. Several times people have either tried to recruit me into a Multi-Level Marketing pyramid schemes or persuade me that their schemes aren’t scams and they always tell me the same thing: that more millionaires have been made from MLM schemes than any other industry.

I just say: “Give me their names.”

Of course they can’t because the only people who make money from these schemes are the crooks who started them.

It’s question like this that can help you truly expose the crooks, frauds and charlatans out there. Demand facts and evidence for the claims they make. If a salesman says this device will

This week’s stars

  • Yet again, Beverley from Nandos at Game City for being incredibly friendly, cheerful and attentive. Why hasn’t she been promoted or given a pay rise yet?
  • Sam at Cape Union Mart at Game City being “just brilliant”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

can you help me to meet my friend who is a refugee in sengal dakur whom i met through internet but she does not have travelling documents but i want her to come to my country (Botswana). we have been communicating but i sometimes feel it is a scam because she said she has a money in the royal bank in scotland which was left by his father before he died in the ivory coast wars in 2006.

she mentioned that she is staying in a camp and i have talked to some lawyers in Senegal to assist us to transfer the money into my account here in Botswana but they demand that i pay them the processing money through the western union so that they can help us, but i sometimes feel that it is a scam and have been reluctant to send them the money. how best can you help me to locate her and bring her here. her name is Ms Hariet U. Yeboah from ivory coast but a refugee at Dakur Senegal. i wanted the bank to transfer the money to my account so that i can send her some money to process the travelling documents because she told the money is a fund which is written in her name and she wanted the money to be transferred to my account.

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a scam. 100% certain, no doubt about it. This story about being stranded in a refugee camp, the lawyer intermediary and the use of Western Union are exactly the same story that many "419" scammers use and there is no truth in any of it.

Unfortunately the person you have been emailing simply doesn't actually exist and neither does the lawyer in Senegal. They are either the same person or part of the same criminal team, all pretending to be the various characters in this made-up story.

You might think that although every other story like this is a fake, perhaps this one is true? No. Do a Google search for “Hariet U. Yeboah” and you’ll find a report of exactly the same story, this time even with pictures of this fictional woman. If it’s true I think it’s curious that the pictures she sends of herself to different victims are actually of different young women.

I know it might be difficult to believe after all the time you have invested in emailing her but I’m afraid you must face the truth. You’ve been lied to and there is absolutely no truth in anything you’ve been told.

Please don't send them any money under any circumstances. You'll never see it again.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Hi Watchdog. Please check this scam below I received this morning.
“BECAUSE YOU DESERVE IT! Is your lack of a degree holding you back from career advancement? Are you having difficulty finding employment in your field of interest because you don’t have the paper to back it up – even though you are qualified? If you are looking for a fast and effective solution, we can help! Call us right now for your customized diploma: Inside U.SA.: 1-718-989-5740 Outside U.S.A.: +1-718-989-5740. Just leave your NAME and TEL. PHONE # (with country-code) on the voicemail and one of our staff members will get back to you promptly!.”
Many thanks for sending us this. This bunch of crooks are obviously selling fake degrees, that much is clear. However isn’t it surprising how obvious they are?

Out of interest I phoned the number (which is in New York) and left my details. Surprisingly the voice on the answer machine was very obviously a white South African. Clearly as crooks Africans are spreading their wings!

I left a message with my contact details so I’ll let you know if I get any response.

New Era travel update

You may recall that we reported on the conduct of a travel agency called New Era Travel which operates from the Craft Workshop in Broadhurst. They took a consumer’s money for a hotel booking in Nairobi but didn’t actually make the booking; instead they just kept the money. When he complained they gave him a refund cheque that bounced and then gave him months and months of excuses. It was only after he got the Police and the Small Claims Court involved that the manager of New Era finally refunded his cash. So was that it?

No. New Era then ripped of another customer. This customer paid them a small fortune for a family trip abroad only to be given a fake ticket. When she contacted the airline they said they had no booking at all for her. Luckily it seems she had paid New Era with two cheques and she was able to stop the second one.

The lesson is simple. Do not, under any circumstances, use New Era Travel.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us know who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!

Thursday 20 May 2010

Are we all crooks?

Are we, as an entire nation, crooks? Normally I accuse just a few small groups of being crooks. Sometimes it’s second-hand car salespeople, the next week it might be cellphone stores. Among the groups I unashamedly accuse of being crooks are anyone selling a pyramid scheme, or even most of the slightly more acceptable Multi-Level Marketing schemes. I also accuse almost all companies that sell, or rather claim to sell, jobs abroad. There may be one or two that are legitimate but most are just crooks.

Of course there is my current favourite crooked firm in Botswana, the recently renamed New Era Travel. They used to be “Uniglobe” New Era Travel but that was before they stole money from a customer, ended up being dragged in front of the Police and finally were slapped around by the Small Claims Court. It was only after months of effort by the aggrieved customer that he got his money back. So, you might think, that was that? No.

It turns out that they also stole money from another customer. This time they even gave her what they claimed was a flight ticket but in fact was nothing more than just a piece of paper without the required e-ticket number that rendered it useless. At the last minute, after she had confirmed with the airline itself that she had no genuine ticket, she had to pay a small fortune for last-minute tickets from a different, this time reputable travel agency.

Isn’t it staggering that a company can be so shameless? They find themselves exposed in the press for cheating one customer and then they steal even more money from another customer? I can’t imagine how they sleep at night.

And the reason they changed their name? Uniglobe, a respectable international travel company, finally got so angry with New Era that they withdrew their franchise and set lawyers on them to stop using the Uniglobe name. I went and had a look last week and can confirm that they’ve removed any reference to Uniglobe. They still appear to be trading although I didn’t see anyone enter their premises while I was there. Maybe the public have finally got the message that they simply can’t be trusted and that there are other travel agencies that won’t steal your money? I hope so.

(The New Era office window, before and after their enforced change of name!)

So does this mean I think the criminal element is a tiny minority amongst us? That only very few people in our communities are crooks? Maybe not.

A good friend sent me a report from the Business Software Alliance on the levels of software piracy around the world. Before I give you the bad news I should explain that obviously any organisation with a name like the “Business Software Alliance” has an agenda. In this case that agenda is simple and obvious, they exist to represent the interests of the business software industry, but that’s no different to a local association of farmers, lawyers or hairdressers, they’re just standing up for their industry and it’s members.

One of the most interesting things in the report, the “Seventh Annual BSA/IDC Global Software Piracy Study”, is a league table, showing the countries around the world with the highest levels of software piracy. Of course the usual suspects are top of the list. The top five countries are Georgia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Moldova and Armenia, all countries with virtually no rule of law or real law enforcement, no surprises there. They all had piracy rates of 90% or more. Further down the list you find examples like Iraq, Venezuela, Ukraine and Bolivia.

But, I can hear you saying, those countries are all basket cases, what’s the highest-scoring democratic, civilised, politically stable country in the league table of software pirates? That’s the bad news.

It’s us.

According to this survey the BSA estimate that in 2009 79% of all software being used in Botswana was pirated.

We apparently have exactly the same score as China and we’re even higher than Albania, Kazakhstan and Serbia. In case you’re interested the score for South Africa was 35%.

If this is to be believed we are a nation of thieves. Of course you can question that figure. For instance I genuinely don’t know anyone, as an individual, who currently uses pirated software. However I have heard about several large organisations who have been caught out using pirated software and who only just managed to escape prosecution by paying the software companies vast amounts of money to say sorry. They had hundreds of PCs with illegal software.

At Consumer Watchdog we’ve also had some contact with small computer companies who have actively sold pirated software. We reported last year about a local firm called Micro-IT who, as well as ignoring the Consumer Protection Regulations, were successfully prosecuted for installing illegal copies of Microsoft products on the consumer PCs they sold.

I actually don’t believe we’re a nation of thieves, of course I don’t, but I do think that appearing in the top section of this league table is shameful. If we’re not careful, if we don’t demand law enforcement from the authorities, the rest of the world will see us just as a nation of companies and people like New Era Travel and Micro-IT. That really would be shameful.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us know who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!

This week’s stars
  • Kagiso from Water Utilities for a very prompt and helpful response to a consumer.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a touch screen cell phone on the 19th December 2009, which cost P2,995 and I was given a warranty of six months. Six days ago the phone failed to respond when I touched the screen and I went to the store to complain about the problem. They told me that the touch pad has a problem but they cannot repair it because they do not attend to such problems even though the phone is still under warranty. They never informed me about that nor was it included in the items not covered by the warranty when I bought the phone.

What can I do?

You can go back to the store and explain that they are simply not permitted to do this. If there is part of the phone that isn’t covered by the warranty they have to explain this to you BEFORE you buy the phone. You also have to specifically consent to that as well. It’s not good enough just to say they can’t fix it and they don’t have to. I suggest you go back to the store and tell them, in writing, that they have breached Sections 17 (1) (d), (e) and (f) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 and that if they don’t fix this phone or give you a working replacement they’ll see themselves named in The Voice.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

There is a company at Molapo Crossing that say they help people by finding jobs and schools for them abroad. You pay them a service fee but you also have to pay your travel fees and accommodation fees and they process everything for you. Please help me find out if they are legit. I had been referred to them by a friend who had said many people had been successful using them but I am just not trusting it.

I think you are right to be very suspicious about any company that makes this sort of offer. There are some legitimate companies that help arrange these things but for every legitimate one there seems to be a lot of crooks. In fact you’re not the first person to question this particular company. Some months ago we had a complaint that this company had taken almost P10,000 from someone and not given them anything in return.

I suggest you give them a miss.

We haven’t had a chance yet to talk to the company you named but rest assured we will do!

More hacked emails

Last week we reported on a number of people who had received emails from their friends or relatives who appeared to be stranded in foreign countries, desperate for money and asking for help. Of course these were scam emails, their friends were at home, unaware that their email accounts had been hacked.

More of these emails have come in since last week, there’s an epidemic of this scam at the moment. Be warned! Don’t respond to any of them, they’re just after your money.

So how does it happen? How does someone lose control of their email account? The sad news is that they don’t lose it; they actually give it away. The victim has almost always voluntarily given their password to a total stranger, consciously, without coercion and without a gun to their head. It’s remarkably easy to do. Here’s how.

Last week a reader sent us an email they had received entitled “Apply To Avoid ATM CARD Suspension Now !!!”. It said:
Due to the on-going Identity Theft we ask you to apply for your ATM CARD(s) Upgrade now to avoid suspension of your account , open the below link to upgrade your account.
CBN Nigeria”
Of course the recipient of the email didn’t have a bank account in Nigeria but I’m sure you can imagine that someone more gullible than you might have clicked on the link the email provided.

If you looked closely at the link you could see that it actually linked to a web site hosted in Argentina but you would need to look very closely to see that. The web site you then see was remarkably like what you might expect the Central Bank of Nigeria web site to look like. It showed a fairly simple form that demanded your name, email address and password and your bank card number and PIN. Once you entered these details (don’t worry, I entered fake details) you got a response thanking you for your details. Simple as that, you’ve given away your banking details and your email address and password.

As soon as they have these details they can get into your email account and get up to their fraudulent tricks.

The solution is simple. Never, EVER enter your email passwords anywhere other than your email site. Also, never enter your ATM PIN anywhere online. Never.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us know who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!

Friday 14 May 2010

No immunity

Everyone can be conned, deceived or scammed, nobody is immune. Honestly. I know it’s sometimes difficult to believe how gullible how some people can be, but I truly believe every one of us can fall victim if we’re not careful.

My favourite story of catastrophic gullibility occurred in 2006 in Francistown. A crook and his accomplice approached the manager of a Sua Pan filling station with what they claimed was a miraculous box. All he had to do was place money in the box and it would magically multiply. You can imagine the scene. They place a bank note into the box and with a mixture of distraction and fast-talking they then produce two notes demonstrating the box’s mysterious powers.

After this demonstration they managed to persuade the credulous victim to place a staggering P70,000 in the box. Needless to say as soon as the money was in the box they no doubt said “Oh look, what’s that behind you?” and they were gone. Gullible and foolish, I know, but it gets worse. The very next day two accomplices of the original crooks approached the same victim and guess what? They fooled him again. This time they persuaded the fool to put another P15,400 in the box.

Part of me has a sneaking admiration for these crooks, they were clearly extremely persuasive but you have to be amazed by the sheer, unadulterated, Olympic-medal-winning stupidity of the victim.

Clearly we’re not all that stupid. I hope.

However it IS possible for intelligent people to fall for scams and hoaxes. In the last few months I’ve had emails from smart, educated people forwarding emails suggesting that lipstick will give you cancer, that Bill Gates is giving away his money to total strangers and that they eat black people in China. All hoaxes, all lies.

Last week we heard about a presumably smart woman who was falling for a scam. In fact it was her family who got in touch with us, deeply concerned for their relative and the risk she was running. This apparently very intelligent woman had started to offer her relatives solutions to all their financial problems. She hinted that she was about to come into a very large amount of money and would be able to clear all her debts and everyone else’s as well. Needless to say her family were suspicious.

Eventually the family discovered what was going on. The victim had been emailed out of the blue by someone claiming to be in a refugee camp and who needed to transfer her late father’s fortune out of the country. They also found other emails apparently from a lawyer who claimed to be helping with the supposed transfer. He had already demanded money from the victim so he could travel to London to transfer the money.

When the family researched some more they discovered that the victim had recently withdrawn tens of thousands of Pula and they were obviously very concerned that she had already sent the scammers money. They were also concerned that she had sent the scammers her personal details and documents and who knows what they were then going to do with that information. In one of the most recent emails the scammers were demanding a payment of P200,000 before she could see the fictitious millions they had promised her.

Luckily the family were eventually able to persuade the victim that she was in fact being scammed. However although she is probably glad to have avoided losing more money it nevertheless left her feeling disappointed, betrayed and probably extremely silly for falling for the scam in the first place.

My point is that this victim wasn’t stupid. I’ll protect her identity by not telling you her profession but it’s a responsible, respectable job demanding intelligence and observation skills. If someone like her can fall for this sort of scam then almost anyone can.

So should we just give up and accept that we’re all suckers and we’ll all have our money stolen? No, I’m not a defeatist, I DO think there are things we can do. We can begin by being skeptical. We can start from a position of NOT believing things that we’re told, just because someone has told us them. We can certainly start by being VERY suspicious about anything and everything we see on the internet.

The good news is that more and more consumers are skeptics. We now hear at least once a week from consumers alerting us to scams and deceptions they’ve encountered. One we were told about is an email entitled “Apply To Avoid ATM CARD Suspension Now !!!”. It said:
Due to the on-going Identity Theft we ask you to apply for your ATM CARD(s) Upgrade now to avoid suspension of your account , open the below link to upgrade your account.
CBN Nigeria”
The internet link they mention actually connected to a web site in Argentina. The web site does a good impression of the Central Bank of Nigeria and demands your name, email address and password and your bank card number and PIN. There must be people gullible enough to give these details to am unknown web site but I’m hoping none of them read Mmegi!

World Company Register - a warning

If you get an email inviting you to enter your company details into the “World Company Register” please don’t respond. The email says “Updating is free of charge!” but what they mean is that changing your details later is free. Hidden in tiny characters is the real cost of entering your details into their worthless directory: €995. That’s nearly P10,000 per year, all for entry into a directory nobody has ever heard of! They’re crooks, give it a miss.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Hacked emails

In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard from three people who have had their online email account hacked. Like many of us they’ve been using either Gmail or Yahoo email accounts for years. These online email accounts are remarkably useful, even for those of us who have conventional email accounts at home or work. We can’t always rely on our normal email and they can be incredibly useful particularly if you’re travelling. They also help out on those occasions where our local Internet Service Providers let us down.

However, things can go horribly wrong with these free services unless you are very careful.

Each of the people we heard from had the same experience. Suddenly they would get phone calls from their friends, workmates and relatives in a panic asking if they were OK. Their friends had all received an alarming email, apparently from the victim, saying that they were stranded abroad without any money or a place to stay and desperately seeking their help. I actually received one of these supposedly from a friend myself. The message in one case said:
“How are you doing? Hope all is well with you and family, i am sorry i didn't inform you about my traveling to England for a Seminar.

I need a favor from you as I've misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money and other valuable things were kept and I will like you to assist me with an urgent loan of $3,000 to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.

I will appreciate whatever you can afford to help me with and I'll Refund the money back to you as soon as i return.Please kindly help me to send the money through Western union with my details below.”
All the usual scam clues are there. The person I know would never have made any of the simple mistakes in the email. If she was really stranded in the UK why would she want money in US dollars and not Pounds? Why would she have spelt “favor” the American way when I know she spent some of her childhood in the UK?

And why, in such a situation, had she not approached the Botswana High Commission in London for emergency help, that’s what they’re there for.

Of course this is all a scam that’s exploiting our natural instinct to support our friends in a crisis. We’re all nice people, if this situation was true, we would all do our best to help out a friend in need if we could.

The final part of the clue is the way this scammer wanted to be paid. It said:
“Please kindly help me to send the money through Western union… kindly help me to make the transfer as soon as you receive this email and once you have it sent, send me the money transfer control number with details used in sending it.”
I’m sure that Western Union sometimes do money transfers that are legitimate, but it’s bizarre that every single scam we’ve ever seen has used them as the mechanism for transferring money from a decent person to the wallet of a crook.

If you get an email anything like this, please do NOT send any money to anyone. Pick up the phone and call your friend or relative who seems to have sent the email and ask them yourself. Surely anyone who has travelled “to England for a seminar” also has a cellphone, don’t you think?

How does this happen?

So how does a scammer get into a free email account like this?

Very easily. It’s probably most likely that the victim has been deceived by a “phishing” email asking them to confirm their email details or perhaps pretending to prevent their email account being compromised. They are directed to a web site that looks exactly like the free email account site and they then enter their username and password into a convincing-looking form. The victim doesn’t notice that it isn’t actually the Yahoo or Gmail site they’ve visited, but it’s actually something completely different. The scammers now have all they need to sign on as the victim and get up to mischief.

Alternatively the victim might have been infected with a computer virus that installs a “keylogger”, a program that records everything they type, including usernames and passwords.

These days it’s incredibly important that you protect yourself on the internet. Be skeptical about any emails you receive and don’t believe a thing you read until you’ve done a bit of research. Talk to your techie people at work, talk to your friend the computer expert and you can always call us if you’re worried.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us know who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!

Thursday 6 May 2010

They're not going MY way!

A month ago this column was entitled “Let’s burn money”. It was inspired by the news of Air Botswana’s financial results for 2009.

In 2007/8 Air Botswana was doing very well for a small national airline. So well that it actually declared a surplus of P17.5 million. That’s a staggering achievement for an organisation that was losing money beforehand. Yes, they’d had to import a specialist manager from South Africa, yes, they’d had to adopt some rather stringent management approaches and yes, they’d had to become a lot stricter with their staff. However the combination of dedication, drive and imagination enabled the talented management team and the remaining, very dedicated workforce to make it all work. They made our little national airline something to be proud of again.

But then it all went wrong. Despite all the hard work it was still impossible to persuade anyone on the face of the planet to take over the company. The Government had asked companies to offer to run the company but what were they really offering? Not ownership, not a chance to invest in the airline, just a contract to supply guys in suits. What sort of offer is that?

Anyway, as a result almost everybody disappeared to do other things. Some left the country, others decided to work for companies with a vision and some were so desperate they even considered entering politics.

So nobody was surprised when, in 2008/9 the airline’s financial results weren’t as good as they had been in that excellent year. None of us were prepared though for the full horror. Last year Air Botswana LOST a truly enormous, staggering, awesome P87 million.

That’s a truly astonishing achievement: to take an organisation that had started to function normally and make some serious money and transform it into a corporate basket-case.

But then the impossible happened. It got worse.

There was a news report a couple of weeks ago about two of the new planes Air Botswana has recently bought, no doubt for staggering amounts of money. It seems that whoever went and bought these planes neglected to buy a maintenance plan with the planes.

I should stress that I’m not an airline specialist. I’m no expert. But I can’t help but think this. How the hell do you spend a fortune on planes and not get a maintenance plan? Would you buy a new car without a warranty and service plan? Of course not, you’d be insane to do so. Surely it’s the same with planes? Had the buyer of the new planes never bought a car before? Had they never been away from home before without their Mummy?

Of course as a result of this appalling cock-up Air Botswana was forced to ground the two new planes. They are no longer covered by the Air Botswana insurance policy because of the lack of a maintenance agreement. This screw-up appears, you may recall, against a background of our national airline already being no longer registered with IATA, the International Air Traffic Association. This wasn’t some minor paperwork hiccup, it was because they failed a Safety Audit and still haven’t managed to get their act together and pass it again.

It really sometimes seems that Air Botswana is going out of it’s way to make us, as a nation, look silly. How can we present ourselves to the world as a top-of-the-range tourist destination when we can’t even keep our national airline going, when brand new planes have already been moth-balled and the management can’t go out without their Mum and a bottle of warm milk?

So where in all of this are the regulators? Where is the relevant Ministry? Why aren’t they up at AB’s fancy, shiny headquarters bossing people around, treating this as a national crisis and doing their very best to sweet-talk the media, the tourism industry representatives and the everyday people like you and me who are now a little reluctant to buy an Air Botswana ticket?

It’s a wider issue of course. Why do we have so little active regulation and monitoring? Why is our airline allowed to go mental? Why do the organisations charged with regulating service providers do so little dramatically useful work? The exceptions have to be mentioned, NBFIRA and BOTA get off their backsides quite often and all credit to them for that. But what about the others who fail to regulate people like so-called alternative health practitioners? There are charlatans and frauds out there peddling useless medicines, pseudo-medical devices and lying, cheating remedies and they’re allowed to get away with murder. Yes, I think it’s murder. Meanwhile there are deeply respectable, honourable, devoted doctors being bullied by regulators because they appear to have developed a public face as a result of doing the only real health education our country sees. Instead of being celebrated as national assets we seem to prefer to do our best to destroy our airlines and our most effective doctors.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them for you, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

This week it’s all about hoaxes, not scams.

In the last month we’ve been sent several emails people received that seemed either to something too good to be true or so bizarre that they couldn’t quite believe it. Here’s a couple of examples.

Poisonous lipstick?

We were sent an email about lipstick. It said:
“Something to consider. Next time you go shopping for lipstick......
This comes from someone who works in the breast cancer unit at Mt. Sinai Hospital, in Toronto. If there is a female you care anything about, share this with her. I did!!!!!
I am also sharing this with the males on my e-mail list, because they need to tell the females THEY care about as well!
Recently a lipstick brand called 'Red Earth' decreased their prices from $67 to $9.90. It contained lead. Lead is a chemical which causes cancer.”
It then listed a variety of lipstick brands that it claimed contained lead including names such as Dior, Lancome, YSL, Chanel and Clinique. It pointed out that lead, as most of us know, can cause cancer.

It later claimed that you could test any lipstick for lead content yourself using a simple test. This is how:
“1. Put some lipstick on your hand.
2. Use a Gold ring to scratch on the lipstick.
3. If the lipstick colour changes to black, then you know the lipstick contains lead.”
I’m the first to confess that it’s been a very long time since I was a schoolboy studying Chemistry and my knowledge is rusty but this is utter nonsense. The reason we use gold for jewellery is exactly because it doesn’t react, that’s why gold jewellery never needs to be polished.

All it took was a quick Google search to establish that EVERY part of this story was complete rubbish. There have been tiny traces of lead found in lipsticks in the past but the levels these days are either completely non-existent or so small they can barely be detected. It’s not something any of us should be worrying about. It’s a hoax, plain and simple.

Bill Gates giving away his money?

Some while ago we were forwarded an email entitled “Please do it - Microsoft Paying u - Not Fake”. This was an email that had been forwarded from one person to another at least 20 times. Curiously the actual message had been deleted at some stage but some of the people in the chain had added comments such as:
“Guys It's working. I have got $10000.”
“Hai this is not joke i got 4672$ credited in my ICICI account last week”
“I got $9386. Was shocked!!! Hey!!! Am not joking................... This really works!!!”
Now clearly this is a remarkable thing. Is someone giving away large sums of money just for forwarding emails? Is that credible?

A quick Google search later and I was able to identify the email. Do it yourself if you have internet access. Go to Google and search for the email title “Please do it - Microsoft Paying u - Not Fake” but make sure you keep the quotation marks so it searches for the full phrase, not just the individual words. The first link explains that this is a hoax.

The original email explains that:
“Bill Gates is sharing his fortune. If you ignore this you will repent later… When you forward this e-mail to friends, Microsoft can and will track it for a two week time period. For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245.00, for every person that you sent it to that forwards it on, Microsoft will pay you $243.00 and for every third person that receives it, you will be paid $241.00. Within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a cheque.”
I’m sure once you think about this you realise it’s got to be a hoax. We all know Bill Gates and how much money he made from Microsoft and we also know that he’s giving lots of his personal fortune away and much of it in Botswana but he doesn’t sit at home emailing total strangers offering them cash for sending dumb emails!

Interestingly the email addresses from which this particular version of the email appeared to start were in the Indian sub-continent but most of the later ones were all with Botswana so we can’t blame foreigners this time. Clearly a lot of us thought this might be worth a try. We weren’t being skeptical, were we?

The lesson?

Don’t believe everything you read in emails. That’s the first rule of skepticism. Just because it’s been said, written, broadcast or emailed, that doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s particularly the case with anything on the internet. Any crook, charlatan or fraud with a computer or just the money to operate from an internet cafĂ© can start emailing the entire world with whatever nonsense and lies he wants to distribute.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them for you, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!