Friday, 28 May 2010

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”.

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