Thursday 17 June 2010

We get more email

I want to start by thanking all the people who emailed us in the last few weeks about scams. Several skeptical readers have been in touch alerting us to email scams they’ve received, a few have asked us to investigate whether a scam is true or not and some have just written to say thanks for the information we provide. It really is a pleasure. If we can prevent just one person falling for a crooked scam then it’s all worthwhile.

We don’t just get emails about scams. We get them about a huge variety of issues but there are common issues.

Store credit is one of the commonest. I would have thought that most people would complain about the scandalous interest rates charged by stores, about the hidden charges, the delivery charges, the fake insurance schemes and the compulsory retrenchment protection schemes that they force you to enter only to discover, when you need them, that they say the scheme only covers customers in South Africa.

Actually the commonest complaint we get about store credit seems to come from people who just don’t understand the whole concept of credit at all. Last week a consumer contacted us for advice. She bought an item last year on a 2-year credit deal for about P3,500 but almost immediately had problems paying the instalments. A couple of months ago she finally was able to sent them a mere P200 and was surprised when, by coincidence, a few days later a debt collector was in touch demanding the entire amount be paid. She felt that she was entitled to wait until the end of the entire 2-year period before the store could demand the money.

Really, some people shouldn’t be allowed out without their Mums, don’t you think?

I think the problem is that some people don’t understand what a store credit agreement is. When you sign a credit agreement you are actually borrowing the money from a money-lender. They lend you the money to buy the item you want, you get to take it home and you are then required to pay them back the price of the item over the period you agree along with massive finance charges.

It’s just like a bank loan only without the regulation that covers banks and the moderate charges banks make from loans. Just like with a bank if you fail to make regular repayments the store credit company is going to get angry with you and come chasing after you to get their money back. Importantly, if you show that you aren’t a good payer the store isn’t going to want to take the risk of waiting for you to finish the repayment plan, they’re going to want all their money back in one go. That’s when it can get painful. You’ll need to pay them back the price of the item you bought AND all the finance charges they planned to make from you. And probably the costs incurred with chasing you for the money you owe them.

We’ve had a series of emails over the last year or two about Stock Market Direct. People have asked us if they are legitimate, having seen statements from the Botswana Stock Exchange warning us about dealing with them.

I got in touch with SMD and asked them some simple questions. For instance, they offer the ability to trade on the Joburg Stock Exchange but this is, in fact, restricted to registered JSE brokers and SMD are not themselves registered brokers. So how do they trade on the JSE?

Despite many emails, SMSs and phone calls they refused to answer the question. I even had a meeting planned with their MD but he didn’t have the courtesy to turn up for it even though it was at their office. So I expanded my search and I approached a real JSE broker, PSG Online, who I suspected were the broker that SMD use.

PSG Online were courteous enough to confirm that:
“Stockmarket Direct uses/recommends trading through PSG Online as they are a client of ours.”
So why were SMD so unwilling to confirm that they use a South African broker? I wonder. Do they have something to hide?

Occasionally we get emails that I don’t actually understand. Take this one for instance. The email was entitled “If u a real consumer watchdog Action is now.” Can you make out what the writer wants?
“U see there are so many things that are happening here in GC and if you don’t know which are punishable by law you will never know which ones to report about and to whom such practices one should report to. Yes I know that any person has the right to apprehend people found committing offences or about to commit such but take for instance what would you do about businesses that are run by Batswana in the streets (and of course poverty forced them to open such outlets) are not registered lawfully and these businesses provides services to the public and these services area pure hazard (detail is withheld for confidentiality). Lets talk I am waiting.”
I think the writer has a problem with the street food vendors but I may be wrong. If these vendors are, in fact, the subject of his anger then I must respectfully disagree. I have enormous respect for people who get off their backsides and start trading like this. They are the true backbone of our nation, not Debswana, the cellphone companies or the banks. It’s the spirit of entrepreneurship that they show that will make our nation succeed or not. None of them are likely to become multi- millionaires but they might make a decent living, pay their bills and give their children a better start in life than they experienced.

If it’s a hygiene issue then I also disagree. A friend who is a food hygiene specialist once told me that she would rather eat from a street vendor than from some of the restaurants in Gaborone.

If you want to contribute towards the development of our nation here’s my tip for the week. Buy your lunch from a street vendor who is obviously showing some basic standards of hygiene and who has long queues of hungry-looking people.

And keep the emails coming in!

This week’s stars
  • Elizabeth at Data Dominion Computers at the Carbo Centre at Riverwalk for being incredibly friendly and cheerful.

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