Thursday 29 July 2010


Are you loyal to your bank or your cellphone provider? In fact, can a consumer ever be “loyal” to a supplier? Can anyone be loyal to a company that makes money from the relationship?

Most large commercial companies, particularly banks, cellphone providers and supermarkets talk a lot about loyalty. In fact many of them have explicitly named “loyalty schemes” that reward customers for using their services rather than those of the competition. You can probably think of local companies that have such schemes that allow you to earn points, prizes and treats the more you use their products and services.

What they are trying to do is form some sort of relationship in your mind, in the same way that you might support a local football team. However, let’s face it, that loyalty only works one way. It’s loyalty to the company they are trying to create in your head, not loyalty to you from the company that’s uppermost in their minds. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that of course, it’s just the way the free market works. Companies are free to mess with your head, just as you are free to take your money wherever you feel like.

However, I often wonder whether this is loyalty at all. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t just familiarity or some days just apathy.

Maybe it depends on how you define loyalty. My dictionary says “loyalty” is “a strong feeling of support or allegiance” and “loyal” means “giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution”.

But is there any customer loyalty in Botswana? Are customers loyal, for instance, to their bank or cellphone provider? How could we possibly know? We don’t have access to the internal data collected by banks and cellphone providers so how can we tell?

Consumer Watchdog comes to the rescue, yet again!

Rather than just wonder how loyal bank and cellphone customers are, we decided to find out. We hit the shopping centres and actually asked people how loyal they were. In total we questioned 200 random people while they were out shopping. As far as we can tell this was a reasonably representative sample of people. Some old, some young, men, women, tall, short, as far as we could tell a cross-section of people like you and me. We asked them a couple of key questions. Who did they bank with, which cellphone company did they use and did they think their bank and cellphone company were the best?

I’m not going to give the exact figures for each company because such a small sample isn’t big enough to come to any valid conclusions but the overall figures about loyalty were interesting.

Let’s begin with the cellphone companies. The first big finding is that one in three people were in fact with more than one network provider. However an impressive 92% of all the people we surveyed thought that their main provider, the one they used the most, was the best in the country. It’s clearly an industry where loyalty can be obtained but also one where people can afford to shop around and be with more than one provider. We even met 5 people who carry three SIM cards around with them to get the best of each provider.

The there’s the banks. In the league table one bank clearly came First. One of the larger banks, an impressive 95% of it’s customers thought it was the best. At the other end of the spectrum was perhaps the largest bank we have in Botswana. Only 58% of their customers think they’re the best. Overall the average “loyalty” figure for banks was 80%. Clearly some banks command much greater loyalty than others. What can the difference be?

I’m not yet sure, but we did ask another question that I think might give us a clue. We asked people which of three things were most important to them about banking: speed of service, appearance of the branch and quality of service.

Top of the list was service quality. 45% of people think this is what matters most in a bank. Running a very close second came speed. 43% of people thought this was the most important thing. A mere 12% thought the appearance of the branch was what mattered most. I think that gives us a clue about what creates the loyalty I’m thinking about. As a community of customers we don’t give a damn about how glossy and shiny a bank is, what we want is swift, friendly, efficient service. It may be that those things create a “loyal” community of customers, the sort of customers who will extol the virtues of “their” bank to their friends, neighbours and family.

I can’t also help think that the loyalty of customers to a bank and to a cellphone network provider are very different. If a prepaid phone customer gets irritated with their current provider they can be with the competition 15 minutes later. It’s not nearly so simple with a bank. Imagine, if you can, how much time and effort it would take to move banks. A month if you’re lucky.

Here’s a final question for Mmegi readers. What do you think we should ask consumers about in our next survey? What do you want to know?

Finally a quote from Maurice R. Franks who I believe is a law professor in the USA and is clearly very smart:
"Loyalty cannot be blueprinted. It cannot be produced on an assembly line. In fact, it cannot be manufactured at all, for its origin is the human heart - the center of self-respect and human dignity. It is a force which leaps into being only when conditions are exactly right for it-and it is a force very sensitive to betrayal."
This week’s stars
  • Nametso at Standard Chartered Bank. Our readers says she “has been transferred to Lobatse branch and will be sorely missed by her Game City branch customers”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

We received a lengthy email from a consumer who had a problem with the “Blackberry” smart-phone she recently bought. Even though she had originally wanted a Nokia E73 the store owner had instead sold her a Blackberry 9700. However very soon after buying the phone she tells us she “realised that the phone is not user friendly” so she decided to take it back for a refund.

Apparently at the store “there is a written rule that in-case you want to exchange the phone you can bring it back within two days provided you have to pay 20% handling charges which is P180”. Despite this the staff in the store refused to exchange the phone when she took it back.

Anyone who knows about Blackberry phones will probably have sensed something fishy about this story by now. Aren’t Blackberry phones renowned for being easy to use? Aren’t Blackberry users almost as passionate about their devices as Apple iPhone users are about theirs? Don’t you get excellent service when you buy something this fancy?

So what is it that’s missing from this story that will help us understand the situation?

The price.

Our reader had bought this so-called Blackberry for the massive sum of P800. What’s more the “Blackberry “ she purchased is a dual-SIM card version of the phone, a feature that Blackberry manufacturers themselves don’t mention anywhere. She bought this from a “Chinese store” in Oriental Plaza in Gaborone.

Yes, she bought a fake.

There is no such thing as a dual-SIM Blackberry 9700. There is no such thing as a new Blackberry phone of ANY type that you can buy for P800. There is no such thing as a genuine Blackberry phone being sold at Oriental Plaza.

Ironically towards the end of her email the reader says:
“This issue of cell phones being sold by Chinese shops have escalated at high rate and many people are being deceived by this shop owners. We need to be protected as consumers as we are quite aware that they are not originals yet they should be some form of compromise in such kind of issues especial when something is still new.”
Go back and read that again. Did you see where she says “we are quite aware that they are not originals”? She knew this was a fake phone all along.

Let’s get this clear. If someone knowingly buy a FAKE phone they should KNOW that they will get no support. If they had tried to persuade her that it was genuine then clearly they can be prosecuted but if both she and the store knew it was a fake when it was purchased then they are guilty as each other.

I don’t think I’m being too unsympathetic by saying that people who knowingly buy fake goods don’t really deserve much sympathy. If you want a cheap phone there are plenty of legitimate phones available in cellphone stores all over the country that will come with a range of functions better than a fake Blackberry, you’ll get a warranty for nothing extra and the store, being the type that doesn’t sell fakes, will treat you with a little respect.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

On 2nd April I went to Morwa Tombstones after seeing their flyers advertising tombstones. I paid them P5,500 and was told that the stone will be delivered on the 14th May. I called on the 14th May and was told that part of the stone has arrived but the other part was expected in 3 days. After 3 days when I called the manager’s phone was off, I tried the other number and was told that the manager is the only one who can help me and that she has not come to the shop recently. Even to this day I have been trying to get hold of the manager to no avail. The shop assistant told me several people are also looking for her and she doesn’t know where she is. I have got the receipts but I am now becoming worried. What should I do?

We tried calling the owner as well but had the same bad luck as you. Our advice would be to go to the police and lay a charge against the owner and see what she feels like when the cops turn up at her house demanding an explanation.

Update: The consumer did indeed go to the police and apparently she was not the first person to complain about this particular company. There are many people also chasing Morwa Tombstones to get their money back. Steer clear of them!

New Era Travel update

Readers may remember the problem with New Era Travel who took money from various consumers but never actually booked the tickets or hotels they had been paid to do. It then took endless trips to the Police and finally the Small Claims Court for them to get their money back.

We heard from one of the victims that she is still owed P3,000 by New Era “and it is proving hard to get”. This customer is taking her claim to the Small Claims Court as well this week.

The lesson? New Era Travel in the Craft Workshop in Broadhurst Industrial simply cannot be trusted with your money. Don’t give them any!

Facebook update

You can now keep up-to-date with Consumer Watchdog news articles, warnings, alerts and celebrations on our Facebook group. Just go to Facebook and search for “Consumer Watchdog Botswana” to find us.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Warning - "Settlement Claims Commission" - Scam!

We got an email from a consumer today which reported a potential scam.
I got a call from a certain Nicole Anderson who said she is a federal agent from the USA. She gave me their email as: and telephone number as +1-209-751 4458.

I have so far searched the internet and found the website which contains both this email and telephone number.

Given the presentation you gave on the radio last week concerning the cloning of the FNB website, I am not sure if this website indeed belong the US federal agents.

I need to send scanned copies of my IDS/passport as well as information regarding trading in some US Shares that I bought through a certain Drexel Assets Management in 2003. Drexel Asset Management was later fond to be fraudsters and apparently, the federal agents have been instructed to contact all persons who were victims of their fraud.
Curiously the website is registered in the Netherlands, not the USA, as you would expect. Also the domain suffix ".org" is not what you would expect of a US government agency (".gov"). Finally the web site was only registered on 9th April this year which doesn't sound right to me.

The phone number they give is also associated with other potential scams (such as which you can see here.

The name of the organisation also doesn't seem to come up if you do a search of US Government sites.

The text on most of the pages on their web site also seems to have been "lifted" from other legitimate web sites.

Finally their web site is simply not good enough. The graphics are very poor quality, the wording is not what you would expect from such a service. Also the "List of settlement cases" page lists a vast number of companies who it claims have benefitted. I haven't checked them all but I can't find a single one that actually exists.


Tuesday 27 July 2010

In the interests of fairness...

We wrote about a complaint we received about Domestic Engineering in last week's Voice column.

An email just in from the company says:
Dear Sir / Madam
The article you put in your consumer's Voice written by Mr. [XXX] is done witouth any confirmation from our side; each story has two sides and if you want to serve to public some story your obligation is to find out real situation before you put into the print.Mr. [XXX] forgot to write that his TV came to us with butchered power supply and control PCB and at that stage we couldnt seee condition of panel etc.Also your sentence that Consumer Watchdog eats this companies for breakfast is extraordinary rude and unacceptable. Please find attached letter sent by us to Mr. [XXX] atorney.I will try personaly to visit your office ASAP.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Take revenge

Sometimes it’s right to be Mr or Ms Nice Guy. When something goes wrong, when the service you get isn’t quite good enough, when a product isn’t up to the required standard it’s the normal thing to raise the issue in calm, measured and reasonable terms. You speak to the restaurant or store manager and you calmly discuss your problem. Most of the time the manager will talk to you in the same tone, will be just as reasonable as you and will do his or her best to fix the problem and everyone will be reasonably happy. That because most of us are reasonable people. Most consumers, most suppliers are reasonable people who care about their fellow human beings.

But not all of us.

There are, I’m sure you’ll agree, some consumers who are psychopaths. We’ve all seen them. The person in the queue ahead of us complaining about nothing, something deeply trivial but which they think is up there on a par with war crimes. A friend who runs a restaurant once told me about a particular regular customer who would always order a meal, eat three-quarters of it and then would, without fail, complain that it wasn’t good enough and say that she didn’t feel she should be forced to pay for it. A few times he let her get away with it, just in case he was in the wrong, but eventually he was forced to take the customer aside and very politely ask her not to come to his restaurant again.

Another case. A few months ago we got a complaint from a consumer who had failed to make her payments on a 2-year store credit purchase. As a result her account had been sent to a debt collector and she was outraged. How, she asked, could they be so nasty to her? Surely she had 2 years to make the payments? Shouldn’t they only send in the heavy mob when the 2 years was up? Reasonable? I think not.

On the other side, there are also suppliers who are unreasonable.

A reader contacted us recently with a long story about her Hyundai that broke down in Rustenberg in October last year. Quite sensibly she had the car towed to the Rustenberg Hyundai dealership for repairs but that’s when things started to go wrong. Instead of fixing the car they proceeded to claim to repair it and allow her to drive it away on TWO separate occasions, only to have it break down both times within 10km of the dealership, helped her run up an enormous phone bill and took a total of P20,000 from her for the repairs. When we first got involved they even claimed never to have heard of this customer and it was only when we forwarded them the 4,000 words of email correspondence between them and her that they remembered. Since then they’ve claimed to fix the car yet again but they say they will only give it back to her if she gives them another R6,500 for the latest repairs. It really does look like they are planning to repair or replace every part of the car until it works again.

Then there are the crooks rather than those who are just inept. Of course there are the traditional online scammers, the “419” type who claim to be trapped somewhere and need you help either in liberating a hidden fortune or the type who need an urgent loan to help them get home from the country they’re stranded in.

However some are more organised. I got an email from someone very recently who had seen our coverage last year of the Bizz Awards. This is a fake award scheme that begins with you getting an email claiming that you’ve won a prestigious business award. All you have to do is give them about US$3,500, pay your airfare and hotel bills and you’ll get an invitation to their ridiculous ceremony. Curiously, only those people who pay the money are entitled to attend the bogus ceremony to receive their worthless prize. Of course it’s a scam. On their web site they claim that companies like Microsoft, Lufthansa, British Airways, Toyota and Coca-Cola are all “members” of their fraudulent award scheme. Curiously both the person who emailed us and Consumer Watchdog both found out independently is that it’s all lies. None of these companies have even heard of the Bizz Awards.

So here’s my new approach. Revenge. I don’t mean anything illegal, nothing threatening, nothing at all improper. In fact I think it’s ONLY proper that you and I, the consumer of Botswana, make these people’s lives difficult, and send them a message that the people of Botswana are not credulous fools who are likely to fall for their nonsense.

My plan in future is to do two things. Firstly to waste their time. If I can engage them in a lengthy email correspondence, pretending to fall for their scumbaggish scam, occupying their time and energy perhaps it will prevent them scamming someone less skeptical. Every minute they spend writing to me is a minute they can no longer spend abusing a victim.

If you have the time I suggest you do the same. Of course there are some warnings. Don’t do this from your company or personal email address, you should set up a free email account using an assumed name, that way you can keep your identity secret.

Then, when you’ve wasted their time for long enough, go to stage 2. Reveal yourself and tell them in very simple and direct terms what you think of them. You don’t need to be polite to crooks, do you?

P.S. The Managing Director of Hyundai South Africa is called Alan Ross. He doesn’t respond to emailed complaints. He doesn’t seem to care. This is not revenge, it’s just a fact.

This weeks stars

  • Ronald at Fedex for “great service with a smile every time”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I took my faulty plasma TV to Domestic Engineering (Pty) Ltd on the 28th May. I paid a non-refundable deposit of P200. After they assessed the TV they phoned me to tell me that it was going to cost me a total of P2,800 to repair. I agreed and gave them the go-ahead. I gave them an advance payment of P2,000 the following week on the condition that the parts will be shipped as soon as possible. It then took about 3 weeks for the parts to arrive. Once they had done the repair they told me that the cost was now P1,000 more, a total of P3.800.

When I went to collect the TV the manager refused to give it to me until I paid them the entire cost, whether I agreed with the new cost or not.

What can I do?

You can tell them where to put that new quote, that’s what you can do. When you gave them authorisation to go ahead with the repair based on the original quote of P2,800 you agreed a contract with them and they agreed to the contract with you. They have broken the agreement you formed with them by demanding extra money.

I think you should tell them that Consumer Watchdog and The Voice now know about this story and about their beach of contract. You can tell them that we have consulted the Consumer Watchdog legal advisors (who eat companies like this for breakfast) and they say the situation is perfectly clear. They simply cannot demand all that extra money. They agreed a price of P2,800 to repair the TV and that’s it. If they made a mistake it’s their fault, not yours. Perhaps if they had come to you with an apology and asked politely for a little extra we might have suggested you just pay it for a quiet life but that’s not the case.

I suggest you offer them a couple of hundred extra just to get your TV back but if they refuse tell them that you will take the case to the Small Claims Court. Maybe they will have heard that this new court seems to be very effective. Several consumers we know have taken their problems to this new court and have had rapid, effective justice. Do this company want to end up there with a judgement against them? Do they really want their name in The Voice again?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I lay-byed a king-size bed at Sefalana Home in Orapa on the 22nd March worth P5,500. I paid them a deposit of P1,000, leaving a balance of P4,500.

Over the next few months I paid off another P2,000 leaving a balance of P2,500. On the 27th May I went to pay another P1,000 but when I got there I realized my bed was not there. I asked the lady whom I made the original lay-bye with and she told me not to worry since the bed is coming very soon. I reminded her that June will be my last month to clear the lay-bye and I will be paying the whole balance but she told me not to worry.

On the 17th June I went back to the shop and told them that the next week I will be coming to take my bed and she kept on telling me not to worry and that the bed will be there.

On the 23rd of June I came with money to clear the balance but they told me that the bed had been sold. They suggested to me that the bed was now reduced in price to P4,000 but they still didn’t have the bed. They admitted that they should have marked the bed as a lay-bye but they hadn’t.

They promised me a better bed but until today nothing has been delivered.

Whose fault is it, do I have to pay an extra money after the whole inconvenience I went through?

It’s not your fault, not at all. This is another example of a breach of contract. You agreed to pay them the price of the bed over an agreed period and they agreed to set it, or an identical bed, aside for you and then give it to you once you had paid the agreed amount

They failed you. They have broken their agreement with you. I suggest that you demand a full refund, with interest for the period they had your money. We’d be happy to help you with the calculations if you like.

If they refuse you should also threaten them with the Small Claims Court.

And Consumer Watchdog and The Voice!

A Hyundai update

Voice readers may recall that we reported a few weeks ago about the Hyundai driver whose car broke down in October last year in Rustenberg so she sensibly took it to the local Hyundai dealership for repair. By June she still didn’t have her car back, despite picking it up twice, only to have it break down both times within Rustenberg and having paid them R20,000. She even had to buy a new car so she could get to work.

So has anything happened since we reported?

Yes. They now want another R6,500 for yet another repair. They offered to reduce the new bill to a mere R6,000 as a gesture of good faith but we think that’s simply not good enough.

What else has happened? Have we received a reply, or even an acknowledgment from the MD of Hyundai South Africa since we emailed him with a complaint?

No. Alan Ross, the MD of Hyundai South Africa, doesn’t appear to think that consumers in Botswana matter. What do YOU think?

Thursday 15 July 2010

Ignorance is no defence

Just because you don’t know that something is illegal, that doesn’t mean you can use your ignorance as an excuse. Of course many laws are perfectly obvious, they’re just common sense. You don’t need to be told that you’re not allowed to murder, rape and steal, I think we all know instinctively that we aren’t permitted these things. Hopefully none of us even want to do these things because that common morality is so deeply engrained in our minds.

Actually there is even some evidence now that an innate sense of morality might actually be something that evolved within apes along with speech, intelligence and contempt for combi drivers.

But not all of the law is that obvious. The details of the laws our government has passed are often things we know nothing about. Did you know, for instance, that the Public Health Regulations of 1983 forbid a waiter in a restaurant from touching anything other than the handles of the cutlery? That “waiters fingers shall not come into contact with food when it is served”? That “waiters shall not touch the rim of a glass”?

Obviously we can be forgiven for not knowing these exact details of these regulations because nobody has ever told us about them. Well, until now that is. Now Consumer Watchdog and Mmegi have illuminated us all! Now we all know.

But WHY didn’t we know? Why did none of us know about these and all the other hygiene and public health rules that are there to protect us from infection, illness and death? Why don’t most of us know the details of the Consumer Protection Regulations or of the Penal Code?

Because nobody ever told us, that’s why. But I hear you asking whose job is it to tell us these things? For once I’m going to say that this is something Government is meant to do. Along with providing policing, national security, roads, sanitation, healthcare and schools I think public education is one of the few things that a Government is best placed to fund. Note that I didn’t actually say that I think Government need do the work themselves, but they just need to cough up the cash to pay for it. Let them employ experts to do the actual public education but the least the Government can do is sign the cheque,

But they don’t, despite it being their job. I don’t know why, I honestly don’t, but the effect is to keep the public in ignorance of our rights, responsibilities and the actions we can take to protect ourselves.

So here’s my new motto. If the Public Service won’t serve the public then the public must learn to serve itself.

Firstly I think we can start serving ourselves by visiting the Laws of Botswana web site at Having the laws online is a remarkably useful thing and the Attorney General’s people deserve a huge pat on the back for giving us all access to OUR laws. Visit the web site and you can get copies of the various Laws and Regulations for yourself. You can read them online or download them, print them, store them on your smartphone and read them at your leisure. Start by taking a look at the Penal Code, the Public Health Act and Regulations, the Food Control Act and Regulations, the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations, they’re all a very good start.

Best of all they are all very easy to read. All you need is a moderate command of English and you’ll understand every word, they’ve been extremely well written.

Then start browsing the web. Look at our web site, visit Google and start doing some searches for other sources of useful information. If you find any please let us know and we’ll tell everyone else about them for you.

Then revisit Consumer Watchdog. We’ve decided to practice what we preach and will be much more active in informing consumers about what’s going on, what to look out for and what to avoid. To begin with we’ve launched a new Facebook group, imaginatively called “Consumer Watchdog Botswana”. Please come and join the group and you’ll automatically receive links to this column as it’s published, news articles and comments. We’ll also use it to warn consumers of all the frauds and scams we uncover. Then, if you have told Facebook to do so, you will get an email every time something is posted to the group.

This isn’t the solution to every consumer problem but I genuinely feel that the more information people have at their disposal, the more confident they are likely to be when they encounter problems and the more assertive they’ll be when things go wrong. Also I really like the idea of the alert mechanism that a Facebook group offers. It will enable us to get messages out to members remarkably quickly.

If you do join the group please give us ideas for new things we can do, you can post details of scams and frauds yourself. Together we can all make this a useful resource for all the consumers of Botswana.

Please also use the discussion forum that the Facebook group offers to post your own suggestions, warnings and, let’s not forget, celebrations.

Ignorance really IS no defence so let’s start educating ourselves, because knowledge is the most powerful self-defence weapon we can carry.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

A regular reader got in touch to say “I thought you might be interested in this email and the offer of free money from the SA Revenue Service.”

He forwarded an email he had received that claimed to be from the South African tax authority. It said:
“Tax Refund Notification
After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity, we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of 18,582.50 ZAR. Please submit the tax refund request and allow 2-3 days in order to process it.
Click Here to submit you tax refund request
Note : A refund can be delayed a variety of reasons, for example submitting invalid records or applying after deadline.
Yours Sincerely
South African Revenue Service.”
Our reader knew better than to believe this email but he thought it was worth publicising. What was it, you might ask yourself, that gave him a clue that it was a scam? Quite simple. There’s no way the South African tax authorities could owe him any money because he wasn’t South African, doesn’t trade in SA and has never paid an tax to the SA authorities so how can they refund him any? However I think we can all see how someone might be tempted to click on the link to see what might happen.

So what DOES happen if you click on the link? The first thing is that you DON’T visit the SARS site. Instead you visit a site called Actually when I clicked on the link my computer came up with a warning alerting me to a potential scam at that site but I’m not sure everyone else would be as lucky.

What you see is a web site that looks just like the SARS site. On the site were logos for each of the main South African banks, including a couple that you’d find here in Botswana. Once you click on the logo of your bank of choice you then get to fairly high-quality copy of the real bank’s online banking login site. It’s only if you look very closely at the web address that you see that it’s not actually the real site you’re visiting. How many of us actually examine the precise web address we’re visiting?

This, however, is where the trouble begins. The web site is a good enough copy of the real bank web site that it would be very easy to enter your username and password without much thought.

It was such a convincing replica and so likely to con people out of their online banking usernames and passwords that, purely in the interests of research, I entered some details. Not my own of course, I just typed some random text.

What happened when I entered my pretend banking details? I got a message saying “Please wait… this may take a few minutes”. Nothing further happened, it just waited and waited. I suspect that if I hadn’t known already that this was a fake, I might have been tempted to go back and entire my details again, just to make sure.

You can bet that as soon as you enter these details into that fake site a scumbag scammer somewhere is entering them into the real site and transferring all your money to an account far, far away.

The thing that surprised me was how professional this whole “phishing” scam was. The fake web sites were very good copies of the genuine banking sites, the way they had been constructed was very persuasive.

It only took a little detective work to discover that the fake web site had only been created a matter of hours before our reader saw it. These crooks work very quickly indeed. Don’t bother trying to visit the site now though. I got in touch with the hosts, the people who weren’t themselves crooks, just a company that hosts sites on behalf of others and warned them that one of the sites they hosted was being used by crooks. The fake SARS site disappeared within hours.

The lesson is simple and I suspect we all know it but it’s worth repeating. Do NOT trust any web site links you receive in emails. No bank, no tax authority is going to contract you like this. Not ever.

My stranded scammer has luxurious taste

I emailed him saying:
"Hi again
I'm pleased to help.  What's the name of the hotel you're staying in in Edinburgh?  I should be able to get to Western Union later today."
Unfortunately he wasn't able to tell me the hotel he's "staying at", he just said:
"Please kindly send me the money as soon as possible." 
Earlier the address he gave was:
1 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2EQ, Scotland
It didn't take too much detective work to establish that this is the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh where rooms start at P3,500 per night.  Of course ALL of this is lies, he's nowhere near Edinburgh, he's more likely somewhere in Lagos but you'd think he'd at least try to get his story straight don't you?

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Still stranded in Scotland

I replied to the hijacked account from a new email address (NOT the one the scammer emailed), offering to help and they got back to me within minutes, to an email address they can never of heard of before, saying:
I am glad you are willing to help me, i'm not safe here in the hotel, i want to get out of this place because that's my priority for now, i will explain better and return your money as soon as i get back home. You can send the money through western  union money transfer, i will get a temporary document in replacement of my stolen passport from the Embassy, here is the information below to send the money;
Names: [Name removed]
Address: 1 Princes Street,
Edinburgh, EH2 2EQ, Scotland.
Write me immediately as soon as you send the money, scan and send me the western union money transfer receipt or write out the details on the receipt and send to me.
This mystery is enough..
Thank you.
What a surprise!  Western Union!

Oh no, stranded in Scotland?

In comes an email, from someone I've never heard of, not using my own name, saying:
How are you doing! I hope you are fine? I'm sorry i didn't inform you about my trip to Scotland for a program, I'm presently in Scotland, Perth having some difficulties because i misplaced my bag on my way to the hotel where my money and other valuable things were kept. I will like you to assist me with a loan of 2,000 pounds to sort-out my hotel bills and to get myself back home.
I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the matter effectively, I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me, I'll refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me know if you can be of any help. I don't have a phone where i can be reached.
Please let me know immediately.
Certainly not the first time I've received an email like this.  I'll respond and see what story the scammer comes up with.  What do you bet that he needs the money sent via Western Union?

Thursday 8 July 2010

A kitchen nightmare

I’m not a fan of “reality TV”. In fact I’m not a fan of most TV, despite the fact that I probably watch a bit too much of it. Much of what is broadcast in our direction, particularly on DSTV, is complete dross but for once I’m going to restrain myself and not rant about DSTV.

Instead I’m going to ramble on about a program that has become a complete addiction.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

Before I explain why I love it, I feel obliged to say that I can’t normally abide Gordon Ramsay. He’s everything I despise about the TV food industry at the moment. He’s a personality, a celebrity, a character who is more important than the food he allegedly cooks. When I’m in a restaurant I don’t really care about the personality, arrogance and ego of the person who cooks my food, I am only interested in whether it tastes good, is served hot and comes in large enough portions. Ramsay is the opposite of that, he’s a media-constructed TV chef, famous only for his incredible rudeness and arrogance. The food comes in second place when Ramsay is on screen.

However, the Kitchen Nightmares show is different. In case you haven’t seen it, let me explain. Ramsay arrives at a restaurant that is failing and does his best to put them on the straight and narrow. Of course he does this with a staggering number of four-lettered words, a lot of shouting but always with a degree of success.

Of course the secret is actually very simple. Almost all the restaurants he visits are failing for the same reason. They’ve forgotten what all restaurant customers really want.

We all want simple, tasty food prepared hygienically, served at the right temperature and at the right price. It doesn’t matter whether you want to spend P20 on a burger or P200 on a massive feast, that’s what we all want. However so many restaurants seem to forget that simple formula. That’s where Ramsay fits in.

His intervention is the same every time but it’s amusing to see him do it. He dramatically simplifies the menu, implements a simple chain of command and demands perfect cleanliness. There are many lessons for all businesses in that but the one uppermost in my mind for restaurants at the moment is hygiene. There have been several episodes when he and his camera crew have uncovered shocking kitchen hygiene problems. On one occasion the camera witnessed a chef dropping a chicken wing on the floor, picking it up and continuing to serve it. In another they found pieces of meat in buckets that clearly were weeks old, rotting in the store room. In another there seemed to be 100 times more cockroaches in the kitchen than there were customers in the dining room.

Of course we don’t have any restaurants that bad in Botswana, do we?

Yes, we do. There is a restaurant I know that no other restaurant owners will visit. A friend who is a food safety specialist tells some complete horror stories about it. She, of all people, saw a rat running through the restaurant. You do NOT want to eat there.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to the owners and managers of various restaurants that I like. They’re all very different but they have a couple of things in common. They all have an active, hands-on manager. They all understand exactly the style of food they serve. They are all scrupulously clean, I know, I’ve been in their kitchens. Most importantly they all make decent amounts of money, even in these hard times.

I asked them all about how they maintain hygiene standards. All told me about the random inspections they have from the authorities who do things like taking samples of cooking oil to ensure it’s clean and safe. That’s all well and good. However, not one of them had even been told about the Public Health Act and Regulations. In my innocence (yes, honestly!) I assumed that when they applied for their original licence from the City Council they would have been told about the Regulations, told about some of the basic rules that all restaurants must abide by. For instance that a waiter may not touch the rim of a glass, can only touch the handles of cutlery and can only wear clean uniforms.

None of the restaurant owners I spoke to knew about this. That’s not a criticism of them, they’ve all got standards that are already far ahead of these basic rules. It’s a criticism of the authorities, yet again. The danger is not the decent restaurants, it’s the dodgy, disreputable, rat and cockroach-infested, poisonous ones. The ones that might actually kill you. Not me, I hasten to add. I’m immune. The reason? I do something that I earnestly suggest that you do too.

Become intimate with the manager of your favourite restaurants. Not too intimate of course, none of them are that cute. OK, there’s one, but that’s beside the point. When you know the owner or manager of a restaurant you can do some amazing things. You can ask to see the kitchen, your opinions will be treated with more respect and your food will be prepared with just a little extra attention.

However I still think that we should demand more from the authorities that are empowered to check restaurants for hygiene standards. Maybe they should be giving out standard packages of information on the hygiene standards required? Or is Consumer Watchdog going to be forced to do that instead?

This weeks stars
  • The owners and managers of Apache Spur, CafĂ© Dijo and Chutney restaurants for their help and support.
  • Sergeant Rinka from Old Naledi Police Station who stopped one of the Watchdog team (now known as Mrs Schumacher) for speeding but did so with enormous friendliness and charm.
  • Ian and the team at Barloworld for responding to a customer’s concern very effectively.

Friday 2 July 2010

Did you know?

According to Section 58 of the Public Health Act 1981:
“No person shall sell or expose for sale… any food for human consumption in a tainted, adulterated, diseased or unwholesome state, or which is unfit for human consumption”.
OK, I suspect nobody will be surprised by that. It’s the sort of rule that every country has, except perhaps North Korea where they’re so poor and starving that they’d eat anything, probably even their football team. It’s a perfectly reasonable rule that makes it illegal to sell, or just as importantly, “expose for sale” food that’s rotten or even just “unwholesome” which my dictionary defines as “not conducive to health or moral well-being”.

However, here’s the interesting part. Any “unwholesome food” can be seized by certain authorised officials. Any idea who these officials might be? Let me tell you. The Act says that:
“any health officer, veterinary officer or police officer of or above the rank of sergeant may seize any such food”.
Read that again. Any cop who is a sergeant or better can enter a store and if he or she sees unwholesome food they can seize the food to protect the public from eating it. They don’t need to go to court, get an order, fill in a form, seek permission from the Commissioner, the Mayor or the President, or even get the permission from the store owner or manager. They can just do it.

So why don’t they? The reason is simple. They don’t know they have that power. Nobody has ever told them.

Can you imagine how much better things would be if store managers knew that the cops could do this? What would it be like if every time a police officer walked in the store to do his shopping the manager knew the powers the cop had? Rotten food would disappear overnight.

Here’s another fun section of the Public Health Act. Section 42:
“No person shall publish any advertisement … of any medicine, appliance or article for the alleviation or cure of any venereal disease or disease affecting the genital organs or functions or of sexual impotence, or of any complaint or infirmity arising from or relating to sexual intercourse.

Any person who publishes any such advertisement … shall be guilty of an offence.”
In case you haven’t realised it yet, every advertisement offering a cure for impotence has been placed there by a crook. The law says so.

There’s more. In the Public Health Regulations 1983 there is a lengthy part relating to “Refreshment Businesses” and within it a section entitled “Tables”. It’s worth repeating in full:
“(1) Waiters shall at all times wear clean clothes and overalls.
(2) Waiters shall handle cutlery by the handles only.
(3) Waiters shall not touch the rim of a glass.
(4) Food shall be served by means of an implement and not by hand.
(5) Waiters' fingers shall not come into contact with food when it is served.”
Remember that next time you’re in a restaurant and a badly dressed waiter with dirty fingernails gets his filthy hands all over your cutlery and glass. Remind him that he and his manager probably don’t want to fall foul of the Public Health Act and Regulations. Tell them the maximum penalty for breaching the law involves prison.

The Regulations go on and on, I could fill this entire edition of Mmegi with all the details. It covers hotels, butcheries, grain mills, bakeries, laundries and even public events.

Usually I would complain that these Regulations aren’t sufficiently well enforced but I think we all know we’re being let down in this area. I bet we’ve all seen restaurants and stores that have broken all the rules I’ve mentioned as well as the hundreds of others I haven’t. However my biggest complaint is that nobody is telling us about these rules.

Wouldn’t it be good if, instead of publishing utterly boring graphs about their performance, Ministries and Councils published information that was really useful to us, like the rules about public health, food hygiene, consumer protection and even just our general laws? Isn’t that what these bodies, that in case you’ve forgotten WE pay for, are really for?

Actually it is what some of them are for. The Consumer Protection Act establishes the Consumer Protection Office and it lists the various functions the office will have. Section 5 (2) (b) says that the office shall:
“disseminate information to enable consumers to acquire knowledge of basic consumer rights and obligations and the skills needed to make informed choices about goods and services”
The very next section says that they will:
“formulate and implement consumer education programmes”
Their last duty is remarkably broad. It says they will:
“do all such other things as may be necessary to protect consumers from purchasing or otherwise acquiring substandard goods or services or from being otherwise exploited”.
So why don’t they? Why don’t we see them publishing the information we need in newspapers, on government web sites and most importantly, in school text books so that we all know our rights and the obligations that apply to the people who sell us things. Yes, Consumer Watchdog will continue to do it’s bit but it would be nice to see the bodies actually paid to do it doing so.

One bit of good news is that all of these laws and regulations are freely available to us all on the web. Go to and you can see them for yourself. The bad news is that you’ll need to read through them all yourself to find out what your rights are. Or you could just keep reading Mmegi I suppose?

This weeks stars
  • Gosego from the Embassy restaurant at Riverwalk in Gaborone for service with a smile.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

A reader contacted us with a very, VERY long story about her car, a Hyundai, that broke down in Rustenberg in October last year. Quite sensibly she had the car towed to the Rustenberg Hyundai dealership for repairs. However that’s when things started to go wrong. Instead of just fixing the car they proceeded to claim to repair it and allowed her to drive it away only to have it breakdown within screaming distance of the dealership TWICE, they lost her crank shaft, fired some of their staff, waited for parts that couldn’t be found in South Africa, helped her run up an enormous phone bill, took a total of P20,000 from her and turned her hair grey.

OK, I confess I made up the bit about her hair but everything else happened.

To give you an idea of how complicated the story is let me tell you that the email she sent me showing all her correspondence with Hyundai South Africa contained almost 4,000 words.

Anyway, the situation right now is that after EIGHT MONTHS Hyundai in Rustenberg still have her car and they still haven’t fixed it.

I think that the time has come to escalate this to a higher level. The customer has already dealt unsuccessfully with the branch manager in Rustenberg and has contacted the Hyundai national customer care people but all to no avail.

My suggestion to her is that she should forget the pleasantries and email the Managing Director of Hyundai in South Africa, Alan Ross. His email address is [not published to prevent email spam].

Clearly she’s going to need to be very polite, to explain her problem in calm and measured terms and give him a reasonable chance to fix the situation. However that doesn’t mean she can’t assert herself, explain that she feels she’s been treated badly and that she knows she has a right to have this situation fixed.

She should also let him know that the “good name” of his company is being badly affected and that he has an incentive to fix this graciously and effectively. And QUICKLY!

Oh, one final thing. He might want to know that he’s now famous in Botswana.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Hi, please let me know more about Amway and how advisable it is to engage in it. Thank you.

There’s nothing wrong with Amway, so long as you know what you’re getting into. The problem with Amway is that it is two different things rolled into one. The simplest part of their operation is that they sell things, a vast array of things from pasta to cosmetics. I’ve seen some criticism of the quality of the goods they sell and also their prices but that would be up to you to decide if you buy any of them from what they call their IBOs or “Independent Business Owners”. You would need to decide whether their prices and quality are good enough.

The other part of their business is the area that is much more suspicious: the “multi-level marketing” aspect. I must stress of course that Amway is NOT a pyramid scheme, honestly it’s not. However they do have a “pyramid-structured” business model. One of the very first things you will hear from the Amway IBO who approaches you is that they have a business proposition for you. They won’t say that they have some excellent products for you, no, it will be a chance to make money that they offer you.

They will try to sell you the idea of becoming an IBO yourself in the pyramid beneath the IBO that recruits you. Then every Amway product you sell will earn you a share of the profits. Critically, and this is the important bit, you will be encouraged to recruit other IBOs beneath you and to encourage them to recruit others beneath them. The person recruiting you will imply that you will earn lots of money from every product sale that is made beneath you, perhaps even multiple levels down.

Of course this sounds persuasive. It sounds like a way of earning easy money from the work of the people many layers beneath you.

The trouble is it’s simply not true. The mathematics don’t work. In order to make ANY money from the Amway pyramid you would need to recruit a staggeringly successful pyramid of people beneath you and there simply aren’t enough gullible fools around.

You’ll often hear from Amway IBOs who are trying to recruit you that Amway “has made more millionaires than any other company”. That’s just a lie. They never actually name any of these “millionaires” for the simple reason that they don’t actually exist.

Regardless of the mathematical theory I think it’s fair to judge Amway by their results. However Amway certainly won’t give them to you and me. Luckily they were forced to disclose them a couple of years ago in the UK when the British Companies Court tried to put Amway out of business. The truth that emerged is that virtually nobody makes money from being an Amway IBO. A few people at the very top of the pyramid have made lots of money but anyone new is so far down the pyramid that there’s no chance of making any money at all. The British data showed that the VAST majority lost money.

Please don’t waste your time and money joining Amway, or any other pyramid-structured selling mechanism. You will NOT make money, you will instead spend a small fortune buying the products, the marketing material, the compulsory training materials and you’ll just offend all the friends they insist you try to recruit.

For more on Amway see our other posts here, here, here and here.