Friday 26 November 2010

Be careful

You and I really need to be careful. Despite how skeptical some of us think we are, none of us is immune to the seductive charms of dubious money-making schemes. Yes, I DO mean pyramid schemes, amongst others. I’ve covered before the rather pathetic TVI Express pyramid scam. This is one of the many voucher-based pyramid schemes that is based on their silly holiday discount ploy. The “products” they claim to have are discounts against luxury holidays but they cover up the fact that a discount isn’t actually a product. A holiday can be a product but they are not offering you a holiday, they’re offering you a few percent off the price of a holiday. That’s not a product. That absence of anything tangible is what makes TVI Express a pyramid scheme and not it’s close relative, a Multi-Level Marketing scheme.

The good news is that eventually the enforcement authorities around the world have understood the real nature of TVI Express and that they need to do something about it. Some months ago the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission obtained orders restraining three individuals from promoting TVI Express and described is as “a pyramid selling scheme”. They have also come under the gaze of various authorities in China, Indonesia, Hungary and their home country of India. Most recently in September these crooks were shut down completely in the US state of Georgia. The bad news is that, just like cockroaches scurrying from underneath one rock to another when the light is shone upon them, many of the TVI Express conspirators and even some of their gullible victims are flocking to other pyramid schemes such as Pyxism.

Pyxism is a clone of TVI Express but I suppose that I should be cautious and say that I’m sure Pyxism is a legitimate fortune-earning mechanism that brings untold happiness and wealth to everyone it touches. Or perhaps, unlike the shameless, money-grubbing crooks behind all pyramid schemes, I should tell the truth. Pyxism is a pyramid scam just like TVI Express and you should avoid it like it’s a combination of the plague, the Ebola virus and swine flu. Pyxism is that good for you.

Meanwhile not all risks are as obvious as pyramid schemes. Some risks can be either just bad fortune or they come from a set of circumstances that allow things to go wrong. Just like allowing your house to become dirty and pest-infested will encourage disease, so too can companies allow things to become a little relaxed and mistakes can happen. I’m sure that this was the case with one of our latest problems. A reader contacted us and told us about the phone call he received from a company called Hotel Express International.

This is yet another holiday discount scheme that involves you paying some serious money to join a scheme that offers you discounted hotel stays and car rentals. However, things went seriously wrong during the phone call. Did the reader have a credit card he could use to join the scheme? No, he said, I only have a debit card. Not a problem said the saleslady, let me have your debit card number and I’ll just check to see if you are eligible to join the scheme.

OK, by now I imagine you can see the problem. Our bright, intelligent, worldly-wise reader has just given away his bank account to a total stranger.

The call ended with the saleslady offering to courier to the reader full details of the scheme and an application form to complete if he decided to join.

It came as a surprise to the reader, but not I suspect to you, that when he went to the ATM later that day he found his account near empty. P2,839.33 had been taken from it and the bank confirmed it was Hotel Express International who had snaffled his money. Unfortunately it was too late for the bank to stop it and, yes, he had voluntarily given them his debit card number. Yes, I know, you know and he knows that he didn’t explicitly give them permission to take his money but it’s too late, it’s gone.

When he got in touch with us we contacted the Hotel Express International people in South Africa and they did take pretty swift action. One of their senior manager people called the reader and did his level best to sell the benefits of the scheme, conveniently overlooking the fact that they had taken his money without his consent. It took a bit more persuasion before they conceded that it was time for a complete refund and no more funny business.

Regular readers will remember the problems we had with Prokard in South Africa when they dd almost exactly the same thing. In one case Prokard used the “give us your credit card details and we’ll check to see if you’re eligible for Gold membership” line. Same thing, same result. Money taken without explicit consent.

The supreme irony is that all these holiday and hotel discount schemes are based on a profound untruth. You don’t have to pay money or membership dues to get discounts. If you go to the hotel Express International web site you’ll see that in March they quoted the price for a suite at the Courtyard in Rosebank in Jo’burg at R1,050. By a strange coincidence I stayed in a suite at that exact hotel earlier this month and paid a mere R675. All I did was go to and the discount didn't cost me a thebe, a cent or a penny. Certainly not P2,839.33 that Hotel Express took from an unwilling “customer”.

The lesson is simple and obvious. Don’t give your credit or debit card details to total strangers over the phone and don’t waste you money paying for something you can get elsewhere for free!

This week’s stars
  • Sam at Naledi Motors Parts department or doing “an exceptional job”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer's Voice

Last week I was called on my cellphone by lady from a South African number who claimed to be from Hotel Express International. She said she got my number from one of their associate hotels here in Botswana, where I had booked previously. This sounded reasonable as I had just returned from a field trip where I stayed in two hotels in the North. I have also used other hotels in the past. She told me about a package where if I sign up I will be eligible for significant discounts in hotel accommodation and car rentals in various countries. She went on to ask my work address as she will later send me the necessary information and application forms by courier.

She then asked me if I had a credit card for purposes of payment once my application is approved and I replied that I did not, but that I only have a debit card. She responded by asking for the bank that I use and the type of account. She said she will need to check with management if the debit card would be acceptable for payments and didn’t sound optimistic. She then asked for the 16 digit number on my card so that she could go and confirm if it will be acceptable. I reluctantly gave her the number, as at the back of my mind I reasoned that the number is not really secret as it is printed where it can be seen easily by third parties. I also reasoned that it was only an inquiry and I would still have to fill in some forms before any monetary transactions are made. So I did not at this time become suspicious.

Later that day when I went to the ATM I realised that a large sum of money had been withheld in my account and was not accessible to me. When I went to the bank and enquired they told me of a transaction of P2,839.33 but said they will need to do further checks before they could tell me when and with who this money was transacted. It was later confirmed that Hotel Express International had taken the money.

The next day I received another call from the same lady who called the previous day from Express Hotel International. She told me that my application has been approved. I said that I had not made any application and was waiting for the package they were going to send by courier so that I could read before i could make any decisions. At this she replied that she signed me in when we were talking yesterday.

[The reader’s email then goes on in detail about his attempts to cancel the transaction through his bank but without success.]

Unfortunately we’ve heard stories exactly like this several times before. A “cold call” from a company like Hotel Express International that results in an unauthorised deduction from a consumer’s account. On each occasion the consumer claims to have given out his or her account number so the caller can check whether it’s a suitable means of payment, or perhaps to establish which level of membership they will be entitled to. Before you know it a few thousand has been taken from your account without your explicit authorisation.

We contacted Hotel Express International in South Africa and asked them to investigate to see how this could have happened. Unfortunately their first response was just for a senior manager to call the consumer to persuade him of the benefits of their scheme and all the various discounts it offers. That was NOT what was needed. We and the consumer made it perfectly clear that he did not want to be a member and he had never given his permission for the payment. Finally, after a sequence of emails the Managing Director of Hotel Express International in South Africa instructed his team to make a full refund into the consumer’s account.

Some of you may be thinking that the consumer was foolish to give out his bank account number like this. The consumer himself agrees with you but he fell victim to a very persuasive sales agent, presumably one who was paid on commission and who was prepared to push her sales skills to the limit!

The first lesson is the obvious one. Never give your bank account details to someone you don’t know and to whom you haven’t agreed to pay money. Never give those details to someone who is just checking something. NEVER.

Then there’s the second big lesson. Holiday discount schemes, whether they are pyramid schemes like TVI Express (recently outlawed in the US state of Georgia) and Pyxism, or the membership schemes like Hotel Express International or Prokard are all based on a misunderstanding.

You don’t have to pay money to get discounts. Hotels give these discounts away for free to anyone who asks for them. In the last few years I have stayed in hotels in South Africa at massively reduced rates without paying anyone anything to get the discounts. No membership fees, no deposits, no unauthorised debit card deductions over the phone. Ironically in their hotel price list (pdf format download here) Hotel Express International quote their price for a suite at the Courtyard in Rosebank at R1,050. By coincidence I stayed in a suite at that exact hotel earlier this month and paid a mere R675. All I did was go to and the discount didn't cost me a thebe, a cent or a penny. Certainly not P2,839.33.

My advice is to keep your money and get your discounts for free!

Friday 19 November 2010

Hotel Express International - update

A follow-up to our recent warning about calls from Hotel Express International.

It looks like a complete refund is on it's way. Watch this space...

Baiting a "traditional doctor"

OK, not a scammer, a traditional healer this time but a liar and a charlatan nevertheless. This is his advertisement:

I SMSed a number of "doctors" who placed advertisements in local papers yesterday and today as follows:

His response and our subsequent conversation went like this:

He is "Dr" Kachule and his cellphone number is 75916409.  I'm sure he'd love to hear from you!

Old friends

We all like to see old friends, people from our past, people we were fond of and who we perhaps lost touch with over the years. However there are also those old “friends” who we are perhaps keen to be shot of. The ones who borrowed money and never paid us back, the ones who told lies about us and the ones who impregnated our sisters and disappeared before we could break their noses.

Consumer Watchdog has encountered some old friends recently, unfortunately of this latter, you-abused-my-sister variety.

The World Business Guide is one of them. This fake business directory advertises via email this time of year, offering to place your company details in their directory which they claim is available on CD and online. Their email says:
“Ladies and Gentlemen.

In order to have your company inserted in the registry of World Businesses for 2011/2012 edition, please print, complete and submit the enclosed form (PDF file) to the following address:

P.O. BOX 3079

FAX: +31 (20) 203-1129

Updating is free of charge!”
While it’s true that “updating” your entry can be done for free entering your details the first time is certainly NOT free. Hidden away in the incredibly small print is the following:
“The price per year is Euro 995. The subscription will be automatically extended every year for another year unless specific written notice is received by the service provider or the subscriber two months before the expiration of the subscription.”
So in fact entering your details will cost you P9,000 and the bad news is that once you’ve submitted your company details they will claim you’re committed and cannot change your mind. They’ll even set their lawyers onto you if you resist. Of course this is not legally enforceable but very few people enjoy receiving threatening letters from lawyers or have the courage to stand up to them and tell where to stick their directory.

Various authorities have tried to shut these gangsters down but they keep on popping up every year to scam more and more unsuspecting victims.

The crooks behind the Transitions Abroad scam keep on emerging from under a rock as well. There is in fact a legitimate “Transitions Abroad” web site that provides all sorts of advice on working and travelling overseas but their name is being used by some scumbag scammers to steal money.

This is a fake recruitment company who claim to have all sorts of exotic jobs overseas paying enormous amounts of money. Most notably they offer some totally unrealistic jobs on cruise liners offering ridiculously high salaries. Their email says:
“We do full packages such as visa processing, air tickets, accommodation (ect) Earn a salary of up to $8,000USD per month”
As you can probably guess all they need in order for you to be accepted is a bunch of cash up front. Last year they wanted a mere P2,300 with your application. Of course your application will never get you anywhere because this is just another scam.

Even the scammers from the ridiculous TVI Express pyramid scheme are back at it again. When we’ve written about this pointless rip-off before we’ve even had criticism from people in the pyramid in Botswana, including a local preacher, saying we are defaming an honest scheme that helps people better themselves. But these have been no more than liars desperate to prop up their wing of the pyramid. (Q. Do pyramids have wings? A. Only when they’re flying from the authorities.) TVI Express has been declared a scam in Australia and was recently shut down in the US state of Georgia. What’s left of them elsewhere in the world is under investigation by pretty much every regulator.

The most recent TVI News is that all the former member of this silly scheme have jumped ship and joined the equally pyramidical “Pyxism” scheme. Again you have to pay to enter this scam. Their web site explains that to join you need to pay:
“a one off cost of $300 USD plus a $49 USD per year Associate fee.If you are living outside the United States, then there is an additional once off $25 USD processing fee”
Pyxism is exactly the same as TVI Express of course, a pyramid scheme based on worthless travel vouchers. One Pyxism web site includes this incredibly slippery Q & A:
“Is Pyxism A Pyramid Scheme?

No! When you become an associate with Pyxism, your $US300 certificate buys you $US300 worth of discounted vacation, so you are always receiving a product.”
This isn’t difficult to understand. “Discounted vacation” is NOT a product. It’s a reduction in the price of a product, a discount you can almost certainly get elsewhere more cheaply. Whenever my family and I stay in hotels in Jo’burg do you really think we pay the full price? Of course not, we go to our preferred chain’s web site and bid for a cheaper stay. Go to if you don’t believe me. It’s entirely free and you can save up to half the normal price. For FREE.

So our old friend TVI goes away and it’s sibling Pyxism takes it’s place in our affections.

Our advice is that all of these old friends are the type that you secretly are very glad you don’t hear from any more. They are the people you used to associate with but secretly you hated them and you still do. I suggest that you don’t respond to them when they get in touch and pretend your email isn’t working. Or you could just tell them that you never liked them, you’ve really enjoyed not having them in your life and would they please just go away.

This week’s stars
  • Oteng from Lesedi Motors who helped out a passer-by (Me!).
  • Nita at Maxiprest for being “really friendly and helpful”.
  • All the Mmegi readers who contact us asking us to alert their neighbours to scammers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I bought a Mercedes in 2000. At the time I ordered it the waiting time was six months before it would arrive. When I was finally told that the motor vehicle had arrived, it was not what I had ordered. My order was an E240, with a grey interior and no phone. What I got was a beige interior with a phone that I had to pay about P5,000 for. Because I had waited about six months, I did not want to wait any longer so I just took the car. I had never driven a Merc before and so I was quite excited to drive one. On the dash screen there were two identical cracks that seemed to like they were part of the car. Over the years the cracks have grown and now it's very obvious that they are cracks. I need your help on what I should do regarding this. I suspect that they sold the car to me because the person who had ordered it realised the defect and they took advantage of my ignorance. I think that they should replace the screen.

Some time ago, I lost one of my keys and I reported to the garage, so they would deactivate it. Instead, they deactivated the key that I had, and therefore I could not use it anymore. I was told that I needed to order a new key, and that it would take about three weeks to arrive. In the meantime I had to use a manual key and had to lock the car in a cumbersome manner and as a result one day I locked the key inside. I waited for the key to arrive and by that time the battery was flat so the key did not work. The gentleman who attended to the car told me they would use a wire and it would not show on the car. What he did not tell me was that the damage would show much more as the car got older. Now there are visible tears on the door and they are unsightly. I know I should've acted earlier but I hope that you can give me advice that would help me in this instance. I think the garage should pay for the damage on my car because they are responsible for the damage?

There are two issues here. The first is the original purchase of your car. Clearly the garage failed to deliver to you the car you had ordered and you may be right to suspect that you were actually given someone’s else’s order. However this was such a long time ago that there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m afraid that leaving the issue for over 10 years is way too long. The time to do something about the problem was firstly when the car was delivered. Instead of being charged extra for the phone you really should have demanded a discount for having the wrong vehicle.

The second issue relates to the loss of the key and the damage they did to the car when they tried to help you. You had a right to expect them not to do any damage unless they agreed that with you beforehand. Also the fact that they deactivated the wrong key again suggests that they probably shouldn’t have charged you, or at least given you a discount for your trouble.

However again the problem is time. You don’t say when this problem with the key happened. The lesson is to respond to failures promptly. Whether it’s a car or a cellphone you need to tell a supplier that something is wrong as soon as you realise it. Delaying can ruin your chances of getting a solution.

Blackberry update

Last week we reported on a customer who bought what she thought was a brand new Blackberry phone, only to find that it contained someone else’s photos and videos. What’s more it was a “branded” phone, originally sold by T-Mobile, we think in the USA. Finally, and after a bit of a battle, the store in question agreed to completely refund her money and she walked away with her cash last week. However then things got even better. The owner of the chain of stores got in touch saying he was appalled to read in The Voice what had happened. He assured us that second-hand phones should not be sold as new in his stores and he would like to make it up to the customer. Would she like a completely free Blackberry to say sorry?

Yes, she would thanks!

Well done to the store owner for reading the Voice, responding quickly and for fixing the problem with some style!

Scam alerts

I know I say this every week but no, you haven’t been identified by an employee of a foreign bank to extract some illegal funds from a dead customer’s account, you haven’t been selected by a beautiful stranger in a refugee camp to help her extract her inheritance from some far-flung, war-torn country and you most certainly haven’t won a lottery that you didn’t knowingly enter. No, you can’t trust anyone who contacts you to discuss a business deal who only has a Gmail or Yahoo email account and no landline phone number.

In fact don’t trust ANYONE who emails you out of the blue. Never give money to anyone you wouldn’t trust with your car, your house or your children’s safety.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Consumer Alert - Hotel Express International

Be very careful if someone calls from Hotel Express International in Jo'burg asking for your debit card details just to "confirm if it will be acceptable". You may well end up being charged P2,839.33 just for taking a phone call and without consciously authorising the payment. Of course you shouldn't give your debit card number to total strangers but if they are claiming it's just to check it the card is OK you can see how someone might fall for it.

I've contacted them for their feedback which I'll post on the blog.

Update: I just looked at their SA hotel member rates document and saw that in March they quoted the price for a suite at the Courtyard in Rosebank at R1,050. Curiously I stayed in a suite at that exact hotel earlier this month and paid a mere R675. All I did was go to Bid2Stay and the discount didn't cost me a thebe, a cent or a penny.  Certainly not P2,839.33.

Friday 12 November 2010

The Blackberry issue - concluded

The problem with the second-hand Blackberry that was sold as new has been resolved.

The store gave the customer a full refund, offered him a brand new, fresh out-of-the-box Blackberry and gave him a full apology. They've pledged to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again.

The result? A very happy customer.

Thursday 11 November 2010

New or used (or abused)?

We heard recently from a VERY disgruntled consumer who had just spent a small fortune on a new smart phone. She had visited a store at Riverwalk Shopping Centre (I should stress not one that is linked to any of the three service providers, this is an independent store) and handed over a massive P5,600 for a shiny new Blackberry 9700. By anyone’s standards that is a LOT of money but it is a lovely phone.

As you can imagine she was delighted to have such a fancy new toy and it wasn’t even Christmas Day. It wasn’t long afterwards that her joy was spoiled. The first problem was that the box it came in was battered and torn. Not what you expect for such a prestigious toy but you might think this was only a box so what does that matter? Things didn’t get any better.

When she opened the box and got the phone out it seemed ok, but when she powered it up and started using it there were some surprises.

Yes, you’ve probably heard this story before, the handset was full of photos and videos clearly taken by someone else. These weren’t just sample pictures that might have come with the phone. The new owner said they “show the previous owner posing with a friend, his dog, flight ticket, IT server room and party sessions/ celebrations.”

This was NOT a new phone.

Let’s have a little legal background. I think we can ignore the obvious, that the store lied when they told her it was a new phone, we can overlook the cheating that is outlawed by the Penal Code. Let’s focus on the hardly ever enforced Consumer Protection Regulations. Section 13 (1) (c) makes it perfectly clear that a supplier has failed to meet minimum standards if they claim that “a commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”. Simple really.

But I don’t think we need a law, a rule or a regulation to tell us that selling a second-hand, used phone as new is just crookery, do we?

Then it became even more suspicious. The consumer brought the Blackberry over to show us the pictures and videos. That when we noticed something she hadn’t mentioned yet. Slapped on the front of the phone as well as the box and every document it contained was the word “T-Mobile”. This, in case you’re not familiar with the name, is the name of one of the USA’s and UK’s major cellphone networks. Like many UK companies as well as some here in Botswana they often brand handsets with their name. Just like T-Mobile did with this Blackberry.

So you have to ask yourself this. How on earth did a second-hand, UK-branded cellphone end up being sold to an unsuspecting consumer in Botswana? Good question but I don’t know the answer. But I will soon. We got in touch with T-Mobile in the UK and sent them the IMEI number from the phone so they can trace it. We’ll let you know what they tell us.

Meanwhile we have, of course, spoken to the store manager and asked him for his reactions. He eventually confessed that this phone was indeed a T-Mobile handset from the UK, that it was second-hand and promised that the customer would get a refund. Actually what he said was that he would find a solution and when pressed he said she could have a refund.

Oh and yes, we DO have a recording of the phone call. That will go on the web if the situation isn’t fixed by the time this column is published. We’ll also make it absolutely clear which store it is that’s selling distinctly dubious phones to unsuspecting customers.

Scam update

Life isn’t all doom and gloom, we’ve been having lots of fun recently taking the battle back to scammers. We’ve adopted a new approach to dealing with these loathsome scumbags. I’ve been calling some of them just to have a conversation with them, just to ask them a few questions and to ask how many people actually fall for their stories. Unfortunately as well as missing a conscience these crooks don’t seem to have a sense of humour. One eventually asked me “Are you ringing to insult me?” and after a moment’s thought I felt obliged to tell the truth. “Yes”, I said, “I AM ringing to insult you.” That’s when he hung up.

But then it occurred to me. Why must we be polite to these thieving, scheming lumps of manure? We don’t. There is no moral imperative to be pleasant, to be polite, even to show the basic courtesy to these worthless specimens of humanity. So this is my new approach. About once a day I phone one of them, there’s no shortage of them after all, and tell him what I think of him. I’m also sending a couple of SMSs every day to them, telling them that I’m interested in their scam and asking them to call me and it’s surprising how many of them spend the money to do so. Of course I then waste their time and money for as long as possible before letting the cat out of the bag and accusing them of being a scammer. Of course by this time they are so angry that they forget that they are paying for the phone call and they rant and rave, make up silly excuses and spend a small fortune calling me from halfway across the planet.

It’s not often that you get the chance to be incredibly rude to people without any feelings of guilt and more people should join in the fun. What better way to end the day than to release all your pent up frustrations on somebody who really deserves it. Better still, given that they are more often than not a time zone or two behind us why not send them an SMS while you have your breakfast. Let’s ruin their sleep patterns! Take a look at our Facebook group for examples of the rude messages we’ve sent the buggers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

When u visit many stores or super markets, prices are not marked and its difficult to make decision on what to buy without asking shop assistant. The issue is, we don't want to be asking anyone as to the prices of items in the shop but we want to have prices marked clearly. Please, what can we do in such cases?

You can demand to see the manager or owner of the store and ask him or her how they expect consumers to buy things if they don’t know what they cost. I really think we have a right to know as we walk around a store roughly what we’re going to be expected to pay at the checkout. We also have a right to see if things are massively overpriced, or indeed are being offered at a bargain price. I suggest if you see this happening again you just tell the manager that you’ll take your money elsewhere unless it’s fixed.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received this email and wonder if it can be trusted?

“Dear Sir/Madam,
Gold Dust and Bar for Sale offer.
Our specifications are below:
Product: Alluvial gold dust
Quantity: 248 Kilograms
Quality: 23+ Carat
Purity: 97.5%
Price: USD$ 26,000 per kg
Origin: Ghana

For FCO details information, kindly contact us.

Yours Sincerely,
Joyce Adu
Traditional Royal Mining Company Ltd
15/16 Tarkwa Mining Estate
This has to be a scam. Why would a genuine gold mining company contact total strangers offering them gold? Why would such a company use a email address? Why would such a company leave no trace on the internet? Do a Google search for “Traditional Royal Mining Company Ltd” and you find precisely zero results. It’s the same for the address as well.

This has all the hallmarks (yes, that’s a joke) of a scam. A 23 carat one!

Dear Consumer's Voice #3

We got an email from a consumer who had recently bought what she thought was a brand new Blackberry Bold 9700 from a cellphone store at Riverwalk shopping centre in Gaborone. She spent an enormous P5,600 on this device so she had a perfectly reasonable right to expect it to be beautiful, sexy and adorable.

Well it would have been if it hadn’t come already full of someone else’s pictures and video clips, in a beaten up box and with the word “T-Mobile” written all over it. In case you don’t know T-Mobile is a cellphone network provider that operates in the USA and UK. Quite how this phone came to be sold in Botswana is still a mystery. However it was pretty easy to find out that T-Mobile in the USA actually sells refurbished phones to the public. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, second hand products can be a remarkably cheap option if you want to save a bit of money. The problem is buying a refurbished phone and then selling it on as brand new. That’s so naughty that’s it’s illegal.

We contacted the store that had sold her the second-hand phone and asked them what they were planning to do about the situation. They suggested that the customer, accompanied by Consumer Watchdog, should visit the Technical Manager to discuss the situation. Sorry, not good enough, not even nearly good enough. At that stage I don’t think the store realised just how badly they had abused this customer and the law. So we called them and demanded a better solution. As I write this the agreement is that the consumer will take the phone back to the store and receive a complete refund. I’m reasonably confident that they will in fact offer a refund, so confident in fact that I don’t think it’s necessary at this stage to either name the store in question or to post the recording we made of the conversation on to our web site.

But things can change. Do you think the store owner understands this? Rest assured that if he doesn’t fix this pretty damned quickly it won’t just be the Small Claims Court, the Ministry of Trade, the City Council and the boys and girls in blue who’ll be on their case, it will be the irresistible force they’ll need to deal with. The Voice!

Scam update

Make sure you visit our Facebook Group and join in the fun we’re having with scammers. We’ve given up being Mr and Mrs Nice Guy and are taking the battle back to them. Remember that scammers are low-down, lying, cheating scumbags who deserve to be abused as well as prosecuted. There is no duty to be polite to such people. We’re posting the cellphone numbers of all the scammers we come across and ask you to spend P1 to send them the rudest, most insulting SMS you can think of. Who knows, there might even be a prize for the funniest SMS sent!

Friday 5 November 2010

Remember, remember

When I was a kid, growing up in a foreign country far, far away, around this time of year there would be a rhyme we would repeat.
“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Of course this was in the build up to Fireworks Night when the Brits celebrate the narrow escape their parliament had on November 5th 1605 when a bunch of early terrorists including the infamous Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up Parliament and kill King James. Incidentally it’s been said of Guy Fawkes that he was the only man ever to enter the British Parliament with honest intentions but that’s probably unfair. I think.

This rhyme popped into my head a few days ago when it occurred to me that we’re approaching that time of year again and I wondered whether there’ll be another fireworks celebration at the Cricket Club this year. This has usually been great fun with thousands of people milling around, drinking and eating with friends and Ooohing and Aaahing at fireworks. Until last year. Last year it all went horribly wrong. Those of us who were there will remember fireworks shooting into the crowd, fires in neighbouring plots, an absence of any security and ambulances, people being hit by fragments of exploded firework casing and people on fire. Yes, on fire. No, I’m not exaggerating, I helped put out the flames on one person right in front of me.

So we’ll all be glad to have read the profuse apologies that emerged from the organisers after the incompetent fiasco last year, won’t we? Well, we would have been if such an apology had been given. But it wasn’t. Nobody had the backbone to stand up and take responsibility for their mistakes and carelessness and for the damage, fright and injures they caused.

So this year I will not be giving them my money. What about you? Do you really want to hand over your cash to people who don’t seem to care if they end up setting you on fire? I’ll be elsewhere, thanks.

Another thing to remember. Don’t trust advertisements that make, or even hint at extraordinary claims. I was shown two advertisements in a recent copy of The Advertiser. One simply said “Prostate problems” and gave a cellphone number. The other just said “CD4 count” and gave the very same same number. I SMSed the number asking if they could help with prostate cancer. I’ve placed the full transcript of the SMS conversation on the Consumer Watchdog blog so you can read for yourself how this charlatan claims that if you buy Herbalife products from him he can treat prostate cancer and raise your CD4 count. Now of course this is loathsome, dangerous and criminal nonsense. By advertising treatments for cancer he has broken the law. He also shouldn’t be offering any form of treatment for disease without being registered as some sort of medical practitioner. He is, by anyone’s definition, a charlatan and a crook.

Rather than call the cops I thought I would do something more creative. I called Herbalife and asked them for their reaction to this and I was very pleasantly surprised. Within an hour a very senior Herbalife honcho from the UK had emailed me and then another senior Herbalife manager was on the phone from South Africa.

I should point out that I have some problems with Herbalife. Firstly, although I’m not a doctor, I know that very few of us need any form of dietary or nutritional supplement. Those of us who eat a reasonably balanced diet need nothing extra. Of course there are some groups, such as pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems and perhaps the elderly who might need a little bit extra but even that is pretty minor. So I don’t see much need for a massive dietary supplement business. Then there is the Multi-Level Marketing aspect to their business. As with all MLM companies the income you end up making is a pittance. In fact Herbalife is forced to disclose the earnings their “Leaders” make each year. In 2009 they disclosed that less than 2% of their distributors earn more than two thirds of all the collective earnings. Nearly 90% of their distributors had an average “annual gross compensation paid by Herbalife” of a mere $478. By the way, that’s not profit, that’s the income before you’ve paid your phone bill, your travelling expenses, bought all the materials and taken care of every other cost. Like income tax.

Meanwhile, here’s a first for Consumer Watchdog. For the first time ever I’m going to praise Herbalife, not criticise them. They seemed genuinely horrified that their distributor was making these astounding claims for their products, thanked me profusely for telling them and insisted that I pass over the full details so they could take immediate action to stop him. I can’t really ask for more then that. This is a very mature, adult reaction. Unlike certain other infantile, or should I say “Hyunfantile”, companies whose distributors are incompetent or reckless these guys took it on the chin and promised to deal with the problem. Good for them.

Finally, remember to check out the Consumer Alerts we’re now distributing via the Consumer Watchdog Facebook Group. Recently we’ve alerted members to the World Business Guide scam, a very effective scam that tries to steal €995 from you. Don’t get caught out!

This week’s stars
  • Gofaone Orutile from the Orange Call Centre who our reader describes as “a genius”.
  • Thuso and Sebogodi, the Plascon guys at Game for being “really, really helpful”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

Yesterday afternoon I was at a Supermarket at Game City. After making a payment with my debit card, the teller asked (more like commanded) me to sign the slip and write down my telephone number and ID (Omang). I signed and wrote my cell number but refused to write my ID. I told her that she had seen my Omang as proof that I was the owner of the card and did not understand the need to write those numbers. I further stated that if that was a problem, then she needed to call the manager.

She then went to talk to three ladies who could have been her supervisors, but no manager was called. Upon her return, one of the ladies came to the till and agreed that the phone number was adequate. The teller was very persistent that they had been instructed to tell customers to put down the numbers and ID.

I am intrigued about the laws, procedures and regulations regarding the use of debit card and proving your identity in Botswana, particularly in Supermarkets. I am not very comfortable with this.

I don’t know of any law that allows a store to demand this, other than their right to protect themselves from card fraud, but I think you are perfectly right to be cautious about giving out this information. While I think we all understand that stores have a right to double-check your identity when you pay using plastic, there are limits to how far I think they can go. I think you are very wise not to give out your Omang number to a total stranger. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to show them your Omang or driver’s licence I don’t think they have a right to note down the number.

We have heard of too many cases in which people have given away their personal details and had them abused by criminals. While supermarkets aren’t scammers who knows where the slip of paper will end up when they’ve finished with it?

I also think you were right to demand to see a manager and to seek an explanation. It sounds like what you witnessed was the store supervisors realising that their practice was a bit unreasonable. That’s something that more of us should do when faced with some made-up rule. Call the manager and ask them to explain why they have a rule like this. Good for you for sticking up for yourself.

“World Business Guide” alert

We issue this alert every year but it’s an important one. Several people have contacted us about an email they received from “The World Business Guide”. The email says:
“Ladies and Gentlemen.

In order to have your company inserted in the registry of World Businesses for 2011/2012 edition, please print, complete and submit the enclosed form (PDF file) to the following address:

P.O. BOX 3079

FAX: +31 (20) 203-1129

Updating is free of charge!”
This is a scam. Firstly, have you ever heard of the World Business Guide? No, nobody has, other than those people who know about this scam.

Note that last line in the email: "Updating is free of charge". Well, while it might be true that “updating” your entry in this fake directory is free, placing your first entry in it most certainly isn’t.

When you sign the form they email you and send it over to these people in The Netherlands you probably won’t notice the clause written in tiny characters that says:
"The price per year is Euro 995. The subscription will be automatically extended every year for another year unless specific written notice is received by the service provider or the subscriber two months before the expiration of the subscription."
Many people have fallen for this scam all over the world and have ended up paying these crooks the money demanded. Some who refused to pay up ended up receiving legal threats. Of course it’s all based on a deception and no legal action would ever actually work but you can imagine how scary some people would find that experience. There has been some action against this scam, for instance the company behind it was prosecuted in Switzerland but this hasn’t stopped them. This is a scam and I'm not the only one who thinks so. There are web sites devoted to exposing the scam, there's a Facebook Group and loads of comments all over the internet suggesting they are crooks.

If you get an email from these people, please just delete it. However if you feel like taking the battle back to the scammers why not send them an email explaining that scammers like them should leave Botswana alone.

Just for research purposes, and please don’t try this at home, I actually filled in one of these forms with fictitious details to see how aggressive they become when I claim not to have noticed the small print. Let’s see if we can waste some of their time! Keep reading for updates.

Wedding photos alert

Hiring a photographer for any event is a big step that requires great trust. It’s must be VERY disappointing then, when you’ve paid P3,450 in advance for a set of wedding photos, for them not to arrive 2 months later. Even when we got in touch to suggest that the photographer, Mr Takuwa from Lesego Industries should do the right thing, all she got was empty promises. When they were finally delivered they turned out to be of such poor quality that the customer just sent them back. Voice readers beware!

Thursday 4 November 2010

Another scammer - let's ruin his day

Another scammer.

Calling himself "Mr PATRICK ADAMS", he emails his victims from his free Italian email address saying that they have won €1 million on the Mega Millions Lottery Award Division. His phone number is +31 68 508 3128. He called me "stupid" when I said he was a scammer. When I asked whether his brain was bigger than his penis he hung up on me. Spend P1 and tell him what you think of him.