Monday 27 December 2010

The World Business Guide - a tip

The World Business Guide is a scam based on a completely worthless so-called business directory that, in theory, allows a business to publicise their business.

The scam is simple. They suggest that entering your company details into the guide is free but hidden in the small print is the €995 real fee.
That's clearly a deception. After giving them your details they then claim you are committed and will hound you with letters, faxes and emails until you pay. They'll also get their lawyers involved, or at least some shark claiming to be a lawyer. Of course you don't ever need to pay because of that original deception. No court anywhere in the world will ever force you to pay these crooks.

What's more their online directory is rubbish. None of the entries in the guide appear in any internet searches. To find an entry you need to search their web site. Even then it's almost impossible to find anything as you must search either by the company's name or the "sector" it's in.

However, there is a way of doing a real search to find all the companies who have registered if you know a little techie trick. Just type % into a field and it will search for everything in the database.

It's just a tip, maybe I should tell the World Business Guide so they can actually provide a service instead of being a bunch of scammers?

Wednesday 22 December 2010

World Business Guide - have they been scammed?

Another poor fool appears to have fallen for the World Business Guide scam. These crooks are now chasing him or her for €995 for an entry in their useless on-line business directory.

You can see our earlier comments on this scam here, here, here, here and here.

So what is the irony?  It's that the victim has given them Consumer Watchdog's fax number, our postal address and even MY personal cellphone number.  We're the ones getting all the bills and threatening letters.  It's fascinating seeing their pathetic attempts to bully him or her to get their ill-gotten money.

By the way, this is all the victim gets for their deceptively, illegally obtained money:

Do you think that's worth €995 (about P9,000)?

You don't think that the World Business Guide crooks have been scammed themselves, do you?

Another job scam

A reader contacted us and asked us to check this job advertisement he was sent from the Just Landed web site.
Hi,1 new post in Jobs in Botswana
Posted: 15/12/10 in Jobs: Human Resources/Recruitment in Botswana
Labadi Beech Hotel 1 Labadi By-Pass Labadi Beach, Trade Fair, Accra, Ghana Labadi Beech Hotel, Accra Ghana, requires the services of reputable and devoted workers for the under listed job positions in our newly open branch in London.Qualified persons should send their CV to us immediately for screening and job placement.Note: Application is open to oversea applicant and also the Hotel would assist in procuring visa for oversea Applicant.Bonuses: Free accommodation (one year from resumption… more
Click here to view the ad
Regards, Just Landed
The usual clues are there, if you look at their detailed advertisement:
  • They give a cellphone number (+233 240 077 631) in Ghana, not a landline number.  That's always a suspicious sign.
  • The "vacancy" is in the "Jobs in Botswana" category but refers to a job in London?
  • They say they are hiring for a "newly open branch in London".  I can find no trace of such a hotel in London.  Besides this, the economic situation is the UK is so bad that they wouldn't be hiring foreigners to work there.
  • They claim that they offer "Bonuses: Free accommodation (one year from resumption date) medical and transportation allowances."  That's just unbelievable.
  • They can't even spell the name of their own hotel: "Labadi Beech Hotel"
I called the number given in the advertisement and the scammer is really not very good at his job.  He couldn't tell me where exactly the "newly open branch in London" is, other than "in North London".

The lesson is simple.  A job offer that seems too good to be true is exactly that.

Monday 20 December 2010

Stock Market Direct - breaking news

I’ve had some concerns about Stock Market Direct in the past. I’ve been concerned about what it is that they actually are. Their web site says they are “an educational institution which provides information on how to invest directly, actively and successfully in the Johannesburg Securities Exchange”. However the information they offer appears to be just material you can get yourself from legitimate services in South Africa such as Share Data and Profile Group.

They also say that they market “an advanced software product that integrates fundamental analysis as well as technical analysis, news, tips and recommendations to enable the investor to trade with the same kind of information that professional fund managers have at their disposal.” However it also seems that this is just a web-based account with a South African broker that they help you set up. So far, nothing actually useful for the large amount of money you need to obtain their services.

There were more concerns that were more practical. Their web site says that the company “has been operating for several years with offices in Johannesburg, Mbabane, Maseru, Windhoek, and now Gaborone.”

That’s strange because I couldn’t find any trace of the company in any of these countries except here in Botswana. There’s certainly no such company registered under that name in South Africa. While they have a South African web site that just links to their SA information sources. Even the phone number they have on the South African web page is that of Profile Group. They simply don’t exist in SA, despite their claims.

Despite all this it was a surprise when a few weeks ago a customer of Stock Market Direct came to us with a suspicious story. He claimed that at one of their presentations he decided to take their offer but rather than accepting a cheque made payable to the company one of the presenters asked him to pay P7,000 cash directly into her personal account. Curious, don’t you think?

My first thought was that this was perhaps simple fraud. Then I thought it was perhaps a way of avoiding paying tax on the money. Then I started digging. I called both the presenter who took the money and a senior manager at SMD who I have previously met and that’s when some more information emerged.

It seems, and I haven’t been able to find anyone yet who can contradict this, that their “Director” has done a runner. Some of his colleagues at Stock Market Direct had long suspected that he had been “involved in things that were not procedural”. As a result the company split with some of them remaining in the office and the other group operating from the back room of the Director’s house. Operating without a bank account which is why they needed people to pay them in cash with no questions asked.

I was later told that this Director is now wanted by the Police and Interpol were trying to trace him because he has been “taking money from people”. I’ve tried repeatedly to speak to this Director by phone, SMS and email but he doesn’t seem interested in getting in touch. I wonder why?

Meanwhile the group who remain at the office at least claim to have a bank account and an office.

If you are a customer of Stock Market Direct I would check with them urgently. If you are thinking of becoming a customer I’d buy some running shoes if I were you.

We warned consumers about dealing with Stock Market Direct as long ago as December last year.  See here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Bridgetown - an "investment"?

I received an email as follows:
A couple of weeks or months ago you wrote a piece on the real estate investment ‘opportunity’ being promoted in Kasane and your reflections on it. I wish I could re-visit the article as I read it in passing and I have someone who wants my advice on the possibility for investing in it. I will be grateful to hear from you.
I assume you mean the Bridgetown "opportunity"?  Frankly I'm very skeptical about it.

Firstly they present it as an investment but this is a time-limited ownership offer.  You only "own" the property you select for 25 years and only for a fixed number of weeks per year.  That strikes me as being a depreciating asset rather than an investment.

For instance if you choose to sell your property after 10 years you will only be selling a 15-year time-share, no longer 25 years.  Nobody is going to pay the original price for something that has a shorter life-span.  This is more like buying a car than a house.

Secondly it's not even finished yet, as far as I'm aware.  All you can see are artists impressions and architects diagrams so far.  What guarantee do you have that it will be up to the standard you desire?

Finally (although my list of questions goes on and on) what guarantees do you have that your share of the property you're purchasing will be available when you want it?  Their terms and conditions include references to "a Floating Week for next 25 Years".  It also includes:
  • "The owner must reserve his or her desired vacation time in advance, with reservation confirmation typically provided on a first-come, first-served basis."
  • "ownership of the resort remains with the developer"
  • "Bookings: should be done at least 60 days in advance or will depend upon vacancy"
Then, in addition to the purchase price are all the additional costs, including:
  • "Annual Levy" (compulsory and not yet obviously disclosed)
  • "Daily Usage Fee" (P150 per night)
  • "Admin Fee" (20% if you sell your week)
  • "Cancellation Fee"
I'm not going to advise anyone to avoid this scheme but I do think people should go into it with their eyes wide open and in full possession of all the facts.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Stock Market Direct

Breaking news.  Apparently some major developments involving money going astray, people skipping the country, cops, DIS and Interpol involved.  Watch this space!

Taunting liars

I’ve been taunting people again. Not scammers this time although that remains a popular pastime in my household. It really is spectacularly amusing and satisfying to unleash all your frustrations on someone who deserves complete contempt. That’s the key thing to remember. You and I, our friends, family, neighbours and workmates, even the people you bump into on the street all deserve at least some basic respect. Those little courtesies are a major component of our culture and they are something we must struggle to maintain as our country develops and changes.

But scammers are different. Scammers are scumbags. They are revolting, low-down, pond-life. Scammers deliberately seek to abuse and exploit us. They have no shame, no scruples, no morals. They not only don’t deserve respect, I think they actually deserve our active disrespect. They deserve to be insulted, ridiculed and abused. The only form of defence against such people is attack and I think it’s time we took the battle back to them.

A few weeks ago we received details of a scammer calling himself Tabiso Mbkeo who claimed he worked for “American Express Bank of South Africa” and he had a business proposal for me. His silly story was that a Dutch businessman had visited South Africa during the World Cup and committed suicide after his national team lost to Spain leaving lots of money that my good friend Tabiso wanted to share with me.

Of course this is a scam, we all know the story by now. However the funny thing is that I called him on his South African cellphone number and asked him how many people fell for his nonsense. He tried arguing for a long time but he didn’t seem to understand that I knew he was a scammer. When eventually he realised that I wasn’t a potential victim he got angry and started insulting me. I later decided to be as rude as possible and suggested that his romantic predilections were somewhat colourful and involved various farmyard animals. That’s when he became very angry indeed, started calling me, threatening to call the police because of my insults (the irony!) and then hinted that he wanted to kill me. Then things became totally surreal. He was so offended by my insults that he got his wife to call me and assure me that his nocturnal desires were not as eccentric as I suggested.

Of course I just prolonged the phone calls as much as possible as they were costing him money, not me. Every second of shouting about his rampant heterosexual desires for human company were costing him cash.

Before you object let me remind you of the sort of person I was dealing with. This piece of excrement would take their last thebe from widows and orphans. He’s a thief. He has no feelings, no conscience and no sense of right and wrong. He deserves to be insulted and ridiculed. His phone number is +27 735 990 807. Why not send him a text message and tell him what a scumbag he is?

But it’s not just scammers that I think deserve contempt and action. So-called traditional healers deserve it as well. I mean the loathsome leeches that advertise their services in the papers, offering cures for cancer, fertility problems and all sorts of other problems. We’ve all seen these adverts, they all seem to include a mixture of the magical, the romantic and the sort of medical breakthroughs that, if they were true, would win the “doctor” a Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Last week’s selection included a “Love me padlock (for women only)”, “Muti that attracts white lovers” and a selection of treatments for fertility problems, pregnancy problems and an endless supply of remedies for what I should probably call “performance issues”. I’m sure you can imagine what that means.

Now we all know, don’t we, that this is all utter crap? These people aren’t healers or doctors or anything remotely similar. They are just scammers. They offer something that doesn’t work for money. That’s a scam.

What’s more, they also share another quality with scammers. They prey on our basest instincts: greed and desperation. These charlatan healers offer us solutions to problems that terrify us like disease, misfortune and, for guys at least, failure to “perform”. They take our money for fake remedies to these situations so how are they different from a scammer?

They’re certainly NOT different in their responses to criticism. Last week I read a whole bunch of these advertisement and sent a simple text message to all the advertisers, saying that they were breaking the Consumer Protection Regulations, the Witchcraft Act and my favourite sections of the Penal Code. Sections 396-9 of the Penal Code outlaw what are called “prohibited advertisements” which it defines as “any advertisement of any medicine … offering to administer any treatment … for any of the following purposes”. The purposes include any “genito-urinary disease”, cancer, TB, epilepsy, heart disease and “any habit associated with sexual indulgence, or of any ailment associated with those habits or for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility”.

In short, exactly the sort of thing most of these lying crooks offer.

Just like the conventional scammers, these charlatans don’t like being confronted. I texted all the advertisers these crooks telling them that they were operating illegally. The response was mixed. Some ignored me but others actually responded. “Dr” Khamisa (75957988) responded by text message saying “I no the law tel the police to cm nw” and “I dnt hv the that time my frnd do wht evr”. “Dr” Mama Ibin (74273568) actually phoned me claiming that his medicines are just for Africans and wanted to know where I was born to see if I was qualified to comment.

Most amusingly “Dr” Kachule (75916409) threatened to have me struck by lightning next time there was a thunder storm. Unfortunately his magical aim has been a bit off recently because I haven’t been hit yet.

Am I scared? No. Because he’s as scary as a goat-bothering scammer. Pathetic and not worthy of respect. Why not SMS him and his charlatan colleagues and tell them what you think of them too? Don’t mention goats, choose your own animal.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Last week I received this suspicious mail and I have some reasons to think that it is a scam because in the first place they say their offices are in London but they say their price is in US Dollars. The information just doesn't add up because I never entered any lotto competition and they can't tell which of my mails has won.

Is this a scam?


Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I am kindly asking to be assisted to confirm if at all this girl isn’t a scammer. I got to get her contacts in website for singles who wish to meet other singles from different parts of the world and so one morning she flirted me and she told me that she is in a refugee camp in Senegal and in actual fact she is originating from Liberia but due to that her father Dr Kuru was a politician all the parents were killed and she fled to Senegal.

So she says she is the sole beneficiary of the father who has left about $6 million for her at a bank in London. She wants me to send her $320 to help her transfer the money in to my account.

So I’m not sure of her story more so that I haven’t even met her. Can you help me check if she is telling the truth? Her name is Rita Kuru.

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a scam. There is no such person as “Rita Kuru” and everything “she” has told you is a lie. I bet you haven’t even spoken to her on the phone yet to confirm that she’s really a woman?

The story about the dead politician father, the refugee camp and the bank account full of money are a very common story told by scammers, just like the “advance fee” of $320 is the usual demand. You can bet that after you’ve paid them this money, which I bet they want you to pay using Western Union, you will never hear from them again. Unless however they think you are particularly gullible and na├»ve. We’ve heard of scammers who go back to the same victims over and over again demanding, and sometimes receiving, more and more money, all with the distant and impossible promise of those non-existent millions.

The best thing you can do is to delete the emails you’ve received and never to reply to anything like this again.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

Kindly assist. I have a credit card from one of the banks which I have been using for some time now and repaying the interest regularly, although sometimes skipped a month or late repayment.

I spoke to them on the phone and asked them to make some arrangement for me to repay the outstanding balance in 3 monthly instalments and stop the facility from accruing more interest as they can also see that I am struggling to pay the whole amount to zero the balance and eventually stop the facility. Unfortunately I did not take the name of the woman I was talking to but she told me that it’s not possible, the only thing I should do is to continue paying the minimum charge every month or to pay the whole amount to clear up.

This facility has been on for some time now and I feel it’s doing me more harm than good. I would really prefer to pay at least P1,000 every month without any further interest on the outstanding balance so that I can finish the debt and cancel the facility.

Kindly investigate and advice accordingly. Your assistance will be highly appreciated.

The advice you were given, that the two options are either to pay the minimum balance each month or to pay off everything aren’t quite correct. There is a third option. You can pay any amount between the minimum balance and the total outstanding balance each month until you’ve paid off your debt. It’s really up to you to work out how much you can afford to pay each month. Needless to say the sooner you pay off the debt the better but don’t do anything silly to achieve this. Leave yourself enough money to pay for the essentials like food and rent.

As for getting the bank not to apply interest to your outstanding balance I suspect your chances are slim. Why would the bank want to do this? This is exactly how banks make money, by lending money to you (yes, a credit card IS a way of lending you money) and then charging you interest. Asking a bank not to charge interest is like asking a scammer to tell the truth, a store credit scheme to be open about their terms and conditions or a combi driver to obey a red light. It’s not going to happen.

I suggest you sit down and work out how much you can afford each month and then just get busy making those payments.

Monday 13 December 2010

Now I'm going to be cursed

I called another number related to the same scam and the so-called "Reverend Johnson" threatened to curse me.  His number is +221 777 468 225.

I get a death threat

From a scammer calling himself "Ajuna Pascal" in Senegal.  Not very scary actually.  I called him and pointed out the various mistakes on his fake ID card.

It's a long story but his scam story is that he's a lawyer acting on behalf of a girl in a refugee camp whose late father was a politician with money in a UK bank account.  The potential victim contacted us for advice.  All the scammer wants is $378 to pay the "oath fee , Notary and stamp duty fees".

I accused him of being a liar, a scammer and a cheat and that's when he got angry.  He says he's coming to get me and to "sort me".

A Google search for either his fake name or his supposed office address finds various references to him on scam warning sites.

It's a straightforward advance fee scam but the threat was amusing.  If you feel like sending him a message his phone number is +221 775 935 822.

Friday 10 December 2010

Be eccentric

I was shown a news cutting from a newspaper in Swaziland recently. It referred to a very boring development in a bank down there but there was a mistake that I thought was very funny. Rather than referring to their “customer-centric” approach to banking it described the bank as being “customer-eccentric”.

Initially I just thought this was funny and laughed at the ineptitude of the sub-editor of the newspaper but (as always happens when newspaper columnists see these things and are keen for an appealing link) I then got thinking. Actually a bank that is customer-eccentric is quite a good thing. That’s because I think customers should have the right to be eccentric, a right to be different, a right to be thoroughly peculiar.

Staff working in banks are usually focussed on the 95% of their activity that comprises perfectly routine, normal, predictable activities like taking our money, moving our money around and charging us for everything they do. It’s perfectly normal for them to charge us for breathing, for walking past the entrance to the branch, for even saying their name out loud. These are all routine things and that’s understandably the focus of their attention.

What they often forget that despite all of this, every customer is, in their own strange way, unique. With the exception of that section of customers who never do anything out of the ordinary, most customers have needs that are specific to them. I suspect that if you look at your own circumstances you’ll find something that makes your life a bit different from your neighbours. It might be a child from a former relationship, a brother or sister that needs particular support or your special need to avoid the International Court in the Hague. We’re all a bit peculiar.

So I don’t think banks should be surprised when we present them with our particular needs and ask them to reflect them in the services they offer us. It’s no different after all to ordering in a restaurant. If you go to a decent restaurant and explain that you don’t eat pork, you’re allergic to nuts or you just don’t want too much cheese on your pizza then you would expect them to be flexible. Of course if you demand that the chicken was slaughtered by a left-handed Zoroastrian priest you might have to live with disappointment. It’s the same with banks. I don’t necessarily want a type of bank account that’s unique to me but I do think that if I’m paying them for a service then I am entitled to expect a little flexibility to match my eccentricity.

Unfortunately not all suppliers have even the slightest flexibility. Just this week we had a complaint from a reader who bought a handbag in a store in Francistown. Two days later the shoulder strap broke, apparently after no ill-treatment or stress. It was when she took it back to the store that she first encountered their inflexibility. “No refunds” they told her. At no point during her purchase had she been told this, there wasn’t a big sign up on the wall explaining that this was the policy. However at least she could get a replacement? No, the store had nothing remotely like the bag she had bought. So, no refund and no replacement and they weren’t willing to repair it. No flexibility at all, no willingness to remedy a problem, no service in any sense of the word.

Our advice to the customer was to go back again and demand a refund because that’s what she’s perfectly entitled to. The store clearly broke their contract with the customer, they failed to meet minimum standards as required by the Consumer Protection Regulations and they failed be even slightly flexible. Clearly no eccentric customer should go to that store. I fact no customer at all should go there.

But, you say, you don’t know what store it is to avoid? Trust me, you will do if they don’t fix this situation within milliseconds of the customer returning again and asking politely for that refund.

Then of course are those companies who themselves are eccentric. I don’t have all the details yet but a reader contacted us having had some dealings with a well-known stock-market-related company. They’re not registered to trade on the Botswana Stock Exchange and instead offer “training” and advice on trading with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. I’m deeply suspicious about this company, mainly as they don’t actually offer anything you can’t get elsewhere more cheaply. The software they offer is nothing more than a web site, the training seems to offer nothing more than you can learn online for free, the market intelligence they offer is actually sourced from a South African company who offer it more cheaply. So I don’t understand what it is they offer other than the chance to give them your money.

It now seems that even this is eccentric. The reader who contacted us had purchased this company’s services only to be asked not to pay the company but instead to pay the price directly into the personal bank account of one of it’s employees. Eccentric, don’t you think?

I can’t help but ask whether this company is perhaps being a little eccentric with it’s tax obligations. Asking customers to pay personal cheques into personal accounts would be a very good way to avoid the gaze of the tax authorities. I wonder if BURS know about this. They will do by the time you read this.

So let’s be more eccentric with banks, but let’s also be very careful with those companies who demonstrate deeply suspicious eccentricity.

This week’s stars
  • Ronald at the Orange call centre for delivering what our reader said was “the best service I have received all year”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I signed a lease yesterday with a real estate agent but then after around 1 hour 45 minutes I called to terminate the lease because I had a problem and needed the money. Now the agent is refusing to give back my money. She says she has already used the money and therefore she is still looking for another tenant to occupy the house. She says that if she does not succeed in doing so then I will have to occupy the house and she will only pay me the security deposit.

What can I do for her to pay me the full amount that I paid because I terminated the agreement in less than 24 hours?

I’m sorry but I’m not sure there’s much you can do. You signed the lease voluntarily and the real estate agent accepted your payment and offered you the property in good faith. It’s not as if anyone has done anything wrong or abused or deceived you. You entered into a contract with the real estate agent and you now need to negotiate your way out of it.

I think you also have to realise that there is no way you can force the agent to repay you your deposit. The only way I can think of is if there was something illegitimate about the deal. I assume that the agent is registered with the Real Estates Institute of Botswana? I assume they are a registered company and pay their taxes? Send us their details and we’ll make some enquiries for you.

However I’m sorry to say that if there’s no legal means for cancelling the lease you signed you are stuck with it and can only get of it by sacrificing something.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a bag for P199.95 from a store in Francistown. Two days later while walking in the mall the bag just fell off my shoulders only to find that it was torn. I immediately returned it to the store and left it with one of the salespeople who promised to give the manager the details. The following day I went back to the store and the manager told me straight to my face that they don’t do refunds. We made a deal that he would find an identical bag to replace it. Some days later I went back and he told me that he couldn’t find the bag and they don’t do refunds. I asked him where their policy was displayed and he said it was in their office.

I made it clear that I was specifically looking for a brown bag and nothing else and that I was now reluctant to take anything from their shop as I was so disappointed. He refused to help me out so I asked for his bosses numbers. I was eventually able to call her but she just told me that they did not give refunds. I asked her about their policy which is not shown anywhere in the shop but she told me to live with it because there was nothing that she could do about it.

I told her about Consumer Watchdog and that I knew my rights but she couldn’t care less. She told me to go ahead with whatever. Help me please?

It sounds like you’ve been wronged but we’ll get in touch with the store to get their side of the story. However the basic issue is simple. You have a right to expect something you buy to be of “merchantable quality” which is defined as meaning “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. You had a right to expect that your bag would last a reasonable amount of time if you treated it with care. Two days is clearly not acceptable.

However the store is within their rights to refuse a refund so long as you knew about that at the time of purchase. In other words there should have been a big sign up clearly stating that they don’t offer refunds, only replacements. If no such sign exists then their no-refund policy simply doesn’t exist. What’s more if they can’t even find a suitable replacement then they have no option but to refund your money. No arguments accepted.

We’ll be in touch with them and will let you know what they say.

A warning from a reader

I received a cellphone message claiming to be coming from UK and they claimed I won 1,820,000 British Pounds. I decided to act dumb and followed all the instruction through the mail, I knew there was a catch somewhere. They now want me to deposit 540 Pounds before they can release my winnings!

As if this was not enough, my son received the same message and his was R1.8 million. I feel there are a lot more people receiving these kind of mails. Imagine what it does to you especially if you are in need of cash like I am. We must help people who might end up sending pounds or lots of rands to these crooks. I might be wrong, but I suspect foul play here.

Of course you’re right to suspect foul play. Many thanks for informing us and spreading the word about this scam and all others like it. Good for you for also not falling for it but exploring it a bit further to see how the scam works.

Friday 3 December 2010

Us and them

Sometimes the relationship between consumers and suppliers is conflict. Obviously it’s open warfare when it comes to scammers, they are attacking us and we have a right and an obligation to defend ourselves and even to take the fight back to them. With scammers the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply, we take no prisoners.

Even with some of the more orthodox, (presumably) tax-paying, registered companies things can be a little combative. Many of the holiday clubs and holiday voucher discount schemes insist on fighting dirty. Some neglect to mention that the agreement you sign that offers you free holidays doesn’t include any transport, food, drink or entertainment costs and only allows you to stay in your desired resort when you least want to. There are even allegations that some of these holiday clubs reserve the best locations and dates for their own sales staff as incentives. The poor schmucks who sign up for the deal are left with the dregs.

Then there are the holiday clubs who hide in the small print the minor fact that you signed their contract for eternity, until the end of time or the end of your time, whichever comes first. Of course if Consumer Watchdog exposes this then things can get rough. That’s when the ridiculous lawyer’s letters start coming in accusing us of war crimes. Luckily they aren’t very effective weapons, mainly because we just find them funny and not in the slightest bit scary.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen their relatives, the hotel discount voucher industry fighting dirty and taking people’s money. We all know about the companies that call you out of the blue selling you the benefits of their worthless schemes (why pay for something you can get free elsewhere?) and then ask for your credit or debit card details “to see if it will be acceptable” or “to check whether you’re eligible for Gold membership”. Before you know it several thousand has disappeared from your bank account and you’ve been captured, a prisoner of war. Luckily so far we’ve been able to help a few prisoners escape but sooner or later they’re going to realise that people are more willing to defend themselves. Well, Mmegi readers will be.

The good news is that despite a few enemies like these the vast majority of suppliers understand something simple. If you have a product that has real value, not just monetary value, I mean value to the customer, then both the consumer and the supplier are best served when both parties are reasonable. Set a reasonable price and reasonable customers will happily pay it. Offer reasonable customer care as well and you’ll get repeat business from these reasonable people. That’s the essence of the free market system that we are fortunate to live in. Very rarely does the Government come along and tell us that we can’t buy that thing at that price, that our purchases have to be regulated and we all need to be treated like little children who can’t be trusted with our own money.

Of course there are occasional exceptions. The Government DOES step in on things like the price of petrol and I just about understand why. Petrol is fundamental to a country like ours where almost everything must be transported by road, whether it’s goods or people. I still wonder whether allowing the prices to be determined by the market might not work but I’m not going to complain too much. We have fairly low prices compared to other countries and I have a car with a big engine so I’m going to keep my mouth shut.

But are there other areas where Government do some good instead of just ruining a company? Yes, I AM thinking of Air Botswana.

Yes, there are. Few of us think twice about the role Government plays in building roads. We see no problem in our taxes going towards Government funding road-building. Obviously they select companies from the private sector to do all the hard work but the money comes from our taxes because roads benefit us all. The same goes for our water and power supplies. We all pay for the entire country’s improvement via Government.

The trouble is I think there’s a massively overlooked area where Government has to get more involved. It’s an area where improvements are so desperately needed and which might really make or break our nation’s future.

Internet access.

As a nation we have staggeringly slow and expensive internet access. Before anyone points out the geographical challenges we face being a huge country with a tiny population density, yes, I know that, but it’s no excuse. Some people argue that we need to extend the gradual improvements in the connections we have gradually so that everyone benefits, not just those in the cities. That’s commendable but short-sighted. The economic centres of our country are the cities and that is where investment will be centred. All the talk we hear of Innovation Hubs and Foreign Direct Investment will lead to disappointment if companies come here with their wads of cash and then find they can’t afford to send an email.

I know there are problems with comparing us with other countries but I can’t help it. Why must I pay P399 each month for a connection speed at home in the bush that is exactly 32 times slower than the connection a friend in the UK gets for free. Yes, FOR FREE!

Even more disappointing is that my connection at the office is identical. How can we imagine big companies will come here and manage to survive the frustration? I’m not asking for anything free, just for Government to get things moving. What some people would call a subsidy others might just call an investment.

This week’s stars

  • Leero at CNA at Game City for being “amazing, charming and a breath of fresh air”.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I got an email from a woman claiming to be a doctor saying she wants to get in touch with me. Should I trust her?

The email you received is deeply suspicious. It’s worth quoting a few lines so readers can judge for themselves:
“My name is Sarah DUFFON, Canadian-born doctor currently residing in London for a mission where I have a few days. I received your mail in the category of mail correspondence, so I take this opportunity to correspond with you, without complex, hoping to share and if possible establish a more refined at various levels.
So here is my mobile number 00447045740793 from London and I am very glad to hear your voice next time, I will send you well with your consent sure my photos and hope to sour yours if possible.”
I took the liberty of responding to “Dr Duffon” as if she had sent her email to me and not to you and what do you know? She replied offering me a job! She also sent over some pictures which “she” claimed were of her. I doubt it somehow. I don’t think that a doctor travelling the world offering total strangers employment is likely to be about 18 years old, do you? Judge for yourself, does this picture look convincing?

You can bet that at some stage this so-called Dr Duffon will demand money before you can get her job. “She” is almost certainly not a pretty Canadian girl in London, she’s a sweaty scammer in Lagos.

[Yes, in case you’re wondering it WAS my ambition to convert this column into another Page 3!]

Hotel Express International - update

Last week we published a complaint from a reader who felt she had been abused by Hotel Express International. She claimed that they had called her out of the blue and tried to sell her membership of their hotel discount scheme. She further claimed that the salesperson from Hotel Express International asked for her debit card details just so “she could check with management if the debit card would be acceptable for payments”. Perhaps not surprisingly this allowed Hotel Express International to take P2,839.33 from her account without her consent.

We got in touch with the Hotel Express International people in South Africa and after a few hiccups we were pleased to hear that they had refunded the reader’s money. Well, most of it. At the time of writing there’s still a few hundred missing that they think might be to do with foreign exchange problems but with a little luck that will be fixed soon.

Meanwhile, within hours of The Voice being published we were getting responses. Two came directly to our blog web site, both from people who preferred to remain anonymous and who were very critical of what I wrote. They were, they claimed, happy customers of Hotel Express International.

As readers will know, we believe in being even-handed so here’s what they said (without correcting their spelling):
“I donot agree with the writer because i have been in the loyalty program with Hotel Express International for the past 4 years and their service is 100%good maybe this time you met with a new consultant who didnot know what he/she is doing because corporate companies here in Botswana do have this card and it is user friendly for more information you can contact the Gaborone branch to see that this not a scam,those who got money to spend i recommend the card for better servings”
[A quick Consumer Watchdog tip: towards the bottom right corner of your keyboard is a full stop, it’s very useful.]

The second response was much longer but began:
“i would like to differ from what you are saying. I am a Hotel Express Card holder. I actually have own a group of companies, therefore I have 3 Platinum Corporate cards which my employees make use of on a week to week basis.”
and ended, very sympathetically, with:
“I dont think that it would make sense to tanish their reputation over a mere R2800”
While I’m always happy to publish comments that disagree with us, I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I treat them sceptically when they are anonymous?

However, despite having two comments like that we have subsequently heard from THREE more people who told exactly the same story of money being taken from their accounts despite them not giving explicit consent. We’ve passed every complaint through to Hotel Express International in SA and so far 2 have been at least partially refunded.

Finally, let’s face facts. As I asked last week why would you want to pay to join a scheme that offers you discounts that you can get ENTIRELY FOR FREE elsewhere? So far, every discounted hotel stay I’ve looked at on the Hotel Express International member price list can be beaten elsewhere without paying a massive membership fee up front.

So I ask again, why would you want to pay to get something you can get elsewhere for free?