Friday 3 December 2010

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?

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