Wednesday, 12 January 2011

New Year promises

I’ve had enough of New Year’s resolutions. We all make them but hardly any of us actually stick to them? I reckon that’s probably because most of us keep these resolutions private. If we all published our resolutions in Mmegi for everyone to read we’d all be much more likely to stick to them.

So here we go. Consumer Watchdog is going to abuse it’s position and use this column to advertise it’s 2011 promises to Mmegi readers.

To begin with we promise to get you, Mmegi readers, more involved. In fact, we promise to rely on you more than in the past. Yes, we still want you to send us your complaints and criticisms, but we need more than that. We’re going to be naming and shaming those organisations that appear to have broken the rules but will then be asking you to contribute your experiences. For instance, you’ll have read over the last year our concerns about Stock Market Direct. This strange organisation, which is neither a financial services provider nor an educational establishment is actually very suspicious. With it’s former Director apparently currently on the run from the cops we can only continue to investigate them with information from their customers or victims. Please get in touch and tell us about your experiences, whether they’re good or bad.

For instance, has anyone actually made money from their involvement with Stock Market Direct? Has anyone made enough profit to pay themselves back the massive enrolment fee?

That’s the sort of thing we’ll be doing more and more often. Are you willing to help?

We’re also going to be digging deeper than ever before. In fact I started digging deep over Christmas when I started to unearth more information about the so-called “World Business Guide”. You can see the background on our blog site but these crooks scam people into entering their company details into this online business guide by suggesting that it’s free. It’s only later, after the victim has sent off their details that the crooks highlight the bit in the small print, the VERY small, almost invisible small print that entry in the guide costs €995, about P9,000.

When you complain they insist that you voluntarily signed the contract and threaten you with legal action unless you pay them everything they want. This is, of course, criminal extortion.

The irony of the World Business Guide is that their claim to have an online searchable directory is itself a lie. Their web site is almost impossible to search, making it effectively useless. However, with a couple of technological tricks I was able to get the entire list of companies who had registered in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Namibia. It wasn’t anything illegal but I am incredibly proud of my technical skills in obtaining a complete list of all their local victims from their silly web site. If amateurs like me can get their list of victims they really should try a little harder.

I harvested over 300 email addresses of companies who had fallen for this scam and I emailed every one of them on Christmas Eve explaining my interest and asking if they would share their story with me. A week later more than 30 had been in touch and every one of them, without exception, told exactly the same story (all on the blog site). They had all fallen for the supposedly “free” entry in the database, only to then receive an invoice. Every one of them had then tried to cancel their enrolment only to be told that this wasn’t possible and that they must make a full payment. So far I’ve only heard from one of the 30 who actually felt obliged to cough up the money. Every other company had told them to get stuffed. And guess what? Not one of the victims had actually ever been prosecuted. That’s because the crooks who run the World Business Guide know that they are villains and that any judge in the world fling them out of the court and might even have them arrested.

There will be more of this over the next year. More detailed, prolonged investigations into crooks like these people.

We’ll also be a LOT more aggressive when the situation demands it. There comes a time when the gloves must come off, when everyday courtesies are discarded and we call a crook a crook. And I mean we’ll CALL him a crook. With a phone call, a text message, an email or a fax. Get ready for some phone calls to 419, lottery and investment scammers telling them that we know they’re crooks and scumbags. Be ready for recordings of calls to charlatan, so-called “traditional doctors” who are offering the desperate fake cures that kill people or harm them permanently.

Yes, we will also putting these recording on our web site so you can download them and listen to them on your iPod or cellphone.

Who knows, if you volunteer, we might even invite you to come over and call some scammers, or traditional healers yourself, charging it all to our phone bill!

Perhaps, and it’s perhaps a remote chance, if more and more of us take the battle back to crooks, scammers and charlatans, Botswana will develop a reputation as a country that crooks should avoid. That we’re a country of skeptics who don’t fall for their crappy scams?

And finally, we’ll be celebrating more than before. Please, PLEASE send us your celebrations so they can appear here every week. It’s very tempting to be negative and I know there’s enough to complain about but I also know that there’s plenty to celebrate, plenty of individuals and companies who deserve a pat on the back.

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