Tuesday 31 May 2011

Do I really care?

I asked myself that question last week. Do I care?

No, I wasn’t having a mid-life crisis, that would be MUCH more exciting. This was prompted by a response to a Mmegi article in April that I posted on our blog. The article was called “Do things change” and covered a complaint we’d received about a loan shark, sorry a money-lender, no, I mean micro-lender.

In April last year a reader borrowed P1,000 from a cash loan company, to be paid back over just two months. He agreed to pay the usual 30% interest each month so he expected to pay back a total of P1,600.

Very soon after taking the loan he had problems making the repayments and ended up in hospital for an operation. His financial situation was very bad and there was no way he could make the repayments. However, despite his problems throughout all of this time he kept the lender informed and thought he might receive reasonable treatment. He told us that the lender “gave me what at the time I thought was a benefit of the doubt by seemingly acknowledging my situation and telling me that I’ll pay him when all is well.”

Unfortunately when he finally recovered he went to the lender and got a full statement of his debt. It now appeared that having borrowed a mere P1,000 he now, according to the loan shark, owed a massive P10,500. What’s more the lender threatened to write to the victim’s employer and to take legal action against him for this new, outrageous amount.

Of course this is all nonsense. I went on to explain the rather wonderful “in duplum” rule which states that, at the time that a debt is settled, the interested charged may not exceed the amount that was borrowed. The lender can demand P10,500 from the victim for a P1,000 loan but no court will ever make him pay that amount. The court will only require the victim to pay an extra P1,000 in interest.

So that was the story that provoked a response. This is what we received:
“Let me use this medium to thank you for your effort in an attempt caring for consumers in Botswana. Importantly, I read your write up about the person who took money from a cash loan in April, 2010 and have not paid back after a year. It seems you only looked at the issue from the consumer perspective. What about the providers of loans who gave out his or her cash for long period of time. You did not consider the lender’s office rent and the salary of workers! Did you ask the debtor, the time interval before the debtor went the hospital? Am also interested in consumers’ welfare, but let’s try to balance issues between consumers and suppliers. This is because both are from households in Botswana and they buy goods and services from the same market. It is also fact that they contribute to the growth of the economy through this exchange. I want you to give it a serious thought, will be fair to pay only 2000 fro a period more than a year?”
The reader of course has a point. Moneylenders are human too. Yes honestly they are. Sort of. They have financial obligations as well and we should remember that. The reader is also right to suggest that people must honour their financial obligations. Of course they should, we all should. But that wasn’t my point. My point was that this consumer DID try to honour his obligations and I think he understood that there would be a penalty to pay for failing to honour them, even though the problems might have been beyond his control.

My point was also that the law is the law. Whether or not this moneylender feels he can charge whatever he wants in interest the law says otherwise. The law says that the interest charged cannot exceed the amount borrowed. The loan shark can demand over 10 times as much as the amount borrowed but no court will ever award him that much.

If the lender doesn’t realise this then quite frankly he doesn’t deserve to do business in the moneylending industry. He doesn’t deserve to operate if he thinks he can exploit customer’s ignorance of the law to make money. I suspect that the loan shark in question tries this one all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if most unscrupulous moneylenders tried the same trick. Charge enormous amounts of interest and then threaten the victims with legal action unless they pay up. Most people would find that so threatening and would imagine that the court would issue an order forcing them to pay up. To avoid that they just pay whatever the lender demands. They don’t know, and the lender certainly won’t tell them, that the courts would simply throw out the enormous claim for money and replace it with a much more reasonable one.

So the answer is no, I don’t actually care about the poor moneylender’s plight. If he’d treated both the victim and the law with some respect I might be sympathetic but he didn’t and I’m not. People who try and abuse others don’t deserve respect; they deserve contempt and that’s what they’ve got from Consumer Watchdog.

This week’s stars
  • Oratile at South African Express Airways for really cheerful and fun service.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
Please advise me on what to do. My story is that I deposited a bed for P200 in a furniture shop in Gaborone and the bed was to be delivered to my place but after two weeks the bed was still not yet delivered. Because I bought it on credit I found that I cannot avoid to pay.

I went to the furniture shop and told them my problem but they told me that they cannot give me my money back rather I can have something in the shop for the same amount, but I found nothing in the shop of my interest the manager of shop told me that the money I paid for deposit they cannot give it back to me. What do you do in such a situation?

Please advise.

This is totally unacceptable. You paid a deposit and signed a contract to buy the furniture and they’ve not delivered it. The store has completely failed in their contract with you. Their suggestion that you are obliged to choose something else instead is utter nonsense and you are perfectly entitled to tell them to stick their offer where the sun doesn’t shine.

In fact I think you are totally within your rights to reject the whole thing. Write them a letter saying that they have completely failed in their contract with you, that you are therefore cancelling the entire arrangement and that they must also cancel any financial obligations you agreed to.

Please send us the name of the store and we’ll get in touch to reinforce your objections and see if we can persuade the store to play fair.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

There is an European agency that says it helps people get employment in the EU countries and they say the don’t charge us employment seekers anything but then they say we need an identification number in the labor office of the EU. They suggested some companies that deal with this paperwork and those companies charge us 33 Euros to process the paperwork and obtain the I.D number. I want to know if they are legit? Their email is office@londonjobs-4u.com.

I’m suspicious. Firstly, based on long experience, I’m always suspicious of recruitment companies that “help” people get jobs overseas. We’ve come across many of them in the last few years and almost all of them have been crooks.

I’m also skeptical about companies that seem to operate from no more than an email address. The address you gave isn’t associated with a web site. In fact the “londonjobs-4u.com” domain was only registered in February of this year so it’s not as if they have a track record behind them.

The only reference I could find to them is a warning from the Philippines about various recruitment scams that mentioned the email address you mentioned.

Finally you have to ask yourself a bigger question. Why, when their economies are in torment and many European countries have high levels of local unemployment, would they be recruiting staff from our neck of the woods?

I suggest that you forget these people unless you particularly want to lose your money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

There was a company which owed me P1,300 and they were not paying for months. I engaged some debt collectors in April 2011 to help me get the money back from the company. They made me pay P300 for costs that will be used for collecting the debt. The day after I engaged him he called me and said the company had paid and said I should come and collect the money. The following day I called to collect the money, and he said I can only collect my money on the 30th April which was not disclosed in our first meeting. There was nothing I could do so I just waited for the 30th. I went to them at the end of April to collect the money but they postponed, and it was postponement after postponement until now. The owner has kept telling me tomorrow and now he is not even answering his cellphone.

Please help.

It’s ironic that you might need to engage the services of another debt collector to collect the money from the first bunch of debt collectors. I think you’ve had enough delays, don’t you? I also think that you’ve done more than enough running around and chasing. You are, after all, their customer. It’s time they started treating you like one.

I suggest that you write to them or fax them a letter politely explaining that you’ve given them more than enough time. Demand that they deliver the money to you and that if they fail to do so you’ll take them to the Small Claims Court. Do they really want to be a debt collector with a debt?

Friday 27 May 2011

A sad thing in Mmegi today

There's a heartbreaking statement in a piece in today's Mmegi entitled "'No Work No Pay' policy takes its toll". It includes this extremely distressing sentence. Fetch the tissues before reading this:
"Micro-lenders and cash loan companies say that they have hit hard times as a result of the public service strike."
I can barely hold back the tears.

Of laughter.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Should HomeChoice obey Botswana law?

An open letter (OK, an email if you insist) to HomeChoice in South Africa.
I represent a Consumer advocacy and support service in Botswana called Consumer Watchdog. We have weekly newspaper columns in The Voice and Mmegi and a radio program every Monday morning on Radio Botswana. You can see more at www.bes.bw and then clicking on Consumer Watchdog or by reading our blog at consumerwatchdogbw.blogspot.com.

A consumer sent us a copy of a newspaper insert from HomeChoice today that raises some questions that I remember raising with HomeChoice in the past but I don't recall receiving a reply.

Firstly the insert gives prices entirely in South African Rands and not in Pula, the currency of Botswana. Other stores of South African origin advertise the prices in local currencies when outside of SA, can you advise me why HomeCHoice does not?

Secondly, while the Conditions make reference to the South African National Credit Act they do not refer to Botswana's Consumer Protection Act 1998 or the later Consumer Protection Regulations 2001. Both of these pieces of legislation apply to all purchases made in Botswana and cannot be waived without "specific consent".

Lastly, the advertisements in the insert are in breach of Botswana's Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974. Section 6 of these Regulations states that:

"Where goods are offered for sale on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale or on any other terms as to deferred payment the following details shall be displayed in addition to the prescribed details and in characters of similar size-
(a) the amount of any deposit;
(b) the amount of each instalment;
(c) the frequency of instalments;
(d) the total number of instalments; and
(e) the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments."

As you can see, your advertisements (picture attached) do not display the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments as required by Botswana law.

All other furniture and household stores that sell on credit in Botswana, including all the South African companies, now abide by this requirement with the exception of HomeChoice. Can you please advise when we can expect compliance from you?

With thanks in advance.

Richard Harriman
I'll let you know what they say.

Friday 20 May 2011

We get email. From a money-lender perhaps?

In April I reported on a loan shark, sorry, "micro-lender" who originally lent a victim, sorry, a "customer" P1,000 to be repaid over 2 months. After the costumer admitted that he had some problems a year went by before he could make a repayment. He was then faced with a demand for a total repayment of P10,500.

I pointed out that the LAW, specifically the in duplum rule states that at the time that a debt is settled, the interested charged may not exceed the amount that was borrowed. The lender can demand P10,500 from the victim for a P1,000 loan but no court will issue a ruling saying they have to pay that amount. The court will only require the victim to pay P2,000.

Recently I got this response:
"Good day. Let me use this medium to thank you for your effort in an attempt caring for consumers in Botswana. Importantly, I read your write up about the person who took money from a cash loan in April, 2010 and have not paid back after a year. It seems you only looked at the issue from the consumer perspective. What about the providers of loans who gave out his or her cash for long period of time. You did not consider the lender’s office rent and the salary of workers! Did you ask the debtor, the time interval before the debtor went the hospital? Am also interested in consumers’ welfare, but let’s try to balance issues between consumers and suppliers. This is because both are from households in Botswana and they buy goods and services from the same market. It is also fact that they contribute to the growth of the economy through this exchange. I want you to give it a serious thought, will be fair to pay only 2000 fro a period more than a year?"
Frankly, do I care?

Actually I DO care. I DO care that reasonable businesses are treated reasonably, but ONLY if they behave reasonably themselves. Only if they obey the law. Whether you like it or not the in duplum rule is there and it's LAW. It certainly applies to this particular case. If loan sharks can't cope with it then they shouldn't be in the moneylending business.

As Judge J Dow said in a ruling at the High Court in Lobatse in August 2008:
"The in duplum rule serves to aid debtors in financial difficulties by holding that it is unlawful to recover interest equal to or more than the capital sum upon which interest had accrued.
The rule serves an important social function by protecting debtors and providing that any clause in a contract that seeks to deprive a person of the protection afforded to them by the law is unenforceable by reason of its illegality or on the basis that it offends public policy."
So, on reflection, I'm not very sympathetic.

A janitor or a VP?

Everyone who knows me has learned by now that I’m an evangelist. Not for any particular religious belief, although the subject of my evangelical fervour is often referred to as a cult, but for something much more down to earth. The Apple.

Not the fruit although they’re of course delicious and healthy, something much more profound. Apple technology.

I’m writing this on an Apple MacBook, nearby sit both an Apple iPhone and an iPad. With the exception of a few boring computers at the office wherever possible the technology we use is Apple based.

Of course a part of this is the brand. Apple employ a guy called Jonathan Ive as head of design and the man is a walking, talking design God. He has lead the design of some of the most iconic consumer items of the last 15 years from the first iMac to the latest iPad. Apple is a company that places the “soft side” of a product up there as high as the functionality. Their philosophy is that while a device obviously has to DO lots of things it’s just as important to consider HOW it does those things. An example of this is that not once in all my time using an Apple product have I ever had to read a manual. They don’t even come with manuals these days because they’re simply not necessary. You just USE an iPhone, an iPad or even a laptop. No education seems to be needed.

Now of course there will be some people who think they know about technology who’ll complain that they’re not compatible with the rest of the world, that it’s difficult to use them in a non-Apple environment. That’s just nonsense. I’m writing this using Microsoft Word on a Mac, just as I use Microsoft Excel. In fact the Apple versions of these products are better than the Windows versions. I can use any Windows software I like on the Mac and so far there’s been nothing I haven’t been able to do perfectly easily. And, above all my computer is a hell of a lot sexier than anything running Windows.

Part of the appeal of Apple is the technology, another major part is, as I’ve said, the massively intuitive ease of use. Another part is simply the brand. Steve Jobs, the founder and leader of Apple has constructed an almost mystical brand for his company. I find myself reacting sometimes in an almost cult member-like way when the rumours spread that Steve is going to announce a new product. Luckily, unlike many religious cult leaders, he doesn’t claim to be divinely inspired or even perfect in his, and his company’s, performance. Every so often there’s a mistake, a problem, a cock-up. However Apple are usually fairly quick to remedy them when they occur.

Recently there was an article about Apple by Adam Lashinsky in Fortune magazine that was reported elsewhere. There were various interesting points but the one that had the greatest impact on me was an anecdote about Steve Jobs and the way he treats his many Vice Presidents. Apparently Jobs is known to welcome new VPs with a personal meeting and a speech about responsibility.
“Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. “When you’re the janitor,” Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, “reasons matter.” He continues: “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.” That “Rubicon,” he has said, “is crossed when you become a VP.”
I think that’s a very important point that needs to be understood by anyone senior in business. There comes a point when excuses aren’t acceptable any longer. There is a level of seniority when your boss and, critically, your customer doesn’t have to take excuses. Frankly I don’t care why, for instance, a furniture store completely ignore a customer who has reported that her recent purchases are faulty and has yet to have them repaired. I’m happy to listen to the employee in the store who says she’s still waiting for a response from her manager but the manager isn’t entitled to give excuses for poor performance or failure. His job is to provide solutions, not pathetic excuses why things haven’t worked properly.

I think it’s critical for us all to understand this. We don’t always have to accept excuses. There comes a time when we can just demand a solution. We’re entitled to say things like “I’m sorry, I’ve already had excuses from your junior staff but you are senior enough to just fix this problem so please just do that.”

If more managers were required to do this either by their bosses or simply by consumers like you and me then problems might just get fixed much quickly and with a lot less fuss. Next time a senior manager fails you why don’t you ask them if they’d feel more comfortable being a janitor?

This week’s stars
  • Pilane at Air Botswana check in at SSKIA for friendliness and cheerfulness.
  • Zaheed at Bytes Technology for his patience and for fixing a customer’s internet connection over the phone.
  • Neil and the team from HiFi Corporation for fixing a customer’s problem swiftly and even giving him a voucher to say sorry for a mix-up.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I found this website (www.cellphonespymaster.com) but am not sure if they are genuine.

Could you kindly check out the above website and let me know if the advertised product works as claimed or is just another scam. Thank you.

I’m very suspicious about this site and the product they offer.

The web site begins by saying:
“Discover a Legal Way To Spy On Any Cell Phone, Without Leaving Any Trace and works Worldwide!”
It continues with:
“Have you ever been curious as to what your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife is chatting about on their cell phone? Now you could listen in 100% completely undetected. Using the same exact technology as private investigators and law enforcement agencies worldwide, you could now see who they are calling, read their text messages, listen to what they are saying and even see pictures they have stored on their cell phones and much more.”
I simply don’t believe that. I find it unbelievable that the security services of government around the world are using technology to tap people’s cellphone conversations that’s available on the internet for $59.99. We’ve all read recently about the amounts our security service has spent on the technology they need to spy on criminals and terrorists, do you really think you and I can do the same thing with software we downloaded from a poorly constructed web site?

I’m no expert but I can’t see how this could possibly work. They claim that you can “install it on any cell phone model”. That’s just nonsense. The same piece of software works on a cheap phone and a hugely complex iPhone or Blackberry? No way.

There is also the final problem that even if this WAS possible it would almost certainly be illegal. You and I simply can’t go around STEALING other people’s cellphones, installing software on them and them spying on their conversations. Even the security services of democratic countries like ours have to fill in forms and get legal permission to do this. You and I would end up in prison for doing so.

So don’t waste your money on this so-called product. It’s almost certainly a scam.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

In January 2011 I bought earrings from someone who told me they were gold. The earrings cost P160 of which I paid her P100 as a deposit. Within a week of using the earrings the gold came out and they changed colour to brown. I returned the earrings to her and asked her to refund me my deposit or replace them with another earrings of which she agreed. I kept on asking her when will she refund or replace the earrings up until this May she told me that it wont be fair to her if she replaced the earrings or refund me because I didn’t pay the whole amount of the earrings. She said she can’t use the earrings as I have worn them, and the only thing that she could do is refund me part of the amount I paid.

I just want to know my rights concerning the issue, as I don’t know what to do anymore because she is giving me hard time on this, to my knowledge I thought I should get the refund of my deposit not getting the earrings and part of the deposit paid back.

Please help.

I think this is quite simple. The earrings she sold you were not of merchantable quality and they probably weren’t even gold of any quality at all. Even if they were real gold they’re going to be incredibly nasty for a mere P160.

I suggest that you write her a letter saying that she has broken her contract with you by not giving you what you bought. Give her seven days to refund you your money in full or you’ll take her to the Small Claims Court and ask them to force her to give you a refund.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

I bought a lounge suite for P9,999.99 from a furniture store in May 2009 but in November 2010 I complained about the condition of the items only to be promised that they will send their repair agent and find material to repair the suite. Even today there is still no assistance coming from the store despite me and my wife making endless follow-up calls with the managers. We sometimes make phone calls only to be promised immediate action either before close of business that day or first thing the next morning. They say that action will be taken and feedback will be made by phone call to us but none has happened to date whilst the items we bought are getting worse by the day. The only phone calls we sometimes receive from them is only when they want to know when are we going pay our next installment.

This is clearly very poor service from the store. While the goods are under warranty the store has an obligation to promptly attend to any problems. Also just ignoring your requests for assistance is just rude.

You have a right to have your furniture repaired and put in a condition that might be expected given their age. You obviously can’t expect them to be made as good as new as you’ve been using them for a while but you can and should expect the store to make them usable considering their age and the general wear and tear they would have experienced by now.

We’ll get in touch with the store and ask them when they plan to honour their obligations.

Monday 16 May 2011


Some years ago I employed someone to help me work on a project with a major client. This was a person I’d briefly worked with before and thought I knew well enough to take the big step of employing him. He flew all the way out from Europe and I got him somewhere to live, lent him a car and helped out financially until we could start charging the customer for his time.

To begin with things went well. He had a remarkably gifted tongue, charmed all the customers and rapidly became very popular. I have no problem with that. Unlike some people I’ve known I find it immensely rewarding when people like my team members, it makes me feel good for recruiting them.

But things went sour fairly soon. It turned out that he was what the Irish refer to as a “gobshite”. “Gob” means “to talk” and the rest you can work out for yourself. He was remarkably skilled at talking, charming and seducing but that’s where his skills ended. The first warning sign was some basic mistakes in the work he did. The second was when I heard from a colleague who worked for another company that he had approached them and asked to work for them instead. Time for action. I wrote him a formal letter telling him to cut it out.

Later I found out more. He’d been using our email system to communicate with people for business purposes and then I saw some of the emails he’d sent out customers. A history of lies and distortions and serious breaches of confidentiality.

That was the final straw. I fired him the next day.

What he’d seemed to misunderstand is that in a small business community like Gaborone, nobody has any secrets. Word spreads very quickly when you’re up to no good in business. He’d previously worked for large organisations in large places and presumably had been able to get away with his tricks for longer. After this was all over I mentioned the experience to a former colleague overseas who’d worked with him. “If only you’d asked me first” I was told, “he’s a nutter.” It turns out I wasn’t the first victim of the gobshite.

But this is history, it’s all in the past. Well it was until last week when someone sent me a link to a careers website where he’s posted his CV. Just one entry refers to his time in Botswana and it’s startling how little truth is there. He doesn’t name the company he worked for, claims credit for areas he never work in and (OK, not surprisingly) neglects to point out that he was fired for misconduct and ejected from the country.

So I’ve been thinking about liars a lot this week. It started with my lying former employee but then it continued with other people and companies with a loose connection to the truth.

We recently heard from a reader who bought some furniture in SA last August and used her usual shipping company to bring the goods home to Botswana. Unfortunately the truck on which they were transporting the goods crashed, destroying all of her furniture. Now of course this company would have had insurance, don’t you think? Who knows. Since August they’ve been giving our reader a mixture of excuses and the silent treatment. Eventually they asked us to get in touch and that’s when I think we started getting some lies.

The shipping company wrote to the reader saying:
“We are not willing to take liability of this shipment as we were not aware of the existence of that shipment on our vehicle that had the accident … only the driver and the operations manager knew about the shipment being on board the vehicle … we are not liable for the loss of this shipment.”
Not good enough I’m afraid. It’s not the reader’s fault that your company is so undisciplined that your staff are running a business within a business. Your truck was carrying her furniture and your truck crashed and destroyed her furniture. Pay up or else.

Another reader was in touch about something that seemed absolutely simple, almost trivial. He went to a store and bought a 1.2m cable to connect his laptop to his TV. Should be simple you might think. Unfortunately he simply couldn’t get it to stretch far enough from his TV and eventually found out why. It wasn’t 1.2m long. In fact it was barely a metre long. Those missing 20cm made all the difference.

When he did the obvious, and correct, thing, and take it back to the store for a replacement he was apparently first asked “If you thought it was short why did you open the packet? You could have measured it first.” Quite how you measure a cable before unpacking it is beyond me but that’s not the point. The store sold him something with a particular specification (it clearly said that the cable was 1.2m long on the packaging) and they failed to deliver that.

Let’s overlook the simple breach of contract and concentrate on the store’s breach of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which state that:
“Any supplier who offers a commodity or service to a consumer fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold … does not match any sample or description given to the consumer.”
When he spoke to the store manager he apparently said “We have a two week returns policy”. Well, that’s fine, but only if the consumer voluntarily, freely and (most importantly) knowingly agreed to that. If not then the store’s 2-week return policy is a nonsense.

I won’t say that the store was “lying” but they clearly seem to have lost their connection with truth, justice and the Botswana way. They should do something about that, don’t you think?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I have just received an e-mail claiming to be from Paypal. I have never used Paypal before, however I have paid for tickets, accommodation online using my credit card. Shouldn’t the alert be coming from my bank?

How genuine is this? Please assist.

You’re absolutely right to be skeptical about this email. The obvious clue is that you’ve never used Paypal so why would they be contacting you?

For readers who don’t know, Paypal is an online payment mechanism that allows you to safely purchase products on the internet. It’s a very useful way of buying things, I’ve even used it myself once or twice.

However, what you’ve received is nothing to do with Paypal at all. This is what they call a “phishing” scam. There was a link in your email that said “Log In to Your Account Now.” That link in fact went nowhere near Paypal and instead linked to a hijacked web site that pretended to be the Paypal login page.

What you saw if you clicked on the link was remarkably convincing. It looked just like the real Paypal page. It asked for your email address and Paypal password and if you were unwise enough to enter these details you can rest assured within moments a scammer would have used them to sign on to your real Paypal page and raid your account.

Of course you don’t have an account but if they emailed a million people and only 1% of people did have an account and only 1% of them fell for it then that’s still a hundred victims who’ve just handed their Paypal account to a crook.

The danger from these scams is very significant. According to a Gartner Group report in the year ending August 2007 3.6 million Americans lost a total of $3.2 billion to these phishing attacks.

You should always look very closely at the web address you visit BEFORE you enter any personal details onto a web page. Make sure that it looks right and if you have the slightest doubt, don’t enter your details. Above all NEVER click on a link in an email to a bank or financial web site. Always type it on yourself and then save it in your Favourites.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I purchased a 1.2m cable from a local store to connect my laptop to my TV. When I first plugged in I was a little surprised that I could not get things into the right position. After some time of putting up with this inconvenience, I decided to measure the cable; it is barely a meter long!

I decided to take it back and see if the store had one slightly longer – even the quoted 1.2 meters would make life easier. At the service area I was asked: “If you thought it was short – why did you open the packet? You could have measured it first”.

When I spoke to the manager I was told: “We have a two week returns policy” and that “I cannot help you!”

I realize that I am outside their 2 week returns policy but the fact remains, the cable does not match its description which is clearly shown on the outside of the packaging.

Can you either suggest what I might do to obtain the item in its correct length or is there someone that may be able to look into this further for me?

Clearly they are wrong in a variety of ways. At the simplest level they broke their contract with you. They gave you something that you did not buy and something inferior as well.

They also broke Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which states that:
“Any supplier who offers a commodity or service to a consumer fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold … does not match any sample or description given to the consumer.”
They've probably broken some of the other regulations as well but that’s the big one.

The 2 weeks return period is also a nonsense. That can only be enforceable if you knowingly and "specifically consented" to such a thing, before you handed over the cash.

Please give us the name of the store and we’ll get in touch and see what they can do to remedy the situation.

Update – the shipping company

We reported last week on a shipping company in SA who were transporting some furniture for a customer in Botswana last August. Unfortunately their truck crashed and all of her furniture was destroyed. They’ve been stalling her ever since she asked for compensation. She assumed they were insured.

We got in touch with the shipping company and asked for their feedback. So far it’s not so good.

Their response went like this (these are the highlights):
“We are not willing to take liability of this shipment as we were not aware of the existence of that shipment on our vehicle that had the accident … only the driver and the operations manager knew about the shipment being on board the vehicle … we are not liable for the loss of this shipment.”
In other words they don’t give a damn, they don’t see that it was their truck, their staff and their business that destroyed her property. Above all it’s their responsibility.

We’re not giving up on this one. We’ll keep you updated on progress.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Sunday Scamming

You know what it's like. It's Sunday evening, there's nothing on the TV that you're interested in, or which you haven't seen a dozen times already, your partner is away and the kids are in bed. What should you do to pass the time?

Bait a scammer! Why not see if you can offend a scammer so much that he ends up shouting at you and calling you "stupid".

His email said:
"This is Mr. Louis J Kharto, remittance director Bank of Africa Cotonou, Rep. of Benin, having made series of futile attempts to reach you for confirmation, we received a SWORN AFFIDAVIT to re-route your PAYMENT into a new Prudential Bank and Trust Co (Zamora Branch) Account #: 5068-1117-8, account name: Nabil Bahij Jahas. Confirm to us if you have instructed your attorney to change your wire transfer account details. It is our obligation to confirm from beneficiary's of funds prior to transfer for security
Best regards,
Mr. Louis J Kharto
Tel: +229 666 918 99
Email: louiskharto@yahoo.com.hk"
Click here to listen to the recording. Alternatively right click on the link and choose Save As to listen to it offline.

You have his cellphone number and email address if you feel like insulting him further.

Friday 6 May 2011

Homeopathetic remedies

Every so often it’s time for Government to get tough. No, I’m not talking about disgraceful industrial action by essential health workers, but I would if you asked.

I’m talking about consumer protection and the occasional need for the Powers That Be to get their hands dirty when people’s lives are at risk.

Throughout Europe new rules have recently come into force which outlaw the sale of a variety of so-called “herbal medicines”. According to the BBC News web site:
“The EU law aims to protect consumers from possible damaging side-effects of over-the-counter herbal medicines. For the first time, new regulations will allow only long-established and quality-controlled medicines to be sold. But both herbal remedy practitioners and manufacturers fear they could be forced out of business.”
Well it’s a shame if people are put out of business but perhaps they should have started an honest and safe business in the first place?

Yes, I DO think that much of the so-called “alternative health” movement is either dishonest, unsafe or sometimes both. While most of their products are worthless, having no effect whatsoever, other than a placebo effect, some of the substances they peddle DO actually have an effect on the human body. The trouble is it’s utterly unpredictable.

Some of them are known to interfere with properly prescribed medicines like the contraceptive pill. Others are just so unpredictable that you have no idea how much of an active ingredient you’re going to get. If you go to a pharmacy and by paracetamol you know exactly how much you’re going to get in each tablet. With herbal stuff you really don’t know.

Then there’s homeopathy. This is genuinely deceptive.

The idea behind homeopathy is quite simple. Homeopaths suggest that an ailment can be treated with minute quantities of substances that produce similar symptoms to those of the ailment. Quite how this works is never explained although homeopaths no doubt want us to think that it's a bit like vaccination where an inert form of a dangerous infectious agent is given to the patient so he or she can form a resistance to it.

However, homeopathy and vaccination are completely different. One has a scientific basis and can be proved to work and the other? Well, no evidence I'm afraid, other than "experiments" conducted by homeopaths themselves and they aren't exactly renowned for their scientific credentials.

Oh and one other difference between homeopathy and vaccination? One actually contains an active ingredient and the other doesn't. Homeopathic "remedies" are produced by repeatedly diluting a sample of the supposedly active ingredient. A homeopath may take a 1% solution of the active ingredient, perhaps a plant extract in water and dilute it further several times. After being diluted to 1% each time you can quickly work out that after 10 dilutions only 1 atom in every hundred billion billion will be of the so-called active ingredient. And the most common forms of homeopathic remedy are actually diluted in this way thirty times. There is simply nothing left from the original ingredient. There's nothing there apart from water which might then be soaked into a sugar pill.

So how do homeopaths claim it works? Well, if you have scientific background, sit down before reading further.

Apparently the water in which this ingredient once resided "remembers" that it once met the substance in question. Homeopaths talk seriously about "the molecular memory of water".

Want another absurdity? Homeopaths believe that the more diluted the liquid becomes the more effective it is. And another? The principle of homeopathic "succussion" states that the remedy becomes even more effective still if you thump it against your hand or your leg. I promise you I am NOT making this up.

Homeopathy is nonsense. It flies in the face of all that we have learnt over the last couple of thousand of years in the fields of chemistry, physics and biology.

So what about all of you who have taken a homeopathic remedy and felt better afterwards? Were you imagining it? Was your mind playing tricks on you?

I don't think you were imagining it and I don't think you've gone mad. It just wasn't the homeopathic silliness that helped you.

So what was it? Well, there are various possibilities. Firstly you may have just got better. It happens. People just get better. Their bodies fight an ailment and win. Our bodies are usually pretty good at it. They have had millions of years to develop an immune system after all. If you’re halfway through a rotten cold, no matter what you do you’ll be better in a few days.

Secondly, there's the intervention effect. Sometimes just deciding to take action about your health brings about an effect indirectly. You start eating properly, taking exercise and looking after yourself better and this might involve you starting to take homeopathic remedies. Why assume it's the remedy that did it? Maybe all that extra fruit you ate that kept the colds away? At least fruit contains Vitamin C, something that actually does something.

The last possibility is the one that people often dismiss but is actually one of the most remarkable things that can happen in medicine. The placebo effect. Just the action of taking medication can make you feel a bit better. Of course it’s never going to grow back an amputated leg or cure cancer but it can make pain a little bit more bearable or the symptoms of a disorder FEEL a little bit better.

But that doesn’t mean that homeopathy actually works. It doesn’t.

I think it’s time that we also made it harder for peddlers of health nonsense to peddle their deceptions and ignorance.

This week’s star
  • Dipuo from the BTC Customer Care centre in Gaborone for delivering “world class service”

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

In August last year I purchased furniture in Joburg and asked a courier company to collect said furniture and deliver to Gaborone. This is a company I have been dealing with for at least two years to courier stuff for me to and from JHB at least twice a month.

Unfortunately their truck was involved in an accident and the furniture was apparently smashed so it was not delivered. The staff at the head office asked me to wait 3 months for insurance to pay out before making a claim. In January I tried to get hold of the MD and he started making lame excuses and giving me the run around. I sent a letter of demand from my lawyer. There was no response. I tried to take if further here legally but then discovered they don’t have a physical address here! They basically deliver and collect goods. So if I have to sue it would have to be in South Africa.

The furniture cost P7,800 and as far as I am aware all transport companies should be insured?
Is it legal for a company not to have a physical address here? What could my next course of action be?

You have been abused, no doubt about it. Frankly it shouldn’t bother you whether they’re insured or not, they must compensate you for your lost furniture. However, yes they SHOULD have insurance to cover this sort of problem. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that things like this must happen often, perhaps not as seriously as in your case but I’m sure many of us know situations where things have been damaged in transit.

As far as I can see the situation is perfectly simple. You hired them to transport and take care of your goods and they destroyed them instead. They owe you the value of the goods.

We’ve been in contact with the company and they’ve promised us a response. We’ll let you and other Voice readers know what they plan to do to fix the problem.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have been in touch a company who claim to assist people with academic research (Masters and PhDs) and I do need help with my research but I am not sure if they are to be trusted. Can you do a quick background check on them before I can part with my hard earned cash?

Superficially the company you name, ETCO India, appears to be a legitimate company but I’m suspicious. Their web site lists a variety of technical IT projects that they have supposedly undertaken but they don’t name a single company they’ve worked for. While I understand that sometimes a company is required to keep the names of certain customers secret (we too have confidential customers) you’d think there was at least one they could name, don’t you? They also seem to have only two employees that they’ll identify.

I got in touch with the company and they say that they won’t actually write your thesis for you but they’ll extend “guidance and tuitions to a student in specific subjects where we have expertise”. They also confirmed that they are not accredited to deliver educational services so I question the legitimacy of what they can do. But that’s just my opinion.

I remain doubtful about the whole concept though. Even if they do only help you with your studies, why would you want to pay a company in a far-flung country to support you in your studies? Don’t you already have an academic relationship with the university that’s offering you your qualification? I’d stick with them, if I were you.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

I just heard that you help customers who received bad services. So I just want to know do you help with ill-treatment from government employees because it’s high time someone does something about my local Police Station. Their service is ridiculously poor and the sad thing is the senior staff always says they are doing something about it but nothing ever happens. Please help or advise?

The Public Service is no different from any other service provider. We pay them money in our taxes and in return they deliver a service. However it’s easy to think sometimes that certain departments have forgotten this. I suggest that you write directly to the Commissioner of Police and ask him to intervene.

Dishonoured cheques

We heard from a business owner recently who asked what he should do if he receives a dishonoured cheque. It’s actually quite simple.

Section 23 of the National Clearance and Settlement Systems Act 2003 states quite clearly that:
“Any person who knowingly draws or issues a cheque, or other payment instrument against which there are no sufficient funds in his account at a financial institution on which the cheque or other payment instrument is drawn shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding P1500 or 3 months imprisonment or to both.”
Simple to understand, don’t you think? It goes on to say that ignorance is no defence. You can’t just respond by saying that you didn’t know you didn’t have enough money in your account. It’s your job, your legal responsibility, to know you have enough money to cover the value of the cheque.

So my advice to anyone who receives a rubber cheque is to call the person who gave it to you and give them one simple warning. The cash or the cops, which do they prefer?

Sunday 1 May 2011

The lunacy continues

I was following up on all the unanswered emails and found the last threat from the Lunatic Northern Ireland Institute of Business and Technology (British). They had promised that:
"Action will be taken against internet terrorist of foul international law."
So I emailed them asking whether that actually meant anything. I got this in reply:
"1. FBI and Interpol are alerted on Internet Terrorists:

Actions will be taken against internet terrorists soon who foul the international law.

2. Educational legal consultant is alerted on slander, defamation and unlawful interference:

Actions will be taken against you soon of foul the laws such as commercial law, international law, etc.

3. Mr. Richard Lim, Senior Manager for International Affairs is alerted on your remark as below. He will use it as evidence to sue you for slander and defamation. You will have to pay for a high price of your silly actions.

4. You are urged to remove all your remarks on NIIBT in your blog Consumer Watchdog immediately to avoid actions will be taken against you soon."
I can't wait!