Wednesday 31 August 2011

TVI Express banned in Lesotho

Following the ban of TVI Express in Namibia last year and the various investigations by The Hawks and The Reserve Bank in South Africa, TVI Express have now been declared illegal in Lesotho.
"The Central Bank of Lesotho would like to warn the public about the dangers of investing or participating in this particular scheme and other schemes of a similar nature. Furthermore, the Central Bank of Lesotho would also like to caution all promoters of TVI Express, including persons who attempt to recruit others, either by word-of-mouth or via spamming email messages to join these schemes, anywhere in Lesotho, to stop such practices immediately."
Botswana next?

[Thanks yet again to Kasey Chang.]

Angry about store security?

An angry email comes in from a reader who has had enough of being searched by store security staff.
"This is to raise complaint that is almost treated legal in Botswana and I personally think it is disturbing and a violation to customer rights. I don’t know how often this happens because I have seen it again at various stores where customer’s handbags are searched by the exit door. You know it is touching the way Batswana nicely present their bags for searching without questioning or anything.

People is this right? Do we have to be searched when we leave shops? When are these people going to learn what they SHOULD and SHOULDN’T DO to customers? Can’t they see to it that they re-enforce their security rather than violate our rights?

Please deal with the store I mentioned because when I questioned it was like I am being impossible and everybody that came after me didn’t have a problem with their handbags searched.

Thank you so much once more for the provision of your organization and looking forward resolving this unbearable situation."
This is what I wrote in a column in The Voice last year:
"I don't know of any law that specifically covers this but I suspect what they are doing IS perfectly legal.

You have to remember that shops are private property and permission to enter is at the discretion of the management. While you are in the store they are entitled to monitor your behaviour, particularly given the level of shop-lifting that occurs these days.

However, I DO think there are ways of dealing with this that explain the situation to customers and that don't cause unnecessary offence. In the past I've personally had arguments with security guards when I've refused to leave my laptop in it's rucksack with them. On one occasion a couple of years ago I was so angry I just walked out of a bookstore at Riverwalk when this happened and I haven't bought anything from that store since.

I'm sure it's possible for a store to put up a sign at the entrance that politely explains the need for security and perhaps even for the need for bag checks and also to train the guards sufficiently that they don't cause massive offence. Surely it can't be that difficult?"

Sunday 28 August 2011

How to spot a fake university

The fake university industry is booming. Fake universities like Corllins and Belford are clearly making money by selling their fake degrees.

Click here for a list of well-known non-accredited universities.

The problem is that it doesn't take much effort to create a new fake online university. All it takes is a small amount of web development skill, some stock photos and a made-up name and you're away.

What the new ones often do is claim accreditation from a body not actually entitled to accredit. For a list of the well-known fake accreditation bodies click here.

Friday 26 August 2011

Customer Don't Care

Several friends and colleagues have been complaining bitterly recently about the failure of their internet connections. Serious people, trying their best to run serious businesses have been deprived of what is now an essential set of business tools. They’ve had no email and, much more importantly, they’ve haven’t been able to surf the internet, they haven’t been able to tweet and, catastrophically, appallingly, horrifically they’ve been separated from their Facebook pages.

How can civilized life be expected to continue in these circumstances?

A cynic (not like me, I’m just a skeptic) might say that they can read a book or watch TV instead but that’s even more patronizing than I am normally. These days access to the internet is an essential tool in business as well as home life. I know of a law firm and several leading business people who’ve not been able to communicate electronically with their customers and partners all over the world. I know that these people have had to spend extra money making long-distance phone calls to explain that they seem to now be based in a third-world country. What’s more they’ve then had the embarrassment of explaining to the rest of the world that the organization causing this problem hasn’t much idea how long this will last.

The trouble with this is the message it sends to the rest of the world. We’re a country desperately trying to attract foreign tourists to leave their lovely, sexy foreign currency behind when they leave, and more importantly foreign companies to come here and invest all that delicious cash in our country. Why would they do that if they won’t be able to send an email to HQ, they can’t video-conference or their kids can’t get onto Facebook?

I know it’s probably unfair of me to blame BTC for having a piece of equipment fail but don’t they have a “Plan B”? Hasn’t their Disaster Recovery Planning Team sat down and considered all the things that can go wrong and developed a recovery plan for each of them? I know, I’ve actually been on DRP teams where you think through every possible disaster from earthquakes to coffee spills and develop a plan for each possibility. I hope that BTC has such a team and these plans? I hope their recovery plan for this particular failure was more than “Mmmm, do you think they have a new router at Incredible Connection? Let’s go and see, we can have lunch while we’re down there.”

Yes, before the techies start complaining I DO realize that this piece of equipment is not something you can get at the local store, it’s no doubt a cabinet sized box of tricks that cost a million. But what did the loss of connection cost the nation? This really is the sort of thing where you keep a replacement in another building on a separate power supply. It costs money but it saves your business when things fail, as they inevitably will sooner or later.

I don’t want to rant too much about this particular failure but what irritates me more than the failure is the absence of any information from BTC. There is nothing on their web site but then I suppose you could argue that if you have no internet access then you can’t visit their web site. They have now, to their credit, published adverts in the paper saying that things are broken but giving little in the way of reassurance that it’s either going to be fixed soon or won’t happen again.

However I’ve relied on a completely different organization for information. Here’s a simple tip for how to keep abreast of internet access problems in Botswana. Ignore your own service provider and visit the web site of IBIS and you’ll see that they have an up-to-date status page outlining the problems, even giving a timetable from BTC that BTC appears to have declined to show the public. A national pat on the back to the techies at IBIS for helping everyone, not just their own customers.

A national smack on the rear for BTC for failing to keep us informed. But let’s be optimistic. They have a new CEO who has a mandate to get things moving. At his first press conference he was quoted by the Botswana Gazette as saying that “Internet is not a necessity, it is a right”. He went on to say that “We need to focus on the customer and ensure that they get value for money for their services.”

OK, we’ll assume this was an inheritance from that time BTC had no head, shall we? It’s not the new boy’s fault. Meanwhile, I hope the poor guy realizes the nation is watching him?

I don’t mean this next criticism of BTC, in fact BTC is one of the few parastatals that I think has genuinely improved over the last few years, but many organisations do no more than go through the motions of customer care. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sick and tired of those posters and banners you see in the foyers of government departments, parastatals and even some private companies that announce their commitment to customer care and offer a range of promises about how long you’ll wait, the quality of service you’ll receive and how enchanted you’ll be when you finish.

Like strategy, mission and vision statements, they’re nothing more than a cover for not actually really caring about customer care. Any organization that wastes it’s time developing all these nonsensical statements should file call them under “Customer Don’t Care Standards” because that’s what these statements really say about how much they care about their customers. If they really cared they’d actually do something about service, not just talk about it.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a phone on the 16th June, and after 3 weeks I started experiencing some problems with the phone and I took it back to the supplier on the 20th July.

They promised me the phone will be fixed in 3 days but they only called me after 2 weeks to tell me they failed to repair the phone so I must come back to have it replaced, which I did, when I got there I found out they were out of stock and they said they will call me when new stock arrived which they did on the 15th and I went there on the 17th August. Now my query is I bought the phone for P3,750 in June but when I got there to take/replace the phone they told me the value of the phone has depreciated to P3100 even though it’s still under guarantee, so I should get a P3100 phone. What can I do?

This is unacceptable. You bought what you had a right to believe was a brand new, perfectly functional phone. For P3,500 you had a right to expect perfection. The fact that it started misbehaving after just 3 weeks suggests to me that, unless you dropped it in the bath, the phone had an inherent fault. Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 says that a supplier:
“fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold … is not of merchantable quality”.
Merchantable quality is defined by the Regulations as meaning:
“fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”.
An expensive phone that only lasts for 3 weeks is clearly not of merchantable quality.

You have a right to a replacement, or if that’s impossible, a refund. And as for that silliness about the value of the phone having depreciated? Rubbish. Pure, unadulterated, 100% rubbish. They owe you the amount you spent without any deductions for whatever reason. I suggest that you go back to the store and show them this newspaper. Make it perfectly clear to them that they have ignored your rights and that they must give you a full refund or, if you prefer, a phone of at least the same value as the one they can’t fix, at no extra charge.

If they don’t feel like cooperating and doing the decent thing, just let them know that Consumer would be delighted to name them for everyone to read.

[Update: The store manager heard about this, stepped in and fixed it. A phone of the same value was provided.]

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

On Sunday 24th July I bought a pair of shoes at a store in Game City. I paid with my Visa card. When I got home I found that the receipt was for P299 but the Visa slip was for P499 and this is the amount that has been debited from my account.

I returned to the shop on Monday 25th July to request a refund of P200 but the manager refused to give me a refund.

I am therefore contacting you to request what my rights are and if you can help with this dispute.

I think this is actually very simple. I assume that the price shown in the store was P299? You have a right to be charged the price the store advertises and which you agreed to pay. The store can’t just charge you a higher amount, either deliberately or by mistake. If they did this by mistake I would expect them to apologise and fix it as quickly as possible. If, however, they did it deliberately then the situation is more serious. The price advertised must be the price they charge you. If their advertising is incorrect then they had a responsibility either to tell you when you tried to pay for the shoes or again to fix it afterwards, without any hassle or delay. Refusing isn’t good enough.

I suggest that you go back to the store and give them a letter explaining that they have taken too much money from you and that you require a refund for the extra P200 within 7 days. If they fail to respond then let us know and we’ll get in touch with them and politely explain the importance of their reputation. That should work, don’t you think?

Tuesday 23 August 2011

More fakery from Corllins "University"

The good people at Corllins University (see here for previous posts) certainly seem to keen to award me a degree, just so long as I give them some money. The latest email goes like this:
"Dear Richard Harriman,

Thank you for your interest in Corllins University.

Our records show that you have not completed the remaining steps of the process after signing up for Corllins Prior Learning Evaluation Program. Your next step now should be to complete the remaining steps and make the payment so that your Degree could be delivered to you within the next 10 business days. [My emphasis]
There was never a better time to complete the payment process, since Corllins University is offering an amazing and hard-to-believe discounted offer on its fee plan for next 10 days only. You can now earn a globally accredited Degree from Corllins University for as low as $499! The original fee for a Corllins Bachelor's Degree is $949 but we have waived off our fee plan as part of our special limited time offer."
But this isn't is much of a bargain when you consider the email they sent to one of my many fake identities a few days ago that included this:
"There was never a better time to complete the payment process, since Corllins University is offering an amazing and hard-to-believe discounted offer on its fee plan for next 10 days only. You can now earn a globally accredited Master's Degree + PhD Degree [my emphasis] Program from Corllins University for as low as $499 ! The original fee for a Corllins Bachelor's Degree is $949 but we have waived off our fee plan as part of our special limited time offer."
Not that I'm going to pay them anything at all of course but surely for my money I'd prefer the pair of higher fake degrees?

I can't help but question what sort of people actually pay for a fake degree from this fake university? Well, if you want to know who they are you can always see some of them here.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Anti-scam tools

It’s difficult, if you’re interested in human psychology, not to wonder why some people fall for scams and others don’t. What is it in some people’s brains that leads them to believe strange things while others seem to be able to spot a scam from a distance?

Of course a healthy level of scepticism is a good start. Not believing things that people say just because they’re saying them is a healthy approach, particularly if they want your money. At the very least, just asking questions and refusing to stop asking them until you get answers that satisfy you is a powerful thing to do.

But there are times when this isn’t good enough, you need to go a little further than just asking the obvious questions. You need to start doing some old-fashioned research. The good news is that in these days of Google research is a lot easier to do. Gone are the days of searching through electoral lists, phone books and state records to find someone. These days you can do it all with the click of a mouse.

Last week we heard from a reader who had received an unsolicited email that read as follows:
“all of my friends were sick of lending me money finally my aunt gave me a push in the right direction I knew I had to take advantage of this!
now I live a luxurious life youre the first person I told
good way to make some extra income!! read it!”
Yes, I KNOW that the author is clearly missing the Shift key and almost all the punctuation keys from his keyboard. What’s more I’m sure you know that an email from a total stranger that was addressed to another 19 people and which contains the phrase “youre the first person I told” is suspicious.

There was a link in the email that went to a web site calling itself "Consumer Career Trends". On that site there's a picture of a woman and a little girl walking down what looks like the gangplank of a cruise ship. She apparently is "Kelly Richards from Brooklyn, NY" and she's made a fortune from "Home Wealth Solutions", an internet-based Get Rich Quick scheme.

The web site is interesting. It pretends to be a news site but it’s actually a fake. In fact it's just a single page, nothing more that an advertisement for this scam, masquerading as a news story.

More curious is that the very same picture of “Kelly Richards” appears on several other pages, offering other schemes. She appears on the "Homestead TV Magazine" page offering "Home Online Jobs". She also appears on a page calling itself the "Gaborone JOB REPORT" offering the "Home Cash Generator".

No, of course it's nothing to do with Gaborone, that's just the web page knowing from my internet address where in the world I am. If you're in Francistown when you visit the page it will be the "Francistown JOB REPORT" site. Similarly another site she appears on calls itself the "South-East CAREER TRENDS" page, but this time she's "Kelly Richards of Gaborone, South-East". She certainly gets around.

Best of all, she also appears on the "South-East Work From Home Report" page where she appears to have assumed a new identity. There she appears as "Tanya Davis".

Before you imagine that I’ve memorised the contents of every single scam web page, I’ll confess that it’s possible to search for identical pictures across the web using a tool called TinEye. That’s the secret.

Clearly this is suspicious. All of these schemes are basically the same thing, no doubt run by the same bunch of scammers, all using the same techniques to offer money for nothing. But you don’t need to go any further than the evidence provided by the pictures. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

However you also need to be able to see through rotten arguments. Following my comments on the TVI Express pyramid scheme recently I got this email:
“I have two questions: First; in business, do you buy only a product as a consumer? Second; why did the author not mention that some members of TVI are successful? Was it deliberate or was it through ignorance? Do not criticise systems that you are not a member of. You would be more convincing if you joined TVI and became a failure. Remember, many people have invested in ‘genuine’ businesses, and have failed. Inference, therefore, every business is a scam”
Where should I begin?

In business, no, you also buy services as well as products. But with TVI Express they don't offer either. All they offer is the chance to make money from recruiting other people. That's a pyramid scheme.

Why didn't I mention "that some members of TVI are successful"? Because the ones at the top only make money by cheating other people. I criticise burglars and thieves for the same reason.

So I'm not qualified to criticise a pyramid scheme until I’ve joined it and had my money stolen? That’s just silly. I don't need to jump out of a plane without a parachute to know it's a bad idea. I don't need to burn cash to know it's a bad idea. I don't need to commit a crime and go to prison to know that it's a bad idea. I don't need to have joined the TVI Express pyramid scheme and lost money to know that it's a bad idea.

So because TVI victims lose money and so do some investors in real businesses, then all businesses are a scam?

I really hope you have nothing to do with the education of children.

This week’s stars
  • Reginah from Barclays call centre for professionalism and calming an angry customer
  • Koziba from Bank Gaborone for her “usual” exceptionally high standards of customer service.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought leather sofas from a store in Francistown in August 2009 and the price was P10,999.95. With all the interest the total cost went up to P24,610.34. We were advised that they were expensive because they were made of leather that would last a lifetime. I was convinced and I bought them and I liked them, but to my surprise they started wearing out in 2010 before turning a year. As my wife was not well for much of 2010, I fell behind in my payments, but as of this year, I informed them of the condition of the chairs about three times before they reacted. Their response on Wednesday 10th August 2011 was that they wanted to patch the chairs. Looking at the amount I have paid, remaining with a balance of only P8,600, I felt I needed your advise as these people only care about the money and not customer satisfaction. They have even sent my name to ITC. Our contract was to pay for 24 months. Please help before I take a drastic decision.

First things first. Whatever this “drastic decision” might be, don’t do it. Although this might feel like the end of the world, it doesn’t actually require drastic action.

There are two issues here that you mustn’t confuse and which cannot be connected. Firstly there’s the credit agreement you signed. You admit that you’ve fallen behind with the repayments and it’s up to you and the store to come to an arrangement about the money you owe them. The good news is that you’ve paid off two-thirds of the nearly P25,000 you owed, the store should take that into account. You’ve shown that fundamentally you’re a good payer, just one that had an unforeseen problem. I would expect the store to show you a little tolerance in the circumstances. However, they are within their rights to let ITC know that there’s been a problem.

The other issue, and which you mustn’t, MUSTN’T connect with the repayment issue, is the quality of the goods you bought. A leather sofa costing that much can be expected to last a lot longer than a year. A LOT longer. I suggest that you make it clear to them that you consider they have sold you goods that are not “of merchantable quality” as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001. Make it clear that patching them is simply not good enough. Give them 14 days to fix the problem or you’ll consider legal action.

The critical thing is that you cannot connect the repayments and the quality of the sofas. They’re totally separate issues. Whatever you do, don’t stop paying. That will just get you into deeper trouble.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I purchased a leather lounge suite for P18,000 in November 2010. Around April this year I noticed that the reclining mechanism of the sofa was not functioning well as it made a squeaking and creaking sound when one tries to adjust the position. Also the coverings which are not leather were starting to crack. I informed the store manager and he came to my place and inspected the suite and took them for repairs. They were brought back with nothing done to stop the cracks. Two weeks after receiving the sofas the same problem of squeaking and creaking became more pronounced. I called the manager and he said he will send the repair guys. From that time until now I keep on calling but they still have’nt showed up.

Now I am writing this email because the manager said something that has hurt my feelings. He told me that he has sold a lot of similar items but no one has complained about them and the problem is due to our us being heavy weights. For your information he never told us before buying these items that only certain weights can sit on them. I therefore plead with to get the manager to assist me accordingly since the warranty will soon expire. Thank you.

I’m finding it hard to remain polite. If what you say is correct than this store manager is perhaps the rudest store manager I’ve ever encountered. What a complete ****. (Word removed to protect the delicate feelings of Voice readers).

For now I’ll try and forget about what he said and focus on the problem with your sofa. I don’t think it’s good enough for a sofa to that new to start squeaking. I can imagine how irritating it must be. I’m no expert on sofa reclining mechanisms but can it be that difficult to fix it?

I suggest that you write him a letter giving him 14 days to fix it or you’ll take further action. If he doesn’t get things done as soon as possible, tell him that Consumer Watchdog says you have the right to go and sit on HIM instead of the sofa! That should stop him insulting you.

OK, I didn’t really mean that.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

We get email from a believer in quack AIDS cures

Following my post on the ludicrous Baariz "herbal" cure for AIDS I get a comment from a true believer. His comments are in red. (Yes, he did write it all in capital letters. I've removed his name, phone number and email address to protect the naive.)
Thanks for your feedback. So how exactly does this "cure" work? Where is the scientific evidence for it's efficacy?
So you confirm that there is no scientific evidence for your claims?
"My patient"? Are you a doctor? In the absence of any genuine evidence that it works I'm sure you'll understand why I continue to maintain that Baariz is no more than dangerous sub-pseudoscientific nonsense?

P.S. Do you believe that typing in capital letters enhances your persuasive skills? It doesn't.

[A little background research has confirmed that he's NOT a doctor.]

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Monday 15 August 2011

Another recruitment scam - "George Harry" wants a nurse

A reader sends us an email that a friend, currently working as a nurse, received.
"Dear medical Personnel,

We are an American family working and living in Portsmouth United Kingdom. My name is George Harry. Am a construction Engineer and working with Chevron. I have a wife and two sons. My wife’s called Licen and my sons are Joseph and Kim who are 7 and 9 yrs old respectively. We have a nanny who’s from Bulgaria who takes care of Joseph and Kim, Her name is Kathy.
My wife is sick with cancer of the breast, she is in pains because of the nature of my Job, I find little or no time to be at home for her, therefore, I am contacting you today for us to discuss the possibility of hiring you as her personal nurse.
You will be required to be with her always and give her the attention she desires, take her to the hospital and regulate her medically. You will be required to travel with her to Germany by the 5th of October’ 2011 for her surgery after that be with her. We have agreed to pay you 1,000 Great British Pounds per week for this service. You will need to be in this service for a minimum period of 12 months. You will have accommodation with us as well as a car if you can drive. Payment can be negotiated."
I guarantee that sooner or later there will be some sort of "advance fee" to be paid, almost certainly a visa payment that you'll need to pay via, you've guessed it, Western Union.


Another fake visa lottery

Yet another fake visa lottery scam arrives. A reader received a lengthy email announcing that:
"You are one of the 50,000 winners selected by the computer random draw from the 12.1 million entries registered in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program."
It goes on to announce that:
"U.S. Government helps you with the accommodation and offers you Health Insurance (Freedom HSA Direct Individual Health insurance for 1 year), Dwelling(Apartment in any city you prefer, 1 bedroom for 3 months ), a guaranteed job(in the field that you are are currently qualified so you can start working even from the first week you arrive in the United States and get paid as U.S citizen. ) and education (for U.S. Students or Higher Education through EducationUSA. It includes transfer to a U.S college or University so you can continue your educational study.
What? Sounds amazing, don't you think?

However there's a catch. A big catch:
"United States Permanent Resident Card Granted! - Waiting for payment of processing fee $879
Processing fees Included. Total $879
Although the Diversity Visa participation was free, the law and regulations require to every diversity visa winner to pay a visa processing fee of $879 . The Diversity Visa(Green Card) is guaranteed upon receiving the payment.
The per person fee for each Diversity Visa is $879, payable in U.S. dollars or equivalent of your local currency. This $879 fee is the only fee a winner needs to pay throughout the entire relocation process."
And the final clue that this is a scam?
"The fees must be paid using Western Union money transfer and will be processed by the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom."

PC buying guide, thanks to Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton got in touch with the following, excellent buyer's guide on personal computers. No matter how experienced you are in buying PCs it's worth reading. Many thanks to Michael for his sensible advice and effort in helping his neighbours.


It occurred to me that there seems to be a whole horde of people out there that buy computers without knowing WHY they are buying them. I thought I could compile a list that might help save people from buying something they don’t need. Other people might not agree with me, well then they can add to the list. But at least on a weekly basis I’m asked “What computer should I buy”

My answer is quite simple….

"What are you going to use it for?"

There's no point buying a PC suited for typing out emails and working on spreadsheets if you want to play high graphic games on it. At the same time theres no point buying a PC suited for games if all you will ever do is type emails on it. Once you know what you want to use it for only then should you head out to a computer shop. Don’t go to the shop before you know what you need the PC for as this will only lead to confusion and “panic” next thing you know you are like a rabbit caught in headlights and you end up buying something just to get out.

Things I tell people to look at when buying a PC:

Memory – don’t confuse this with hard drive space.
Hard drive space – Don’t think “ooooooh I’ve got 320GB therefore I have a lot of memory”

Now what I would suggest for a “office PC” is something with the following minimum specs:
Memory – 2 Gigabytes
Hard drive space – 250 Gigabytes
Processor – You can get away with a Celeron here, but if you can afford it get something like an Intel Duo core or the likes. Processors are changing all the time so I won’t start a list. However look at what’s called the cache. The bigger the better.

If you are buying a PC for gaming be prepared to spend around P5000 (at least) I won’t go into this because I would hope that if you were an avid enough PC gamer you will do your homework.

If it’s a pc for home use:
Memory – more is better try to get 4 Gigabytes
Hard drive space – Get nothing less than 320 Gigabytes General rule is buy as much space as you can afford – you can NEVER have enough space (especially if you have kids)
Processor – Splash out for something like the Intel i3 with 3 megabytes of cache. You WILL need the multiple processing capabilities.

Once you have bought your PC remember, most off the shelf PCs that are “no name” brands don’t come with an operating system. This makes it cheaper but you still need to buy Windows. You will also need to buy the office suite. Windows and office can set you back by as much as P3000. But you will be legal.

Most PCs come with a one year HARDWARE warranty however if you take your PC back to the shop after a lighting storm because it doesn’t work you may have to pay because the motherboard might have been hit by a power surge or lighting. For this reason I suggest getting an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

SOFTWARE (Windows, Office etc) will NOT be covered by warranty. So make sure you get a decent antivirus.

Another TVI Express story in the SA Sunday Times

Following last week's story in the SA Sunday Times about TVI Express and their founder, Tarun Trikha, there was another story yesterday entitled "Promises broken, claim cops". It's worth reading.
"... an officer of the Hawks, based in Richards Bay, said he and eight of his colleagues had paid R21600 into the scheme in September - and didn't receive their vouchers or the promised financial returns.

"It was agreed that we would get R108000 in return by a TVI representative, but, up to now, we have not received a cent," said the lieutenant.

A captain at Durban Central police station said he and dozens of colleagues had been lured with "promises of quick riches". He said he had invested R21000 in October and that he and colleagues were promised a R108 000 return in eight weeks.
Remarkably similar to the story we reported here.

Friday 12 August 2011

Stupid questions

When it’s your money at stake there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

I’ve made a career out of asking stupid questions and I’m proud of it. OK, perhaps they weren’t all utterly stupid but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been with a customer and I’ve started a conversation with something like “This might sound like a stupid question, but…” or “Forgive my ignorance, but why…”.

I confess that at times this was the polite version. What I really wanted to say was “What particular brand of barking insanity prompted you to do something that bizarre?” or “Which sharp-suited, over-paid, and under-brained consultant told you that this would be a good idea?

Or perhaps just “Had you been drinking or smoking something illegal when you decided that?

Last week we had a very angry email from a customer from a large motor dealership in Gaborone. She was upset that after she’d taken her brand new car in for it’s first service, she was presented with a bill for the work. But what about the motor plan, she asked, I thought that would cover all these things?

No, the dealer said, that vehicle doesn’t come with a motor plan. But, she said, nobody told me that. Then the argument went into one of those I said this, you said that arguments which nobody can ever win. Unfortunately for everyone this was made more difficult because the salesman who originally sold her the car has since moved on to another job and can’t be traced. However, the fact remains that the entry-level car she bought simply doesn’t come with a motor plan as standard. Instead it’s something she would (or should) have been told will cost an extra P13,000.

Regardless of whether you think this is the way things should be, it’s how things are. I’ve spoken to the MD of the dealership and he says that’s how this particular manufacturer likes to do things with the entry level models. It’s normal practice.

What he’s suggested is that she could come and see him, have a cup of tea, he’ll explain how it all works and I’m sure something will be sorted out to make her a little bit happier.

The lesson, of course, is that she should have asked that question before signing on the dotted line. It’s certainly one of the most important questions you should ask when buying a new, or even a fairly new second-hand car. “Tell me about the motor plan” or “Tell me about the warranty” or even “What will happen to me if the car breaks down?” Remember that no matter how stupid you might feel asking what you think might be a dumb question, it’s not as dumb as finding out a few months later that you’re screwed.

Another approach if you’re not an expert on cars is the old idea of taking a friend with you. We all know someone who knows more about a certain topic than we do. It might be cars, computers or cellphones, we all have a knowledgeable friend, neighbour or relative who could help out. Someone who can ask the right questions on your behalf. Someone who can translate any technical talk that you don’t understand. Someone who can stand next to you while the flashy salesman is talking techie talk and whisper in your ear “He’s lying”.

If, for some reason, you can’t find a helpful expert then please don’t be afraid to appear stupid. Be honest with the salesman and explain that you know nothing about cars (or computers or cellphones). However, rather than let him exploit your self-confessed ignorance, make a point of very obviously writing things down. Say things like “One moment, let me write that down” and then do exactly that. You can rest assured that what they say will be perfectly correct. Finish off by asking a question like “What else is there that I should know?” Then write it down when he says “Nothing”.

The challenge is that we all like to give the impression that we’re capable and know things. However it’s a sign of maturity to acknowledge that while you are a genuinely intelligent, aware and knowledgeable human being, you don’t know everything. The mature thing is actually to say to a salesman, or indeed anyone else, your boss, your staff, your bank manager or your lawyer, “I’m sorry, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

It takes a bit of courage the first few times you do it but eventually you’ll become adept at asking these questions, you’ll develop enough confidence to say to someone trying to blind you with their obscure knowledge that they should cut it out and talk in plain language.

Who knows, you might even then feel confident enough to say things like “Have you any evidence for that claim?” or if you feel like being brutal, “Prove that!

Of course the effect of these questions on the person trying to sell you something, or trying to confuse you, is that suddenly they’ll realise they’re dealing with a challenging customer, someone who isn’t that easy to confuse.

I suppose that in fact there’s only one genuinely stupid question you can ever ask. It’s the one you’ll ask yourself when things go wrong. It’ll be “Why didn’t I ask questions earlier?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I understand that a company called Legend Venture is from Singapore and has agents in South Africa. They have a series of group meetings at a local hotel recruiting Batswana to buy shares from them. The presenters are from South Africa.

I did some checking in the internet and the company history is well outlined but because I know that internet can be used for bad things I don't know whether to trust this and join. They invite you to join the scheme with a packages from one thousand rand and you have to deposit the money in a South African bank as a bank transfer.

I want your help as experts to check further whether this business is something to invest my money in?

I really think you should be very careful about investing in a company like this. Let’s face it, do real companies sell their shares in presentations in hotels? No, that’s not how things work in real life. From what I hear these presenters suggest that Legend Venture buys up failing companies and then somehow, perhaps miraculously, suddenly has offers large returns to it’s shareholders as a result. But does this actually make any sense to you? It certainly doesn’t to me.

There IS what seems like a genuine investment company called Legend Ventures but this is not the same thing. The company you’ve met is Legend Venture, without the ‘s’ at the end. The people you’ve met are marketing what many people around the world, including just across the border in South Africa, consider to be yet another pyramid scheme.

I think you really need to be extremely skeptical about anyone who offers you any form of Get Rich Quick Scheme, particularly when, as you explained in a later email, you’re encouraged to recruit other people beneath you from whom you’ll earn a commission? As you also said in your later email at no point could they actually explain how you’ll make money from these “shares”.

I really think you should steer way clear of these people unless you really want to throw your hard-earned money away.

[Guess what. The people behind Legend Venture appear to be some of the same people selling TVI Express.]

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

First and foremost I would like to thank you for the insightful articles. I'm writing this email to you because I think you are the only person that can help me clarify this issue.

What are the proper charges for not putting on a safety belt when you are stopped by a cop? Why is it that we are advised to not stop at traffic lights when its after midnight but cops can flag you and want to charge you for running over a red light? Is that not exploiting us? Lastly where can I find all the relevant information regarding road charges?

Am I correct in assuming you’ve recently been pulled over by the boys and girls in blue? If not and this is just a theoretical question please forgive what I’m about to say.

Why on earth were you driving without a seatbelt? Have you never seen what happens to someone not wearing a seatbelt when they hit a wall or another car? Surely by now we’ve all seen a dead body on one of our roads? I know I have, lots of them.

If you’re still in doubt do a Google search for “seatbelt video” and among the 7,000,000 hits you’ll find an enormous variety of archived advertisements as well as a number of gruesome images of what happens when you don’t put one on.

Also, where did you hear or see this “advice” that you’re permitted to ignore red lights at night? No, sorry, red lights mean stop 24 hours a day. If you run a red at any time of day you run the risk of being pulled over by the police and being made to pay a fine. You also risk killing yourself. If you really have a death wish combine the two and run some red lights on a Friday in Gabz while not wearing a seatbelt. The experience is guaranteed to end with a bang.

As for the precise penalties you’ll face I don’t know but I‘ll do my best to find out and put it online for you.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Why was Bhagat persecuted?

As a consumer of cardiac health services (don't panic, it's benign and it wasn't caused by any curse from a "traditional healer" quack) I want to know why certain authorities were doing their best to deprive us of our country's leading cardiologist.

He's back in business again now but isn't someone going to call into question the Health Professionals Council's competence and motives?

World Business Guide - are they deceased?

You may recall the World Business Guide scam? A supposed online business directory that was actually worthless but which threatened hellfire and damnation unless you gave them nearly €1,000?

It looks like their scam has died but be warned, they'll be back soon under another name.

We get email from a TVI supporter

I got an email from someone critical of my coverage of the TVI Express pyramid scheme. I won't mention his name.
"Reference is made to an article in The Voice of Friday August 05,2011. I have two questions:
First; in business, do you buy only a product as a consumer?
Second; why did the author not mention that some members of TVI are successful? Was it deliberate or was it through ignorance?
Do not criticise systems that you are not a member of. You would be more convincing if you joined TVI and became a failure. Remember, many people have invested in "genuine" businesses, and have failed. Inference, therefore, every business is a scam.
TVI supporter."
Where should I begin?

In business, no, you also buy services as well as products. But with TVI Express they don't offer either. All they offer is the chance to make money from recruiting other people. That's a pyramid scheme.

Why didn't I mention "that some members of TVI are successful"? Because the ones at the top only make money by cheating other people. I criticise burglars and thieves for the same reason.

So I'm not qualified to criticise a pyramid scheme that I haven't joined and personally experienced? I don't need to jump out of a plane without a parachute to know it's a bad idea. I don't need to burn cash to know it's a bad idea. I don't need to commit a crime and go to prison to know that it's a bad idea. I don't need to have joined the TVI Express pyramid scheme and lost money to know that it's a bad idea.

So because TVI victims lose money and so do some investors in real businesses, then all businesses are a scam?

I do hope you have nothing to do with the education of children.

Cloning scammers?

I think there must be an evil organisation out there cloning scammers and pyramid scheme members.
Here's an example. On a web page calling itself "Consumer Career Trends" there's a picture of a woman and a little girl walking down what looks like the gangplank of a cruise ship. She apparently is "Kelly Richards from Brooklyn, NY" and she's made a fortune from "Home Wealth Solutions", an internet-based Get Rich Quick scheme.

The web page is interesting. It's entirely fake. In fact it's just a single page, nothing more that an advertisement for this scam.

More curious though is that the very same picture appears on several other pages, offering other schemes. She appears here on the "Homestead TV Magazine" page offering "Home Online Jobs".

She also appears here on a page calling itself the "Gaborone JOB REPORT" offering the "Home Cash Generator". No, of course it's nothing to do with Gaborone, that's just the web page knowing from my IP address where in the world I am. If you're in Francistown when you visit the page it will be the "Francistown JOB REPORT" site.

Similarly she's here on the "South-East CAREER TRENDS" page, where she's "Kelly Richards of Gaborone, South-East". She certainly gets around.

Best of all, she also appears on the "South-East Work From Home Report" page where she appears to have assumed a new identity. There she appears as "Tanya Davis".

You don't think these schemes are all scams, do you?

Wednesday 10 August 2011

TVI - their fake "award"

When I was on the radio arguing with the TVI Express people earlier this week one of them claimed that TVI Express had been given an award by the Indonesian Government. I was skeptical and asked them who awarded it and when. They couldn't answer that.

Kasey Chang got in touch to point out that this award is not all it might seem. In fact it's another of those fake awards that you pay for, just like the ridiculous Bizz Awards scam.

Yet more evidence that TVI Express is a pyramid scheme, a scam and a tissue of lies. But we didn't really need more evidence of that, did we?

Thanks again to Kasey for the information.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

What does this look like to you?

What sort of business model do you think this resembles?

Let me give you a clue. Their web site says:
"Do I need to sell any products?

No, there is no physical selling of products."
Want another clue?

Monday 8 August 2011

On air with TVI Express

I had a very amusing experience on radio this morning. After last week's coverage of the TVI Express pyramid scheme, when I reported on it being illegal in Namibia, Georgia, Indonesia and under aggressive investigation in South Africa and Australia, some of the local TVI Express people were very cross indeed and demanded a right of reply.

So they got one this morning. However given that what I'd said was entirely true, their right of reply wasn't unconditional. I was there this morning to respond to some of their comments.

They genuinely seemed confused about what they wanted to say. They described themselves at various points as "investors"and then "not investors", "employees", "directors", "distributors" and "members" of TVI Express.

At one point one of them said that the Bank of Namibia was considering changing their ban in Namibia but changed the subject quickly when two of us pointed out that we'd contacted the Bank who had denied any such thing.

They also ignored the other stories from around the world about TVI Express being declared an illegal  pyramid scheme. At one point they claimed that TVI had been given an award by the Indonesian government but couldn't name the recipient, the award or the agency that had awarded it. They ignored the fact that the Indonesian authorities have apparently banned TVI Express.

The best bit though was when one of them discussed the $250 or P2,100 joining fee and the free holiday you get as a result. That's all there is to it, he said. Well, until he later mentioned (foolishly and for no good reason) the $150 admin fee you need to pay to book a holiday. So it's $400 already. And that's before the travel expenses, the food and drinks bills and any other entertainment expenses you incur.

And, yet again, nobody denied that they are illegal in two of our neighbouring countries.

So nothing new, nothing that might persuade anyone listening that what we've said is untrue.

TVI Express is a pyramid scheme and it should be outlawed.

P.S. I got a message after the show suggesting that one of the TVI Express people was also one of the early adopters of the "Legend Venture" pyramid scheme as well. What a small world!

Saturday 6 August 2011

Want my password?

In comes an email from a Czech email address (, as follows:
"Your mailbox has exceeded its storage limit of 1 GB, which is defined by the administrator, is running at 5.9GB, you may not be able to send or receive new messages until re-confirm your inbox. For revalidation your inbox
Fill below Information: Click REPLY TO SEND YOUR DETAILS:
       Email Address:
       Confirm Password:
       Date Of Birth:
Soon as your account is verify,your mail box will continue to work properly without any problem:
Webmail System Administrator
2011 ITS Help Desk."
On reflection, maybe I won't send them my details.

Friday 5 August 2011


I really don’t like seeing grown adults cry. I can cope when it’s a result of bereavement but that’s normally one of those “cycle of life things”, death is inevitable and expected and the grief following is natural. What I really dislike is seeing tears that have been caused by someone else.

What I really, REALLY dislike is when a proud, intelligent adult is made to cry by a nasty, vicious, cheating pyramid scheme that has stolen her money and left her ashamed and poor.

A couple of weeks ago a reader emailed us asking for our help in recovering money she had invested in TVI Express. She had been invited by two local TVI agents to invest money in what they claimed was an infallible scheme to make money. If she “invested” P30,000 they assured her that within months she would make an enormous profit. They were so convinced of this that they signed a contract with her that “promised” she would “reap an amount of P84,000 before the 10th March 2011 and another P84,000 on the 31st April 2011.“

The contract went on to say that if they failed to pay these amounts she would “have the right to institute legal proceedings for the recovery of any monies owed.”

Clearly the TVI people were convinced they had a failsafe method of making all this money, they wouldn’t have signed such a contract if they didn’t believe it. Either that or they’re just enormously silly.

But they were wrong. Are you surprised?

Some background. TVI Express is a pyramid scheme. Although it’s claimed to have offices in various respectable places it actually appears to be based in India. They describe themselves as
“a dynamic company dedicated to bringing today’s lifestyle-conscious consumers the most superior travel and hospitality products & services, as well as providing a unique opportunity to promote TVI Express through Independent Distributorship.”
So what do they actually offer? What products, what services do they have that you want? The answer is simple. They don’t have any products at all. The closest thing they have is a range of travel discount vouchers. But think about it. Is a discount actually a “product”? Of course it isn’t, it’s a discount against the price of a product. The discount doesn’t actually exist until you spend a lot of money in the first place. And try as hard as you can you’ll find very quickly that these vouchers can’t actually be spent in the places you want to go. These worthless vouchers only exist to give TVI some credibility and to avoid the fact that they’re a product-less criminal pyramid scheme.

That’s what, in fact they are. If you want more than just my word on it, keep reading.

Our reader had given TVI her P30,000 because the people who recruited her believed they had a way of fast-tracking the enormous rewards that TVI promised. Nobody seems entirely clear what this plan involved but it was something to do with buying their way higher up the pyramid. And then, as if by magic, hundreds of lower level gullible fools would hand over vast quantities of cash and everyone at the higher levels would be rich.

That was the plan. Of course this is all utter nonsense. There were no such gullible fools. There isn’t actually an adequate amount of stupidity around. Needless to say our reader didn’t get the P168,000 she had been promised in her contract. No money was made by her investment at all.

Being quite a feisty, intelligent woman, instead of just whining and moaning she demanded her P30,000 back. They gave her an initial cheque for P15,000 but the cheque for the remainder was returned by the bank. They had run out of money as well. It’s then that she got in touch with us to see if we could help.

I suggested that we all get together and I could act as some sort of mediator. OK, I confess, I was biased. She was the one whose money had been taken away from her, they were the ones that took it with false promises from a pyramid scheme. You can guess whose side I was on.

To their credit, the couple who had recruited her had the backbone to come along and offer their side of the story. They didn’t deny anything, they acknowledged that her story was accurate. They now realise, like everyone else, that TVI is a pyramid scheme and they’ve lost money as well on their get rich quick scheme. They’ve assured us that the reader will get all of her initial investment back very soon.

However, it’s more than just the money. Our reader feels ashamed because of what’s happened. She’s not stupid, she’s a confident, assertive and intelligent young woman who can only be accused of naivete. But she was tearful when she was with us, considering the distress this has caused and how embarrassed she was about falling for this scam.

I wonder how many people are falling for scams like TVI Express and are too ashamed to come forward?

One last thing. I’ve been calling TVI Express a pyramid scheme for nearly 2 years now. People have contacted me denying it, saying it’s no more than a legitimate multi-level or network marketing scheme but they’re wrong, they’re either liars or fools. They must know that there’s no product, it’s not difficult to see. It’s also not just me that says it’s a pyramid scheme. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the State of Georgia and, most recently, the Bank of Namibia have all taken action against them. In Namibia TVI Express is now illegal. It’s also been shut down in South Africa with prosecutions pending.

Finally, if you want to see evidence of all this, check this article on our blog and I’ll post links to all the relevant evidence.

Please, I beg you, avoid TVI Express like it’s a communicable disease because that’s what it is. An infection that needs to be eradicated before it causes more tears.

This week’s stars
  • Onkametse from Debonairs at Riverwalk for having a brilliant attitude.

Thursday 4 August 2011

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received an email from a South African company called the Susca Watts Academy offering training certificates in beauty treatments and saying they could guarantee me a job on a cruise liner? They say this will cost R6000 and I must pay R1000 to register. Do you think I can trust these people?

To be accurate, they don’t actually guarantee you a job on a cruise liner. What they say is that they offer:
“Guaranteed Job interview on popular internasional Cruize liner after completion of Certification”
We’ll ignore that fact that they can’t spell correctly, shall we?

I’m suspicious about this for a number of reasons. I did some checking and I can’t find any particular problems with the company itself, they seem to be registered and accredited by various authorities who know more than I do about beauty technologies. However I DO have some criticisms.

Firstly I simply don’t trust any company that emails strangers who they’ve never contacted before. I know for a fact that they’re doing this because you weren’t the only person who got this email. We got one as well addressed to the Consumer Watchdog email address as well. Nobody from Consumer Watchdog has ever contacted these people. I’ve asked them where they got our email address but they haven’t yet told us.

They also sell courses in a range of subjects that are, shall we say, dubious? As well as the usual manicure, pedicure and waxing skills, they also offer courses in “Business management” and, more worryingly perhaps, courses in anatomy, physiology and psychology.

My final worry is the business about the jobs on cruise liners. They work with a Bahamian company called Steiner Transocean who run the spas on many cruise liners and who seem to have a rather poor history of staff treatment and who pay truly lousy wages. A Google search for “Steiner Transocean” and the word “complaint” comes up with over 3,000 hits [Correction: actually over 7,000, my mistake]. And remember this. You’re not guaranteed a job with these people, just an interview.

My advice? Give it a miss.

TVI Express - an update

A couple of times last year we responded to readers who asked us about a scheme called TVI Express. They had been invited to join this scheme with a payment of P2,100 and had been promised a fortune in potential earnings if they just recruited further members beneath them.

I said that this is quite clearly a pyramid scheme. Unlike multi-level marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife there’s no actual product with TVI Express. They pretend that they offer travel discount vouchers but discounts are NOT a product. Discounts are just a reduction in price of a product, not a product themselves. You only get a discount when you spend money on something. What’s more, do you know where to find a hotel, car hire company or airline that accepts their worthless vouchers? No, neither do I.

On TVI’s own web site they answer the question “Do I need to sell any products?” like this:
“No. You don’t need to sell any products. TVI Express is a unique e-commerce opportunity allowing you to build the Business around the globe sitting at your home.” [Update: they've now changed this but it remains the same on their Japanese site.]
When we last wrote about them some TVI Express members criticised me for calling them a pyramid scheme, denying this completely. But more recently I’ve found others who agree with me. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Office of Consumer Affairs in the US State of Georgia both say TVI Express is an illegal pyramid scheme. More recently the Bank of Namibia have also cautioned:
“all promoters of TVI Express, including persons who attempt to recruit others, either by word-of- mouth or via spamming emails messages to join these schemes, anywhere in Namibia, to stop such practices immediately.”
They’re also out of business in South Africa and prosecutions are pending against some of the members there. However in the last week we’ve heard of two people who were recruited into TVI Express her in Botswana, both of whom were promised rapid fortunes and both of whom are now poor. TVI Express is now illegal in Namibia and the sooner it’s outlawed here in Botswana the better.

TVI's worthless travel vouchers

You pay $250 or P2,100 to join TVI Express and they offer you a wonderful travel discount voucher as a reward.

As reported here it's curious that these vouchers actually only cost $9.95 elsewhere.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

TVI Express - more investigation in SA

As reported in Legel Brief, the Mercury reports that:
"The Reserve Bank has turned its attentions to what could be one of the biggest 'pyramid schemes' in SA, possibly involving billions, according to a report in The Mercury.

It says Attorney John Kruger confirmed that he had been appointed by the bank as a temporary inspector to investigate TVI Express, also known as Travel Ventures International - an alleged multi-level marketing venture which is outlawed in SA. Kruger had set up a website, asking investors to contact him with details of how much they had invested and which bank account they paid the money into. TVI first reared its head in London, and at one stage there were dozens of franchises operating around the world. According to information on the Internet, the scheme markets the sale of travel vouchers which purportedly give recipients significant discounts for international travel and accommodation. They are bought electronically but, investigations in other countries have shown, have no intrinsic value."