Thursday 5 July 2012

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I helped a certain woman to get goods (fridge) on account using my account at a certain furniture store. We made a verbal agreement to pay off the installments so as not to blacklist my account. She only paid the first two months and has not paid for five months. I have taken her to court and await the outcome of the ruling. I have approached the general manager of the store and told her my problem. Please help me. What do I do to get her to pay for her goods?

You know that this was really unwise, don’t you? I can understand using your furniture store account to buy something for your wife, husband, long-term-partner or child but “a certain woman”? Also, I’m not sure what a “verbal agreement” really is. Certainly it’s not something you can rely on. What matters is what’s in writing and in your situation the ONLY thing in writing is the agreement between you and the furniture store.

I suspect that you've done as much as it's possible to do. Once you have a court order you can possibly recover the goods she bought, perhaps even more, but I'm not certain what the procedure is for that. Your attorney will be better placed to advise you.

Unfortunately the furniture store has a contract with you and not with her so they're entitled to require you to honor the debt with them. If you can explain the full details to them they show you some lenience but they're not going to let you walk away from your obligations. After all, the store hasn't actually done anything wrong. Your best hope is the ruling from the court.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

There is an advert on BTV for a device called Pest Magic which they claim drives out pests from your home. Does this device really work or are people being taken for a ride?

As the scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan famously said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

The suppliers of this device say that all you have to do, after spending P199, is plug it into a power socket and with its “enhanced microprocessor design” it will create “an intermittent signal using the wiring in your walls that drives pests out.”

They claim on their web site that it “literally makes those pests disappear” and that it “uses the wiring in your home to create a frequency that acts like a controlled interference in the house wiring to irritate pests and will even prevent them from coming back.” They claim that this device uses its “advanced digital cycling method to drive out pests and keep them out”. They claim that it is “approved by the Environmental Protection Agency”.

This is a very good example of pseudoscience, using scientific-sounding terms to make something sound scientific when in fact there appears to be no evidence that it works. In fact, all of the reports I could find about this particular product suggested that it didn’t work at all and I couldn’t find ANY evidence that the device was indeed “approved” by the United States EPA as they claim.

Instead what I found was a series (see here, here and here for all the search results) of rulings by the US Federal Trade Commission as far back as 2002 instructing companies in the USA who marketed products exactly the same as “Pest Magic” to stop it if they wanted to avoid their wrath. I also found a ruling by the South African Advertising Standards Authority forcing Homemark, who sell this device in SA as well as in Botswana, to modify their advertising of the product to cut out some of the pseudoscientific claptrap. Clearly they didn’t go far enough!

My suggestion is to ignore pseudoscience and not to waste your money on products that cannot prove what they say they can do. Section 15 1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says a supplier has failed to meet minimum standards of performance if they quote “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. The next section also prevents a supplier from promising “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”.

Yet again we see products that are either banned or heavily controlled in other parts of the world being sold to our unsuspecting public. But maybe things are changing? Maybe there’s a growing level of skepticism? We can only hope.

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