Monday 30 December 2013

Today's dose of insanity

Are pedlars of Get Rich Quick Schemes irrational?

Sometimes they are.

Someone calling himself Duncan Hayes posted the following message in a Botswana-based Facebook group called "Second Hand CAR sales Gabz". His original post was selling the "Motor Club of America" and claimed that recruits could earn "$500-$1600+ on a weekly basis".

When various members of the group, myself included, suggested that this was a) not relevant to us in Botswana and b) a scam, he became utterly unhinged.

Warning: Don't scroll down if you can't take some rude words.

 Our friend Duncan does seem to have certain pre-occupations, don't you think?

Sunday 22 December 2013

Saturday 21 December 2013

More on "Bling"

More on "Bling".

Go on, say it out loud.

Another news report reporting on "Bling"'s unfortunate, ongoing and entirely self-inflicted contact with the Police.

You REALLY want to see that picture of him again?

An import(ant) warning

Importing cars really is a very dangerous business.

Mainly it’s dangerous for consumers but it’s also dangerous for some of the importers.

There are three main reasons why buying a car from overseas is such a risky thing to do.

The first is the simplest. You’re buying a car you’ve never actually seen, touched or driven.

When you buy a car, particularly a second-hand one, you always take it for a test drive. You always get a chance to see if it works properly, if it’s comfortable, if it just feels like the right car for you. You also get a chance to check its condition. Is there oil leaking from it, does the gearbox seem ok, are there any weird noises coming from the engine? Even if you can’t judge these things for yourself, at least you can take a mechanic or a friend or relative who knows more about cars than you do who can advise you.

None of this is possible when you buy a car from overseas. In that case you don’t get any more than a picture on a web site and do you really think you trust that? I don’t think so and we’ve heard from many consumers who’ve learned the hard way that many of these companies can’t be trusted.

The second reason is that it’s also not even a very cheap way to buy a car. Some months ago I asked an expert to do the calculations for me. He contacted a company in the UK who have a representative here in Botswana and this is what he told me. Note that the exchange rates are a little out of date but recent changes have made it even more expensive to import a vehicle from the UK.
“I requested a price for a 2004 VW Touareg and they came back with a basic price of £8,400. On top of that was £850 for shipping, £400 port costs, £350 delivery to Gabs, £1,400 for duty and tax, a total of £11,400. That’s about P137,370 or R145,612.

The trade price for the same vehicle in pristine condition from SA would be R154,800. Chances are it would be some R15-20,000 less. So expect a trade price of R134,000 or P124,200.

In addition, once landed, the owner is going to have problems getting spare parts. They are NOT the same in every region and there are many subtle differences that we are unaware of. UK weather is very different to ours, which can mean some changes to deal with cooling issues. Radiators may well be smaller and control modules may also have different settings. European cars also often have very different specification to cars built for Africa. One common difference is the lack of rear electric windows that can alter the internal wiring of the car.

This is the same issue with Asian imports. This has caused many problems in the past as these parts are sometimes special orders and non-returnable, so if the local dealership gets the wrong part, it became the dealers problem. That’s why many local dealers will refuse to service imported vehicles.

I certainly would not want to be doing 4x4 off-roading in an imported Touareg in the desert on one of our summer days with a radiator designed to cruise chilly UK motorways!”
The third reason is perhaps even more worrying. Some of the importers are crooks.

We’ve reported in the past about a variety of suspicious importers including one called Westridge Holdings, who represent and advertise locally using the name “Trans Africa Vehicle Exports”. We’ve heard from a number of their customers, or should I say “victims”, who have given them large amounts of money to import cars but who have either been given the wrong car or no car at all. Getting money back from them has then proved impossible. Despite numerous promises, including one in my presence while I secretly recorded the conversation, no refund was paid. Subsequent court rulings haven’t worked either.

This is "Bling". Clearly ripping off your
customers is a good way to make money
Another importer, calling himself “Bling” played a similar game. A reader emailed us, saying:
"My fiance was robbed off by a young man commonly know as Bling. He obtained monies amounting to P120 000 in February 2012 on agreement that he will be delivering an X5 BMW car from UK in three weeks. After this period my fiance reported the matter to the police in Francistown and there was no development on this case. He was paid by a cheque amounting to P108,000 for Standard Chartered bank and P12,000 cash."
We contacted "Bling", otherwise known as Michael "Fortune" Balapi, and he admitted that had taken the money and hadn't actually delivered anything in return. He also admitted that he would have to repay them somehow but when we pushed him to put this in writing and to at least make some payment up-front and to acknowledge the situation he became evasive, coming up with a variety of rather feeble excuses.

Since then we’ve heard from two other victims who had the same experience with Balapi and he has since become less communicative, even becoming threatening, asking us "are you sure about what you're doing", warning us that he would "see what to do" if we published the story and suggesting that we "watch out".

Luckily a little press coverage of the story allowed the police to finally trace him and as I write this our friend “Bling” is a guest of the Francistown Police who are no doubt encouraging him to acknowledge the error of his ways. With luck the law will take its course.

The lesson is, I think, simple. Car importing is a business that is inherently risky, expensive and populated, to some extent, by criminals. Is this really an industry you think you can trust to get you a vehicle?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1


Could you please help me out to know the below mention universities and their accreditation is fake or real (for MBA)? Are they operating legally as per USA government? Hansford University and Richford University.

Requesting please confirm the above two university and their degrees are REAL or FAKE. Would you recommend the above university online MBA?

Fake. 100% fake. Both of them.

Both of these so-called “universities” (see their websites here: Hansford Richford) are nothing more than web sites pretending to be educational establishments, yet further examples of an entire industry devoted to selling fake qualifications to people who can’t be bothered to invest time and effort into getting the real thing. Over the last few years we’ve been asked about around 40 such bogus institutions and they all have one thing in common. Their bogus qualifications are obtained with nothing more than money. No exams, no coursework, no dissertations, no lecturers, no lecture halls, nothing at all apart from a web site that takes credit card payments.

I contacted both of the places you mention and had online chats with their “advisors”, asking them how quickly I could get a degree in order to get a better job. Both told me that I could get a degree, one in nursing, the other in clinical psychology, in less than two weeks. Even when I made it clear that I was completely unqualified and would get a responsible job if I had the degree they didn’t care. All they wanted was the money.

Please don’t be tempted to buy one of these fake qualifications. If you get a job, a promotion or any sort of financial benefit by buying one you’ll be committing a crime. Your employer will be entitled to fire you on the spot and call the police and your career will be in ruins. You don’t want that, do you?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Please help.

I bought an iPad on hire purchase from a store in January 2012. I was depending on my allowance but for some reason my allowance was cut in April and I couldn’t afford to pay them. They took their iPad and told me to write a letter to tell the manager why I can’t pay them. The iPad was in a good condition when they took it. Just yesterday I wanted to buy a bed they tell me I am blacklisted and my name is at ITC and I should pay them P2,800 and then I can be assisted. They say they kept the iPad for 3 months in their shop for me to decide whether to take it or they should sell it but they never told me that. What should I do?

I suspect you might be out of luck but we’ll see what we can do to assist.

As I’m sure you understand the store was within its rights to repossess the device after you stopped paying. If this was a hire purchase agreement then it was still the store’s property until you paid for it in full. However, did they really not tell you anything about the process? They certainly should have done.

Given that you only paid for it for a few months you still owe the outstanding balance, even though you no longer have the iPad. If the store sold the device they would have raised some money to deduct from your debt but you’ll certainly still owe them something.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see if anything can be done.

Friday 20 December 2013

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Monitor - "Consumers hobble away from gruelling 2013"

An article in yesterday's Monitor about consumer issues in 2013.
"Despite inflation reaching record lows during the year, the nightmare that began with the global recession in 2009 continued to engulf most consumers this year, with indebtedness rising as households fought to make ends meet."

Monday 16 December 2013

I've been misquoted

I have been misquoted.

I was asked last week by the Sunday Standard for my opinion on the failure of the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism to collect the so-called "plastic bag levy" that was introduced in 2007. It seems that none of the money collected by stores has in fact been collected by the Ministry and frankly I think that's a bit of a disgrace.

This is what I emailed the Sunday Standard on 13th December.

Feel free to quote from the following, referring to me as "Richard Harriman from Consumer Watchdog".

Hope this helps.


This is very concerning. Consumers have been paying for plastic bags for several years believing that the money raised was funding the protection of our environment. It's shocking to learn now that this hasn't been happening. We're therefore entitled to ask some questions and get some answers.

Why didn't the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism collect the money? What stopped them?

What environmental damage has been done that could have been prevented with the money paid to stores?

Where is the money that we've been paying for the plastic bags? Have the stores kept it somewhere waiting for the Ministry to collect it or have they spent it? Has it contributed towards their profits or have they paid it to their shareholders? The stores need to tell us where our money has gone.

Finally, if the Ministry isn't going to collect the money, maybe consumers should ask for it back?
However in yesterday's paper this is what they printed:
Managing Director of Business and Enterprise Solutions Botswana, Richard Harriman argued that the minister owes consumers an answer on why government has not been collecting money customers pay to stores for plastic bags.

“I think Khama owes consumers a lot of answers like why his Ministry did not collect the money, what environment damage was done by his failure to collect the money as plastic bags are scattered all over the country which could have been prevented by spending the money that could have been collected.”

Harriman pointed out that Khama needs to also tell the consumers where that money is and whether they will still be able to collect it or whether the money has already been spent by the stores, whether it contributed to the stores profits, whether it had been paid to shareholders or whether the customers should claim it back.
For the record, I did not comment on the Minister, either by title or name. The quotation in the second paragraph that they say was from me is in fact nothing to do with me.

Sorry to be pedantic but it matters.

Sunday 15 December 2013

And another - Richford "university"

You know the routine by now. Fake accreditation, stock photos of smiling people who aren't really anything to do with them and degrees for no more than cash.

Richford "University" is yet another example.

Here, yet again, are edited highlights of an online chat with two of their "advisors".
You are now chatting with 'Alyson J Watkins'.
Alyson J Watkins: Hello
Alyson J Watkins: How are you today ?
[Me]: good thank you
Alyson J Watkins: You're welcome.
[Me]: i'd like to get a masters degree in clinical psychology. how long would that take?
Alyson J Watkins: Just one year.
Alyson J Watkins: From which University have you completed your Bachelors ?
[Me]: i got an online bachelors degree in psychology
[Me]: i need to get the masters as quickly as possible so i can get a promotion.
[Me]: how quickly can i get it?
Alyson J Watkins: As soon as you wish to get it
[Me]: but how long does it take to study?
Please wait while I transfer the chat to 'Jerry Mackay'.
You are now chatting with 'Jerry Mackay'.
Jerry Mackay: hello Rebecca !
[Me]: i just need to know how quickly i could get a masters degree
Jerry Mackay: Duration - Approx. Program Completion Time is less than 1 years time !
Jerry Mackay: How ever it depends on your speed and your pace
Jerry Mackay: How soon you wish to complete it
[Me]: they will advertise a job in january
Jerry Mackay: can you tell me a little bit about your work experience ?
[Me]: i've been working in another hospital for 15 years in administration
[Me]: is there any way do you think i can get it by the middle of january?
Jerry Mackay: yes
Jerry Mackay: you can
Jerry Mackay: there is a possibility
Jerry Mackay: I can offer you a FAST TRACK program
Jerry Mackay: where you just need to complete the assessments and get your Master's Degree in couple of days time !
Jerry Mackay: Great !
Jerry Mackay: so let me go ahead and get you started !
[Me]: how much will this cost me?
Jerry Mackay: Total fee $15000
Jerry Mackay: Enrollment $499
Jerry Mackay: But
Jerry Mackay: I have one Scholarship Offer for you !
Jerry Mackay: Pay $1700 in one shot payment and the rest of the money will be covered by the Scholarship Offer !
Jerry Mackay: No more money will be required from your side later on
Jerry Mackay: and you will be paid in full for the complete Degree
Is that clear enough? I can get a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology where I might be dealing with people in dire need of professional help without any experience or learning at all?

Hansford "University", another fake

It's the same old story. Yet another fake university that claims it can award degrees to people who have done no work, submitted no coursework and who have sat no exams, this time calling themselves Hansford "University" .

I contacted them and said I was interested in getting a Bachelors degree in Nursing, or as they spell it, "NUSRSING".

I think you can learn all you need to know about this bogus establishment by reading the conversation I had with them. Note the point when they make it clear that I can get a degree in Nursing from them in 2 weeks with no study required despite being totally unqualified. All I need to do it give them $199.

I've removed the boring bits where "Jason Brown" explains that I can get this degree based solely on my "Prior Learning Assessment".
You are now chatting with 'Jason Brown'.
Jason Brown: hi Samuel how can i help you
[Me]: I need to get a bachelors degree in nursing as quickly as possible to get a promotion.
[Me]: How quickly can I get one?

Jason Brown: OkaY YOU CAN GET IN 2 WEEKS
[Me]: Do I need to sit any exams?
Jason Brown: No Study Require No Examination Dear
Jason Brown: Let me go ahead with the procedure
Jason Brown: It will be a normal academic degree certificate which can be used for job promotion, immigration, Visa licensing purposes, business expansion. For any whichever reason.
Jason Brown: What is your highest level of qualification?
[Me]: I have a school leaving certificate
Jason Brown: Are you currently employed?
[Me]: Yes, as a cleaner in a hospital.
Jason Brown: How much work experience do you have in total?
[Me]: 5 years as a hospital cleaner.
Jason Brown: Great
Jason Brown: How much do you earn per month in USD?
[Me]: About $500
[Me]: I want to get a promotion to be a nurse where the pay is much better.
Jason Brown: You are right my dear
Jason Brown: you earn less than you should be earning just because of the degree that you don`t have
[Me]: How much will it cost me?
Jason Brown: The standard cost of Bachelors Degree is $12000
Jason Brown: However since you've been qualified to attain a Presidential Scholarship therefore the amount has been dropped down significantly to ''ZERO''.
[Me]: It won't cost me anything at all?
Jason Brown: As you have been qualified for Presidential Scholarship that`s why the price became $0
Jason Brown: All you need to do is you need to reserve your seat
Jason Brown: All the Financial aid will be done by university
Jason Brown: Registration will be for just $199
All the other clues are there. Accreditation with bogus accreditation organisations, stock photos of people they claim are in their faculty and no physical location anywhere.

So it's clear. Hansford "university" isn't really a university, it's a bogus organisation that sells bogus degrees to bogus people.

Saturday 14 December 2013

A fair comparison?

Is it fair to compare Botswana with other, perhaps more developed countries? Can we see ourselves as comparable to countries like the USA, the UK, Singapore and Japan? Are we in the same league?

Of course we are. To an extent. We’re just as talented, just as well-educated, just as focussed and entrepreneurial as anyone else, if we choose to be so. I’ve been lucky enough to work in many places and in my experience we have exactly the same proportional level of talent (and incompetence) as any other country I’ve known.

So there’s no real excuses for us to be less able as any other country. So why DO we settle for second best? Why do we allow ourselves to be given anything that is sub-standard?

Before I hear any excuses, yes I DO know that our geography has a great influence on almost every aspect of our lives. We live in a fairly large country that has a tiny population. Our population density, the average number of people in each square kilometre of land, is tiny. Just for comparison, the USA has an average of 35 people living in each square kilometre of land. The UK has 262. Singapore, a country we depend on rather too much for inspiration has an astonishing 7,669. We have 3½.

You simply can’t underestimate the effect this has on every aspect of our lives. The costs of transporting goods are always going to be higher in a country like ours compared to other parts of the world so that’s one reason that many products are a bit more expensive than another places, particularly as we import almost everything that we consume. So we should expect to pay a bit more, we have to face that.

But that’s not the case with everything we consume. Take cellphone networks for instance. Yes, we all know that erecting cellphone masts is an expensive business and with such a widely distributed population we need more of them per head than other places. So yet again things are going to be more expensive for us than in smaller countries like the UK where they have 75 times as many people in each square km. But how much more expensive does it have to be to offer services?

Let me share a personal experience. I currently pay P749 each month for my cellphone contract. For that I get 200MB of data, 250 text messages and 575 “cross net” minutes every month. Frankly it’s a small fortune.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the UK for a week. Rather than pay the extraordinary amounts of money I must pay if I roam over there I bought myself a prepaid SIM card from a local supermarket. The SIM card cost me £1 (about P14) and I then bought £10 of credit which I then used to buy their imaginatively named “£10 package”. For this amount, around P140, I got 200 minutes of calls, unlimited text messages and 250 MB of data, all of which had to be used in the next month. As you can see it’s not a million miles away from what I get here at home. The data I get was roughly the same but the text message allowance was unlimited in the UK and the call costs per minutes were just over half the Botswana price, but maybe that’s the effect of our geography you might think? So did I.

I did until the following day when I got an automated message from the UK provider thanking me for topping up with that £10 and alerting me that they were adding more to my package for free. They were giving me another 800 minutes of call time, even more unlimited texts (yes, I know if you double infinity you still get infinity) and another 1GB of data. I now had almost double the call time, an infinite number of text messages and six times as much data as I get in Botswana for a mere 20% of the cost.

In effect, the call rate at home in Botswana was ten times more expensive and the cost of the data thirty times higher than in the UK. And did I mention the unlimited text messages?

It’s not just in the UK where they get better products and services than we do. I also have a South African prepaid SIM card that I use whenever I cross the border. Not only are the call and data rates much cheaper but there are even additional services.

As soon as I plug my Vodacom SIM card into my iPhone new menu items appear, including the “Personal Hotspot” facility. I switch this on and suddenly my phone becomes a WiFi hotspot so my family can pick up their email via my phone connection. The moment I cross the border on the way home and switch back to my local SIM card that option disappears.

And another thing. The contract Vodacom offers in SA that is closest to mine here comes with an entirely free iPhone 5S.

Before anyone complains that I’m being unfair I freely admit that I am not comparing “like with like”. It’s probably not fair, I confess, to compare contract prices with prepaid. It’s not fair to compare a highly developed, densely populated country like the UK and a developing nation like ours. It’s not fair to compare technically sophisticated network providers with ours that are so obviously less so.

But is IS fair, don’t bother arguing with me, to observe that we are paying a hell of a lot more than they are for a hell of a lot less. And it’s also fair to suggest that rather than just making VAST amounts of money from us, they should offer us a bit more than the miserable products and services we currently get. Or do they think we don’t deserve any better?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I'm interested in buying a smartphone overseas/online. A couple of weeks ago I met a lady by the name Latifat Mubaibh via Facebook. She was marketing the products of the company she is representing. The thing is I don’t know if she's genuine or its a scam but the products prices are good e.g. Blackberry 9320 for $130, Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini for $300 (all of them include shipping costs).

I asked for the company website and she said its under construction for the Xmas season which worries me if she is really genuine. She also said they a have branch in USA, UK and West Africa. She said I could reach their Second Office in United States at 314 East Maple Street, Wisconsin, Webster 54893, United States. Here's her email address and contact number which I had asked for contact number +447053851837. She also sent me assurance certificate of their company that I'm guaranteed the goods will arrive at my door step (please find the attached document).

Help me please.

I think you know that this is a scam, don’t you?

The clues are fairly obvious if you look closely. Your question about their web site was a wise one. It’s safe to assume that any electronics company that hasn’t spent some time establishing a web site is suspicious. You have to ask yourself why they wouldn’t? Their excuse about it being “under construction for the Xmas season” is just silly.

Then there’s the address in the USA. It doesn’t exist. I checked. And then there’s the cellphone number. Why would a company claiming to have offices everywhere just use a UK cellphone number?

Yet another clue is the ridiculous letter you received which includes phrases such as “we are here to guarantee you that your order will be deliver to you at your doorstep as you comply with our terms of shipment” and “be inform that this delivery guarantee is been approved by the appropriate law enforcement agency” and which says they have been “approved by the Metropolitan Police” in London. That’s just nonsense. I think the London Police have better things to do than “approve” people selling cellphones on Facebook, don’t you?

Clearly these guys are smart, they give prices that are almost plausible and seem like bargains, but rest assured that they don’t actually sell phones, they’re just a bunch of crooks trying to steal your money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Guys I want your advice on something. A store had blacklisted me due to some payments I was owing them. Now the problem is that they had handed the account to debt collectors but what surprises me is that each and every month they send me accrued balances, so I wonder if when they hand you to ITC, they hand the liability balance as finally closed?

I’m afraid that’s not how debt works.

Every store credit agreement we’ve ever seen includes a clause saying that if you fall behind with your payments the store will be entitled to accrue interest on the outstanding amount until it’s all repaid, even as you’re repaying it. It’s yet another way in which buying things on store credit can be the worst financial decision you’ll ever take. It’s also a way in which stores can avoid the “in duplum” rule which says the interest charged cannot exceed the amount outstanding but ONLY If you settle the debt in one go. If the repayment stretches over months or years the amount you repay can be enormous.

I suggest that you get in touch with the debt collectors and ask for a full statement of the debt and discuss with them what you can afford to repay. All decent debt collectors (yes, such creatures do exist) will do this. After all it’s in their interest as well as yours to give you a fair chance to repay them. They really don’t want to take you to court to get their money, it’s time-consuming, hard work they want to avoid.

Do this as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more they’ll add to your debt and the longer it will take you to repay it and clear your credit record.

Let me know how it goes.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Judging a book

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so they say.

Nonsense. Of course you should.

I think that as consumers we are perfectly entitled to judge companies by the way they look. In fact I think it’s the only sensible approach. You are perfectly entitled, legally and morally, to judge a company, a store, anyone who wants your money by the way they appear.

I don’t just mean the obvious situations like restaurants and food stores, we all know that we shouldn’t buy or eat anything prepared in a dirty environment or by people with poor hygiene standards. We are obviously perfectly entitled to judge any establishment that serves food by the way in which they do so.

But that’s not who I mean. I mean ordinary businesses.

Let’s start with anyone selling you any sort of financial service. Whether it’s a credit card, an insurance policy or any sort of “opportunity” to make you money you really MUST judge the person selling it by how they appear, where they operate from and how they seem to do business.

When the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme was still operating last year I heard from many people who had been invited to join while in spicy chicken restaurants, in the streets and by shiny-suited visitors to Kgotla meetings. Not one of them went to an office with a boardroom. That’s because there was no office. Not one of them had any of the traditional trappings of a respectable company with whom you could trust your money.

Also, the fact that the scheme was being sold by people like you and me and not specialist financial advisors says a lot. Investing in a scheme being sold by your neighbour, a work colleague or, worst of all, a relative or friend is inherently suspicious and you should never do it. Not ever. The risks aren’t just towards your money, they are to the relationships you have with the people who recruit you and who you recruit.

When it comes to financial services I think you’re entitled to assume that any investment company that doesn’t operate from a conventional office can’t be trusted.

You are also entitled to judge companies by how they describe themselves. We heard recently from a reader who was being chased by a debt collector for P3,000 she borrowed from a friend. She says that this was just a simple informal loan but it turns out that the friend had borrowed the money from a motshelo lending scheme. Despite having repaid her friend a total of P3,200 the motshelo lender instructed a debt collector to get the money from her, not the friend who actually borrowed it from them.

Let’s overlook the fact that the scheme wasn’t registered with NBFIRA as the law requires. Let’s ignore that there was no written contract between our reader and this scheme. Let’s ignore that the actual debtor was the woman’s friend. Let’s ignore all of those things and instead look at the letter the debt collector sent.

Their letterhead describes their company as:
“Specialised in debt collection and secretarial services, work and residence permits, company formation, fashion designing, programmes, t-shirt, video shooting/editing, name tags and building construction”.
Is there anything they DON’T do?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with companies offering a range of services, most companies are flexible enough to do many things but I don’t trust a company that thinks offering debt collection, t-shirts and building construction all on the same letterhead is a bit suspicious. The fact that they don’t have a landline also alarms my skeptical instincts.

However we can’t overlook the opening line in their letter.
“We act on behalf of our client [name withheld] representing a pyramid (Motshelo)…”
A pyramid? Is that who they really think they are representing? I think the regulators need to hear about this, don’t you?

Then there’s their ignorance. Despite there being no signed or even verbal agreement between our reader and the people operating the lending scheme, the amateur debt collector was P5,670 for the money she borrowed (despite having repaid P3,200 already), P175 for writing their silly letter, P175 for delivering it and a massive P1,134 as a “collection commission”.

How long will it be before they realise that they’re not going to get a single thebe from this person? How long before they realise they’re chasing the wrong person? How long before they realise that they sound a bit like a bunch of crooks?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with companies operating on a small budget, from small offices and with home-made letterheads but when it comes to serious business issues I think we can demand a little more, at least some attention to detail, some care about their credibility and with not looking like a bunch of crooks operating from behind a chicken restaurant.

I wonder if the opposite is true as well? Is it possible to mistrust an organisation that goes to the opposite extreme? Is it acceptable to judge a company that behaves ostentatiously? I wonder if it’s possible to assume that a bank charging exorbitant bank charges and which recently spent hundreds of millions on a flashy new HQ can be trusted to put our interests high up their list of priorities?

So let’s start being a LOT more judgmental, a lot more critical and a lot more negative. Let’s start telling companies who seem either too crummy or too flashy that we don’t trust them simply because of the way they look, sound and appear. It might just encourage them to start looking respectable and trustworthy. Until then they deserve no respect and no trust.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I need help, I bought a cellphone in December 2011 at a furniture store in Tlokweng and paid it within 3 months. A year or so later I went to my bank to apply for a loan and was declined reason being that I was blacklisted at ITC. When checking with ITC they confirmed that I havent been paying. I then went to the shop and demanded explanation and my P70 change which they still owe me to date. All I got was an apology and was told they made a mistake by sending a wrong data cd to ITC during their system upgrade. I was told the mistake would be rectified the next day, which was around independence day 2012. I made several follow ups by phone since I stay in Palapye but all I always get is excuses and apologies. I also asked them if they could make arrangements for me to get my change at their branch here in Palapye but everything seems so complicated to their management. When I try to get their branch here to call Tlokweng and follow up my case they take it that its not their problem and I should call them at my expense. I have copies of receipts and the contract.

This is just not good enough. You have been comprehensively let down by this store and they need to fix this problem urgently.

It’s a constant wonder to us how often stores claim not to have the power to fix problems. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a store to fix problems that they have caused. Even if they don’t have the power to fix it themselves they DO have the power to take responsibility for doing to so, for making the phone calls, for sending the emails and for making sure that you, their customer, isn’t financially crippled because of their uselessness and incompetence.

Some months ago the MD of a major furniture store chain told me that he was just as frustrated as we were by his managers who couldn’t solve the simplest of problems without involving him or his senior colleagues. Nobody seems to understand why they can’t just fix things before they escalate.

We’ll send this problem over to the MD and see what can be done. Expect a rapid solution!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
I bought 2 x garage doors from a supplier in Gaborone for a total of P17,584 and paid a deposit of P14,000 on the 7th of September. The doors were supposed to be installed at Mahalapye but in vain. On the quotation, they are promising 7 - 15 working days but it's now more than 2 months and the reasons I am getting are their car has broken down and they are still carrying out backlog in Gaborone. What's really pissing me off is, they do not have the decency of calling and updating me and I am the one who is always calling. Most of the time the manager is unreachable, out of town or in a meeting. My fear is either they have chowed my money or they are simply taking me for granted.

Could you please assist in his regard?

After all these years I’m still surprised by how discourteous some companies can be. If it’s true that these guys are having logistical problems all they need to do is give you a call and I’m sure you, like the rest of us, would be flexible and tolerant. But what suppliers like this one do, when they fail to communicate, is make us suspicious, they make us wonder if our money is being stolen. They just antagonise us, all for the lack of a phone call or two.

Frankly I can’t believe that they’re really stealing your money but it’s time to take some action whatever they’re up to. I suggest that you write them a letter demanding either the installation of your garage doors or a refund. Tell them that they have them 3 days to choose which they prefer and 14 days to do get it done. Tell them that if they fail to do so you’ll go directly to the Small Claims Court for a judgment. I realise that the limit for the Small Claims Court is P15,000 but it’s close enough and it’ll be better than nothing. Meanwhile you should also tell them that if this isn’t fixed within that time then every reader of The Voice will know who they are. Do you really think they want that sort of fame?

Meanwhile we’ll get in touch with them as well and see if we can’t encourage them to be a bit more cooperative.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Yet more imported car silliness - updated

Yet again we heard from a consumer having dreadful problems with an imported car.

She emailed us, saying:
"My fiance was robbed off by a young man commonly know as Bling. He obtained monies amounting to P120 000 in February 2012 on agreement that he will be delivering an X5 BMW car from UK in three weeks. After this period my fiance reported the matter to the police in Francistown and there was no development on this case.
He was paid by a cheque amounting to P108,000 for Standard Chartered bank and P12,000 cash."
We contacted "Bling", otherwise known as Michael "Fortune" Balapi, and asked him for his reaction. He admitted that he did indeed take the money and hadn't actually delivered anything in return. He also conceded that he had to repay them somehow. However when we pushed him to put this in writing and to at least make some payment up-front and to acknowledge the situation he became evasive, coming up with a variety of rather feeble excuses.

We spoke to him today and this was when things became a bit more challenging, maybe even a little aggressive. He seemed upset to find out that we had discovered him on Facebook (where he ostentatiously demonstrates his apparent wealth and outdoor pursuits), that we were persisting in asking questions and that we knew his full name. While he said we should go ahead and publish whatever we wanted about him and this story, he asked "are you sure about what you're doing" and that he will "see what to do" if we do, in fact, publish the story. He suggested that we "watch out".

The curious thing is that he genuinely doesn't seem to understand that he's done anything wrong. He admits he's taken someone's money but seems to have no sense of obligation or honour. All he can do is make excuses and threats.

So, "Bling", are you prepared to do the decent thing and pay your debts? Or are you happy being unreliable, untrustworthy and unpopular?

Or would you prefer to become even more unpopular with the press, the public and the Police?

Update: We've received various messages from our friend "Bling" who yesterday changed his Facebook name to "Mondo Nkubu" subsequent to this post. It went like this:
Mondo Nkubu: If I may tell u damage has already made pple r callin me even lost a customer 2day I told kate tht I shud mit her 2day then she told me she won't manage I shud cum tomorow nw I dn knw

Us: Have you thought of fixing the situation by paying a refund?

Mondo Nkubu: Ya I told her my business was goin back to track so I was goin to make arrangements wth her to payback in instalments but nw I dnt knw lyk we had an appointment tomorow nw I will c wth my lawyer to arrnge things for me wth u n the client

Us: So what do you suggest? When can she get her refund?

Mondo Nkubu: Pls i dnt hav tht kind of money at the moment n that lady who reprted the issue I dnt knw her I can only deal wth the ownr but let me talk to my lawyr will get bat to u in the morning

Us: You signed an agreement with [XXX] to deliver a BMW X3 and promised in that agreement that if the vehicle wasn't delivered "in time or to the agreed date" that you "will have to pay back" P120,000. This was witnessed by [XXX]. And you DO have that money, you were paid it for the car. Where is it now?
UPDATE - Friday 13th (unlucky for some)

Our friend "Bling" sent us two text messages explaining his unhappiness.
"Let me deal wth ths dnt push it,i wl handle it um stl arrngn a cuple of things 2 make it happn n pls i ask u nicely stop puttn my name n pictures on media,u r dsturbn my busines hw do i pay back clients if i dnt hv busines,jail tym wont pay clients blv me i thnk u knw beta"
He wants us to "stop puttn my name n pictures on media" because it's "dsturbn my busines"?

Tough. He shouldn't have taken at least THREE people's money in exactly the same way.

And then:
"U knw smtyms i text u via facebook u publsh my sms dnt knw if evrytym i talk 2 u u wl do tht,it wl b beta if i dnt talk 2 u again n deal wth clients n th law"
So Bling would prefer to deal with "th law" rather than settle his debts like normal people do? That's fine with us.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Hadley "University", yet another bogus establishment

Here are some selected highlights from my online conversation this morning with Hadley "University".

I'm not sure it need much explanation. Is this the way that a REAL educational establishment operates?

You are now chatting with 'Mark Smith'.
Mark Smith: hi
[Me]: Hi
[Me]: I found your web site. I need to get a PhD in Nursing to get a promotion. How quickly can this happen?
Mark Smith: well that depends

Mark Smith: Have you done your Bachelors degree?
[Me]: Yes, I have a Bachelors degree in Nursing
Mark Smith: and Masters
[Me]: Yes
Mark Smith: In nursing
Mark Smith: From which college?
[Me]: Yes, both of them
[Me]: The Bachelors from a college here in Botswana, the Masters online from Ashwood University.
Mark Smith: Thank you

[Me]: Can you tell me how long it will take to get the PhD?
Mark Smith: The Educational process of University is so simple the first step is to enroll yourself online with University and once you are enrolled you will get a access to your Student Area , Your Student Area is actually consisting of a Electronic generated which will have two major options. One is the Classroom and other one is an assessment room
Mark Smith: ClassroomAll of your Study material will be provided to you're in your Student Area that is divided into different Sections, and topics. for each course you can find E-books, PDF files, Audio video learning, pre-recorded lectures, Online classes, quizzes, Project details, Assignments, Interactive Learning, etc. all the material pertaining to your studies. Classes are available 24/7 so you can study at any time according to your own convenience
Mark Smith: Once you have gone through the Study material of the course, What all you need to do is you need to click on Assessment room, that is based on multiple choice questions from the Study material that was given to you, you need to answer those questions once you are done the results will be generated right over there and then

[Me]: I needed the qualification soon, they are doing promotions early next year.
Mark Smith: Okay
Mark Smith: Tell me how many years of working exp you have
[Me]: About 25 years

[Me]: Is it possible to get the degree before February?
Mark Smith: By enrolling now i can get your degree registered and validated and delivered to you by 1 week of FEB or before

[Me]: Are there any exams or reports I have to write?
Mark Smith: You only need to give a short exams
Mark Smith: and submit a short thesis
[Me]: How much will this cost?
Mark Smith: original cost is $15000
Mark Smith: but enroll now you only pay $3100
Mark Smith: today is the last day of the month
Mark Smith: and we are giving scholarships of 75%
[Me]: Must I apply today?
Mark Smith: yes
Mark Smith: you need to apply today so you can start today and the soon we can send you the degree

Mark Smith: Registration fee is $199
Mark Smith: You want to use a Visa or Master card
A doctorate examined by multiple choice tests? Entry without any proof of prior qualifications? "Scholarships of 75%" for no reason? No evidence of accreditation from genuine accreditation agencies?

This is apparently is Amelie Metters who they say is part of their faculty and who teaches Clinical/Counseling Psychology and Organizational Psychology.

Curious that this appears to be a stock photo used by a number of other sites.

Yet another fake.

Friday 29 November 2013

Who not to trust

It might seem old-fashioned but a key part of any successful business is the trust its customers have in it. Think of all the really successful brands, the ones that make staggering amounts of money, often more money than some countries have, and you’ll find companies that somehow inspire trust among their customers. Companies like Apple and Virgin have built brands that inspire a sense of trustworthiness and reliability, attributes that keep their customers coming back over and over again.

It’s the dream of anyone who really wants to be successful in business, to create a brand with that level of trustworthiness and hence loyalty. However some companies adopt a slightly different approach, they just sell the cheapest, nastiest rubbish at hugely inflated prices to people with little choice.

Another group go out of their way to abuse their customers, thinking that they can get away with ripping everyone off just once, there being a steady flow of victims in the pipeline.

Trans Africa Vehicle Exports is
registered to this address in the UK
In June this year I wrote about a car importer who seemed to have adopted this approach. Westridge Holdings, who represent and advertise locally using the name “Trans Africa Vehicle Exports” fall definitely into this category. Their business is importing cars from the UK to sell to people here in Botswana.

First things first. Importing cars from overseas is a silly idea but many people seem to think that it’s a very good way of getting a cheap car. The truth is very different. The simple fact is that buying a car online from a far-flung foreign country is NOT a cheaper way to buy a car than buying one here. It’s simply not cheaper. Once you include the costs of actually getting the car from the UK or Singapore all the way to Botswana, all the taxes, duties and fees, all the storage costs they often include you get to almost the same price as an identical car here or in South Africa, if not more. Then you add in the additional costs for parts when you later service the car, always assuming that you can get it serviced. I know dealers here who now refuse to service imported cars of the brands they sell because either the cars have been “clocked” by having their mileage adjusted or because the inconvenience of finding parts for cars built for other parts of the world is so high.

More importantly, who in their right mind would buy a car they’ve never test-driven? That’s The Number One Rule Of Buying A Second Hand Car. Test drive the car before you sign anything. Then go home and think about it. Then get your friend the mechanic to test-drive it as well. This is obviously impossible if the car you want is on the far side of the planet.

Then there’s the sort of people who often run these import businesses. Business like Trans Africa Vehicle Exports lie, take people’s money without delivering cars and, if you’re lucky, just deliver the wrong type of car and make you wait forever for a refund.

This is the same company who, according to another newspaper a few months ago, had its owner arrested on suspicion of fraud. The same company whose customers we’ve heard from on several occasions, sometimes delivering the wrong car and refusing to offer their customer a discount. On other occasions they just didn’t deliver a car at all. Nothing.

One of their customers contacted us after she had paid them a large amount of money only to have entirely the wrong delivered. The manager at Trans Africa then refused a refund until he could find a new buyer for the wrong car. Despite failing to abide by his contract with her, despite failing miserably to abide by the Consumer Protection regulations and, above all, despite eventually promising her a refund there were endless delays in actually making the payment. When the client, the importer and I eventually met he assured us both that the refund would be made the same day.

It’s no surprise of course that he lied. No payment was made that day, nor the next day, nor the one after that, nor in the months since. He didn’t even repay her after she went to court and obtained an order she can use against him to seize and sell his assets. He’s now effectively on the run, claiming that he has no vehicles that can be seized to raise some money to pay his debts.

So has he gone to ground and stopped running this crooked business? No, he’s still there and I’ve heard from other people all with pretty much the same story. Either the wrong car or no car at all. Only last week they placed advertisements in the papers advertising their car import services, despite having built up this long trail of victims. As a test last week I sent him a text message asking if he can get me a vehicle and yes, he’s perfectly willing to get me one so long as I cough up the necessary money in advance

So let me state this simply and directly, in terms that Westridge Holdings, the Botswana wing of Trans Africa Vehicle Exports and their “manager” Earnest and everyone thinking of buying a car from them can understand.

Don’t. Don’t give them any money under any circumstances. If you’re lucky you might get a car from them but there’s a sizeable chance that you won’t and your money will disappear, never to be seen again.

They can’t be trusted so please don’t risk your money with them.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Hello Consumer Watchdog. Earlier this month I mistakenly recharged a cellphone number which has almost the same number as mine except that it ends with "5" while mine ends with "3".

After realising that I made that error I called the person for that number and was told its a company cellphone though he suggested that I might get my units back. The units were worth P50.

However the last company worker I talked to told me it will be difficult to be reimbursed, stating that the owners of the company are impossible. Please be of help by advising as I need those units, I bought them for a purpose and its really bad for someone to remain uncooperative. May be the answer I will get will lay off the ghost and help adjust my troubled soul. Thanking you in advance.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this sort of thing. It’s happened with airtime but also with bank payments and the mobile money services offered by the cellphone companies. Getting just one digit wrong can lose you your money, simple as that. I can understand it happening with airtime but I simply can’t with banks. Don’t they compare the account number you give with the name of the account holder and make sure they match? Clearly they don’t but they certainly should.

Let’s get a few things straight first. I think you understand this was entirely your fault, not the fault of the company. It was your responsibility to be careful when entering the number. But we also have to remember that people make mistakes, we’re all fallible and I think it’s reasonable to expect the cellphone companies to give us a chance to double check the number before it’s too late.

However, surely the company can be reasonable? It was an honest mistake and it will only take them a few moments to remedy the situation. It’s only what a good neighbour would do, isn’t it?

You’ve been unlucky enough to accidentally give your airtime to a company who doesn’t like to be a good neighbour. Send us their details and the number you mistakenly sent the airtime to and we’ll get in touch and see if they can’t be a bit more friendly?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

My friend applied for a loan in July and he was told that his name was blacklisted because his name was with ITC. He went to ITC to check why his name was blacklisted and he was told that sometime in 2012 he ordered a bedding from Home Choice in South Africa and he never paid, mind you the things he ordered were never delivered that’s the reason he didn’t pay. Of lately he’s been calling Home Choice everyday for them to remove his name but they are not willing to help him and now he is stuck because he wanted the loan urgently but now he cant get it because of the home choice issue. I need you help here.

We got in touch with Home Choice in South Africa and they acted fairly quickly to fix this.

They sent us an email saying:
"We have investigated this matter and have noted that there was a delay in processing the credit note to the account. We have subsequently credited the account and have requested the Credit Bureaux to remove the default listing as well as the payment profile. As soon as we receive confirmation that the default has been removed, we will advise Mr [name removed] as well as yourself. We have already received confirmation from TransUnion ITC that this has been actioned and await feedback from the other Bureaux. We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused [name removed].”
We heard back from the reader who told us that his friend did indeed have his credit history corrected and he now has the loan he was waiting for. Thanks to Home Choice for fixing their mistake.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Our new friend Laura

In came an email from "Laura Kettless":
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2013 16:30:10 +0000 (GMT)
From: laura kettless <>
Subject: co op
To: Consumer Watchdog <>

i have waited 12 - 18 months for my shares as i missed the last drop due to moving house and my statemtn would have been around 16000 points
they sent letters stating no profit made - i asked at the bank and was told the same yet on goole there is a document stating their profs fell by 9.5 % to £288 million
Quite often we get emails from people in all parts of the world, thinking that Consumer Watchdog is in their country. We usually go back to them, asking if they realised we're in Botswana and politely suggesting that there might be agencies closer to home who can assist. So I emailed her back saying:
From: Consumer Watchdog <>
To: laura kettless <>
Sent: Monday, 18 November 2013, 16:46
Subject: Re: co op

Hi Laura

Are you in Botswana?


Here is her reply:
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2013 16:00:42 +0000 (GMT)
From: laura kettless <>
Subject: co op
To: Consumer Watchdog <>

twat - no if u r foriegn f off - i am in uk emailing london - i will report u f off

In case you think this might be an invasion of Laura's privacy then you should see the message at the end of EVERY outgoing email from Consumer Watchdog. It includes the following:
"Please note that any communications to or from Consumer Watchdog may be published or broadcast at our discretion. Disclaimers relating to email confidentiality will be ignored."

Friday 22 November 2013

Medical madness

Actually I don’t mean “medical”, I mean “pseudo-medical”. Or perhaps “dangerous nonsense” is a better description. I mean the sort of nonsense that might end up getting someone killed.

Yes, it’s so-called “alternative” medicine again.

Some people say that the “alternative” or “complimentary” health industry is harmless. Some even think that it does some good. Let’s deal with the last claim first. Does it do any good? Is there any evidence? Well, there IS lots of evidence and ALL of it shows that there is precisely NO benefit from what they have to offer. All the scientific evidence shows that reflexology, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and all the other examples of the alternative approach do nothing at all. Precisely nothing.

An example. There are several so-called alternative health practitioners in Botswana who peddle the use of a device they call the “QXCI”, or sometimes either the "EPFX" or “SCIO”. This is a box of fake electronics that they claim can do some remarkable things.

I found a South African web site that claims it:
“is an incredibly acurate (sic) biofeedback stress reduction system, combining the best of biofeedback, stress reduction, Rife machines, homeopathic medicine, bioresonance, electro-acupuncture, computer technology and quantum physics”.
Another web site explained that it was based on:
“the following modalities: naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, energetic medicine, psychology, aromatherapy, reflexology, colour therapy, Neuro- Linguistic Programming, biofeedback and Rife Resonator. It also incorporates knowledge of metaphysical subjects to bring a unique synergistic perspective to natural healing.”
I found yet another web site that explained how this device works. See if you can understand any of this rubbish. They say that its “multi-layer faclity enables dysfunction unravelling”. It is also “Equivalent to radonic operation”. Best of all it explains that “Most computers are binary: 1 or 0. Quantum software is trinary - basis for artificial intelligence”.

So it’s just crap.

In case you are wondering what the names QXCI, EPFX and SCIO mean, let me tell you. They are abbreviations for “Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface”, “Electro Physiological Feedback Xrroid” and “Scientific Consciousness Interface Operation”. Anyone with even the slightest scientific understanding will tell you that these are just collections of long words assembled by someone who has no knowledge of physics. Someone who doing their best to impress the gullible.

A couple of years ago I phoned one of the companies marketing these devices in South Africa to find out what it could do. They told me that it could cure “any disease”. They also told me that anyone can use it because when you buy the device you get a training package built in. All for the small sum of R200,000.

Let’s face facts. This is a device based on no scientific knowledge, understanding or evidence and about which a range of absurd claims are made. Don’t ever be tempted to get plugged in to one.

Here’s another reason why you should give these devices a miss. The US Food and Drug Administration have imposed a ban on importing the device into the USA because of the level of abuse they had seen from the charlatans peddling this silliness. In an interview with the Seattle Times a spokesman for the FDA said:
“This is pure, blatant fraud. The claims are baloney. These people prey in many cases on consumers who are desperate in seeking cures for very serious diseases.”
Amusingly the inventor of the machine, the self-proclaimed “Professor” Bill Nelson (he’s not really a professor of anything and instead performs as a transvestite singer under the name DesirĂ© Dubounet) is in Hungary, a fugitive from US justice, on the run from fraud charges.

Do you really want to use a device that is based on fraud and baloney and was invented by a fugitive who calls himself Desiré and lies about his background?

Some people might say that this is all harmless. What’s the harm, they might ask? Given that these devices do precisely nothing what damage can they do?

It’s a good point.

Almost all alternative products have precisely no effect whatsoever so is there really any danger? Yes, of course there is. The danger is that someone with a real illness will go to one of these charlatans instead of going to a real doctor who can offer them a real treatment and a real chance of help. The danger is that someone with HIV, cancer, heart disease or any other medical disorder will go to one of these quacks with a SCIO machine instead of getting a treatment that will actually do them some good. If they’re lucky they’ll just not get any better. If they’re unlucky they’ll die.

Peddlers of “alternative” medicine rely on two simple facts.

Firstly, the placebo effect. Just the action of having some “treatment” can make you feel a bit better. Of course the placebo effect can’t 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. Getting plugged in to a useless device might make you feel a little better, even though the machine itself is doing precisely nothing.

But these charlatans also rely on one other fact. Dead people don’t complain. Because they can’t. Their victims, the people who are either so desperate or ignorant that they think these fake treatments might work are the easiest to exploit for people selling false hope. They’re the people most likely to hand over large amounts of cash to get a miracle cure when they’re not thinking straight. Alternative medicine CAN be harmless but it can also be the worst form of abuse. Deadly abuse.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I just need to confirm a company's legitimacy with you. The company name is xforex they say one should register with them and start trading markets they offer training for free but as one progresses you pay. They ask for bank details and to start one needs a sum of P900.

They are available even on Facebook suggestions, please advice thank you.

I’ve been asked by many people about XForex, many of them asking if it’s connected to the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme scam that collapsed earlier this year. In fact XForex is slightly different, it does actually seem to be a legitimate foreign exchange mechanism, but makes promises that are absurd. The first thing to mention is that ordinary people like you and me don’t make money by trading foreign exchange. The market is so volatile, the changes usually so slight and the companies like XForex so suspicious that we’re not going to make a fortune, if anything from it. Think of it this way. If big commercial banks don’t make fortunes this way with the trillions they have to invest, how can mere mortals like us? The only people making money from Forex trading are the people running the companies encouraging us to hand over our cash.

I think you can judge these schemes by the way they operate. Eurextrade snared people by accosting them on the streets and in spicy chicken restaurants, XForex do it on Facebook by making extravagant claims. One advert on Facebook showed a room full of hundreds of scattered banknotes, announcing that, “Mr. Nayang from Botswana Has Made $7871 from EUR/USD Trading Last month! So Can You!”

They also say things like: “All you Need is $100 to start trading up to $40,000! With Our Easy Trading system and personal account managers. You can make your second income in days or even hours!”

These claims are all lies.

The picture they use, by the way, is a stock photo available on the internet, it’s nothing to do with XForex. You can tell this scheme can’t be trusted, can’t you? Please don’t risk your money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received an email from the Office of the Personnel and Employment Manager from Shell Oil Company in Malaysia saying that I had been appointed as a Logistics Manager in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It said that I would earn $3,900 every month as well as getting travel insurance, medical insurance, a 5-bedroom house, free education for my children, a Toyota Camry and a driver and 60 days leave every year.

Would you please assist me with verifying the authenticity of the offer letter? I’m still skeptical. Please assist.

You are right to be skeptical. This is clearly a scam.

The clues are there if you look closely. Firstly I would expect a major oil company to use it’s own email domain, ending in “”, not the free email address that these guys use. They would also use landlines, not just cellphones.

Also real recruitment always involves an interview, even if it’s just over the phone. Major companies don’t offer highly paid jobs to people they’ve never met and don’t know. They simply don’t.

This is an “advance fee” scam. The whole process is about an up-front payment they want from you. In one of the emails you sent they explain what they want. They say “you are hereby advised to contact the Malaysian Traveling Agency at the below details … You are also advised to Wire the $895 of them per their Instruction.”

That $895 is what the whole thing is about. You can be certain that if you sent the money they would just keep on asking for more and more money until you either realised you were being scammed or your account ran dry.

Just delete the emails and don’t waste any more time.

Friday 15 November 2013

Secure yourself

Against security companies. Sometimes security guards are almost as much of a threat as the criminals that they are meant to protect us against.

The Romans used to ask “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” Who watches the watchmen?

In our case who guards us against the guards?

We’ve been asked many times by a variety of readers what powers security guards have. Can they, for instance, ask to search our bags as we enter or leave the store they’re guarding? Can they insist on doing so? Can they detain us if we don’t want to let them search us? What exactly can they do?

Our advice has always been simple. Security guards aren’t police officers, they’re just normal civilians like the rest of us. They don’t have any powers that we don’t have.
Of course we ordinary people DO have certain powers. Section 31 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act states that every:
“private person, in whose presence anyone commits or attempts to commit [a serious offence] or who has knowledge that any such offence has been recently committed, is authorized to arrest without warrant or forthwith to pursue the offender; every other private person to whom the purpose of the pursuit has been made known is authorized to join and assist therein.”
This doesn’t permit mob justice but it is clear that any of us can legally arrest someone if we think they’ve committed a serious crime. It’s what’s often called a “citizen’s arrest”. But that’s all we can do. We can’t search anyone, we can’t punish them, all we can do is detain them until the police turn up and take over. That’s all. Security guards have no powers other than that.

On the other hand you have to remember that stores are private property, just like our homes. You have the right to prevent me from entering your house as well as from entering your store if you don’t want me there. In exactly the same way the owner of a store can refuse you entry unless you play according to his or her rules, so long as they’re legal ones. A store is entitled to refuse you admission unless you volunteer to leave your bags at the counter or volunteer to be searched. But how many stores are really prepared to do that? How many are really ready to turn away people with the money they so desperately want?

But why do security guards behave this way? Why do they exceed their legal powers? The answer is simple. It’s because they think they’re cops and they think this because they’ve been told this by their managers.

In May 2011 a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store a security guard from Scorpion Security blocked her way and demanded to search through her handbag. Rather than asking nicely he just grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. Her later complaint to the security company about the way their guard had treated her was met with a promise of an apology but this was a promise that never came.

So she got angry and started legal action against Scorpion Security.
And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown in August this year the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence in defence. He explained that he saw their job as looking after their client’s goods but then went on to embarrass himself in front of the judge by having no idea what powers his guards had. In his ruling, the judge said that the MD “did not know circumstances when a legal search could be made.” He told the judge “that security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.”


In his judgment the judge said that:
“I find that indeed the Defendants searched the Plantiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] The Plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.”
It gets better. He continued:
“On the issue of damages, considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society I have considered that P60,000 would be sufficient solatium for her dented image in society.”
Last week my hero was Dr Seipone from the Ministry of Health for telling certain private health facilities to stop ignoring basic medical ethics by refusing to treat people in emergencies unless they coughed up cash first.

This week my hero is Judge Solo at the High Court for showing that our laws protect the individual against jumped up civilians who think they have special powers just because they have a uniform and against their bosses who tell them that.

It’s worth looking at the words Judge Solo used. He said that her “dignity as an honest member of society” had been undermined by the guard. We mustn’t forget that we all have that right, to be seen as honest members of society until there is evidence to the contrary. We have a right to go about our business without being humiliated and embarrassed by thugs in uniform.

Next time a guard tries to search you or anything you’re carrying I suggest you just remind them that Judge Solo says they can’t and do they really want to get on his wrong side? Can their MD afford another P60,000 in damages?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Hello Consumer Watchdog. There is this investment company by the name OptionRally based in Switzerland. I wish to get your advice on how genuine it is and if there are any Batswana who trade with it is a scam.

Thank you.

OptionRally claim to offer trading in "binary options" which they explain as follows:
"Binary options are also known as fixed return and digital options. They can be used to trade underlying assets and Binary Option Brokers payout pre-determined profits and losses which are known to the investor even before their options are executed. In particular, when any of your binary options finishes in-the-money then, as an OptionRally registered member, you will be paid a profit as high as 78% of your original deposit."
Let's face some facts. If a 78% profit was possible don't you think the banks, legitimate investment companies and Governments (those with spare cash) would be investing in them? If they’re not why do you think we amateurs should?

I'm not the only one to be suspicious. I found several warnings online about them and companies like them who make extraordinary claims about the profits that can be made. (See herehere, here and here.)

I went to their web site and registered under an assumed name and they phoned me the same day. Despite claiming that they have an office in London they admitted that they’re not registered with the UK's Financial Service Authority which I find suspicious. That’s another clue about them. As far as I can establish they aren’t effectively regulated anywhere and although they claim to be based in Switzerland the address they give is of someone’s apartment.

Finally I found this quote about the binary options business from Gordon Pape, writing in Forbes magazine:
"If people want to gamble, that’s their choice. But let’s not confuse that with investing. Binary options are a crapshoot, pure and simple."
Please don’t waste your money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received a call from Hotel Express offering me a package for hotels. I explained clearly how I didn't have money for the package at the time but would let them know when I had money, the lady (Chantal) asked for my card details to keep on file until I have money. A few minutes later another woman called me to confirm if I had spoken to Chantal and that when I have funds available I would join, I said yes, knowing I had spoke to Chantal explaining how I didn't have money and how I would let her know when I'm ready. At the end of the month my account was debited about P2900. I called to ask for the money back since I didn't not authorise the payment, but they are refusing.

We’ve dealt with complaints from 10 different people in the last few weeks, all with roughly the same story. They get a call from Hotel Express in South Africa who invite them to join their travel discount scheme, offering them discounts on hotels, car hires and flights. As part of the sales process they ask for the potential customer’s credit or debit card details either “to keep on file” or to check whether they are eligible for Gold or Platinum membership. Every time, they claim, they did not give permission for Hotel Express to actually deduct money from their accounts but that’s exactly what happened. Without explicit permission they get enrolled, their bank balance is depleted and they have trouble getting their money back.

We’ve sent all of these complaints over to the Hotel Express but we’ve not made much progress.

Given that the discounts offered are largely restricted to South Africa and similar discounts can be obtained elsewhere for free, you have to wonder what the point is? Just for example, we booked a trip to Joburg a few days ago and booked a suite in a hotel at a discount of 39%, just by going via their web site. And did we pay to join any discount scheme? Of course not. In fact if you compare the rate we’re paying against the highest “rack rate” the hotel quotes we’re making a saving of 65%.

So why would you need to pay to get a discount when hotels give them away for free?

The lesson is simple. Do not join Hotel Express and whatever you do, don’t give them your card details.