Wednesday 31 July 2013

The baby formula issue - an update

We reported recently on the soon-to-expire baby formula issue. Baby formula was on sale in the Clicks pharmacy at Game City that was due to expire on the 8th August, just two weeks later. Each box contained enough formula to last about a month.

The problem is that the first box would have expired halfway through being used and the second, free box would have expired before even being opened. This assumes that the boxes wouldn't have sat on a shelf for a few weeks, purchased because they were a bargain.

The staff at Clicks locally weren't exactly reactive. They haven't even contacted us, despite being given our details. I contacted Click in South Africa about this and still haven't had a formal response from them either.

But it was different with the manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare. A day after contacting them they were in touch. Their message was simple and clear. They used phrases like:
"This sort of behaviour has not and will not be endorsed by Aspen."

"Our Aspen policy to all our distributors and merchandisers is to remove stock off shelf with a 3 month remaining expiry date."

and that they want to "discuss the steps taken to resolve the matter and prevent future occurrences."
They have promised to "urgently assist with the matter". Much, much better. Much more like the actions of a company that cared about its products being sold properly, being sold safely and being sold in a manner most likely to protect their reputation.

We'll let them know about the other stores not removing the same products from their shelves with 3 months still to go before they expire.

Payne Springs - yet anther bogus "university"

Yet another to join the club of bogus "universities". This time it's Payne Springs "University".

Some facts.

The domain was first registered on 12th November 2012. The web site of the body they claim accredits them, DLATC, the "Distance Learning Accreditation and Training Council" was first registered on 3rd May 2013. This accrediting organisation has accredited a total of guess how many universities?

Just one.

You've guessed it, it's Payne Spring "University". Yet another case of a fake university setting up its very own fake accreditation body to lend itself some credibility. And failing miserably.

Like many fake universities they show pictures of their "faculty" members but guess what? They're just pictures they took from the internet somewhere and they happen to be the very same pictures and names shown on the web page of American Gulf "University", another bogus degree peddler.

Did I mention that they can't spell properly?

As always the real clue is in the online conversation you have with these crooks. This was the online chat I had earlier with the Payne Springs representative earlier today.
You are now chatting with 'Mathew Wilson'
Mathew Wilson: Hello

Richard Harriman: Hi
Richard Harriman: I got an email saying I could get a degree within 15 days. Is this true?
Mathew Wilson: Yes
Mathew Wilson: Let me explain you/
Mathew Wilson: We offer PLA ( Prior Learning Assessment ) program.
Mathew Wilson: PLA ( Prior Learning Assessment ) is based on your prior experience, previous academic background, and the achievements that you have in the field till day, taking your past experiences into consideration we will convert your working hours into the college credits and that's how we will award you with the degree, without having you attend any necessarily courses or classes online.

Richard Harriman: I already have a Bachelors degree in Psychology, I'd like to get a Masters degree in Psychology so I can get a job working as a counsellor.
Mathew Wilson: Yes you can
Mathew Wilson: How many years of experience do you have.

Richard Harriman: I don't have to sit any exams or do any coursework?
Richard Harriman: I've been working for 27 years.
Mathew Wilson: Degree will be based on your experience
Richard Harriman: What do I need to do next?
Mathew Wilson: I would like to have your Details so we can proceed.
Mathew Wilson: 1. Full Name.
Mathew Wilson: 2. Date of Birth. ( month / date / year )
Mathew Wilson: 3. Contact Number.
Mathew Wilson: 4. Alternative Number.
Mathew Wilson: 5. Email address.
Mathew Wilson: 6. Desired Package. (degree) in (major).
Mathew Wilson: 7. Nationality.
Mathew Wilson: 8. Complete Shipping Address (Physical Address).

Richard Harriman: How much will this cost me?
Mathew Wilson: It will cost you USD $399
So don't waste your money buying a fake degree from a fake university with fake accreditation. It'll just make you a fake as well.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Advance fee scams are still around

Every time I think that "advance fee" or "419" scams have gone into a decline because "surely everybody knows about them by now, don't they?" there comes a new spate of them. Three in the last week.

This was the latest one. A consumer received the following email. I've highlighted what I think the clues might be that it's a scam (other then the obvious fact that hotels in London just don't recruit like this).
"THE Beaufort Hotel
Head office in UK
Address: 33 Beaufort Gardens
London SW3 1PP, United Kingdom.


Attention Dear Employee,

We are happy to inform you that we receive your details in good faith and we bring to your notice that you have been approved to work in Beaufort Hotel London for five years. You are to stat work as soon as you get your work permit visa from Diplomat Stevin Joes.

Your file has been accepted and we only advice you to contact your Representative officer in New Delhi India for Work Permit Processing to UK.

British Visa Council Division, British High Commission,
17, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place
Contact Person: Diplomat Stevin Joes
Telephone: +919250666758

Contact him with the below details

(1) Your Two Photographs
(2) Your Phone Number
(3) Your International Passport scan copy
(4) Your Home Address
(5) Copy Of Your Employment Offer

You are to contact Diplomat Stevin Joes now with out any delay to get your work permit, and kindly note that he is the one who will help you to get the work permit in the UK Embassy so you only need to pay for your Work permit visa fee and once your work permit is ready we will send you your Air ticket to Diplomat Stevin Joes and he will send the air ticket and your work permit visa to your present address.

you are also advice to fine the attachment file and forward the documents to Mr. Stevin Joes.

For more inquiry you can call us on +448713159823
Dr.Joseph Benson
Actually it might have been simpler to highlight the parts that were NOT clues that this is a scam.

I took the time to call "Dr Joseph Benson" (on what turned out to be a UK cellphone redirected to Nigeria) and once I finally convinced him that I wasn't actually a potential victim he became unhappy. Very unhappy. So unhappy in fact that he felt the need to suggest that my mother and I were unnaturally close.

The details of this particular scam aren't new. The name of the Beaufort Hotel (a real, top end hotel in London) is this scam isn't new, it's been seen before.

Just because more and more people understand scams like these, that doesn't mean they've gone away. In fact the growth in skepticism just leaves behind a pool of very gullible people who are more at risk than the rest of us. It's up to us skeptics to protect our more gullible family, friends and neighbours.

One final point. Why don't you email the scammer and send him a friendly message?

Consumer protection and food safety on First Issues

First Issues on BTV devoted a recent program to the consumer protection aspects of food safety. You can see this below.

Card fraud on First Issues

Kate was recently on First Issues on BTV talking about card fraud. You can see the program below.

Friday 26 July 2013

Guard yourself against stupidity

I saw a comment on Facebook that amused me.

Source: Who knows where, somewhere on Facebook
We all know that there are organisations out there that rely on our stupidity to make money. Ok, maybe it’s not always stupidity. Sometimes it’s ignorance, other times it’s naiveté, sometimes it’s greed. Whatever it is, it’s about exploiting a consumer’s weakness in order to make money.

It’s not a minor thing either. It can be, like with the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme, a massive amount of money at stake. We heard of people who cashed in insurance policies, emptied their saving accounts, people who even sold cars and houses to raise the money to “invest” in the scheme. We know of people who “invested” over P500,000 and I have suspicions that some hit as much as P1 million. I know that much of this was because people were greedy, believing, despite what was being said by critics, that it was possible to earn “up to 2.9%” interest every day on their investment. Despite this element of greed, there was also a level of ignorance at play. Many people had never heard of Ponzi schemes, they’d never been told how scams like that operate, they’d never been taught to be skeptical.

Admittedly Eurextrade was an extreme example but there are others that, while smaller in scale, affect even more people. Store credit is one of them. I don’t just think store credit exploits our ignorance, I KNOW it. We hear every week from people who have misunderstood how store credit works.

The unfortunate truth is that stores make their store credit agreements difficult to understand and even difficult to see. In a recent experiment we sent mystery shoppers out to investigate. Each of them visited a store and expressed an interest in a household item and in buying it on credit. Every time they asked to see a copy of the credit agreement they were told no, they could only see that when they sign it, not before. Without exception.

Why do stores do this? Why do they want to keep their customers in the dark? That’s easy. They do it because they don’t want their customers to know what the agreements contain because if they did they wouldn’t sign them. Given that furniture stores make most of their profits from moneylending they have to protect that part of their business above all things.

Most importantly the stores never take the time to warn customers what will happen if things go wrong. They fail to explain that if the customer has a problem paying his or her instalments and the goods are repossessed they will still be lumbered with the debt. Repossession of the goods doesn’t mean the agreement is cancelled, it just means you’ll owe the store slightly less money. Until debt collectors get involved when the debt will just get bigger and bigger.

Another example. Store security.

We’ve heard from readers many times about how irritated they are by excessive store security. Most often the irritation is at its worst as you try to leave a store when the security guard insists on stopping you and checking your belongings.

I should begin by saying that I’m very sympathetic towards stores. Stores face an enormous problem presented by our less than respectable neighbours who steal things. It really is a genuine problem that costs them a lot of money and effort, the cost of which they pass directly back to us in higher prices. However that doesn’t mean they can abuse our rights and exploit our ignorance.

Here’s a simple act that is often overlooked by stores, security companies and consumers. Security guards are not police officers, they’re just ordinary people in uniforms. They have no special rights or powers, they have to follow exactly the same rules the rest of us do.

The law is quite simple. Any of us can arrest a person who we reasonably believe has committed a serious crime and we have the power to detain such a person using the minimum force necessary. But we have no right to search that person, just to detain them and only if you have reason to suspect they have committed a serious offence. You can’t arrest someone just because you feel like it or because you don’t like the way they look. You can’t arrest someone just because they refused to be searched.

In fact a security guard who detains you without good cause and who then searches you and your goods against your will might himself be committing a crime. Often security guards and the stores that employ them forget that they’re just civilians in uniforms and that they don’t have the right to take away our civil rights.

We’ve heard from many people who are incredibly irritated by the behaviour of store security guards and hugely offended by the way they’re treated and the insult implied by being stopped and treated like a thief.

So here’s Consumer Watchdog’s simple advice on dealing with store security guards.

Don’t let them stop you and search you. Simply refuse. If they try, politely tell them that they have no right to search your bags, no right to stop you and if they persist, demand that they call the police. Remind them that only a police officer can search you.

Security guards need to guard us, not harass us and they and their employers need to learn that.

And as for the stores that let this happen, they need to understand that their right to protect themselves from theft doesn’t allow them to steal our civil rights.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
My husband and I booked a photographer for our wedding photos and videos last year September 2012 hoping that he is a professional. We signed a contract that he will deliver everything within 2 weeks. To our surprise even now he has still not delivered everything.

He always lies saying he is done preparing them but when we get to his office we just wait and the most annoying and stressing thing is that he is advertising with our photos without our approval. He’s marketing his business on Facebook and even enlarged one of photos to market his frames at his office but we talked to him numerous times to take it down as we never approved of it and he is saying that we should buy the photo if we do not want our photo up in the wall.

His videos are poorly done and we told him about them and that we need a master copy to go do it somewhere professional he wants us to buy it yet we paid P6,500 and he still wants to milk more money from us that we do not have. At this point we do not want to deal with him at all as he is not truthful and unprofessional.

We’ll be happy if you can help us in this matter.

This is disgraceful but I’m afraid I’m not surprised. There seem to be so many companies that do their best to ruin people’s weddings. It’s not just photographers, it can be the venues and the organisers as well. They seem to forget that weddings are (hopefully) once in a lifetime events and require a higher than normal quality of service.

Clearly these guys have breached the Consumer Protection Regulations by not offering a service that is “of merchantable quality” or is “fit for the purpose”. They’ve also not delivered a service “with reasonable care and skill”. They’ve also breached their contract with you. Can you send me a copy of the contract you signed with them so we can take a look at that?

Meanwhile we’ll get in touch with them on your behalf and see if they can’t do the decent thing.

Update: We got in touch with the photographer and things have now been resolved.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have a situation that needs to be attended. There is a certain transaction that is suppose to take place from the Bank of Scotland (attended by Fred Watt) to here in Botswana but for it to happen I need a power of attorney from a lawyer who lives in Senegal because the owner of the money is living there. This particular lawyer (Barr (Dr) Jonas Zillan) who I contacted needs $870 for the power of attorney to be prepared, so what I need is help from you to confirm if my money is safe before I do the transaction.

This is how this whole thing started. I met this girl Roses Daulah on a dating website and she told me she is in Senegal but originally from Sudan. She left Sudan but had no travelling documents but luckily she had found her late father's company documents which showed that the company had 2.7million US dollars which named her as the next of kin. For her to be in possession of the money she needs me as her foreign partner so that she could also come and stay with me here in Botswana. She told me to talk to the Bank of Scotland where the money is and the bank gave me certain. After I receive the money I should send her money to prepare her travelling documents to come and stay with, me from this money I also get 25% for helping her escape and 5% for expenses.

This is a scam, there’s no doubt about it. Please do not send ANY money to these people. This is a very good example of an “advance fee” scam. In particular it’s a good example of the “refugee camp” scam. The story is always roughly the same. A woman, always a young attractive one, is in a refugee camp, but curiously they have access to the internet and email but not to a cellphone. There is ALWAYS a priest looking after her, and always an attorney and a banker involved. In reality they are all the same person just using different free email addresses.

Click here to email the fake girl a rude message.
Click here to email the fake lawyer a rude message.
Click here to email the fake banker a rude message.

Let’s face some simple facts. The girl does not exist. The contact at Bank of Scotland doesn’t exist. The lawyer in Senegal doesn’t exist. None of them are real, they are ALL the inventions of scammers who are trying to get that $870 from you. If you send them the money they’ll just keep asking for more until you finally realise that you’ve been scammed. Remember that scammers don’t offer refunds.

When labels matter. REALLY matter.

[I think this is a fitting 1,000th blog post. Mainly because we're angry. Really angry.]

Sometimes labels matter. Sometimes they REALLY matter.

A consumer got in touch saying this:
"I am writing this as a concerned consumer and citizen.

A few months ago my fiancé and i were blessed with a beautiful baby girl you could imagine the joy we felt. The baby is now 4 months old.

Just yesterday my fiancé went into Clicks Botswana, Game City Store to buy some baby products and only to find they were running a buy 1 get 1 on some baby products, InfaCare Baby Formula to be exact. She was so excited and bought 1 x 1.8kg InfaCare Baby Formula and got the other for free. Her joy was cut short after she noticed the product expires on the 08-August-2013 which is in 2 weeks. There is no way possible my baby could drink that or even finish it before the date so this morning she is set to return the products and be refunded if they can't exchange. You can imagine how frustrated we were and glad we noticed the expiry date before feeding the baby.

Considering how sensitive infants are at what they eat, these products shouldn’t be on the shelves to start with, which can pose serious health risks to our babies and even worse.

I am therefore appealing to your office to assist or direct me to those who can. In doing so this will help those who are still to buy the product and might not pay attention to the dates thus putting their babies lives at risk."
Let's face it. Most labels are boring. Only nerds like me read labels. But sometimes labels might save your life. Or might save the life of someone much more precious. Your new-born baby.

The facts are simple. This baby formula was due to expire on the 8th August, in just two weeks. Each box contained enough formula to last about a month. The first box would have expired halfway through being used and the second, free box would have expired before even being opened. This assumes that the boxes wouldn't have sat on a shelf for a few weeks, purchased because they were a bargain.

Let me make this perfectly clear. This isn't talcum powder, baby oil or nappies. It's formula, the baby's only source of nutrition. Even though the risk is very slight, it's a baby's health at stake. Maybe its life.

We went to Clicks to have a look, just to double check and the boxes were still on display. We couldn't find any expiring on 8th August but we found several expiring on the 13th August.

We spoke to a manager at Clicks and she was perfectly pleasant and understood our concerns but said she could only take action once she had cleared it with her Head Office.

Let me say this again. It's baby formula. It's not an inert, risk-free product. It's a product that directly influences the health of babies. Waiting for guidance from Head Office is simply not good enough.

Get these things off the shelf right now.

This particular baby is lucky to have parents that are nerdy and caring enough to notice these things and understand how important they are and also neighbourly enough to try and spread the word.

We've written to the Ministry of Health asking for their advice and intervention.

Monday 22 July 2013

Riverbanks "University" - their fake accreditation

The ridiculous Riverbanks "University" is a peddler of fake qualifications for nothing more than cash. In earlier online conversations they've said things including"
"Its an instant program"
"Its an experience based program"
"The fee for the process will be $298"
"So I get a Masters degree for just $298?"
Like all fake universities they make and imply various claims about their accreditation.

For instance they says on their web site that it they are "accredited by UCAIS". Curiously Riverbanks "University" appears to be the ONLY thing UCAIS has ever accredited.

A little digging shows that the Riverbanks web site was first created on 18th February 2013. Curiously the UCAIS domain was created a couple of weeks later, on 4th March 2013. You don't think they're related, do you?

What's more, in the emails they send out they say things like:
"RiverBanks University Degrees are fully accredited. RiverBanks is a proud member of CAEL."
On their web site they imply the same thing about CAEL.

However, my new friend Rachelle from CAEL says different. She said:
"They have no affiliation to CAEL."
So they're bogus in so many different ways.

Friday 19 July 2013

Protectors or bystanders?

I want you to imagine a scene. A woman is in a shopping mall. It’s late at night and she’s alone. She’s being approached from behind by a man who is clearly carrying some sort of weapon, possibly a knife. You, a trained martial arts expert who happens to be carrying a cricket bat, are watching this from a short distance away.

What would people think of you if you stood back and watched her being accosted, robbed and stabbed by her assailant and you did nothing to help her despite being well equipped to do so?

You know they’d hate you. They might even think you were to blame. Of course you wouldn’t actually be to blame, but they would be right to think you were culpable by not using the advantages you had to protect her.

Imagine instead that you weren’t just a bystander, but you knew her. Maybe she was even your customer, maybe you worked for the bank that owned the ATM she had used to withdraw money just before being attacked. Then clearly everyone would hold you partially responsible. You had a personal and professional connection to her that just increased your social responsibility to intervene.

This isn’t meant to excuse the criminal who actually attacked her, clearly he deserves to be arrested, charged, imprisoned and excluded from society for a long time. But you also had a moral obligation to do your best to protect her. It’s how decent societies like ours work.

It’s also how business works. It’s how customer service works. As a supplier you have an obvious responsibility towards yourself and your family, to your employees and to your shareholders but you also have a responsibility towards your customers. Legally you’re meant to meet some basic standards but also common sense says you should do your best to make your customers happy. That’s the main reason he or she will come back again and give you even more of their money.

You also have a responsibility to advise your customers and to protect them. You are meant to be the expert in your field. Whether it’s cellphones, computers, cars or insurance policies your customer has a right to rely on your superior knowledge.

Particularly if you work in a bank.

Probably more than any other supplier, banks have the power to ruin us. The good news is that banks don’t generally go out of their way to do this (although it DOES happen) but it’s more often by neglect that damage is done.

Card safety is a good example.

Bank customers have a right to expect banks to know more about card-safety than they do. I know, for a fact, that they do. They have the video footage and pictures, the computer records and the results of investigations and all of this tells them a great deal about the crime and the criminals. However the thing that staggers me more than anything else is how rarely they use this information to help us protect ourselves.

For instance, what do you do if you lose your credit or debit card? What do you do if you think your card and, worse still, your PIN have been taken? Who do you call?

Don’t think you can rely on your bank to tell you.

We currently have eight banks in Botswana. We did a very simple survey of those banks and the information they provide their customers on what to do if their cards are stolen or compromised. The results were poor.

Only four of the eight banks gave an emergency contact number on their web site but worse still two of these numbers didn’t actually work. A quick look at ATMs showed that fewer than half show the number there. You’d think that would be the most important place, wouldn’t you?

More worryingly half of the banks don’t even have a 24-hour number you can call. We found one whose policy say that they will hold you liable for anything done with the card until you notify them. Tough luck if you get mugged just after the call center closes. What the mugger does with your card overnight is your problem.

Rather amusingly we phoned one bank and asked what we should do if our card was stolen. Their answer was simple. Call the number shown on the back of your card. Yes, the card that was just stolen. Ah, they said, that’s a good point.

I think the time has come for something I don’t usually like. Regulation. We urgently need the regulator of banks, the Bank of Botswana, to get a lot more demanding and to INSIST on a few things. They need to insist that all ATMs show the contact number to call if our cards are stolen or compromised. They need to insist that all bank websites show this number on the main page. They need to insist that every bank switchboard operator knows the number. Above all, they need to insist that this number is staffed 24 hours a day, every day.

Finally they need to insist that banks make it perfectly clear when we first get our cards, exactly what our rights are and what we’re meant to do if there’s ever a problem.

Right now the banking industry and its regulator are failing us. Just like the capable bystander who fails to intervene when he or she sees a crime being committed, the banking industry is letting the victims of card skimming down by failing to adequately protect us.

We urgently need them to get off their ample backsides and put some of their enormous resources in protecting us.

Or do they just want to be a bystander while we’re being mugged?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1
My problem started in January last year when I was offered a scholarship by Botswana Government to study abroad. It's government policy that after one year, one goes on to half salary until the completion the course of which I am on the final year.

Having a bank loan, I informed the bank accordingly in writing to the loans division my inability to pay the loan instalment as initially agreed due to the above mentioned fact.

Around March this year, I managed to come down there and held a meeting with one senior lady at loans division who promised me that they will look onto the matter. I informed them during our meeting that I can only manage to pay half the amount of what I was paying until now they have not responded to my request.

As my account is running into arrears, the bank is busy threatening me with legal action since I can not pay the loan as agreed whereas I informed them in advance.

All I need is feed back whether negative or positive!! AND again when signing the original agreement I was not aware I will be selected for scholarship. I do not even remember the original agreement terms.

I’m not sure I know where to begin. I’m afraid that you simply can’t behave like this. You entered into an agreement with the bank to borrow some money from them and to pay it back according to certain agreed conditions. I’m a little alarmed that you say you “do not even remember the original agreement terms”. Don’t you have a copy of the agreement stored safely somewhere?

It’s not the fault of the bank that you were sent away to study abroad and it’s not their fault that you are in financial difficulties. I assume that they kept their side of the bargain?

What you should have done is warned the bank as soon as you heard about your study plans and I suspect that, given the circumstances, they would have been flexible. You sound to me like the sort of customer they would have negotiated with. You’ve got a steady job and clearly you’re going to stay in that job for a while and progress through the ranks. I’m certain they would have been flexible.

Nevertheless I’ve been in touch with the bank and have suggested they get in contact with you to see if they can’t organise some compromise solution with you.

The lesson is simple. If you have an agreement with someone you stick to it whenever possible. If you have problems, talk to the lender, don’t just dictate to them. You’ll end up in trouble.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I bought a cell phone from a shop in Francistown in February this year, and they told me that the warranty period for the phone is 2 years. Now the phone is not working well, and I reported it to the same shop, but now they want me to pay P150 excess fee, but I asked if I had to pay any fees initially but they said no fees are to be paid, surprisingly I only found out yesterday that I had to pay that amount. No terms and conditions of the warranty were discussed when I bought the phone. So I need your help here, do I really have to pay that amount or not? Do the warranty services have extra fees?

What did they give you in writing when you bought the phone? What did you sign?

A 1 year or 2 year warranty?
By a strange coincidence we bought a phone just a few days ago and when we asked about the warranty we were told that it was for a year. It was only later when we unpacked the phone that we saw a big label on the box saying “2 year warranty”. Do you still have the packaging for your phone?

The situation should be quite simple. It all depends on what you agreed at the time you bought the phone. Above all other things though, the store is obliged by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations to sell commodities that are “of merchantable quality”. The Regulations say this means:
“fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”.
A cellphone that only lasts for 5 months clearly isn’t fit for purpose and it sounds to me like the management of this store don’t know this. I’ll get in touch with them to let them know!

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Airport arithmetic

Here's a story in Mmegi about the on-going development work at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.
"It is expected that the terminal will be capable of processing up to 900 passengers per hour".
900 per hour is 15 per minute, one passenger "processed" every 4 seconds. Assuming they'll have 10 immigration desks that means each passenger will be processed in 35 seconds with a 5 second delay between each.


Air Botswana's fleet of ATRs seat between 47 and 68 passengers each, let's assume an average of 60 per flight. I assume the SAA planes are similar. 900 passengers per hour is 15 planes per hour, one landing every 4 minutes.


At the passenger processing rate mentioned an entire plane load of visitors will be processed in 4 minutes.


The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology has apparently told the Public Accounts Committee that "we are going to make sure that we do not make the same mistakes as before". 900 passenger per hour?


Monday 15 July 2013

Is Choppies now a bureau de change?

Has Choppies now become a bureau de change?

At least one of their outlets is accepting payment in South African Rand as you can see from the picture taken earlier today.

Their exchange rate appears to be R1.25 = P1. Some questions spring to mind.

How do they account for this to BURS? Do they report the Rand income or the Pula equivalent?

How do they give you change? If you buy something that's priced at P100, and you're carrying Rand, you'll have to give them R125. What change do they give you? R25 in Rand or P20 in Pula?

If they give you the chance in Pula, are they exchanging currency? If you want to run a business that exchanges currency you need to be registered with the Bank of Botswana as a bureau de change.

We'll ask them and find out.

Friday 12 July 2013

Protect yourself

Because nobody else is going to do it for you.

Ask yourself this. Who else really WILL protect you? The Police don’t, they are usually only involved AFTER a crime is committed. Likewise your security company, they’ll turn up AFTER the alarm has sounded and even if they rush they’ll get to your home or office after your laptop and cellphone have long disappeared. Protecting yourself is about preventing losses in the first place, not just trying to recover after a disaster has occurred.

We heard recently from a consumer who had bought a laptop on a credit deal from a furniture store but a few months later it was stolen. The store were taking their time about replacing it under the insurance policy that came with the credit scheme but that wasn’t the big issue. The big issue is that she had been using the laptop to do her coursework while studying at UB. You can guess what the problem was, can’t you? She didn’t have a backup. All her coursework was lost.

We’ve probably all done this. We’ve neglected to make a backup, a computer has failed or we’ve accidentally deleted a document and we’ve lost it all. But that doesn’t make it forgivable. In my day, when I was first working with technology making backups was an enormous pain in the rear. You have to use floppy discs (“stiffies” if you’re South African, something that still makes Brits laugh), or enormous external tape drives. It cost money, was hugely inconvenient and there was a real incentive to be careless.

Then came external disc drives. These are much cheaper, can hold vast amounts of data and are much more portable. But they’re still a bit of a pain.

Not any more. These days making a backup is the simplest thing in the world. So-called Cloud storage is the solution. Your wirelessly enabled laptop or desktop computer attached to your company network can connect to vast amounts of storage, out there in the Cloud somewhere. Services like Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s Skydrive and Dropbox all offer entirely free storage for modest amounts. All you need to do is sign up, store your documents in a particular folder on your computer and while you’re watching TV they synchronise your data with your Cloud backup.

Of course the downside is that these aren’t really backups, they’re synchronisation and sharing tools. They’re fine for sending documents to your colleagues or customers but it’s not actually a backup. Whatever is in your drive on your laptop is in the Cloud. Also whatever you delete from your drive is deleted from the Cloud as well. If you delete your thesis from your laptop, the version in the Cloud will be deleted as well.

However there are online backup services, there are even some based in Botswana. These allow you to keep historical backups so you can actually get a copy of a document you stored at some time in the past. These services cost a bit of money but are worth a look. Personally I think the solution is a mixture. An external hard drive and one of the online Cloud services seems a good combination.

You’ll have seen the recent stories in Mmegi and on Facebook about card skimming. Card skimming is when a bank card is copied and the criminal manages somehow to obtain the PIN associated with the card. As you probably know there various ways of copying the details from your card. It might be a device the criminal inserts into an ATM that copies data from the magnetic strip on your card. It might be a device that a waiter uses in a restaurant to read your card while you’re not looking, it might even be an insider in your bank. However it’s done there are still ways you can protect yourself. The key thing is prevention rather than cure.

Even though I suspect that everyone knows the rules it’s worth repeating them.
  1. Never accept help from strangers at the ATM. If you are approached by anyone saying they’re a bank or security official ignore them and go to a different machine at a different location.
  2. Never swipe your card through any device attached to an ATM or through a device a “bank official” holds in their hand, this could be a skimming device.
  3. Never use the ATM if you suspect that it has been tampered with. Check the ATM before using it. If the ATM screen is bank, do NOT insert your card.
  4. Follow the ATM instructions and do not insert your card or enter your PIN until the ATM instructs you to do so.
  5. Stand close to the ATM and cover your hand when entering your PIN. You can use your purse or wallet over your hand or just your other hand, anything to prevent a criminal from seeing the PIN you enter.
  6. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by anyone, always be wary of a stranger asking for help.
  7. If you suspect any misuse of your card call your bank immediately. If your bank doesn’t have a 24 hour fraud line then change banks.
  8. Never let someone else phone the bank to cancel your card for you. Always make sure you do this yourself and keep a note of the date, time and the name of the person you spoke to.
  9. Avoid using an ATM in a dark or remote area at night.
  10. Always check that you get YOUR card back from the ATM.
And lastly, get insurance. Get insurance for your car, your house and your belongings. It might seem expensive but it’s a LOT cheaper than losing everything.

Just remember that if you don’t protect yourself how can you expect anyone else to do it for you?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

My car got hit by some guy who had insured his car but mine is not so his 3rd party insurance covered the damage to my car. They told us to get 3 quotes from different garages and we brought them. The garage they chose told us to leave our car at their garage last week. The insurance gave us a cheque of P13,000 and the garage told us to transfer the money so that they can start fixing the car. Then we asked how do we pay when the car is not done but they said the money to fix the car is theirs to use it to fix the car. We said how can the money be yours when the cheque was written our name they said sometimes they deal straight with insurance its just that they trusted us to pay them the money. We then asked them they provide us with receipts for us to know how much was spent on fixing the car but they said no that is not possible we are not suppose to know that. How can you not know how much was spent on your car? We feel something is not right here and we need your help to find out if they were right or there is foul play. We also feel the money is too much for fixing the car.

I share your suspicions. What are the garage trying to hide? Why don’t they want to know what they’re up to?

Don’t forget that you are the customer here, it’s your money that’s being used to repair the car, money the insurance company paid you to do exactly that. You have a right to know how the money is being spent.

Nevertheless we spoke to the garage and for whatever reason they now say that of course you can see the invoice they produce for the repairs they’re doing, no problem at all. Don’t forget to ask for it and check it to make sure it’s reasonable and correct.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
Pliz i need ur help. I took P1,000 loan from somebody at 20% interest. The first month I paid P200 then I failed to pay for 4 months. Then I paid P2,000 believing that the loan will be settled. Now she is saying I still owe P1,500.

Something is clearly wrong here. In fact several things are wrong. I’ve done the maths.

Firstly if the loan was P1,000 and interest rate was 20%, then the interest in the first month would have been P200. In that first month you just paid off the interest and you still owed P1,000. Not a good start. You should have been paying twice or three times that amount to pay off your debt.

If you paid nothing for the next 4 months I calculate that you would then have owed a total of P2,074 at the beginning of the 6th month, assuming that the interest was compounded each month. When you paid P2,000 you would then have owed either P74 or P488 depending on whether the interest for the sixth month had been applied yet.

The big issue is when this all happened. If you owed a balance of P488 six months ago that would have compounded since and you would now have build up a debt of about P1,500. Is that what happened?

However the most important question is whether this lender was registered with NBFIRA?

You might have heard about the “in duplum” rule. This says that at the time a debt is settled, the amount of interest cannot exceed the capital amount hat’s outstanding. The bad news is that you might really still owe the P1,000 you borrowed and all you’ve paid so far is interest. However the “in duplum” rule says the most interest you can be forced to pay is another P1,000.

Send me the name of the lender and we’ll see if they understand all this!

Update: I heard from the reader that the woman who lent him the money is NOT registered with NBFIRA. I suggested that he pay her nothing and complain to NBFIRA. She’s earned enough from him already, now she’s earned a meeting with the regulator!

Thursday 11 July 2013

TVI lead in South Africa arrested

Image c/o IOL News
The lead crook in the TVI Express network in South Africa, Nonhlanhla Hadebe, has been arrested and presented with a charge sheet of 10,000 counts.
"Already stripped of her Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz, wealthy Musgrave businesswoman Nonhlanhla Hadebe, 49, found herself in the dock of Durban’s Commercial Crime Court on Tuesday charged with contravening the Banks Act by taking almost R86 million from “investors” in what was alleged to be nothing more than a pyramid scheme."
"In a dawn operation by the Anti-Corruption Task Force on Tuesday, she, her husband, Jabulani Hadebe, 47, her daughter, Hlengiwe Ngidi, 29, and son-in-law, Sibusiso Ngidi, 34, were arrested and charged with more than 10 000 counts involving investments in three schemes between March 2009 and September last year.

They were not granted bail and spent Tuesday night in Westville Prison."
Even more of a shame! Actually it's hilarious.

Thanks (yet again) to Kasey Chang for the update.

Friday 5 July 2013

Call me old-fashioned

Call me old-fashioned but I do think there are certain traditional values, certain old-fashioned norms that are worthy of respect. For instance I believe we should show a little extra respect to senior citizens, guard our children and those of our neighbours and be generally courteous and respectful. Those are the sorts of traditions we should maintain.

Despite respecting some traditions I'm certainly not arguing against change and modernisation. I consider myself liberal and progressive and we all have to adopt, even embrace change no matter how uncomfortable it might make us. Certain attitudes and beliefs from the past should certainly be discarded. We now know enough to understand that racism in all its forms should be rejected. We know that underneath our skin colour, our hair and the shape of our noses we're all fundamentally the same. We also now know that any differences that might exist between men and women are, on average, so small as to be forgettable so there is no real reason to educate our daughters differently to our sons. We also now know, whether we and our spiritual advisors like it or not, that someone's sexual orientation isn't something they choose.

So we move on, we allow our thinking to evolve to keep up with the times.

But there are exceptions. Honesty is one of them. Honesty is as important today as it's ever been. While we all sometimes fail to be as honest as we know we should be, everyone with a conscience knows that honesty is something we should aspire to, both personally and professionally.

To put it simply, lying in business is bad. People who lie in their business dealings are liable to be judged by their colleagues and their customers. Customers in particular are perfectly entitled to make choices about who they buy things from based on the honesty demonstrated by the people they deal with.

To put it even more simply. Don't give your money to people who tell lies and break promises.

A few weeks ago we were approached by a consumer who had engaged a local beauty salon for some “treatments”. Let's call the salon "Mrs and Mr" to protect their identity (albeit not very well, just say it en francais).

As a result of a variety of mishaps, some innocent, some more careless, the consumer ended up only receiving one out of twelve of the planned treatments. Several times she was let down by the salon and things inevitably became a little heated. When she asked just to cancel the whole deal and get a refund the salon said no. Refunds weren't permitted by the franchise she was told.

Oh really? I think not. Refunds are a right when a deal is cancelled, subject to any conditions that have previously been agreed.

Then some letters changed hands and things became even more excited. That's when I suggested that both parties should calm down, come to our office, sit down and I'd try and help them come to an agreement that would satisfy everyone. And, to everyone's credit, that's exactly what happened. Even though both sides were unhappy, we eventually all agreed that a refund would be made, minus the cost of the one treatment that had been delivered. That was on a Wednesday, the refund was going to be made on the Friday. We shook hands on it.

But they lied.

There was no refund on the Friday, nor the Monday, nor the following Friday, nor even the Friday after that. Just a series of excuses and more lies. Texted lies like "Will have refund in cash friday morning" and later "I will give you a cheque in the morning", later still when I asked if a cheque would be delivered that day, I was told "Yes I will".

At one point we even got close, the manager turned up in my office claiming to have a cheque but because I wasn't there he refused to leave it. His latest demands were that he would only deliver the cheque if I was there to receive it.

Given his background of lying and breaking promises I think I'm within my rights to consider him as being untrustworthy, don't you think?

And don't forget this key fact. I'm not even his customer. I'm the one trying to help fix the situation. His customer, who he stills owes P1,800 is without her money and feels totally abused. Rightly so.

[Last minute update. A cheque was finally delivered to my office. Attached was a letter saying “We appologise for any inconvience. Further [Mrs X] will no longer be Welcome at our branch in Broadhurst.” I haven’t corrected their typing. It seems to be as good as their customer service.]

I think this, Ladies and Gentlemen, Bomme le Borre, Mesdames et Messieurs, is a very good example of when you can judge a company by the honesty and truthfulness of the people that own it. Don’t waste your money at places like this salon, take it instead somewhere they’re treat you with some respect and not lie to you. It’s your right.

So maybe in business we should be a little old-fashioned. While we buy our modern toys, our iPads, smartphones and fancy new cars we should stick to what our ancestors would have respected: Honesty, keeping our word and the value of a handshake to conclude a deal. Anyone who fails our ancestor test can be avoided and can hopefully learn the hard way that these old-fashioned values are just as important as they ever were.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a HP laptop in August last year on higher purchase so I was to pay in instalments. Then in February my laptop got stolen and I had to produce a police report to get a replacement which was delayed because they didn’t have the same model I had bought. Because of work load at school I badly needed a laptop and I went back to them and they told me they had a second hand laptop they can borrow me so I don't struggle too much. They told me if it gave me any problems I should come back.

At the end of April when I woke up in the morning I tried to switch on the laptop but there appeared to be a broken screen which I did not understand because I slept placing the laptop on a flat table. When I paid my instalment at end of April I told them and they told me to bring it for technical screening, after I had written an affidavit to show I didn't know anything that caused the screen break. For the whole of May (which was exam time) I didn't have my laptop containing my work. I was not called at any point to be given feedback even though I had once went to the shop to check. This weekend I called the gentlemen who took it and asked how far. He told me he has not checked.

I haven’t had my laptop for 2 months but am expected to pay. I just feel a little cheated. The laptop cost P4,500.
Please help?

You’ve been very patient but the time has come to get this sorted out. It shouldn’t take two months to sort out the replacement they owe you. You paid for an insurance policy included in your credit agreement and they need to honour that. While I understand how they can’t replace your laptop with an identical model, that’s just how the laptop world is, we know that models change all the time but they should be able to find something that’s roughly the same value, don’t you think?

Meanwhile I contacted the Managing Director of the company who owns the store and I’m sure he’s going to get things fixed for you.

More importantly there’s another lesson here. Backups. It’s what everyone forgets when they buy a computer, along with the cost of legitimate software. You MUST get some form of backup device. It can either be an external disc or these days there are plenty of Cloud-based backup services, like iCloud, Skydrive and Dropbox, all of which are free for people like you and me. It might seem like a bother to set it up but it’s not nearly as bothersome as losing your files when your laptop is stolen or destroyed.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
I am currently having problems with my Blackberry Bold 9900. I bought it last year in December. I was told that the warranty expires after 6 months. Earlier this month just 6 days before the warranty lapsed my phone went off during charging. I took the phone back on the 21st and they promised to have it functioning after 4 days. I went to them on the 26th hoping to get my phone, only to find out that it was not ready as they were still waiting for parts to be delivered from China. As if that wasn't enough no one could explain to me what their diagnosis on my phone was. I demanded to be given a new phone or a refund but they flatly refused and instead offered me a rundown Blackberry curve as a courtesy phone. Until today I still haven't heard anything about my phone apparently because their technician is off sick.

Kindly assist me in resolving this matter.

The first thing you should do is remind the store that Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that they can’t quote “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. In other words you deserve a full technical report on exactly what’s wrong with your phone.

You should also give them a deadline for resolving your problem. Give them seven days to either fix your phone or replace it with something similar. Remember that given that your phone is now six months old that’s what you can reasonably expect to receive as a replacement, not necessarily a brand new phone. But they certainly need to fix this situation.

Let me know how they react and if you need us to get involved!

Update: Yes, there are indeed plenty of Cloud-based backup services, like iCloud, Skydrive and Dropbox, but there's now a local, homegrown Cloud backup service called Replic8. Give it a look.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Pirated software - why would you?

There's really no excuse for using pirated software, there really isn't.

Firstly it's just illegal. The person who gives it to you, or worse still sells it to you, and you, the person who knowingly installs it, are all stealing. You can have the software seized, perhaps even the computer as well and be prosecuted. It's not worth the risk.

It's not even necessary.

Image c/o Incredible Connection
Let's take an example. Microsoft Office. Everyone thinks it's hugely expensive but it's not really. Incredible Connection in South Africa advertises Microsoft Office Home And Student 2010 for R999.95. That might seem steep but look what you actually get: "For use on 3 PCs in 1 household".

You can install Microsoft Office on your laptop, the computer at home and your brother or sister's laptop for R333 each. For that you'll get all the free software updates Microsoft allow and your software will actually work, unlike most pirated versions that will disable themselves eventually.

Image c/o Wikipedia
However, even if you can't afford that, why steal it? There are perfectly legal free alternatives instead.

LibreOffice for instance includes almost everything that Microsoft Office has but at zero cost. I've used LibreOffice as an experiment and while it isn't quite as slick as Microsoft's suite, it's not far off. It includes word-processing, spreadsheet, presentation, database and graphics tools, just like Microsoft Office.

It's not just the conventional software that you can get either. There's even a free equivalent to Microsoft Project called ProjectLibre which I've used as well. Again it's not quite as advanced as Microsoft's equivalent but it's more than good enough.

And it's all free. And it's legal. And it works.

So why waste your time and money stealing pirated software when you can be legit and honest?