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.

Friday 8 November 2013

Healthy optimism

There’s reason to be optimistic, there really is.

Despite what many pessimists would have you believe not all the news for consumers is bad. Yes, of course there are problems but I think we should also look on the bright side. There really is good news out there.

Let’s start with the best bit of consumer news in a long time. On 22nd October, Dr Khumo Seipone, Director of Health Services in the Ministry of Health issued a press release. It’s worth quoting in full.

The Ministry of Health has observed that some private health practitioners and private health facilities do not attend to medical emergencies but instead turn patients [away] because they do not have finances to access the service.

Whilst government facilities are recipients of such cases and are duty bound to do so, medical ethics dictate that all health professionals and health facilities including those in private care are also duty bound to do the same. The practitioners are compelled to stabilize the patient and make arrangements for the referral of such cases through emergency medical services.

Private health facilities and professionals are therefore reminded of this ethical principle, and are further notified that failure to comply will negatively affect their licensure.

The ministry will be monitoring such behaviors through it public facilities.”
Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Dr Seipone is my new favourite public servant.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced exactly what Dr Seipone is referring to. We all know of cases where patients have been presented at a certain private health care facility only to be told that nothing will be done until they’ve been paid.

A few years ago one public holiday I got a call from the neighbour of a good friend. He’d suffered an extremely bad head injury and was seriously ill. She’d called an ambulance and taken him to this particular hospital but even though he had top-of-the-range local medical aid cover the hospital refused to admit him. Instead they told her that because it was a public holiday they couldn’t contact the medical aid company and their message to her was simple. Give us P3,000 in cash or we won’t admit him.

When I arrived it was clear he was in a bad way. The doctor showed us a CAT scan of his head and even I could see that it was serious. His brain was being massively compressed by an enormous bleed inside his skull. It was quite clear that he was dying but they promised that their neurologist would operate the following morning.

BUT. Yes, there was a “But”. Even though he was dying they told me that the operation would not go ahead until I gave them P2,500.

Let me repeat this. My friend, the victim, had the best medical aid cover money could buy but the hospital refused to admit or treat him until they were given lots of cash.

Following Dr Seipone’s statement I hope we’ll see an end to this sort of behaviour. Nobody is expecting private doctors and hospitals to treat people for free but they are expected to “to stabilize the patient and make arrangements for the referral of such cases through emergency medical services”. However the very best bit of the press release is towards the end: “failure to comply will negatively affect their licensure.”

In other words, behave or leave.

The Ministry of Health were also active in our recent case of soon-to-be-expired baby formula. A pharmacy in Gaborone was found to be selling baby formula that was about to expire. Worse, they were selling them on a two-for-one special offer. Each box would last for about a month so the first would expire shortly after opening and the second would have expired weeks before it was opened.

A critical point. We’re not talking about a can of baked beans or a bottle of water being sold a few days after its expiry date, this was baby formula. There are no items for sale that are more important.

Although the manufacturer took immediate action the pharmacy was a little slower to react. That’s until the Ministry of Health stepped in and demanded action, reminding the pharmacy that the regulations in Botswana require that when baby formula is sold it must have at least three months until it expires. Profuse apologies from the pharmacy chain soon followed and the problem doesn’t seem to have occurred again. Clearly the pharmacy didn’t want an angry Ministry of Health making their life difficult for them.

It looks like we can add the Ministry of Health to the list of enforcement agencies who have the guts to get their hands dirty. Along with NBFIRA, the Bureau of Standards, BOTA and DCEC, they have powers that they can use to protect us and it looks like they’re wiling to use them.

However none of these enforcers can be everywhere. They can’t be in every store every day. That’s why they need us to tell them about problems when they occur. They need us to be their eyes and ears. So let’s make sure that when we see things going wrong we let the authorities know. Above all, next time you are given a hard time by a private health practitioner or hospital let MOH know so they can get all muscular with them and maybe even cancel their licence?

Like the Police, these enforcers can only enforce with our consent and collaboration. It’s only when the community and the law enforcement agencies cooperate that they can do what we pay them to do. So let’s lend them a hand? It’s in our interest to do so.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I’m about to join another scheme in Botswana. The company is operating in Mogoditshane. Before we join the scheme they say we should pop out P400 to be paid P8,000. Can you please investigate about that company? Can you please contact them and ask them about their scheme because I don’t trust them?

Let me get this straight. You admit that don’t trust this scheme but you are still “about to join” it? Did you forget to take your medication today?

If what you say is correct then clearly this is a scam of some sort.

I contacted the guy running the scheme and he was rather vague. He explained that “We sell trends. We make our money by market related devices and Instruments. Basically that means people buy into them(Trends).” He also said that this scheme can help to “fund your dreams with just one click.”

Of course this is all nonsense. There is no investment, no “opportunity”, no scheme of any kind that can give you 2,000% profit, as this scheme claims to do. If it WAS possible to make money this way don’t you think the banks, real investment companies and pension funds would be doing so? If it was possible do you really think I’d be here typing this right now? I’d be on my yacht moored by my private island in the Caribbean with a cool drink counting my money.

I’ll be contacting both NBFIRA about this guy and also the Bank of Botswana because I’m fairly certain he’s operating what BOB would call an “illegal deposit-taking scheme”. He should stop if he wants to avoid trouble.

This is a scam and I urge you NOT to waste your money on it.

A loan warning

We heard from several people who asked us about an advertisement they saw on Facebook that said:
* short term AND long term
* up to 60 months to pay!
* borrow P5,000 up to P300,000
* affordable @ 15%
* quick (4 days to approve)”
It then gave a cell phone number to call for more information. The concern that people raised was that an individual, not a company, was offering these loans and was this appropriate? Was it genuine?

Various Facebook users asked the advertiser who was actually offering the loans and he mentioned that he was selling loans from Letshego and BG Finance so I got in touch with both organisations.

Letshego were very quick off the mark. They called the guy and "mystery shopped" him, arranging a meeting with him pretending to be a potential customer. In fact he didn’t turn up but sent a colleague instead. It turns out that he's in training with one of Letshego’s agents and is therefore NOT entitled to sell their products like this. Furthermore the agent's contract with Letshego says that any adverts "have to be approved by both [the agent] and Letshego before publishing". Letshego made it very clear to their agent that this guy’s Facebook post should immediately be removed and it does appear to have gone.

Well done to Letshego for taking this seriously and for forcing him to remove his post and for making sure that only the right people sell their products. However this is a valuable lesson for everyone. You are entitled to be skeptical about people who aren’t entirely open about who and what they are, particularly when money is concerned. You’re entitled to ask questions. You’re entitled, perhaps even obliged, to be skeptical.

Thursday 7 November 2013

OptionRally - yet another dodgy investment

We've been contacted by various people asking about OptionRally, an investment scheme that offers remarkable returns.

They 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."
They suggest that the profits can be fantastic:
Let's face some facts. If 78% was possible don't you think the banks, legitimate investment companies and Governments (those with spare cash) would be investing in them?

I'm not the only one to be suspicious. You can see warnings from others here, here, here and here.


So the prices they offer are not the market prices?

I went to their web site and registered under an assumed name and they phoned me a little later. Despite claiming that they have an office in London they are not registered with the UK's Financial Service Authority, they admitted that and I checked it as well.

Clearly they should NOT be trusted with your money!

Update: this is the address they give as their HQ in Switzerland, where they claim to be based. Impressive, isn't it?

Sunday 3 November 2013

McKinley "University" - yet another fake

McKinley "University" is the latest pedlar of fake qualifications that I've seen.

All the clues you need can be seen in the following transcript of a conversation "I" had with them earlier today. I've made a few observations of things that I thought were curious during the chat.
You are now chatting with 'Jim Wilson'.
Jim Wilson: Hello there
Jim Wilson: how may i help you ?
[Me]: Hi. I saw an email from you and wondered how quickly I can get a higher degree in Psychology.
Jim Wilson: what is your highest level of education ?
[Me]: I have a Bachelors degree from the UK and a Masters from Rochville University.
[Me]: I wanted to get a doctorate.
Jim Wilson: alright , are you working ?
[Me]: Yes
Jim Wilson: how many years of working experience do you have ?
[Me]: 25
Jim Wilson: in which field ?
[Me]: I work for the Government of Botswana
Jim Wilson: In which major your have completed your Masters degree ?
[Me]: Psychology
Jim Wilson: you want doctorate in same major ?
[Me]: Yes, that's the plan, I want to apply to be the Head of the Child Psychology Department of a local hospital and for that I need a doctorate in Psychology.
Note that clearly I've explained that I want the degree to get a job working with children with psychological problems. He knows that his "university" will be abetting the employment of an unqualified person to treat children.
Jim Wilson: I would also like to explain you about how we Transform your Past Experience in to College Credits. This program is more often known as Prior Learning Assessment
Jim Wilson: With Baytown University, you can get a degree based on your Work experience. The PLA program is designed to convert work experience of a working-adult into credit hrs and based on that the applicant is granted a degree.
Note that he doesn't even know which fake "university" he's selling today.
[Me]: Baytown University? I thought I was talking to McKinley University?
Jim Wilson: Sorry Mckinley University
Jim Wilson: Prior Learning Assessment Program is a program designed for people who have shown excellence in their field of work with outstanding skills, intellect and knowledge. Under the PLA Program at Mckinley University individuals are awarded with academic credentials based upon their professional profile. A PLA degree recognizes prior life experiences /or achievements of an individual accomplished outside the traditional academic environment training programs and workshops serving in the military, studying independently,
[Me]: So does that mean I don't have to study for the degree?
Jim Wilson: The degree is a standard degree and attested with the US State Department and can be used toward employment or higher studies. The degree does not say that was granted on the basis of working experience or whatnot. If you get approved for the degree you will receive 10 documents (including Transcripts) in mail through DHL.
Note that he repeats that this fake "degree" can be used "toward employment or higher studies". He also implies that they hide the fact that the degree was based on "the basis of working experience or whatnot"
[Me]: How can I tell if I qualify for the doctorate?
Jim Wilson: We required 15 years of working experience and you already have 25 years
Jim Wilson: that is making you qualify to get your doctorate degree
[Me]: What does this degree cost?
Jim Wilson: $1499
Also note that language slip-up. "that is making you qualify to get your doctorate degree". Does that sound like a "Jim Wilson" to you? "that is making you qualify"? Doesn't that have a hint of the Indian sub-continent to you?

And in closing...
Jim Wilson: are you ready to get enrolled ?
[Me]: No
[Me]: Fake degrees aren't my thing
Chat session has been terminated by the site operator.
Yet another fake.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Crooks start small

Probably the biggest loss we’ve ever seen a consumer experience followed the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme that collapsed in February this year. As well as people who had cashed in insurance policies and savings schemes, others who had taken bank loans and some who had borrowed from friends and family we heard of one victim who, we were told, “sold two houses and Range Rover” in order to “invest” in that scam.

Luckily, a few people were stopped from losing so much by Good Samaritans who intervened. An acquaintance who works for a large financial institution told me that she was approached by several clients who asked to cash in policies and she flatly refused. No, she told them, you can NOT have you money now that you’ve told me what you’re planning to do with it. Strictly speaking she was probably breaking the rules by denying them access to their savings but she had sufficient care for her fellow human beings that she took the risk. Hopefully they now realise how grateful they should be to her.

Some people lost significant amounts investing in the other Ponzi schemes like Felmina Alliance and “Oil of Asia”, clones of Eurextrade. Ironically we even heard of victims of Eurextrade that then jumped to the next scam and lost even more. Some people don’t seen capable of learning form experience.

Many others have lost smaller amounts, but nevertheless have still lost significantly, by joining a variety of pyramid schemes that promised wealth and prosperity but in fact only existed to benefit the founders, the people at the top of the pyramid.

However not all losses are as high. Many of the problems we hear about are of a much smaller value. For instance we received a message recently saying this:
“Can one report someone to small claims if they owe you P150. I sold this guy a second hand wardrobe at P450, he gave me P300. Now he is refusing to pay me because he says the truck damaged it!”
This is a dispute over a mere P150. Is it really worth the bother? Isn’t it simpler just to forget about it?

Another recent problem followed a wedding in Mahalapye. A reader hired various items from a wedding organiser and paid a refundable deposit of P300 to cover any damage to the items while she had them. No damage was done and the owner picked them up after the wedding, promising to repay the P300 as soon as possible. That was in March. To date she still doesn’t have her P300 back.

To make this worse, the owner of the company has made endless promises both to the reader and to me that the payment will be made but these appear to have been no more than lies. She’s come up with various excuses including one about being “a bit low with cash”.

Despite this they continue to advertise their services on Facebook, posting comments about other large weddings they’ve organised and even comments from happy customers. Unless they’ve made all of these comments up, then they are clearly still operating and taking money from other customers. I simply don’t believe that they don’t have P300 to repay our reader.

But it’s only P300. Is it really worth the bother? Isn’t it simpler just to forget about it?

We heard from another reader who entered into an informal saving scheme last year. Ten women all apparently contributed P1,000 per month for several months to one who held the money on their behalf. Some of them have now taken out their contributions but one apparently has not. Despite asking repeatedly she tells me that she’s not received a single thebe back. This is made more awkward because she now lives overseas and even worse, none of this was put in writing. No contract, no receipts and no records of anything at all.

I’ve had various conversations with the woman holding the money and she’s being remarkably evasive. Her last comment to me was that she’s talking to her lawyer because she thinks I’m going to name her, despite never threatening to do this. Meanwhile she’s ignoring the debt she owes this woman. Maybe I SHOULD name her.

But it’s only P9,000 to a woman who can afford to save P1,000 a month and who can afford to live in the UK. Is it really worth the bother? Isn’t it simpler just to forget about it?

No, as I’m sure you agree, it’s not simpler to forget about it. There’s a principle at stake. People should honour their obligations. If necessary they should be MADE to honour them. Just because it’s not as much as “two houses and a Range Rover” that doesn’t make it acceptable.

Luckily we have the Small Claims Court now that covers the smaller end of the market, covers the problems that most of us face. If you have a dispute valued up to P15,000 they can intervene on your behalf, No lawyers so no legal bills, no suspicious legal insurance schemes, just you and your story along with any evidence you have and they’ll step in and give you some rapid justice.

However the Small Claims Court is only useful if people use it. Only if people take the time and make the effort to go there will it be as useful as it can be. Only if we take the time to go there over issues that some might think are trivial will it be really useful.

Who knows, if we don’t stop these crooks from stealing P150 or P300, sooner or later they’ll graduate to the P9,000 level scams. Later they might even be running a multi-million Pula scam like Eurextrade. Let’s stop them now while we have the chance.

Friday 1 November 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

My friend applied for a loan in July and he was told that his name was blacklisted, 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 thats 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. So I need you help here?

This sounds like a complete mix-up. You’d think that a company would know when goods had been returned, don’t you? However mistakes happen, you judge a company not by whether it makes mistakes (they all do) but by how they recover afterwards. That’s IF they recover.

I contacted the head people at HomeChoice in SA and their reaction was actually very good. I got this email from them.
“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 X] as well as yourself. We have already received confirmation from TransUnion ITC that this has been actioned.”
They later confirmed that they had removed his listing from two other credit reference agencies as well.

So not bad. A mistake happened and the company fixed it. You can’t ask for more than that, can you?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
In 2008 I got a credit card from a bank with a credit limit of P15,000. As might be expected, I emptied the contents into my head (alcohol) literally in no time. Soon thereafter re-paying became an issue. When I checked last I owed about P9,000. As you might have guessed at this stage the account have been frozen because I wasn’t making repayments. Logically the bank forwarded my details to a credit bureau.

Well I learnt that in 2012, when after I have stabilised financially and quitting alcohol, wanted to procure a facility from the bank I have since moved to. Today, I am in a sound position financially and though I can not secure another loan, I wish to thank the bank for having made sure I do not sink deeper into financial mess by borrowing more and more. I also wish to thank them, for, instead of taking me to lawyers to demand payment which would have been impossible and more damning. I am now in a very sound position to repay the credit facility off in one stroke of a pen. The trouble is apparently I can not clear or pay my credit card loan if I do not have an operating bank account with them. This is my issue. I admit, I owe them (today is at P21,000) it has been growing. I accept it and I want to pay it off, so that I can become free of the credit bereau). I do not want to open an account with them, I simply wish to be allowed to pay what I already owe and close the deal. They want me to write a letter to re-activate my current account with them, they want a copy of my payslip etc. I have cash ready to pay which needs no proof of my employer. It is from my savings and it is enough to clear the 21,000. I do not wish to re-open my account since I simply need to clear my loan and continue where I am. They have been good to me when I was in trouble, by not making me pay through my nose and I do not wish to destroy that relationship. How should I do it?

I’m publishing this question because I admire you enormously. You admit that you got into trouble because of your own behaviour but you have the backbone to admit it. You admit that you owe the bank a lot of money and that you’re willing to pay his debts. You’ve also straightened yourself out and are now living a much cleaner, more honest life. I think you deserve our admiration. If only more people had the courage and strength to admit their failings.

You can rest assured that we’ll speak to the bank and encourage them to help you out. You deserve it.

Update. We contacted the bank and they thought the same as us, that he deserved a break. His problem has been sorted out.