Monday 30 December 2013

Today's dose of insanity

Are pedlars of Get Rich Quick Schemes irrational?

Sometimes they are.

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

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

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

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

Sunday 22 December 2013

Saturday 21 December 2013

More on "Bling"

More on "Bling".

Go on, say it out loud.

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

You REALLY want to see that picture of him again?

An import(ant) warning

Importing cars really is a very dangerous business.

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

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

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

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

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

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 Note that the exchange rates are a little out of date but recent changes have made it even more expensive to import a vehicle from the UK.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1


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

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

Fake. 100% fake. Both of them.

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

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

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

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Please help.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 20 December 2013

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Monitor - "Consumers hobble away from gruelling 2013"

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

Monday 16 December 2013

I've been misquoted

I have been misquoted.

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

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

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

Hope this helps.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry to be pedantic but it matters.

Sunday 15 December 2013

And another - Richford "university"

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

Richford "University" is yet another example.

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

Hansford "University", another fake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 14 December 2013

A fair comparison?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

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

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

Help me please.

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

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

I’m afraid that’s not how debt works.

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

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

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

Let me know how it goes.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Judging a book

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

Nonsense. Of course you should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could you please assist in his regard?

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

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

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

Sunday 1 December 2013

Yet more imported car silliness - updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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