Saturday 31 May 2014

Expose fakers

If you’ve read this column before you’ll know that I despise the fake degree industry almost as much as I despise scammers. My view is that they’re just as bad as scammers, perhaps even more so because they’re not only morally bankrupt themselves but they make their victims into moral bankrupts as well.

Scammers are thieves and their victims are just that: victims. Yes, they’re often na├»ve and sometimes foolish but they are victims nevertheless. With fake degree peddlers it’s different. If you buy a fake degree then you are just as corrupt as the fraudsters you bought it from. The corruption is contagious.

People sometimes ask where’s the harm in people buying themselves fake qualifications. Who’s harmed? The answer is simple. We all are. The person who didn’t get the job or the promotion because someone with a fake qualification got it instead by appearing to be better qualified suffers. The employer who hires or promotes someone because they think they’re genuinely qualified becomes poorer because of it, not only financially but functionally as well. They’ve employed someone who can’t do the job as well as a person who really had studied the relevant subject.

Finally you and I suffer when the companies we buy products and services from offer us the services of unqualified liars and cheats because that’s what they really are.

Ask yourself this. Is there really anyone who really thinks they can get a qualification without doing any exams, coursework, dissertations or research? Without any actual work of any sort? If they do then clearly they are the sort of person who could ONLY get a fake degree.

These days the fake degree industry is branching out in to new areas of crookedness. A reader recently asked us if he could believe the email he received from the “Gulf Project Management Association”. It started like this:
“We are pleased to announce that based on a thorough review of your previous academic and professional record; the Board at Gulf Project Management Association (Gulf PMA) has directly approved you as a 'Project Management Expert (PME).”
It went on to explain that “the Association has allocated 10 Exclusive Member Seats for the Top 3% exceptional individuals who will be allowed to bypass the 'Interview Requirement' and directly qualify as a Member” and that “Since you have officially been conferred the Gulf PMA 'Member Status' & the 'PME' Title, the Membership Kit under your Name has already been issued. You are required to claim your kit for just $399”. Later in the email they claim that the membership fee has in fact been reduced from $2,500. Sounds like a bargain?

So there it is. With no effort other than giving them a credit card number and them taking $399 he can be a member of this prestigious organization.

Sounds just like the sort of offer you’d get from a fake “university”, doesn’t it? That’s because it’s almost certainly the very same people behind them all. For instance they have the very same online chat facility than most of the fake universities have and they come up with identical explanations of how you can get this membership without any effort, without actually deserving such a thing.

In my online chat with these crooks they told me that this body has existed “since 1995” which is curious as their web site was only first registered two weeks ago. The other clue that they’re related to the fake university industry is a question you’re asked as you sign in to their online chat service: “If you are an existing student, kindly enter your Student ID”. That’s exactly the same wording you get when you try to chat with a number of fake establishments like Rochville, Hadley and Steadford “universities”. They’re cousins, if not siblings.

These are the chat windows for GCPME and Hadley "University", Can you tell the difference?

Chatting to GCPME
Chatting to Hadley "University"

Another clue that this organization isn’t legitimate is that the exact same email came to the Consumer Watchdog email address and also to an email address I set up using a fake name just for the purpose of investigating fake universities. The person doesn’t exist. If non-existent people whose name has only ever been used to check out peddlers of fake degrees are offered this membership then you know the whole thing is fake.

Here’s a challenge for everyone. Every time you read someone’s CV and you see a university or professional membership you’ve never heard of ask us to check it for you. Don’t just Google the name because the first page will be full of planted hits to make the organization seem legitimate. Dig a little deeper and see if you can’t find the name on our blog or on the Wikipedia page that lists non-accredited universities. In fact you should go a little further. Politely ask your colleagues and your boss where they got their degree, in particular if it’s a Masters or a doctorate. If it’s legitimate they’ll be proud to tell you. If they appear reluctant to tell you or if you’ve just never heard of the place then let us know and we’ll check it for you.

Who knows, you might be exposing a cheat and a liar and save your company the cost and embarrassment of later firing them when it’s finally discovered.

Wouldn’t you do this if you thought someone was stealing from the company bank account or payroll? There’s really no difference. They’re all crimes because every one of them is stealing money from their company, their colleagues and their customers. From all us in fact.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

My sister bought an external hard drive from a computer store last year November. The hard drive started having problems this year while under warranty. When she returned it to get fixed, the shop asked her to leave it with them for a minimum of three weeks so they can send it off to Durban for repairs. This week she went back for it and they told her it can’t be repaired so she must either choose something of the same price in the store or top up and buy something else. The thing is the hard drive was a 1 Tb and it was on sale and now the cheapest 1 Tb external is P999, she's a student and can’t afford to top up. Can she not get her money back? Please advise.

That’s simply not good enough.

If something stops working when it’s still under warranty you’re entitled to one of three things: a replacement, a repair or a refund. Generally it’s up to the store to decide which of those three Rs they offer you but they have to offer you one of them.

Given that your sister’s external drive can’t be repaired they only have two choices: a replacement or a refund.

However this store appears to want to have it all their way. If they offer her a replacement it must be for the same thing that she bought or perhaps even something better but at no extra charge. They simply can’t demand that she pays extra money to get what she originally paid for.

The good news is that the Head Office of this chain of stores agrees with me. I emailed my contact and her response was very simple. She said “I agree with our customer – If they cannot replace her like for like, they have to refund. Kindly send me her contact details, so I can get the branch management to contact her in this regard.”

Looks like your sister’s getting a proper solution now. Shame it took so long!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Is it ok for furniture shops to repossess items if someone fails to pay along the way and as well as blacklist at ITC while they have their items and never sell those items through an auction sale and they are the ones buying these items for themselves at very low prices?

Yes, unfortunately that's how it works when you buy things from furniture stores on credit or hire purchase. Even though the store repossesses the goods the customer can still owe the store a lot of money.

There are two very important things you need to know when you sign a hire purchase agreement. Firstly, ownership of the goods doesn’t pass to you until you’ve made the final payment. Until that moment the goods are the property of the store and they are entitled to repossess them if you fail to make the agreed payments. The second thing is that even if they repossess their property you still owe them the money you agreed to pay them. Normally that amount will be reduced by any amount they get if they auction the repossessed items but that won’t be my very much. Remember that the goods will now be second-hand and not in their original condition. Their value will be very small. Once you add on the penalties, interest and debt collection fees the store will add if you don’t keep paying and you can very quickly end up owing more than the total hire purchase amount.

And yes, they certainly are within their rights to register the customer with credit ratings agencies. After all it’s true that the customer defaulted. They’re just stating a fact: the customer defaulted on their payments and the goods were repossessed.

The lesson is simple. Avoid buying things on credit or hire purchase wherever possible.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Is Leveltrade another Eurextrade?

We've been asked about a new Forex investment company called Leveltrade.

They describe themselves like this:
"LevelTrade’s goal is to prove that everyone can succeed on the Forex Market. We provide most qualified market analyses to our customers, as well as the support of our highly experienced consultants and individually tailored trading conditions."
A better description of how they operate comes from an online conversation I had with one of their advisors.
Jenny: You know what Forex market is?
[Me]: Yes, foreign exchange
Jenny: So basically what we provide is the opportunity to do it online
[Me]: Isn't forex trading very risky?
Jenny: and we give our members free educational training and an online session at your own convenient time with a personal account manager
Jenny: so the risk is almost none
I wanted to know how much money could be made using their scheme.
[Me]: What sort of profits do you think I could make?
Jenny: If you start with 500usd, between 100 to 150usd a day
Jenny: specially today, because in some hours will be a significant moe in the market, and you will be able to double your inversion.
[Me]: So if I invested $1,000 today how much will I make?
Jenny: potentially 2000usd
[Me]: Is that really possible in a day?
Jenny: not in a regular day, TODAY, because in a couple of hours will be, like I told you, a very important change in the market
Jenny: we are offering our members that start today, the service of an sms at the moment that this change will take place
Jenny: so you will be able to open position at the actual moment
Eurextrade only claimed people could make "up to 2.9% per day" but Leveltrade claim you can make 20-30% in a day with a $500 "investment" and 200% if I invested $1,000.

Can this be believed?

Of course not. No investment makes that level of return in a day, certainly not when based on tiny currency fluctuations and never in the history of the world when "the risk is almost none".

Then there are the rather mundane facts about the company.

They give contact numbers in both Russia and the UK but give just one physical address: "Office 3 Unit R1 Penfold Trading Estate Watford, UK WD24 4YY". This is that address:

Image c/o Google Maps and Streetview
Does that look like the Headquarters of a major, respectable finance company to you? Or does it instead look like the sort of place that offers accommodation addresses to anyone who wants to give the appearance of having a fixed address? In fact the following companies also have exactly the same address:
  • Financial Binary
  • Rosa Marketing Ltd
  • Interactive Blvd Ltd
  • One Piece Media Ltd
  • Tip Top Diving
  • Diet Pro Elite Ltd
  • Fresh Academy (Watford) Ltd
What about the company itself? During our online chat I asked them how long they'd existed in the UK:
[Me]: Is it a registered company in the UK?
Jenny: Yes
[Me]: Has it existed for a long time?
Jenny: Yes 4 years
Not according to Companies House, the UK registrar of companies. Leveltrade is certainly a registered company but it's a lot younger than 4 years old. In fact, it's a newborn.

Finally, are they registered with the UK's Financial Services Authority?


So you can't trust them in the UK. What about other addresses? It's actually impossible to tell with any certainty.

They also give an address in the Caribbean ("P.O. Box 1825, Cedar Hill Crest, Villa, St Vincent and the Grenadines") which shares some similarities with their UK address. To begin with it's the same PO Box address as that given by other companies, including:
  • OctaFX
  • Loyal Agency and Trust Corp
  • Venture Invest Inc
  • LoyalBank Limited
  • FW Markets Ltd
  • Famous Forex
Yet another accommodation address or is it possible that they're all actually the same people using various front companies? All of those companies in St Vincent and the Grenadines appear to be in the same line of business, Forex trading and some of them have been to operate a little strangely.

St Vincent and the Grenadines seems like a charming place but it does seem to have a rather easy-going approach to company formation (one site describes it as: "No Tax, Director and Shareholder Info Not Public, and One Person can Establish the Company").

So we can't tell.

In summary:
  • They promise unbelievable returns on modest investments, saying there's almost no risk.
  • They're not registered with the necessary regulator in the the country from which they claim to operate.
  • They give no more than an accommodation addresses, sometimes addresses shared with rather suspicious companies.
  • The company in the UK is only a matter of days old, not the 4 years they claimed.
So is this another Eurextrade-like scheme? I can't say for sure but so far I'm certain that it's not a company you should trust with anything, certainly not your money.

There's one other similarity with Eurextrade. They reward you for recruiting other people.

How long before we hear of people recruiting others in chicken restaurants, bothering their friends and relatives with endless pleas to hand over their savings and the inevitable cries of disappointed, impoverished victims of another Ponzi scheme?

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Voice - "Swindled by dealers" (Yes, it's Euroafrica Motors)

From The Voice last week:
"Con artists passing themselves off as car dealers are cashing in on unsuspecting customers’ penchant for second hand UK imported vehicles.

The con-men through a well planned scheme are exploiting their victims’ ignorance or outright disregard for the right procedures in car sale transactions.

Euroafrica, a supposedly UK based car import company is mentioned prominently among scores of other shady dealers."

We've covered EuroAfrica before in a column in The Voice. While they claim to offer "Quality Vehicles & Quality Service" they actually seem particularly skilled in the delivery of excuses rather than the vehicles they've been paid for.

Excuses like:
"we are working to have it transported to Gaborone as soon as we possibly can"
10th March 2014

"All going well the car might be released and arrive in Gaborone during or after the Easter weekend"
14th April 2014

"Just got confirmation from clearing agent that the car will be out on Monday"
2nd May 2014

"the car will be out this week no doubt about that"
7th May 2014

"I have been in touch with the agents in walvis bay and they advise me that they should be successful in getting your car released as negotiations with the port officials had been delayed due to the fact one of the senior port officials has been off sick and he is the one who gives the final decision on the amount of discount to be paid but they assure me they will be successful. I have impressed upon them to expedite and ensure the car is released
and delivered to you. I can assure you I am on this case and will be
in constant touch with you."
21st May 2014
And finally, in The Voice:
"For his part, Winter Mutange admitted that there were many unhappy customers who are still waiting for their vehicles. “That is true, but our board has decided that we refund all the customers that we owe and we intend to do that by next week,” he said."
"By next week"? They have three days left.

You've been warned. You can't trust your money with Euroafrica.

Monday 26 May 2014

Can you take it?

Can you take criticism? Really?

It’s one of the marks of someone truly grown-up and mature that they can take criticism. I’m not talking about being attacked or insulted, I mean the complaints that we all have from time to time things we’ve said or done.

Well can you?

If you can’t then the bad news is that you’re going to have problems in life. It certainly means you’re never going to have a successful career in business because sooner or later everyone who makes a living by selling products or services will screw up and get complaints. Even if it’s not your fault you’re going to encounter a customer who’s angry, upset or disappointed and it’s going to be your job to deal with it.

And it’s hard. It’s hard to fix these problems practically but it’s also hard emotionally. Nobody likes being told that they’ve got something wrong, that they’ve blundered, that they’ve made someone unhappy.

The good news is that there’s a simple sequence of steps you can follow that will help you right the situation. If you’re prepared to be patient and follow them you’ll not only fix the problem, you might even end up with a happier customer than if the problem had never occurred. Welcome to the Consumer Watchdog Eight-Step Complaints Program.

1. Stay calm. Almost all problems are easier to solve when everyone’s calm. When you receive a complaint before you do anything else take a slow, deep breath. And then keep taking slow, deep breaths. Don’t get excited, don’t start hyperventilating and don’t have a panic attack. Stay calm and do you know what will happen next? Your customer will calm down as well. That’s always a good start. Stay that way throughout the rest of the eight steps.

2. Listen. Actively. Don’t just sit there with a blank face while your (now calm) customer explains what’s gone wrong. Nod your head, tilt it slightly sideways occasionally, make quiet, appreciative noises and don’t be afraid to say little things to encourage the customer to continue. These will help the customer communicate with you. They’ll also help you with Step 3.

3. Empathize. Show your customer that you care, that you understand how they feel, that you even share their feelings. Don’t be afraid to show your customer that you have emotions as well and that you can relate to them, that you’d feel the same if you were in their shoes. Above all, show them that they’re dealing with a human being. Do this even when your customer is an idiot. Idiots have feelings as well.

4. Get the facts. The facts are the things that will help you decide what can be done. The facts will help you decide how much you and your company are at fault and how much the customer has contributed to the situation. The facts are the evidence that will allow you to make a judgment on what to do in Step 5.

5. Solve it. Now you have the facts from a calm customer who feels he or she can trust you, you’re in a position to come up with a solution. It doesn’t have to be a solution that damages your company or loses you money, sometimes the solution can be nothing more than a sincere apology from another human being (that’s you, remember?). Better still, and certainly when you or your company are at fault, is something concrete, something of value. A repair, a replacement and a refund are the usual options. And an apology.

6. Follow up. Some time later get in touch with the customer to check they’re happier now, that their anger has subsided and they’re no longer spitting blood or crying themselves to sleep at night. Yet again it’s a way to show them that you’re a human being.

7. Learn. I know this is often said but it’s true. Complaints are the best possible things that can happen to any company. It’s only through complaints that a company learns where it’s going wrong. More importantly you get a sense of how your customers are feeling. They can also show you patterns. Are your biggest challenges caused by the manufacturing process, distribution or, as was the case with a company I once worked for, your salespeople telling lies. Yes, they always said to prospective customers, of course our product does that! A month later I was left explaining to a now angry customer that no, it’s never done that and it never will.

8. Improve. The lessons from Step 7 can now help you fix the problems that are making customer unhappy and leading to all those complaints. This is the most critical stage. Once you’ve gone through the first seven steps it’s a tragic waste of time and intelligence not to do something about the situation you uncovered. And remember that companies that are constantly learning and improving are the ones that have happier customers. They’re the ones who have the Holy Grail of business: repeat customers, customers who come back again and again because they love the products and services but, more than that, they trust the company to fix things when they go wrong.

So which sort of company do you want yours to be?

And here’s a secret. Even if your company doesn’t give a damn, you should follow these rules yourself because you’ll be the one the customers love rather than them. You’ll be the one who, sooner or later, will be poached by another company. I’ve seen this happen several times. Someone excellent being employed by fools gets an offer of a better job. I’ve even been that person offering the job a couple of times.

So it’s simple. Follow these steps and you can’t possibly lose.

Friday 23 May 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received an email saying that “the Board at Gulf Project Management Association (Gulf PMA) has directly approved you as a 'Project Management Expert (PME)”. They then sent me further follow-up emails encouraging me to join. They say that the fee to join is $399.

Do you think this is worth the money?

Please don’t waste your money on this.

As far as I can establish this organization, the so-called “Gulf Project Management Association” who also call themselves the “Global Commission of Project Management Executives”, are selling bogus professional memberships. Despite what they say, this has nothing to do with your qualifications or experience. They have no professional standing whatsoever. This is just about money.

I did some detective work and I could find absolutely no evidence that the “Gulf Project Management Association” even exists, other than having a web site that was created just a few days ago.

This organization is yet another peddler of fake qualifications and I now have evidence for this. On the same day that you received your email we received exactly the same email making us the same “membership” offer. The curious thing is that one came to the Consumer Watchdog email address (which isn’t an individual person) and another came to an entirely fake email identity we use for making enquiries to fake universities. If they’re offering their “membership” to people who don’t even exist then we can assume they’re bogus.

This is a move by the fake university industry to explore new opportunities to steal our money. Their web site certainly has many similarities to the web sites of many of these other fake establishments. When you use their online chat facility it even asks you if you are “an existing student”.

Please don’t waste your time or money buying fake qualifications and memberships. It could you end up costing you your job when your employer finds out you’ve been lying to them.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

In February 2013 I bought a 238 litre fridge worth P2,999 and the agreement was to pay in 4 months. I paid a deposit of P1,800 and the remaining P1,200 in the following 3 months. When they delivered the fridge it was not working so I agreed with their decision to send a technician to look at it. The technician fixed it and it worked till August 2013.

I went back to the store and they sent their technicians who took it to the workshop but it never functioned well so the store management took it to their store and gave me a 220 litre TEK fridge to use while they fix mine.

At the beginning of 2014 they said there has been an accident with my fridge so they’ll replace it with a new one. From February till last month I have been going to the store or calling consulting about the issue and all I get is we'll call you but they never do.

The thing is I was patient and now I cant take it anymore because it has been costly to me calling them and going to the store to get the we'll call you response all the time. I don’t have time to go that side at all so please I have been referred to you by a friend to ask for help.

Enough Is enough. You’ve had to live without the fridge you purchased for way too long now. The fact that they then broke your fridge while it was in their care surely makes this even simpler? They should either give you a replacement or pass over ownership of the one they lent you, assuming it’s roughly the same model.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see if they can’t see reason and finally fix this for you.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Announcing... The 2014 Consumer Watchdog Conference

We're very proud to announce...

If you're interested in attending you can email us at for more details. You can view or download the booking form here and the terms and conditions here.

Spotting a pyramid scheme can sometimes be very easy

Sometimes it's obvious.

The following ad was posted on Facebook. I was suspicious when they felt it necessary to say "(NOT MLM)" in the very first line of the advertisement.

Once you click the link and visit their web site it becomes very clear very quickly. They describe themselves like this:
Smart Media is a world-class technology company that has developed proprietary technology called "Your Own Branded Social Network" (YOBSN) which is set to revolutionise the Internet world.
The language they use is pure MLMspeak, or perhaps even Pyramidspeak:
Key elements of Team Commissions:
  • Everyone has 2 teams
  • You can qualify to earn up to $50K per week!
  • Paid to unlimited depth, no matter who makes the sale
  • Encourages leaders to work in depth with their teams
  • No reduced percentages on lower levels
  • No leadership levels to attain
  • No flushing of points
Team Qualifications:
  • All members are placed in the team tree
  • Only Reps can earn team commissions
  • Personally sponsor 2 Active Reps - place one on each team
  • Remain active with a monthly subscription
  • In the image below you have personally sponsored Tim and Ann
And then there's the big clue. The picture they publish that explains everything so very clearly.

Don't waste your time and money.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Another fake - Global Commission of Project Management Executives

We were asked whether the following email could be believed:
"Dear [name removed],

We are pleased to announce that based on a thorough review of your previous academic and professional record; the Board at Gulf Project Management Association (Gulf PMA) has directly approved you as a 'Project Management Expert (PME)."
It went on:
"Key Benefits of being a Project Management Expert (PME)
  • Project Management Expert (PME) credential is the most important industry-recognized certification for project managers
  • Membership Card; showing your current Recognized Title of Project Management Expert PME in GCC.
  • Endorsement Certificate for use of Title from Gulf PMA; allowing you to use your project management title on your CV or otherwise in GCC. (e.g PME. Sam).
  • Certificate of Project Management; declaring you as a globally accepted bona fide Project Management Expert.
  • The Title demonstrates that you have the experience, education and competency to lead and direct projects.
  • 100% acceptance with Top Employers in the region - This recognition is seen through increased marketability to employers and higher salary; according to the Gulf Project Management Salary Survey."
And finally they came to the point:
"How to Proceed?

Since you have officially been conferred the Gulf PMA 'Member Status' and the 'PME' Title, the Membership Kit under your Name has already been issued. You are required to claim your kit for just $399 – (Membership Fee $2,500 waived for Exclusive Member Seats Only) by simply clicking here and confirming your interest."
So can this be believed? Is it possible that professional memberships like this can be achieved just like this?

The answer is simple. No.

This is not what it seems. The email gives link to the web site of the “Global Commission of Project Management Executives” which bears  a striking similarity to the web sites of many of the fake universities we've seen in the past, even as far as the online chat facility that asks if you are "an existing student" when you log in. Curiously their web site was only created on 15th May this year, a matter of days ago.

Then there's the usual clue. What they say when you talk to them.
[Me]: And how much do they cost?
Ron Lee: $299.00 USD is the special offer i just told you
[Me]: Even though I have no actual experience in Project Management?
Ron Lee: What is your field?
[Me]: I work in HR.
Ron Lee: My friend Management is a part of HR
Ron Lee: In modern scheme of Education. It is included
Ron Lee: Such membership & certification will enable you to get a job globally
Ron Lee: You can apply in any country without any problem
Ron Lee: It is basically a membership offered to working professional so that they can enhance their employment status
Ron Lee: Obviously it would make an impact on your resume once you would be having this certification
[Me]: How quickly can I become a member?
Ron Lee: Well we can go ahead & complete your fee submission
Ron Lee: In 25 Days you will receive certifications membership letter
In other words so long as I give them $299 I can get a professional looking membership that will enhance my employment status even though they know I'm entirely unqualified.


Saturday 17 May 2014

They're still there

Scammers. They haven’t gone away. They’re just as prolific as they ever were.

There are people who think that sooner or later scammers will disappear and get proper jobs. We assume that eventually people will become less gullible, more skeptical and will learn to see through the lies that scammers tell.

But it’s not true. There are as many scammers out there as there has ever been, they’ve just evolved. Just as all types of life evolve in reaction to their environment so do criminals.

These days you see very few of the traditional “419”, advance fee scams. It’s rare these days to see emails telling the story of the child of an enormously rich West African businessman who died leaving a fortune in foreign currency in a bank account that requires the help of a total stranger to liberate it. They’re still around but they’re a disappearing species.

Instead their descendants are plying their trade, in particular the “romantic” advance fee scam. These have been around for a few years but are still going strong.

Just a couple of weeks ago we heard from a reader who told us:
“A friend of mine sent me a parcel from India through Eagle X Courier services. I got a call from a guy called Michael in South Africa telling me that they have my parcel and I must pay custom clearance fee. He gave me the amount to pay which was P4,900. I transferred the said amount. They received the money last Friday and he called to confirm receipts and promised me that they have cleared my parcel from customs and I will get it that Friday.”
She went on to say that this guy “Michael” had called her again saying that she now had to send him $1,200 in delivery charges for this (yes, you’ve guessed it) fictitious parcel. She began to get suspicious only when he indicated he was prepared to negotiate on the delivery charge, telling her he’d accept just $600 instead of the original $1,200. When she then told him she’d only pay on delivery he hung up on her. That’s when she got in touch with us asking for advice.

It wasn’t hard to identify this as a scam, not just because we’re naturally skeptical, but because we’ve seen it all before. These loathsome individuals “seduce” people they meet online, usually from Facebook before saying they’re sending them a parcel full of treats. In this case he claimed he was sending her, according to the faked shipping document she received, a “pack of gold, jewelleries, iphone 5s, apple laptop, channel hand bag, rose flower and sealed envelope”.

Of course there is no parcel, just as there is no shipping company, no “Michael” and no romantically inclined Facebook friend. They’re all the same person, or members of the same group of scammers. Unfortunately for this victim she only became suspicious after she had paid P4,900. However by a strange quirk of fate this particular victim might be the first scam victim I’ve encountered who might turn out to be lucky. Unlike almost all scams, this time the scammer didn’t ask for the money to be transferred using Western Union but gave a South African bank account where he wanted the money sent. The stroke of luck is that when she instructed her bank to transfer the money she gave them the wrong account number. The money left her account but is currently floating in a suspense account and thanks to that error should be returned to her, minus some bank charges. She’s been unbelievably lucky, despite learning that the guy she befriended on Facebook was a liar, a cheat and a crook.

Not everyone is that lucky. We had another reader who fell victim to another species, the fake loan scammer.

We had another email recently from a woman who told us that she:
“got an email from Mandy Louw from Express Finance regarding a loan of R300,000 and as I was in need of finance I replied. On 20th Sep I paid R5,659.59 and the same day she told me to pay R5,999.96 extra for charges. I have been paying ever since the more I pay for legal fees but no funds deposited are in my account. I lost all my furniture as she told me to borrow more money from banks and loan sharks which I did. Now I cannot pay all my creditors instead she insist I pay more and more for legal fees and clearance which I did because I need money. The last time I paid was the 20th March and I paid R3,700 and still now they need me to pay already I paid close to R100,000. What can I do?”
Read that a second time and see if you spot the point at which she should have realized she was being scammed. Maybe the point at which she was asked to pay them to get a loan? Think back to the last time you borrowed money from your bank. Did they ask you to pay them money to get the loan? What sort of lender asks you to pay them almost R100,000 in order to get a loan of R300,000?

A scammer, that’s the sort.

Tragically this victim is never going to see her money again. There’s a real finance company in South Africa called Express Finance but this victim wasn’t talking to them, she was talking to imposters who had stolen that company’s identity. Imposters that only ever used cellphones and Gmail addresses. Imposters that exploited her massive gullibility.

And there’s an ironic twist. She works for a bank.

The lesson is simple. Scammers are evolving and are constantly constructing new ways to separate the gullible from their money. Please make sure you’re not one of them. If you don’t think you’re skeptical enough to decide whether something is a scam you know you can always ask us.

Friday 16 May 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought two dresses from a shop in BBS Mall on lay-bye for P350. Later on I received a call from a lady who says she is the owner of the shop. She says to me the price is P750 and not P350. I asked her how come and she tell me that's the price and if I don't agree I should come and get my P200. She then says she is busy with other customers to continue talking to me so she hung up.

I want to find out whether this is fair and what I can do to claim my clothes at P350 (meaning paying the P150 balance). Honestly I am so livid with her behaviour more than anything else.

I can understand why you’re so livid. Clearly this is a shopkeeper with no regard for her customers and no regard for common courtesy. However I suspect there isn’t much you can do about this. I imagine if we ask her she’ll just say that the price you were offered of P350 was simply a mistake and that is actually quite a good story. We all make mistakes and stores are no exception to that rule. At least she called you to explain. Her later rudeness is another issue.

Of course a decent store run by a decent person would probably have suggested a compromise, perhaps splitting the difference with you to show good will but perhaps good will isn’t a concept she’s encountered yet?

I suggest that you go back to the store, get your P200 back and promise yourself and me that you will never, ever set foot in that store again. Then tell everyone you know that they shouldn’t go there either.

It’s only when we start voting with our feet and our wallets and purses that stores will learn the lesson that they need to charm their customers, not insult them.

Update: A couple of weeks ago we published a letter from a consumer who said:

“Recently I went into one of the local shops to buy something. I got there and handed my bag to the woman at the parcel counter and took the number and went inside the shop. After buying I got back to the parcel counter, handed over to the number to the woman. To my surprise she told me that there is no bag. During the investigations they found out that my bag had been swiped with a wrong number that does not match it and where that wrong number is suppose to be there are parcels and it looks like the owner of those parcels have been given the wrong parcels which happen to be my laptop bag.”

When he contacted the store manager he was given plenty of promises to deal with the situation but nothing actually happened. He asked us what he could do to get his stuff back. There was also very little the store can do to find it for him. They had no more idea of the person’s identity than he did.

I told him that I suspected that if the other customer hadn’t returned them by now there was little chance they would ever be returned. Clearly the other customer was either too embarrassed to return the bag or just preferred to keep the contents. Either way they were gone.

However the better news is that we contacted the store manager and he decided to take the issue seriously. He invited the customer to meet and discuss the issue. Following our suggestion the store asked him to go to his local police station and swear an affidavit saying what had happened and confirming how much money it would take to replace everything. He did this and gave the affidavit to the store and they passed it up to the manager with sufficient authority to authorize compensation. We heard from the customer a couple of days ago that he’d received the full amount and can now start replacing everything.

The lesson stays the same. Are you prepared to trust a store to look after your belongings? I wouldn’t trust my belongings, particularly if they’re valuable, to anyone I don’t know personally and total strangers at parcel counters aren’t in that category. You’ll also see that many stores have large disclaimers saying they take no responsibility for goods left there. Roughly translated all this means that they don’t trust you and you can’t trust them. Why would you give such a store your money?

The other lesson is don’t give up. If a manager doesn’t give you satisfaction go up the chain of command until someone does. If it means going to the Divisional Manager, Regional Manager, Managing Director or the Chief Executive Officer then just do it!

How to deal with a complaint

THIS is how you deal with a complaint.
"On May 9th I bought a fancy cake for a birthday party from Airport Junction Spar. On Saturday May 10th at dinner the cake was presented as dessert with candles lit and a side of ice cream. Thank goodness there was ice cream! The cake was as dry as a bone, and only made palatable by the icing on the cake and the ice cream.

Monday morning I returned to the same Mall to purchase shoes with the young teen for whom the party had been held. Noticing that Spar was open I proceeded to the desk of a man sitting at the front of the store. I detailed my story. I had no bill/receipt to show.

With no ado he turned to the young girl asking if it had been her birthday. “Yes”, was the reply. He turned and taking a rather large slab cake from a table presented her with a replacement, saying to her, “Happy Birthday”. Was she ever delighted. (The cake was shared with her classmates the following day.)

We would like to recommend this manager for recognition and our thanks for going above and beyond."
That's how you do it. Fix it without any nonsense or delay.

VERY well done to the team at Airport Junction Spar for showing us how to do it.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Will you make money from Herbalife? No.

The figures for Herbalife in the USA in 2012 are also available.

These show that more than three quarters (77%) of all the money Herbalife paid it's recruits in the USA was taken by a tiny proportion (2.8%) at the top of the pyramid. The vast majority of recruits (nearly 92%) had to share less than 10% of the money, being paid an average of only $492 each. Remember that this figure is income, not profits. It's before they spend money on electricity, transport, phone and internet costs.

No, you won't make money from Herbalife.

Will you make money from Amway? No.

The evidence is that the VAST majority of people who join a Multi-Level Marketing scheme like Amway or Herbalife don't make any real money from doing so. That's evidence that comes from the income disclosure statements they're required to publish in certain countries.

The latest data from Amway in the UK can be seen here (110k pdf download) and it makes rather poor reading.

The statement reports that on the 30th September 2013 they had 30,415 "Retail Consultants", 13,141, "Certified Retail Consultants" and 81 "Business Consultants". These categories are explained here as follows:
Retail Consultant - "The focus of a Retail Consultant is on developing a customer base through product retailing."
Certified Retail Consultant - "The focus of a CRC is to maintain a solid customer base through product retailing and introduce others to the Amway Business Opportunity."
Business Consultant - "The primary focus of a BC is on expanding the business by supporting and training RCs and CRCs on retailing products and building their Amway business."
The average income figures for these groups were, I'm afraid, rather pathetic.

Retail Consultants had an average income of a mere £42 per month (£504 per year), Certified Retail Consultants averaged only £108 (£1,296 per year) and the very grand Business Consultants only brought in £1,754 each month (£21,048 per year).

For reference the average annual income in the UK is about £26,500.

Remember that these figures refer to income, not profits. They don't take account of the costs involved in running your little business, recruiting people beneath you, electricity and your phone and internet costs.

In short, even in a large economy like that in the UK you're not going to make even the average national wage if you get yourself recruited into the Amway MLM.

Why do you think it would be any more lucrative in Botswana?

Monday 12 May 2014

Sunday Standard - "Ailing Air Botswana’s top post delocalised yet again" - should we care?

"Ailing Air Botswana’s top post delocalised yet again"
"The board of directors of Air Botswana have sidelined a local, Joe Motse, when selecting the new general manager of the national airline.

Before his temporary ascendancy to the top post of the airline, his rank was commercial director. His previous employers were Botswana Tourism Organization, Cresta and Debswana.

Fresh information from the airline indicates that a South African, Ben Dahwa, who was born in Zimbabwe, has since started working as the permanent general manager of the national carrier. Dahwa reported for duty at the beginning of this month and is expected to explore avenues of growth for the national airline."
Do I actually care? Should any of us give a damn where he comes from so long as he makes the airline work properly? Isn't that what really matters?

Sunday Standard - "Mokaila fires WUC Chief Executive"

From the Sunday Standard, "Mokaila fires WUC Chief Executive"
"The Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Kitso Mokaila has endorsed the decision of the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) Board to expel the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer Godfrey Mudanga and three of his Directors. The decision to relieve Mudanga of his duties is said to have also been endorsed at a Cabinet meeting held on Wednesday."
There comes a time in an organisation that is failing when drastic action is required. It's unpleasant but it has to be done.

Friday 9 May 2014

Who can you trust?

It’s a question we’re asked all the time. Can I trust this company? Can I trust this investment scheme? Can I trust this person trying to sell me something?

The answer is usually quite simple. If you’re already suspicious enough to ask the question then you should trust your instincts. At least until you’ve checked.

So are there obvious clues that tell us if a company is untrustworthy? What are the hints that indicate a company or a person shouldn’t be trusted with your money?

Some are obvious. For instance, if anyone ever tries to recruit you into a scheme that involves you then recruiting other people to make money then you should turn around and walk away immediately. They’re trying to recruit you into a Multi-Level Marketing scheme or, worse still, a pyramid scheme. Either way you’re not going to make any money from such a scheme for the simple reason that nobody ever does, apart from the people who first create them. This is certainly the case with the biggest of the MLMs, Amway and Herbalife. Their own data, the data they’re required to publish in the USA and the UK shows that the vast majority of recruits either make no money at all or make a loss by joining the scheme. The lucky ones at least get a kitchen and bathroom full of expensive products or a bloodstream full of worthless supplements, the unlucky ones end up penniless.

It’s even worse with the true pyramid schemes. These are the ones that make me angry. We’ve had intelligent, professional, smart people crying in our office following their experiences with pyramid schemes, having lost vast amounts of money. Only after they joined have they realized that there is no actual product and they only chance they have of making a return is to do their best to recruit the people dearest to them, damaging every relationship they’re in.

What about investment schemes? I’m not a financial expert but I know that any scheme offering more than double the interest your bank offers is suspicious. Here’s another clue. Any investment scheme that quotes interest rates per day rather than per year is a scam. One more clue for you. Any investment scheme that doesn’t clearly state how it will make money for you can’t be trusted.

The Eurextrade Ponzi scheme that collapsed last year had all of all these clues. The people recruited into this scheme lost fortunes, having been persuaded they could make extraordinary profits from “investing” their savings. Unfortunately they either didn’t see the clues or they were willfully blind to how obvious they were. Can anyone really believe that interest rates of 3% per day are possible?

I think it’s also fair to look for clues about a company in the way it appears. While we shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance I think we can, even should, judge a company by its appearance, in particular superficial things like the state of its office, web site and even its address.

We’ve been asked on several occasions over the years to comment on recruitment companies, car importers and investment companies that, it’s soon emerged, seem to operate from someone’s sitting room. I’m certainly not saying businesses can’t operate from someone’s home, almost all businesses start that way, but there comes a point when businesses that want to be seen as respectable rent an office, get a phone line and register an internet domain name. If they want to be treated seriously.

Understanding that consumers are increasingly skeptical some scammers invest serious time and effort into looking legitimate. The fake university business is a good example. They have very slick, professional-looking web sites that look just like what you would expect from a leading-edge university. However there’s only so much they can do to cover up the biggest clue about the scam they’re selling. Sooner or later, in an email or an online chat session you’ll see a statement like this one: "No need to Study, No Classes to attend, No Exam to take."

Isn’t that clue enough? You can be awarded a degree without actually doing any work to get it?

I saw that quote in an email from the so-called Johnstown “University" which despite claiming to have been "Established in 1991" and to have established "its online education system ... in the year 1996" only registered their domain name on the 14th April this year.

A degree from one of these “universities” isn’t just a fake degree, it’s a fast-track, first-class ticket to dismissal and prosecution. Getting a job or a promotion based on a fake qualification is stealing. You’re as much of a crook as the people selling them if you have one of these fake degrees. If you have one you should resign now before you’re caught.

Above all I think we’re entitled to judge a company by the biggest clue of all: its reputation among your family, friends and colleagues.

You think I’m going to say you should trust the companies these people trust? In fact I’m suggesting you shouldn’t necessarily trust them. Remember that it’s often your family and friends who try to recruit you into their latest Multi-Level Marketing scheme. Many people I know who were recruited into pyramid schemes like TVI Express and World Ventures were recruited by their nearest and dearest. Many people were introduced to Eurextrade by their workmates. The sad news is that when it comes to scams you can’t trust the people you know.

The sad news is that reputation alone isn’t enough. If it was, we’d all be poor by now. What’s matters more are facts. Before you decide to trust anyone, do your research.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

A friend of mine sent me a parcel from India through Eagle X Courier services. I got a call from a guy called Michael in South Africa telling me that they have my parcel and I must pay custom clearance fee. He gave me the amount to pay which was P4,900. I transferred the said amount. They received the money last Friday and he called to confirm receipts and promised me that they have cleared my parcel from customs and I will get it that Friday.

Later in the day he called again and said I have to pay US $1,200 for delivery charges before they can deliver my parcel. I asked him why should I pay in dollars and why do I pay before delivery of the goods. After some arguments he said he will pay half of the money and I pay the other half which is US $600. I refused and told him that I can only pay when I receive the parcel not before, he dropped the phone and yesterday he phoned and asked me if I had transferred the money. I said no and he dropped the phone on me yet again.

So I don't know what to do how can you help me?

This is undoubtedly a scam. I’ve seen exactly the same situation occur several times before and the story is always the same. You meet someone on Facebook who befriends you, often so much that you begin to feel love for him or her. They then promise to send you a parcel containing a variety of expensive gifts. This parcel is then mysteriously held up in customs somewhere and you can’t get it until you pay the courier company a fee. That payment is what the whole thing is really all about. That’s the “advance fee” that these scammers are seeking.

The bad news is that scammers don’t ever give refunds. Once they’ve got your money it’s gone forever.

However, there is surprisingly good news in your case. For once these scammers didn’t use Western Union, they asked you to transfer money directly to a bank account in South Africa. And guess what? You might be the luckiest scam victim in Botswana. According to the bank in SA when you gave your bank in Botswana the instruction you gave them the wrong account number. It looks like your money is currently in a suspense account somewhere. It looks like you’re getting it back!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I got an email from Mandy Louw from Express Finance regarding a loan of R300,000 and as I was in need of finance I replied. She send me application forms to fill in I did then. On 20th Sep I paid R5,659.59 and the same day she told me to pay R5,999.96 extra for charges. I have been paying ever since the more I pay for legal fees but no funds deposited are in my account.

I lost all my furniture as she told me to borrow more money from banks and loan sharks which I did. Now I cannot pay all my creditors instead she insist I pay more and more for legal fees and clearance which I did because I need money. The last time I paid was the 20th March and I paid R3,700 and still now they need me to pay already I paid close to R100,000. What can I do?

I’m afraid the news for you isn’t nearly as good. You’ve been scammed. Totally.

I first warned readers about the Express Finance scam in August last year. In fact if you Google for “Mandy Louw Express Finance” the first hit is a link to our blog where we warned consumers about them.

While there is a real company in South Africa called Express Finance these aren’t the people who contacted you, they were imposters. Didn’t you notice that they never gave you a landline number and only used cellphone numbers? Didn’t you notice that they use a Gmail account to contact you? Didn’t you become suspicious that in order to get a loan of R300,000 you first had to give them R100,000?

I’m very sorry to tell you that nothing can be done in this situation, tragically it’s way too late to help.

Another fake university - Mount Lincoln "University"

In comes an email from Best Life Experience Degrees that says I can "Earn an Accredited US Degree in Just 15 Days." It says:
"Why Should I Apply?
  • Recognized and Accredited university degree
  • Receive Documents in just 15 Days
  • No Studies, No Classes, No Exams
  • Very Affordable, No Hefty Fee
  • No Waiting, get approval right away
  • Same Degree Documents as Traditional University Documents
  • Globally Accepted by Employers and Educational Institutions
  • 24/7 Student Support"
I chatted online with a number of their advisors and asked a few questions. Here are the highlights.
"Harvey Brown: How may I help you?
[Me]: I got an email saying I can get a degree without doing any studies. Is this really possible?
Harvey Brown: Yes

[Me]: Which university awards the degree?
Harvey Brown: Mount Lincoln University

[Me]: There is a vacancy I want to apply for in the hospital where I work. The job needs a Masters degree in Psychology. How quickly can I get it from you?
Mike Murphy: with in 20 days

[Me]: So I can get a Masters in Clinical Psychology in a month to help me get the promotion?
Mike Murphy: Yes you can

Mike Murphy: do you know what is the fee ?
[Me]: No, not yet.
Mike Murphy: its $499 but after applying the scholarship discount it would be $399

[Me]: You're sure this will qualify me as a Clinical Psychologist?
Mike Murphy: Yes it will
[Me]: So I can treat patients?
Mike Murphy: Yes"
Of course Mount Lincoln "University" is just as fake as Best Life Experience Degrees. It sells degrees without requiring any studies, exams or coursework and claims to be accredited by bodies that aren't themselves recognised by anyone outside of the fake university world.

I'll make it simple so that every the crooks from Best Life Experience Degrees and Mount Lincoln "University" can understand. Selling a fake degree in a subject like Clinical Psychology when you know that the person buying it will be treating patients is criminally reckless and a danger to the public good. Tarring and feathering would be a mild punishment.

Our advice remains the same as always. If you got a job or a promotion by buying one of these fake qualifications then resign now before you're exposed, fired and then prosecuted for fraud.

You deserve it.

Friday 2 May 2014

Mmegi - Your password can’t be trusted

The passwords you use on your computer can’t be trusted.

They can’t be trusted because you can’t be trusted. You and I simply can’t be trusted to pick passwords that are reliable enough. Almost all of us, myself included, choose passwords that are meaningful to us. Some of us choose the names of our children, our partners or our dogs. Others choose their home towns, their holiday destinations or their favourite foods.

The trouble is that these can probably be discovered quite easily from your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts. Even worse is that if you’ve used any word as your password a determined hacker can break it in moments using what they call a “dictionary attack”. Their computer simply sends every word in a dictionary to the web site or service you use and sooner or later it’ll guess the right one.

On solution is to use more complicated or “stronger” passwords. I used to think that it was enough to take a simple word that was familiar to me, say “mmegi” (which could easily be found in a dictionary) and then just change one letter to make it into a word that couldn’t be found like “mmogi”. But I suspect that’s not good enough any more. Password crackers are becoming more and more resourceful and we need to take much better measures to protect ourselves.

Many web sites will now tell you how strong the password you’re choosing is. The simplest way to select a strong password is just to make your password a lot longer than usual. Think about it. Every additional character you add can make it up to 75 times more difficult for a password cracker to guess if you include both lower and upper case characters, numeric digits and special characters. For instance if you choose a 5-digit password (like “mmegi”) there are just over 2 billion possible passwords you could choose from. If instead you decide to use a password that has 10 characters (like “MmegiToday”) you’re making it 5.6 quintillion times more difficult for someone to guess. Make it 15 digits (like “MmegiFriday28-4”) and I don’t even know how to write how much more complicated it is (it’s 13 followed by 27 zeroes).

Of course this is all useless if you do something stupid (and trust me, I’ve seen this) like writing your password down on a sticky label and attaching it to the side of your computer’s screen. That’s asking for trouble.
Image c/o Wikipedia

But even if we do all of this and select the strongest passwords possible we’re still at risk. You may have heard recently of “Heartbleed”, a flaw that was found in OpenSSL, one of the encryption tools used on servers all over the web. The popularity of OpenSSL meant that this flaw was so widespread throughout the internet that companies as big as Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Wikipedia were shown to be vulnerable. Of course they all worked very hard and very quickly to patch the problem but for a few days we were all being advised to consider changing our passwords. The irony was that if a web site you used was exposed, changing your password could have been the worst possible thing to do. Any hacker who had already breached that site’s security by exploiting Heartbleed would then have seen your new password as easily as he saw your old one. It was only when the breach had been filled that you should change your password.

The good news is that the Heartbleed flaw has been fixed by most organisations and you’re probably safe. The bad news is that there are many more security flaws out there, plenty of them, we just don’t know about them yet. Every couple of months there’ll be another flaw that’s discovered and we’ll panic and over-react again every time. There’s nothing you and I can do about it, our job as consumers is to do our best to protect ourselves by choosing strong passwords and by keeping them entirely safe from prying eyes.

You’ll also have seen that Microsoft has finally withdrawn support for older computers running Windows XP. Frustrating as it is, we have to move on. Windows XP has been around for 12 years which is a lifetime in the IT world and it’s become increasingly expensive for Microsoft to keep XP up-to-date. Your choices are simple. Continue using XP and expose yourself to increasing levels of risk, disconnect your old PC completely form the internet, upgrade to a more recent version of Windows that is supported (if your computer can run it), upgrade to a newer computer or migrate to a completely different operating system such as one of the many free versions of Unix.

One alternative that you might consider is not even knowing your own passwords and relying instead on technology to do it for you. There are several password manager applications you can download, some laptops even come with them installed. These apps decide your passwords for you, choosing extremely strong passwords, remember them for you and enter them when you need to sign on. The one I use even stores all these passwords, in an encrypted format online so that my laptop, phone and iPad all have access to these passwords. It really does make life a lot simpler and more secure.

Online security is a bit like the traditional security you might consider for your home or office. Having a combination of fences, dogs, infra-red beams, barred windows and internal motion sensors will offer you a level of comfort at home, but nobody would ever say it’s foolproof, you’re just giving yourself the best chance of safety. Think of online security in the same way. The more things you do to protect yourself the better. Never use the same password for different services, use strong passwords, consider using a password manager and keep your system as up-to-date as possible.

So far most of us have been lucky and haven’t had our passwords cracked. But it will happen to you soon if you don’t protect yourself.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Recently I went into one of the local shops to buy something. I got there and handed my bag to the woman at the parcel counter and took the number and went inside the shop. After buying I got back to the parcel counter, handed over to the number to the woman. To my surprise she told me that there is no bag. During the investigations they found out that my bag had been swiped with a wrong number that does not match it and where that wrong number is suppose to be there are parcels and it looks like the owner of those parcels have been given the wrong parcels which happen to be my laptop bag.

I spoke to the manager, and he took my number and said he will call me but its been a week without hearing from him. My bag had my books, umbrella, sunglasses, original certificates, references, letters, modem and a memory stick.

This issue is stressing me because the manager is reluctant and I’m stuck because I had to use stuff in that bag for applying. I want you to help me so that the person responsible compensates me cause I need the certificates immediately and to return the modem to the owner.

I’m afraid the bad news is that your bag has almost certainly disappeared for good. Whoever took your belongings must have realized by now that they’d taken someone else’s stuff and if they haven’t done the decent thing and returned them by now I don’t think they ever will. There’s also very little the store can do to find it for you. They have no more idea of the person’s identity than you do.

The better news is that we’ve been in touch with the store and they are now taking the matter seriously. They’ve asked for a full list of all the items you lost and the cost of each of them. It’s not certain but I suspect they’re going to refund you for your losses. It’s not as good as getting your bag and belongings back but it’s the next best thing!

Meanwhile, I have very strong opinions about parcel counters in general. Firstly I don’t see why I can’t be trusted to enter a store with my belongings. Furthermore I wouldn’t trust my belongings, particularly if they’re valuable, to anyone I don’t know personally and total strangers at parcel counters aren’t in that category. You’ll also see that many stores have large disclaimers saying they take no responsibility for goods left there. Roughly translated all this means that they don’t trust you and you can’t trust them. Why would you give such a store your money?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have a colleague who experienced very bad service from his bank. He has a loan from them and unfortunately they haven't been deducting the monthly repayment since November last year. Its month end now they have taken all his salary to cover up the last months arrears and they are still to deduct more if any money is transferred into his account. Is it allowed for the bank to do so?

The real question is not whether they are allowed to do this but whether they should. Yes, technically they probably ARE allowed to do it. I bet that in your colleague’s original loan agreement there’s a clause saying that if he’s late paying them money they can take it from wherever they please. It doesn’t matter that in this case it’s their fault he’s behind. However the more important question is whether they SHOULD do this. Clearly the answer is a big fat NO. All it would have taken was a phone call and I’m sure your colleague would have agreed a plan to catch up with his payments.

We called a senior manager at the bank and the good news is that they’re taking this seriously. Your colleague can expect a phone call and a solution very soon indeed.

Update: The bank took this one very seriously and responded very quickly. It turns out that the customer had defaulted on his repayments on more than one occasion and had also taken out a loan from a micro-lender that, together with his bank loan, was eating almost all of his income. The bank were understandably rather impatient given his poor repayment history.

However it doesn't excuse failing to pick up the phone and at least trying to come to some arrangement that allowed him some money to spend on food each month.