Sunday 29 June 2014

Karatbars can't be defended

Karatbars is a pyramid scheme that, if only in Botswana, is being sold by liars (who said they had been endorsed by Consumer Watchdog for instance).

However they clearly have supporters. In came a message from one of them called "Madrone Ridge" as follows:
"Hey isn't every business a pyramid scheme? Many have recruiters in human resources. So wouldn't this make them a scam? I don't know what burr got in your saddle, and I know that most people will never see the money the math demonstrates simply because they don't have the discipline to run a business. Like you, they live in fear and have no socia (sic) skills. They find every excuse under the sun why it won't work. Well, scientist have claimed that it is impossible aeronautically for a bumble bee to fly. But the bee doesn't care what they say and flys anyway. You do the math."

Where should I begin?
  1. No, every business is NOT a pyramid scheme. Real businesses have a product that forms the core of their business and are not based mainly on the recruitment of other people in a multi-level scheme. There is no comparison between a pyramid scheme like Karatbars and a real business.
  2. It is a common "argument" offered by the proponents of almost every pyramid or multi-level marketing scheme that people who criticise them somehow "don't have the discipline to run a business" and that's why they're critical. That is just silly and is what's called an ad hominem attack". It's not a real argument.
  3. I don't have a burr in my saddle and I don't live in fear.
  4. Scientists have not, I repeat NOT claimed that it's impossible for bees to fly. This is a myth spread by people with either no understanding of science or an ulterior motive, such as marketing a pyramid scheme.
Next time please come up with a better argument

Wonga are in trouble again in the UK

Wonga, the "payday loan" company originally from the UK but also now in South Africa are in trouble again. This time, just like all the other times, it's entirely of their own doing.

This time they sent letters to their heavily indebted victims from fake law firms they created. According to a BBC report:
"An investigation by the regulator found that Wonga sent letters to customers from fake law firms called "Chainey, D'Amato & Shannon" and "Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries", sometimes charging customers a fee for these letters.

The plan was to make customers in arrears believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a law firm, with legal action threatened if the debt was not paid.

The Law Society has now called on police to look at whether the company committed an offence of obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception and blackmail, as well as offences under the Solicitors Act."
In the past they've been castigated by almost everyone you can think of in the UK including consumer experts, Parliament and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In particular they have been criticised for their astonishing interest rates.

Although it's probably unfair to use annual percentage rates to criticise a lender whose average loan length is apparently 17 days, it's still a useful comparison. According to Martin Lewis, a UK consumer expert, they charge an APR of 4,214%.

We have to make sure that they NEVER set foot in Botswana.

Saturday 28 June 2014

You're being abused

Just because more and more people are becoming aware of their rights that doesn’t mean people aren’t falling victim to abuse any more.

In fact we hear of just as many cases of abuse as we ever did.

We heard recently from a reader who bought (or so she thought) a number of cellphones from a guy she encountered on the Internet. He claimed to be the in the UK but instead of asking for payment by bank transfer, as a real business would do, he demanded an up-front payment of $200 using Western Union. That’s always a clue that the person you are dealing with isn’t a real business. Western Union and other money transfer mechanisms are fine if you or the other person don’t have a bank account but in business? No. It’s just not how real businesses operate. It’s also curious that a company that claimed to be based in the UK would want payment in US dollars?

However soon after sending the money the situation changed. Rather than dealing with someone in the UK she started getting contacts from “another branch” that was based in (no surprises here) Nigeria. Then other things started changing. She was now asked to pay the balance of more than $2,000 before delivery rather than when the phones actually arrived. Unfortunately she paid up.

Then there were stories of the shipment being delayed in Zambia and then demands for more money because the company needed to “come to a resolution that they should send me other phones”. It was only then that she became suspicious.

She asked us “How exactly can you help me either get my money back or the phones! I've spent so much money but haven't gotten anything and funny thing is he still wants me to send him more money!”

This is the part I dislike about our job: telling people the bad news that their hard-earned cash had disappeared and that they will NEVER see it again. Scammers, let’s remind ourselves, don’t give refunds. No scammer has ever taken pity on his victims and given them back the money he stole from them.

We were slightly luckier with another reader who asked us whether he should join a scheme called Karatbars. We were lucky because he hadn’t already thrown his money away on what is presented as a way to buy micro-quantities of gold but is actually no more than a pyramid scheme. In fact it’s a pyramid scheme that in Botswana at least is being sold by liars. I can say that without fear because of a blatant lie they told some months ago. They told their potential recruits that the German Embassy, the Department of Mines and BURS had all endorsed their scheme. This wasn’t true and I know this because I asked them and they all denied it. Then came an even bigger lie. They said that the “doubting thomases then went to consumer watch dog. They also gave us a thumbs up.”

That’s a complete lie. Not only have we never given then “a thumbs up”, in fact we’ve been saying that they’re a pyramid scheme and that people shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, join this ridiculous scheme.

Another reader contacted us asking about the “Gulf Project Management Association” who had emailed offering her the supposedly coveted title of “Project Management Expert”. Rather than have any qualifications or experience in the area all she actually had to do to get the title is give them $399. I did some research and I could find no evidence that the “Gulf Project Management Association” exists but there’s an even bigger clue that it’s a scam. That because a few months ago we received exactly the same email but instead of being addressed to an actual person it was sent to the Consumer Watchdog email address. This “Prestigious Title” is being offered to people who don’t actually exist.

This title is as fake as the fake degrees you can buy on the internet.

By coincidence we were also asked by a reader about Atlantic International University. He wanted to know if their degrees would be accepted in Botswana. Luckily, unlike many other people, he was skeptical, presumably because degrees from AIU can be obtained for nothing more than cash. To their credit (I suppose) AIU are clear on their web site that they are “not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education”.

Even the agency that they claim has accredited them, “Accrediting Commission International”, isn’t a real accreditation agency and is just as fake as they are. An education official in Oregon was once quoted as saying that any establishment “accredited by ACI … is either fake or substandard”.

That certainly goes for Atlantic International University. Their degrees, even though there are foreign government leaders who have them, even though there are people working in Botswana with them, are fake.

People aren’t still falling for these various scams because they’re stupid or uneducated. They can probably be accused of naiveté, perhaps even recklessness but the people running the scams are smart and convincing. They’re very good at their job. They are very good at deceiving people and persuading them to hand over large amounts of money. The irony is that if they got a real job they’d probably make a good living from it.

In fact the reason people are still falling for these scams is a profound lack of skepticism. We need consumer who ask more questions about more things. Otherwise we’ll just continue to be the victims of the enormous range of villains out there.

Friday 27 June 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Good day, could you please assist me with this. I put some shoes on lay-bye at a store last month, yesterday I went there to pay the balance and collect the shoes. The sales lady went to the back and spent a good 20 minutes looking for the shoes. She came back and told me that she couldn't find them and took my number saying they will call me when they find the shoes.

Today I get a call and I am told that the shoes are not there and I should come and get my money. My question is this- since they have a certain percentage that they keep if I cancel a lay-bye am I not entitled to get interest when I get my money back? What does the law say about this? Thanking you in advance for your assistance.

This is really rather bad. Lay-byes can be a very good way of buying something you can’t afford to pay for in one go and it’s certainly better than buying on store credit or hire purchase but we frequently hear from people who’ve had problems like yours.

I think the very least the store could have done is invite you to find a similar (or perhaps even slightly better) pair of shoes to say sorry for the inconvenience. Just telling you to come and pick up your money and go away is very inconsiderate.

Yes, you’re right that if you cancel the lay-bye they often keep a small proportion of the money but in return you get to pay for something over an extended period. So I’m not sure how the law could help you so long as they offer you a full refund of everything you paid them.

What you CAN do is to spread the word among your friends, family and colleagues that this is a store that disrespects its customers like this.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
I bought cellphones online and paid using western union. The package was from the UK, but I have been communicating with some guy in Nigeria since I was told they have another branch there. I received a tracking number and was able to see how far the package was until it got to Zambia. I was asked to pay the balance for all the phones which I did but initially when we started I had an agreement with them that I'll pay the balance when I get the package.

It took me 2 days to pay the balance and was told the shipping company was asking for money for the delay which I paid. Then after that I got an email from the shipping company telling me they were at customs offices and that I had to pay some money to declare the goods and I sent them money for that. But now it seems like its a problem for me to get the package I have been paying money for. I was told I would get them yesterday but that didn't happen.

This certainly sounds like a scam to me. Many of the usual clues are there. The first is that they are doing business using Western Union. You might have thought that you were sending money to the UK but with Western Union you never know where the money will be withdrawn. I suspect the Nigerian connection.

It’s also suspicious that they changed the conditions for payment. Any company that starts by saying you can pay on delivery and changes later to demanding cash up front sounds untrustworthy to me. Then there’s the customs angle. Surely a real company would have known that this money would have been needed?

And then there are these last-minute promises (“You’ll get your phones tomorrow”) that are never honoured. They’re an technique used all the time by scammers. They lure you into paying them more and more money by making a series of promises about how soon you’ll get the fictitious items you’ve bought.

Let me make a guess. Did they email you from a Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account? I bet they did.

I’m sorry but I suspect your money has gone and will never been seen again.

Monday 23 June 2014

A Woolworths pricing update

Following criticism from consumers in Botswana about their pricing policies, Woolworths issued a press statement on 2nd June that you can see here.

In that statement Paula Disberry, their Group Director of Retail Operations at Woolworths explained:
"We have listened to our customers and reviewed the pricing model in Botswana. By improving supply chain efficiencies and changing our business model from franchise to corporate stores, we have secured savings which we will pass on to our customers. The savings will be in the form of reduced food and clothing prices from mid June 2014."
Read that last sentence carefully:
"The savings will be in the form of reduced food and clothing prices from mid June 2014."
I don't know about you but I thought that meant that the savings would be visible IN June 2014.

Not entirely so.

Following various people suggesting that they had either spotted no reductions so far, or only very small reductions, we contacted Woolworths to ask for some more information. When, we asked, would it happen?

They clarified today what "from mid June 2014" actually means (you can guess it already, can't you?). What it means is that there will be a process of gradual changes BEGINNING IN June 2014 and culminating in the rollout of their various promotions and eventually their Woolworths WRewards programme being available in Botswana early next year.

What a difference the word "from" can make.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Your rights

I was asked recently to comment on the state of consumer rights in Botswana. The person asking the question seemed surprised when I said I thought we were very well protected. At least in principle.

In fact we have an enormous array of rights that have been put there to protect us, covering almost everything we do with our money and our lives.

For instance a fundamental right we have as consumers, one sometimes overlooked or ignored by some stores, is that when we buy something that later goes wrong we’re entitled to one of the Three ‘R’s: a Refund, a Repair or a Replacement. No excuses are permitted, we are entitled to one of these solutions.

However something consumers often overlook is that we don’t always get to decide which of these we get. Generally speaking that’s up to the store to decide. For instance if you buy a new cellphone and it goes wrong shortly afterwards you can’t just storm into the store and demand a complete refund. Instead you’re obliged to give the store the opportunity to try and fix it. If you think about it, that’s only fair. It might be a tiny fault that they can fix very quickly.

It’s only when the store can’t easily fix it or that they take way too long to do so that I think you’re entitled to demand one of the other “R’s, either a replacement or a refund.

Obviously there’s only a limited time in which you’re entitled to one of these remedies. That’s why you should always ask how long the warranty is on the item you buy. Most electronic devices like cellphones are sold with a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty meaning that if it goes wrong in that first year the manufacturer will allow the retailer to return it to them. Some manufacturers offer even longer periods. The problem is that it’s quite easy for a retailer themselves to breach the manufacturer’s warranty if they sell an item outside of the region it was made for. This is the so-called “grey import” market. A store in Botswana will buy a load of items from a distributor in somewhere like Dubai and then sell them in Botswana, neglecting to tell their customers that the manufacturer’s warranty only covers the items in the Middle East, not southern Africa. That’s why you occasionally see a sign in a store saying that they only offer a 3-month or perhaps only a 1-month warranty. In fact there’s no manufacturer’s warranty at all, the store itself is offering it’s own, homegrown, perhaps even amateur, guarantee.

You need to think very carefully before buying any item that doesn’t have a full manufacturer’s warranty. Very carefully indeed.

Unfortunately even when you alert a company to a problem that doesn’t always mean you’ll get a quick response. We heard from a reader last week who returned an item to a clothing store in February 2012 and was still waiting for their P200 back and was being verbally abused by the store’s staff every time she called to remind them. Luckily after a few phone calls and messages from Consumer Watchdog she got her money but it shows how far certain companies will go to avoid their obligations.

You also have a right to expect a supplier take responsibility when things go wrong, even if it’s not actually their fault. We heard recently from a consumer who called in BTC to transfer their telephone line when they moved house but while the technicians were at the house a phone went missing. Very smartly the consumer called the technician and made up a story that he had covert video footage of his team stealing the phone and 30 minutes later the phone was returned to him. We contacted BTC and it soon emerged that the technicians weren’t in fact from BTC at all but from one of their sub-contractors and the thief was just someone who accompanied the sub-contractor to the house to help out. Clearly this wasn’t actually BTC’s fault but they nevertheless took the situation extremely seriously and I imagine the sub-contractor is now being very contrite and apologetic. If he knows what’s good for his business that is.

Above all we have a right to the truth when we do business. We have a right to buy things that do what the vendor says they do. We have a right to be told technical facts that back up a claim made by the vendor. We have a right to be told if an item is new, second-hand or previously used. We have a right to be told the terms and conditions of a contract, most importantly in language we understand. We have a right to be told and a right to decline if any of our rights are going to be ignored. We have a right to know our obligations as well as our rights.

The original question I was asked was whether we’re well protected and my answer was that yes, we were. In principle.

Just not always in practice.

The problem is that we don’t see nearly enough enforcement of these protections. Yes, there are exceptions. The Bureau of Standards, BQA and NBFIRA are all busily doing their best but we don’t see enough action from those empowered to enforce our basic rights like the quality of food and the basic standards of service in stores.

However there’s only one way to encourage greater enforcement and that’s public pressure from people like you and me who pay the enforcers’ wages. Are you prepared to help?

Or would you prefer to remain unprotected? It’s up to you.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Hello, I am looking for an online university, and I wanted to ask if a degree from the Academy of Arts University and Atlantic International University are accepted in Botswana?

The Academy of Arts University appears to be legitimate but make sure you’re really dealing with them rather than an imposter and I can’t make any comment on the quality of the educational services they offer.

However Atlantic International University is most certainly a fake university. They even (almost) confess this on their web site. They say that their learning programs “are unique, non-traditional and not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education”.

So it’s not actually accredited. Even the agency that they claim has accredited them, “Accrediting Commission International”, is itself not a real accreditation agency and is just as fake as they are. An education authority in Oregon was once quoted as saying that any establishment “accredited by ACI … is either fake or substandard”.

Atlantic International University is a fake university accredited by a fake organization that sells fake degrees, it’s as simple as that. “Qualifications” you buy from AIU are worthless and won't be recognized in Botswana. You must realize that if you ever got a job or a promotion using a fake degree like one from AIU then you’d be a criminal. You’ll have committed a fraud against your employer, just like anyone else who obtains a financial advantage by lying.

One final curiosity is that Atlantic International University claims to be based in Hawaii. So why do they call themselves "Atlantic International University"? Hawaii is in the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic. I hope AIU don’t sell geography degrees!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I took a loan around September 2013 and February the same year I bought recliner sofas from a furniture store in Palapye. I was interdicted from duty last year December and I have been put on half salary which leaves me with a balance of 0.00 on my salary advice slip. I physically went to both companies to explain my situation and that I would be able to pay my debt until I go back to work and they acceded to my request which was done verbally and I even produced my payslip for proof of my situation.

I am not yet back at work but I am now receiving constant calls from both creditors that I must update my account to avoid my name being submitted to ICT as a bad payer. I am experiencing financial hiccups and there is literally no means I could engage to mitigate the situation.

I recently went to the loan company and I was given a statement reflecting the owed amount as P8,362.65 but the balance was P0.00 followed by a line 'Bad Debt Written Off". Is there any way that I could be helped to ward off the creditors until I am in a position to settle their debt? And how can loan & hire purchase insurance be off any use to me?

I really wish I could say something helpful about this predicament but unfortunately you’re in a very difficult situation. Nevertheless you have my respect for not trying to avoid your obligations. Unfortunately the insurance that comes with most loans and credit purchases only covers you against being retrenched, not disciplinary issues or voluntary resignation or retirement so I suspect that won’t be of much use to you.

My first suggestion would be to do exactly what you’ve already done, which is to be open about your situation to the lender and the store. However it seems that the loan company have now passed your debt to a debt collector and you need to ask them which company they used. Then talk to that debt collector and explain your situation to them as well.

A simple truth that’s often overlooked is that debt collectors don’t want to take you to court or repossess your belongings unless they have no other choice, They just want to collect as much money as possible and it’s in their interest to do a deal with you to get as much money back from you but, most importantly, in a way you can afford. Talk to the debt collector and see what can be arranged.

You mustn’t forget to keep the furniture store updated as well. They have an equal claim to whatever you can afford to repay as well.

If you have any problems let us know and we’ll get in touch with them both.

Friday 13 June 2014

Consumer power

You might not believe it but consumers have power. They have the power to change things, the power to make service better and even the power to lower prices.

Yes, they really do.

To begin with we have the power to choose. We have the power to take our money to a different store if the first one disappoints us. If the first store treats us badly or just has prices we can’t afford we can go to another store that treats us better. That thought is one of the few things that keeps store owners awake at night. They’re terrified that customers will just take their money elsewhere.

Consumers also have the power to complain. They can complain to the Consumer Protection Unit, their local council, the Bureau of Standards, the Competition Authority, NBFIRA, BOCRA, BQA, the Ombudsman and endless other bodies that have the power to intervene if there’s evidence that the rules have been broken. With increasing frequency these bodies are doing exactly that. They intercept things at the border, seize dangerous products on sale in stores, warn the public about dangerous goods and even shut businesses down if they don’t mend their ways. All because consumers exercised their power to complain to them.

Then there’s consumers’ power to make things change. For several years we’ve been hearing complaints from consumers about the prices some South African chains charge in their stores in Botswana compared to their prices in South Africa. They’ve been complaining about Woolworths in particular.

It didn’t take long to confirm this. Woolworths in Botswana would simply import products from South Africa with a label showing the price in Rand and then put another label on top with a new price in Pula. All it took was to peel off the Pula label and compare it with the Rand price to establish that the prices were being significantly marked up. For example one item we found was marked for sake in SA for R28.99 but was labeled here for P31.80. When you first look at those numbers it doesn’t seem like a big difference but then you do the maths. If you take off the South African VAT of 14%, convert the core price from Rand to Pula using the current exchange rate and then add our VAT rate of 12% you find that the item should really have cost about P25. That’s a mark-up of over 25%. Other products had a mark-up of closer to 40%.

We found one item that was marked as being on a 2-for-1 sale in South African but when we bought two here in Botswana we were charged for them separately. When you did the maths for that purchase, including the differing rates of VAT, the current exchange rate and the absence of the special offer in Botswana the markup was 73%.

There is no possible reason for this sort of mark-up. None whatsoever. In the past we’ve heard that it costs them to cross the border from SA to Botswana, that the added distance increases their costs or that the cost to sell in Botswana is higher. But there’s an obvious question. If these excuses are correct, why don’t other stores mark things up to the same extent?

I spoke to the Managing Director of another South African chain of supermarkets and he explained how they converted the pricing for Botswana. He told me that on the first of every month they get the exchange rate from their bank and stick to it for the entire month and they add precisely nothing as a mark-up. Not one thebe.

But there’s good news. Finally.

We contacted Woolworths in South Africa and asked if they could justify the mark-ups. We knew already that they were changing the way they operated in Botswana, removing the local company that operated on their behalf and taking over direct management themselves, and we wondered whether this would have an influence on pricing?

They promised to take a look and get back to us. Last week we heard from their Corporate Press Office in South Africa. This is was they said:
“Woolworths has announced that it will reduce the price of both food and clothing in Botswana after taking over the management of its stores from the previous franchisee.

Following the acquisition of the business, Woolworths initiated a comprehensive review, look (sic) at every aspect of our business, including the operational efficiencies and its pricing model. The objective of the review was to ensure that customers enjoy the same brand experience in Botswana as in South Africa.”
Paula Disberry, the Group Director of Retail Operations at Woolworths went on to explain that:
“We have listened to our customers and reviewed the pricing model in Botswana. By improving supply chain efficiencies and changing our business model from franchise to corporate stores, we have secured savings which we will pass on to our customers. The savings will be in the form of reduced food and clothing prices from mid June 2014.”
Result. At least in part to pressure from consumers Woolworths is reducing its prices to enable its customers to “enjoy the same brand experience in Botswana as in South Africa”.
We need to make sure it really happens and that it happens to the right degree. We don’t just want a tiny reduction, we want prices that are comparable to those our South African cousins are expected to pay.

So here’s what we all should do. Let’s go to Woolworths and buy something standard like a loaf of bread or a liter of milk. Then do the same again next month. If the prices have gone down suitably then we can be happy. If not, then are we prepared to show a bit of muscle?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

On 4th June I went to a shop at Station Plaza that sells German print clothing. The shop has been owing me a refund of P200 since February 2012. Every time I ask for my refund, the sales lady tells me to come some other time because they don’t have money. In March this year the lady told me to come on a Wednesday at 3pm but when I got to the shop on the agreed day and time, I was told the same old story. The lady promised to give me a call me when my money is ready but two months passed still waiting for her call. Yesterday I went to the shop to express my unhappiness at the way I was being treated. The lady started shouting at me at the top of her voice in front of other customers telling me that the she is not the owner of the business and that she will refund me at her own time.

May you please assist in informing the owners of the business about the abuse and humiliation I received from their employee and I also need an apology from the lady for verbally abusing and frustrating me for such a long time with a mere P200 refund.

You are remarkably patient. In fact you are far too patient. Being forced to beg for a refund you are owed for two years is completely unacceptable. Don’t the store have any idea of how to treat their customers?

This is actually a very simple situation. They owe you P200 and all they have to do is give it to you. Is their business so bad that they can’t afford just P200?

You could go to the Small Claims Court who can be remarkably useful but I’m not sure that’s the best solution on this occasion.

I think the best way to fix this situation is actually very simple. We’ll get in touch with the store and ask them if they really want this sort of negative publicity. Do they really want to be famous for abusing their customers both financially and verbally? Do they really want every potential customer to walk past them?

And that business about her shouting at you in the store? Calm down, take a deep breath, count to ten and take another deep breath. Don’t bother calling the police, just do what would hurt them the most. Tell everyone you know, every friend, every relative, every colleague and everyone you meet on the street or in the bus how you were treated by them and that they shouldn’t allow themselves to be a victim of their rudeness. Make it clear to everyone that this store doesn’t deserve to have their business.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have submitted a Sony Ericsson Xperia Play smart phone to a company in February this year. The phone was working except the screen was just white and you couldn’t see anything. They told me they knew the problems and they can fix it. They attempted to fix it and it became worse such that it could not switch on after that.

They then claim they took the phone to a Sony centre for repair but since then I have been asking for my phone back they failed to give my phone back. One of the stories I was told is that the technician who took the phone to Sony centre was fired and he did not return the phone upon leaving. I have been calling the owner of the company to assist but whenever I went to his office he would promise to call and never did. Last week his phone was no longer available when I called.

Can you please assist me on this matter?

I really can’t understand why it should take four months to fix a problem with a phone. Do they know what they’re doing? Are they aware that Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires that a company offers service “with reasonable care and skill”?

If the business about the technician who was fired and who didn’t return the phone when he left is true that shouldn’t be your problem. He was in the employment of the company when he took your phone and it’s up to them to either get it back from him or offer you a replacement at their expense. Whether they then recover the money from him is their problem, not yours.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see if we can’t encourage them to get on with it.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Another Eurextrade?

Here we go again. Here comes another company offering us the chance to become fabulously wealthy. Will it be another Ponzi scheme like Eurextrade? Is it yet another scam?

You can be the judge.

A reader contacted us asking for advice about an email he had received from a company called Leveltrade. He said they’d told him that they would provide him:
“with guidance and knowledge to profit from forex markets. In order to begin to trade one has to open an account for $100. I just signed up out of curiosity to learn. The company called me from their UK based office and I spoke to their consultant who advised me on how to trade and that I should deposit $50 in order to begin.”
He wasn’t convinced. He said:
“I am a bit skeptical about online business especially ones like Eurextrade which disappeared after making millions from naive consumers. I am asking your advice on the matter. Is this business legit? Is it worth putting up your money in because it looks very tempting?”
It was certainly worth a look.

Leveltrade have a respectable looking web site but that’s not proof of anything. Plenty of fake universities, investment schemes and scams of all sorts have good-looking web sites. There’s no simple relationship between the quality of a web site and the respectability of a company. However it did provide some clues to what they claim to do. Their web site says that their “goal is to prove that everyone can succeed on the Forex Market” and that they “provide most qualified market analyses to our customers, as well as the support of our highly experienced consultants and individually tailored trading conditions."

I’m suspicious. Very suspicious.

Let’s start with the claims they make about how much money you can earn from your “investment” with them. Their web site offers an online chat facility and, using an assumed name, I asked them a few questions. “What sort of profits do you think I could make?”, I asked. “If you start with 500usd, between 100 to 150usd a day”, I was told. I then asked, “So if I invested $1,000 today how much will I make?” Their answer was jaw dropping “potentially 2000usd”.

Remember that the crooks at Eurextrade only ever promised “up to 2.9%” per day. These guys at Leveltrade are promising anything up to 200% in a day.

Let’s face facts. That’s simply not possible. It never has been and it never will be. Ask yourself this: if these returns really were possible why aren’t banks, investment companies, pension schemes and bankrupt European governments investing in them? The reason they’re not is because they’re impossible, that’s why. They’re impossible for serious, highly experienced investors and even more impossible for mere mortals like you and me.

There are some more mundane facts about Leveltrade that should ring alarm bells.

A good start when investigating any company is to look at their address. Leveltrade give contact phone numbers in both Russia and the UK but give just one physical address for both: "Office 3 Unit R1 Penfold Trading Estate Watford, UK WD24 4YY".

It took no more than a few seconds on Google Maps to establish that far from being a fancy office in the financial district of a city the address is in fact in an industrial estate outside London. What’s more it’s the exactly the same address that’s given by a number of other companies. The reason is simple. It’s no more than an accommodation address used by companies who want to give the impression of having an office but who in fact have nothing of the sort.

Then there’s the UK company itself. During my online chat with them I asked how long the company had existed in the UK. “4 years”, I was told.

However Companies House, the UK’s registrar of companies tells a different story. The record for Leveltrade makes it clear when their company was incorporated. Not “4 years” ago. Not even 4 months ago. Leveltrade was established as a company in the UK just over 3 weeks ago on 15th May 2014.

What’s more they don’t appear to be registered with the UK’s Financial Services Authority, the regulator of such organizations.

Leveltrade also claim to be headquartered in St Vincent and the Grenadines, a small island state in the Caribbean that allows you to form a company without publishing the identities of the directors or shareholders. Leveltrade’s registration there is similar to that in the UK. Their address is shared with a number of other Forex trading companies, some with a rather shady past.

There’s also their approach to recruiting “investors”. The reader who first contacted us about them told me that they’d been pestering him since he first contacted them and I had the same experience. In the 30 minutes after I ended my online chat with them they tried to call me six times and several times more over the next couple of days. One similarity the certainly have to Eurextrade is that they offer incentives to “investors” to recruit other people. If you “refer a friend” they offer you a “20% bonus” and they’re also seeking local representatives around the world.

Leveltrade promise unbelievable returns, they’re either deceptive or secretive about who and what they are, they desperately try to recruit people and they don’t seem to be registered with any regulators in the countries in which they claim to operate.

I don’t think that Leveltrade is another Eurextrade. Not exactly. There’s no evidence that it’s a Ponzi scheme but they already have a history of deception and I certainly wouldn’t trust my money with them.

Neither should you.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a radio at a major store Francistown in December at P3,896 using my FNB credit card. After that I repatriated to Zimbabwe at the end of my contract. Come April 2014, the radio was no longer working. In May I travelled to Botswana where I tried to find out how I could be helped. Unfortunately my house was burgled before I left losing a lot of goods in the process. That is how I lost my receipt as well. Fortunately, my cellphone banking reflects that figure and date.

I spoke to the guys at customer service but they would not listen. A manager in that department was called, things were worse. I wonder how they keep their records. Its like they want to hide behind the fact that I do not have a receipt.

Please investigate and advise.

Hopefully we all know that we’re meant to keep receipts for major items that we buy so we can prove we bought them if they go wrong. However life isn’t always simple. Receipts get lost or damaged, some of them even fade if they’ve been printed on thermal paper. We should all be keeping copies of receipts either by photocopying them or just taking a picture of them on our cellphones.

Nevertheless problems still happen and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect stores to understand this. Stores should have their own records of the purchases that have been made, particularly if they were made with a credit card so they should be able to confirm that you bought the radio on a particular date. Surely with something like this they can even identify the serial number of the device to double-check your claim?

We’ll get in touch with the store to see if they can be a bit more flexible.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I wanted to enquire about the credibility and authenticity of a company called Leveltrade. It’s a trade investment that provides you with the knowledge to profit from the forex market. In order to begin to trade one has to open an account for $100. I just signed up out of curiosity to learn and the company called me from their UK based office and I spoke to their consultant who advised me on how to trade and that I should deposit about $50 in order to begin.

I am a bit skeptical about online business especially ones like Eurextrade which disappeared after making millions from naive consumers. I am asking your advice on the matter. Is this business legit? Is it worth putting up your money in because it looks very tempting?

Please don’t send these people any more money, they’re way too suspicious to be trusted. Firstly the foreign exchange market is way too volatile for non-experts like you and me. I spoke online to Leveltrade and they claimed that I could make extraordinary profits, up to 200% within a day but that’s simply nonsense. If it was true then don’t you think banks and even governments would be investing this way? They’re not so there’s no hope that you and I could make money this way.

Although Leveltrade claim to operate from the UK in fact they have no real physical address there and I can find no trace of them being registered with the UK’s regulator of financial services, the FSA. When I spoke to them they claimed to have existed as a company in the UK for four yeas but when I checked with the UK’s registrar of companies it was clear that they’ve really only existed for just over three weeks.

There’s no evidence yet that Leveltrade is the same as Eurextrade but I do think you’re wise to be skeptical. I don’t trust Leveltrade so I urge you not to waste your money.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Guess who's back. Tony Samuels.

Not in Botswana, but apparently operating in South Africa again.

According to our informant this "Tony Samuels" looks just like the "Tony Samuels" we had here a few years ago running Stock Market Direct but he now claims to be running "KwaZulu Natal Professional Stock Market Training". Strangely no such company appears to have been registered in South Africa.

Compare the logos.

In South Africa

In Botswana

Let me remind myself. How did Stock Market Direct end?

Yes, we WILL be alerting the authorities.

Monday 2 June 2014

Woolworths pricing - a press release from Woolworths in SA

Following the criticism Woolworths have received regarding their prices here in Botswana they have issued a press statement as follows:
2 June 2014

Woolworths has announced that it will reduce the price of both food and clothing in Botswana after taking over the management of its stores from the previous franchisee.

Following the acquisition of the business, Woolworths initiated a comprehensive review, look at every aspect of our business, including the operational efficiencies and its pricing model. The objective of the review was to ensure that customers enjoy the same brand experience in Botswana as in South Africa.

A more competitive offer
While the review is still in its early stage Woolworths has already put a plan in place to offer more competitive prices to our customers in Botswana.

Paula Disberry, Group Director of Retail Operations at Woolworths explains, “We have listened to our customers and reviewed the pricing model in Botswana. By improving supply chain efficiencies and changing our business model from franchise to corporate stores, we have secured savings which we will pass on to our customers. The savings will be in the form of reduced food and clothing prices from mid June 2014.”

Woolworths is also reviewing its promotional strategy. “It has always been our intention to offer our customers in Botswana the same promotions that we run in South Africa. These promotions will be phased in over the next few months as we upgrade out IT systems to accommodate them,” said Disberry. “Plans are also afoot to launch the full Woolworths WRewards programme in Botswana early next year. Customers who have a Woolworths card can look forward to additional savings on hundreds of items in store by January 2015,” concluded Disberry.

Woolworths aims to become a retail destination of choice
Woolworths has had a presence in Botswana for over 26 years with 22 stores currently. Stores in Botswana form a significant part of our African footprint and we are very excited about the future.

Our strategy is to align our offer in Botswana with South Africa and become the retail destination of choice for our customers.
My initial thoughts?

Firstly good for them for taking the issue seriously. After years of NOT responding to customer complaints about this issue it's good to hear that under their new management structure they're not just listening but they're also responding.

Secondly, let's watch this space. In mid-June let's start watching prices and see what happens!