Sunday 27 July 2014

Choose to be special

In a recent 48-hour period I experienced service in four different countries on three continents. And it was all the same.

The relative proportions of good service I received in Botswana, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the USA were all roughly the same. There were examples of poor service (usually related to queues and any place where bureaucracy could demonstrate itself) and of good service (usually where an individual was either in charge or was given the power to make his or her own decisions).

Location made little difference.

One of the commonest explanations we hear for the allegedly poor levels of service in Botswana is that it’s either a cultural thing, that our heritage and traditions don’t allow us to offer good service or that it’s genetic, that we’re somehow not programmed to do so.

So is there really a cultural reason why we can’t do service?

A few months ago I met with a visiting American who was staying at one of Gaborone’s main hotels, She complained that it was impossible to satisfy her fundamental American need to get a second cup of coffee at breakfast. You probably know that the coffee top-up is to Americans what oxygen is to the rest of humanity. If they don’t get it, life can’t go on. I know this sounds trivial but the real problem, she said, was that none of the breakfast staff would make eye contact with her while she was at her table. Was this a cultural thing, she asked?

Was there some cultural imperative that prevented them from looking her in the eye?

I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know that when she’s back in the Land Of The Free and Home Of The Brave, she’ll be warning her compatriots that they need to take their own coffee to Botswana if they’re courageous enough to come here.

Some people might think that the “cultural” issue is a sensitive one but my view is simple. Get over it. If our nation’s prosperity is at stake then to hell with it, we should bow to the tourists who expect us to bow to them, accept business cards the way the Chinese expect us to and give the Yanks their second damn cup of coffee before they need to ask for it.

I was told recently that one possible explanation for the problem is age, that it’s not culturally possible in Botswana to offer service to a customer if that person is younger than the server. I was told that it’s “not the job” of an older person to greet a younger person in a polite and friendly way, and that it should be the younger customer who greets the server instead. My response is simple.

Then get another job.

I mean, seriously, if you can’t find a way to greet a customer younger than you that still respects your cultural background, your dignity and your self-respect then you shouldn’t be in a position to serve ANY customer, should you?

Every customer is different and they all require their own particular form of greeting and service. We understandably would all treat my 95-year old grandmother, my friend the retired senior army officer and my 13-year old son in slightly different ways but all of them deserve friendly, warm and welcoming service.

I know plenty of people delivering service right now as you read this, here in Botswana, born and bred here who offer the best possible service. They are proof that there’s nothing stopping us doing it.

So the cultural excuse is no more than that, just an excuse.

It can’t be genetics either because, unless I’m out of touch, they haven’t yet found a gene for being polite or even one for being rude. Nor are they going to because despite what the media will tell you there are very few genes for anything. Almost every aspect of our being is the result of a mixture of the influence of many genes and of even more experiences. Even though genes predispose to certain things they remain only predispositions. My friend who has a genetic predisposition to heart disease will probably live a lot longer than I do because he lives his life as healthily as he possibly can. Only in very rare occasions is genetics destiny.

So even if you are naturally a rather grumpy and anti-social individual you can simply decide not to be. You can put on your happy face and deliver happy service. Just because you choose to.

A few weeks ago I met an inspirational woman who works in a bank. I was early for a meeting and I asked her why she seemed so happy? “Because I choose to be”, she said. She told me that in her previous job she’d been miserable and when she got the chance to leave she decided that she wasn’t going to allow her work circumstances to dictate her mood ever again. So even on a bad day (and there must be some of them, she works in a bank) she is there smiling, lifting everyone’s mood and generally making the world a little bit better.

The best news is that when I emailed her MD about her he replied that the bank needs “multiples of her across our entire bank”. Can you imagine what that bank would be like, if every one of its employees was like her? Can you imagine what our tourism sector would be like? We’d have to turn tourists away at the border because the country would be full of them.

Isn’t that what we want?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I purchased a bed which I saw in the store and also on the advertisement paper of that particular store at a hire purchase. When they delivered the bed they gave me the wrong type of bed but I signed that I received the goods. 2 days after receiving the bed I sent them a message and told them, they replied we are sorry come to the store with your papers. I did what they say then its a different story they can not change the bed or return it, because is reported two days after delivery. How can I handle the situation?

Clearly you made a mistake in signing the delivery note which no doubt the store will say means you accepted the goods as delivered, regardless of their condition and ignoring that fact that they delivered the wrong bed. However I don’t think you should give up hope. Surely the store will have records from the day you bought the bed confirming the item you actually bought? They can then see that they delivered the wrong item.

I suggest that you write the store a letter saying that despite signing the delivery note they have nevertheless breached Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations because “the commodity sold … does not match any sample or description given” to you when you bought it. Tell them that you consulted us and that this was our advice. If they want to argue they can call me for a simple explanation of how to offer a basic level of customer service and how to do the decent thing. While they’re on the phone I’ll advice them on courtesy as well.

Let me know if they give you any trouble?

Here’s a free tip for you for the future. Never, EVER sign a delivery note without writing the following words on it: “Received but not inspected. I do not waive any of my consumer rights.” Then sign your name alongside what you just wrote. If the guys making the delivery give you any hassle about what you just did then send them back to the store with the goods. Then write to the store accusing them of breaching your consumer rights and cancelling the entire purchase. Copy the cancellation letter to us as well. Accept no arguments.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have a sister who has been trying to register a company. She used the services of a company in order to speed up the process, so she paid P680. P360 was to be paid at the Register of companies and the remaining balance being the profit for them. Apparently when she went to collect the certificate she was told by the director that the person whom she paid the money to had since been fired coz she used the money. She showed the receipt to the owner but he took it and said he is going to use it as exhibit at the police to report his employee. The problem now is he refused with the certificate but only showed it to my sister and demanded an extra P180 to release it.

Why should you be made to suffer because this company employed someone who turned out to be a crook? It’s simply not your fault and you shouldn’t be made to suffer as a result of their employee’s criminal nature.

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this sort of nonsense. Company managers and owners seem to forget that when customers like your sister step over the threshold into their office they are dealing with the company, not just one individual. The fact that the employee stole your sister’s money is absolutely the company’s responsibility. Of course they can fire the employee and call the Police and have her prosecuted, that’s the responsible thing to do but meanwhile they have a responsibility to help her. She is, after all, their customer.

I also don’t understand why they are delaying if all they want from your sister is P180. Are they that useless as a company that P180 will bankrupt them? Are they that poor?

Send us the details of the company and we’ll get in touch and explain things to them. In terms so simple that even they can understand them.

Saturday 19 July 2014


I’m ignorant. And I don’t like it.

Last week a reader contacted us with a minor disaster. While out of the country someone approached her cellphone provider with a faked letter using her company’s letterhead saying that she had lost her cellphone and needed a replacement SIM card. The letter said that he was her driver and was authorized to pick up the SIM card on her behalf. Because that letter was all they needed they gave the imposter the SIM card he asked for.

He then took that SIM card, plugged it into a cellphone and dialed up her bank’s cellphone banking service. Because she hadn’t ever actually set up this service with her bank the imposter was then taken through the process of setting it up for the first time, including setting up a password that then gave him complete access to her accounts.

Within moments he’d transferred P30,000 from account and started withdrawing the money. (No, I’m not going to tell you how he did this, let’s not give any unscrupulous readers ideas.)

Luckily she came home to Botswana shortly after this happened and immediately noticed that her cellphone no longer worked (because her original SIM card had been disabled when the new SIM card was produced). She immediately informed her network provider who couldn’t understand what had happened. Hadn’t she asked for a replacement SIM card just a few days ago?

They then gave her yet another SIM card, disabling the one the crook had acquired. She was very lucky to have caught him before he took everything. In fact he only got away with about P7,000.

This is what they call SIM-swapping and we all need to know a lot more about this. All it seems to take is a bit of bravery from the crook and a fake letterhead.

So here’s where I’m ignorant.

Why the hell is it so easy to get a SIM card for another person’s number and how come banks make their cellphone banking services so easy for a crook to access? How come a crook with just a copy of your company headed paper can steal your money?

We’re waiting for both the network provider and the bank to educate us and eradicate our ignorance.

I’m also ignorant about irons, specifically the vintage irons that apparently are being bought for more than you and I earn in a year. One advertisement on Facebook recently went like this:
‪‎Tomorrow‬ all day long, You'll in Gaborone, we will be collecting those Irons.‬‬‬‬
NON BRANDED e.g: `Tiger, impala, giraffe, falkirk, no name, number, bulawayo etc..
‎PLEASE‬ MAKE SURE IT ATTRACTS A PLATINUM RAZOR BLADE [MINORA] away by those specified Centimeters. 2cm P25K. 3cm P65K. 5cm P100K
Branded ones eg: `Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, U.S.A
MAKE SURE IT ATTRACTS A PLATINUM RAZOR BLADE [MINORA] away by those specified Centimeters also. 2cm P100K. 3cm P200K. 5cm P350K.
So if you have a vintage iron that (presumably magnetically) attracts a razor blade from 5cm away they’ll buy it from you for P350,000? This is simply unbelievable.

Various suggestions have been made about what’s going on. Some have suggested that the iron itself is valuable but that’s simply not true. The price of scrap iron is tiny compared to these supposed prices. Others have suggested that the irons contain traces of platinum or even uranium but there is precisely no evidence for this and a whole lot of evidence against it.

In short I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here. It’s possible it’s just a ridiculous craze like the legendary tulip mania (or “speculative bubble”) in the Netherlands in the 17th century when prices for tulips soared to astronomical levels. It might just be an old-fashioned scam. I’ve certainly not heard from anyone who has actually sold a vintage iron for these sums. Not one. When we’ve phoned people who claim to be offering these astonishing amounts of money and asked questions they’ve always become remarkably evasive and retracted many of the claims they made. No, they’ve said, they won’t really offer cash, they’ll pay by bank transfer after they’ve taken the iron. But I ask myself how this would benefit them anyway? What can they do with a relatively worthless old iron?

Can you educate me?

I’m also ignorant about the sheer, willful avoidance of responsibility we often hear about. Twice in the last few days we’ve heard from customers who’ve had their basic consumer rights abused and when the stores have been confronted their reaction has been simple. So what?

On one occasion a customer lay-byed two items of clothing but then later changed her mind and only wanted one of them which, by that stage, she had already paid for. The store’s response was simple. We’ve got your money and because you’ve changed your mind you’re not getting anything from us. No clothes and no refund.

Another bought two cheap smartphones only for them both to have sub-standard cameras, be incapable of playing music properly, to overheat regularly and have loose screws holding the devices together. The store’s response was simple. Tough.

I simply don’t get how stores can be so dismissive of consumers’ rights. Maybe they could educate me?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought 2 phones (iPro A3) for me and my wife. I asked the salesman if it’s a good phone, original and if it wont give me problems. He said its good as he plans to sell in bulk.

Later I told him that the camera is not clear, as it states in the internet that its 3 mpixels, he saw what I meant but could not help. I explained to him that I should return them because the camera means a lot to my wife.

The same day the phone switched off and on and while my wife was listening to music. I told him about the problem plus it looked like someone unscrewed it behind and he said come to the office the following day so that he checks. He checked and said he does not know what the problem is, so he changed it. But I still told him I would like a refund.

Now only one speaker works instead of two, the phones heat up next to memory card, then the phone said the memory is invalid and when you open phone it takes long to open. I even asked him to look for buyer for me since he can’t give me back my money. Still he cant help. I am afraid to sell this phone to other people because of the problems, and what they will notice it will be unfair.

I bought these phones at P1150 each. They’re not even months old. I would like him to refund me back my money since from the start I told him I am not happy, these are fake phones with downloaded android software and hope he does not cheat next customer.

Let’s get one thing straight first. There’s no evidence, is there, that these are fake phones? You didn’t buy a fake phone, you just bought a cheap one. Too cheap.

This is what happens very often when you buy a cheap piece of technology. One of the reasons smartphones from the big companies like Apple and Samsung are expensive is that they work. Cheap knock-offs are cheap because they’ve often been made cheaply and behave the way your phones have behaved.

Despite this, your situation is actually quite simple.

Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 says that a supplier must offer goods that “are of merchantable quality”, meaning that they must be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. A smartphone that can’t take decent pictures or play music, overheats and has loose screws is simply unacceptable.

I suggest that you put this in writing to them and demand either a brand new replacement or a complete refund.

Let me know what they say.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I am kindly requesting your most reputable organisation to advise me accordingly in this matter. I have opened an account with an European Company called OptionRally and those people are saying I should give them my credit card number and I should have at least $250 in my account so that I can trade. They are telling me a lot of benefits if I do that. They say I will get extra cash by doing that. Please help and advise accordingly because I am afraid. As I am typing now a lady called me straight from Europe saying I should give my Bank card number.

We covered last year and I don’t see any reason to change my mind about them. They claim to offer trading in "binary options" which they explain is “an option that pays either a fixed amount or nothing, depending on whether a certain condition is fulfilled when the option expires.” That sounds simple, but if it was really possible to make “profit as high as 78% of your original deposit” don’t you think banks, investment companies and pension schemes would be doing it? Don’t you think the Bank of Botswana would be doing it?

Face it, the reason they’re not is because it’s simply impossible to make that sort of return. I found an interesting quote about binary options. Gordon Pape, writing in Forbes magazine said:
"If people want to gamble, that’s their choice. But let’s not confuse that with investing. Binary options are a crapshoot, pure and simple."
Please don’t waste your money.

Sunday 13 July 2014

WorldVentures - it's not fair

WorldVentures is a pyramid scheme, there's little doubt about that.

They're also becoming defensive which is often a sign that there's something suspicious afoot.

Last year a travel blogger called Stephanie Yoder posted a rather damning critique of their scheme including the following sentence (which I wish I'd written):
"You are not going to get rich off of WorldVentures, but if you sign up WorldVentures is going to continue to get quite rich off of you."
Earlier this month there was a reaction. Britton Tuma, a Texas law firm acting on behalf of WorldVentures sent her one of the most pompous, silly legal threats (pdf file) I've read in a long time. This will give you a flavour of the threat:
"Be advised that this communication is without prejudice to any facts, regardless of whether stated herein. Further be advised that this communication is without prejudice to and shall not affect, in any manner, the rights, claims, remedies, actions or causes of action which WorldVentures has, or may have, at law, in equity, or otherwise."
Do you think the lawyer is charging by the word?

So here's why this isn't fair. Clearly threatening Stephanie isn't fair but what offends me even more is that I've been posting warnings about WorldVentures since 2009. Why didn't I get a legal threat?

It's not fair.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Break the rules

I like people who break the rules. I don’t mean criminals who break the law, I’ve got fairly old-fashioned views about them. I mean people who either decide that certain business rules, norms or conventions shouldn’t apply to them or who think that things can be done better if the conventional rules are ignored or rejected.

Steve Jobs, the founder and late leader of Apple was a great example of a rule-breaker. He defied assumptions in the technology world and created a brand that differentiated itself from the rest. Apple is now one of the most valuable companies in the world and they achieved that by following the advice of perhaps their most advertising slogan: “Think different”. By unleashing their imagination, by redefining the creative process and by paying obsessive attention to detail they became a market leader. Critics felt they could never win against tech giants like Microsoft but they were quite rapidly proved wrong.

Richard Branson of the Virgin empire is also famous for ignoring the rules. When he started his airline, Virgin Atlantic, he was competing against companies much, much bigger than his and most people were suspicious about whether he could ever succeed against them. But he too proved them completely wrong.

Closer to home there’s Capitec, the South African bank that greatly disturbed the banking market in SA. By offering a more dynamic, flexible and appealing set of products than the bigger banks they cleaned up. Unfortunately for the bigger, older banks they only noticed this when it was too late. According to some reports Capitec is now South Africa’s second largest provider of unsecured loans and is now one of the biggest banks in the country.

I wonder if the bigger banks here in Botswana have noticed that there are smaller, perhaps more flexible banks here as well?

I also like it when consumers break rules. One consumer contacted us recently on Facebook and told us about the complaints procedure he’d seen at a hospital he’d visited. It had ten steps. If you had a complaint about the service you received you first were required to contact the Supervisor in charge, then the PR officer, then the Matron, then the Hospital Manager, then the Hospital Superintendent, then the Ministry of Health toll-free number, then the relevant Director in the Ministry, then the Permanent Secretary, then the Minister of Health and finally the Office of the President.

About the only people not involved in that sequence of steps are the Police, the head of your religion and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

There are so many things I despise about that procedure but above all there’s this. Isn’t it just the most pessimistic procedure you’ve ever seen? What that procedure really says is that the hospital is confident that you’re going to be disappointed at every step of the procedure. That’s why there are so many of them. A cynic might suggest that they’re probably hoping that you’ll eventually become so exhausted and give up.

The other problem is that companies get obsessed with their customer following these procedures to the letter and customer really don’t like this. Some months ago a consumer posted a comment on our Facebook page criticizing the service from a certain security company. Fairly soon afterwards someone claiming to be a manager of the company posted a message saying that there was a fixed complaints procedure that customer were required to use and that Facebook wasn’t part of that process. Needless to say he was very quickly swamped with critical messages from other members of the group telling where he could stick his procedure.

We heard from another reader just a few days ago who asked us for advice. She’d posted a complaint about a financial services provider on our Facebook group but then she got a phone call. She told us she:
“got a call from the Sales Consultant and he firstly told me how unhappy he is about the way I handled the complaint, his friends and everyone is taking about the post. Please need advice here was I wrong to post that?”
No, of course she wasn’t wrong. She was perfectly within her rights to complain in any way she felt fit.

[Update: a senior manager contacted us saying "On behalf of management we are appalled by this behaviour, this is not our conduct and we will deal with the matter. Kindly inform the client that she was certainly not at fault and this issue will be resolved."]

Here’s a secret that many organizations don’t want you to know.

Complaints procedures are entirely voluntary.

You can choose to follow a company’s complaints procedure if you think it’s sensible and if it meets your needs but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. No, despite what they’ll say, you don’t have to follow it.

Instead we suggest that you adopt the Official Recommended Consumer Watchdog Complaints Policy. Use this procedure for every organization you can think of, no matter how big or small it might be, no matter if it’s a local company or an international one.

Step 1. Complain directly to the first person you meet, perhaps even the one who you think mistreated you.
Step 2. If Step 1 didn’t work, escalate your complaint to the person in charge of the office or branch you’ve visiting. They’ll have the word “manager” somewhere in their job title.
Step 3. If Step 2 didn’t work now complain to the person in charge of the entire organization. Their title will be “Managing Director” or “Chief Executive Officer”. Do not allow anyone to suggest that other people should be involved.

Alternatively here’s another suggestion, an even simpler, 2-step procedure.

Step 1. Complain directly to the first person you meet, perhaps even the one who you think mistreated you.
Step 2. If Step 1 didn’t work, call Consumer Watchdog.

Go ahead, feel free to break some rules.

Friday 11 July 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I need help. I received an email saying that I have won a huge amount of money in a world cup lottery. This was from Camelot UK national lottery. The claims finance manager was named as Ron J Marshall of tel no +447924551455 and email add of

The online project coordinator is Cordelia F Swanton at These people are in association with RBC Royal Bank at Riverbank House. 2 Swan lake. London, EC4R 3BF. UK of tel nos +44(700)5930708 and +44(709)2849768 whom I am told is responsible for disbursing the monies to me.

I wish to be helped to see if this may be a legitimate organization or a scam as I’m required to pay 0.1% of my winnings in advance, for the funds to be released.

I would appreciate it if you could come to my aid.

Sorry, this is a scam, there’s absolutely no doubt about it.

The first clue is the obvious one. You can’t win a lottery that you didn’t enter, that not how lotteries operate. They don’t hand out cash to strangers in foreign countries who never bought a ticket.

Then there are other clues. All the phone numbers you give are UK cellphone numbers each of which has probably been redirected, probably to some West African nation. The physical address they give is actually of a company called RBC Wealth Management, not the fictitious bank they say. RBC Wealth Management’s web site even has a warning that their name and address are both being used by scammers.

What these guys want is the 0.1% they say you have to send them. That’s what the whole thing is about. That’s the “advance fee” they’re after. You don’t say how much they claim you’ve “won” but if it’s the normal sum of about £500,000 that scammers usually offer, I guess they’ll demand around P7,000 from you. If you do make the mistake of paying them this money they’ll just realize how gullible you are and do their very best to persuade you to hand over more and more money until either you finally realize that the lottery prize money simply doesn’t exist or you simply run out of money. Remember that scammers don’t offer refunds.

Please don’t waste your time and money.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2
On the 31st December I bought a 48 kg gas cylinder for P850 and I was issued with a receipt. The reason I bought this was for me to have a backup so that the one I am using when it gets finish I can connect the new one.

On the 8th June I connected the new cylinder as the one I was using was finished and when I tried to light the stove it was not going on. Upon our investigation we realized that the cylinder that we bought in December had no gas in it. We then called the delivery man and he came to our place and he told me that he will talk to his manager on Monday 9th June which he did. When we called the delivery guy he told us that his manager told him that this cylinder was bought in December and as such he can not assist us as he doesn’t know what we have done with this cylinder.

I need your assistance in resolving this issue.

I think this is going to be a difficult one. The problem is the delay between buying the cylinder and reporting that it was empty. I suspect there’s no way of proving that you haven’t used the cylinder in the six months since you bought it?.

If you’d taken the cylinder to him within a day or two I suspect he would have been more helpful but after all this time the manager is within his rights to wonder if you’ve actually used the gas rather than it just being empty when he delivered it.

Nevertheless we’ll get in touch with the manager and see if he can’t do something to assist you.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Catastrophic gullibility

Sometimes you come across a level of naïveté that can only be described as "catastrophic gullibility" such as in this story from Mmegi.
"Conmen on the rampage in Gantsi

GANTSI: Station Commander Superintendent Chris Molobe, says conmen are roaming the village, with an average of four cases a month being recorded. In the latest incident, a 71-year-old woman of Bosele ward was swindled of P51,000."
“The woman met her fate at her home in Bosele when two men approached her and convinced her that they were able to increase her money,” the Station Commander told Mmegi.

“She agreed to give them P3,000 and they asked her to put the money in a small trunk and remain with the key.” He said the two men left and came back the following day and when the trunk was opened, the original P3,000 was found.

“The men told the woman that she should increase the money if she really wants it to double and they even claimed that in their prayers, they had seen that the funds need to be increased,” Molobe said.

“The woman went to the bank, withdrew P48,000 and gave it to the two fraudsters.

“They locked the trunk and told her that they would go with it for safekeeping. That was the last time she saw them.” Molobe urged the public to understand that money can only generate interest in the bank and not by miraculous means. He added that their investigations indicate that some Gantsi residents are conniving with outsiders to con people.

“We are working around the clock to arrest the situation before it gets out of hand,” he said.

How should you deal with an employee who steps out of line?

Should you panic? Get defensive? Become combative? Fire him or her? Ignore it? Blame the customer?

No. This is how you deal with it.

A consumer contacted us with a complaint and later, on Facebook, reported that she:
"got a call from the Sales Consultant and he firstly told me how unhappy he is about the way I handled the complaint, his friends n everyone is taking about the post. Please need advice here was I wrong to post that."
Needless to say the Facebook crowd were clear about how they felt:
"He's focusing on the wrong thing. Too worried about what his friends and colleagues think, instead of how he made the customer feel. He's totally out of line. If he were my employee I'd give him a warning or fire him. There's no saving this guy."
"I don't think you were wrong, you did right, you might have saved a lot of customers from going through the same experience, if this guy takes their business seriously, they'l pull up their socks to avoid more posts on CW"
"so what?, if they r talkin thats a positive feedback.he s not the right person to handle customer complaints"
"No customer is ever at fault to complain it is your right and it is the only way how owners and serious managers can improve!!!"
And my favourite comment:
"tell him to go stuff his feelings, he should understand that you felt bad and humiliated at the time you were subjected to poor service"
However it all got a lot better then we reported the issue to a senior manager at the company. Within moments she was in touch saying:
"On behalf of management we are appalled by this behaviour, this is not our conduct and we will deal with the matter. Kindly inform the client that she was certainly not at fault and this issue will be resolved."
Sensible, mature and righteously indignant at the behaviour of their employee. THAT is how you do it.

Monday 7 July 2014

The anatomy of a phishing attack

A consumer sent us an email she had received inviting her to log on to her bank's online banking system. By coincidence she thought this was targeted at customers of First National Bank (FNB) whereas in fact it was trying to cheat customers of First Bank of Nigeria (FBN).

The email began:

and then continued:

Look again at the link in the email. This is what you see if you hold your pointer over the link:

Instead of visiting a site in Nigeria you'll in fact be redirected to a web site in Hong Kong (.hk) which then redirects to a site based in Slovenia.

Finally you reach a login screen which is a fairly plausible facsimile of the real FBN site.

If you're naive enough you'll enter your banking sign-on details here.

Very smartly the following screen demands even more personal details, all of them the sort of things you'll use to prove your identity to your bank and which can be used to steal your online identity.

and then...

Once you get to this point nothing works any longer, the screens just freeze. However by this stage the scammers have all of your banking sign-on details. Rest assured your bank account will be empty within hours, if not minutes.

Please never, ever sign on to your internet banking system using a link provided to you in an email. Only scammers ask you to do.

Slate - The Economics of Fake Degrees

"The Economics of Fake Degrees" from Slate.
"My cat can get a Ph.D., and that’s a problem.

It’s surprising how many house pets hold advanced degrees. Last year a dog received his MBA from the American University of London, a non-accredited distance-learning institution."

Friday 4 July 2014

Don't believe it!

A couple of weeks ago a story from the USA went viral. A little girl called Victoria Wilcher was apparently taken by her grandmother to a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken. A family pit bull terrier had previously attacked the girl and her face was seriously scarred as a result. That’s what the grandmother said led to a KFC employees telling the grandmother: “We have to ask you to leave because her face is disrupting our customers.”

Needless to say the reaction around the world was overwhelming and KFC soon faced huge embarrassment and potentially enormous damage to their reputation and their business. This is the sort of story that can ruin a business, even one as large and omnipresent as KFC.

Within days KFC had formally apologized and donated $30,000 to the family towards the girl’s medical bills and a public appeal soon raised another $100,000. So far this looked like a happy ending.

KFC clearly had to investigate how such a dreadful thing had occurred and deal with the employee who had been so unbelievably rude. That’s when the truth began to emerge.

It turns out that there was no evidence that this event had ever occurred. None of the KFC branches in the area could find any trace of the grandmother and little girl from their CCTV cameras. None of them had any record of any branch selling the particular food items they claim to have purchased.

All the evidence shows that the grandmother completely fabricated this story, presumably to raise attention and money. Understandably a lot of people are very angry, mainly those who donated money but also those people around the world who felt sympathy and outrage on behalf of the apparently abused young girl. There’s even anger from people like me who saw the story, spread it on Facebook and commented on how KFC had extricated themselves from the public relations disaster.

It’s yet another lesson for all of us that we should all be a bit more skeptical about the stories we read in newspapers, on the TV and radio and, above all, on the internet.

Being a skeptic can save you not just from fake stories like this one but also can also save you time and money.

My dictionary defines a skeptic as “a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions”. Wikipedia describes skepticism in a bit more detail as “any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.”

The problem for consumers is that we are surrounded by organizations that are doing their best to persuade us to buy their products rather than those of their competitors. There are also people who are doing their best to steal our money based on their lies and deceptions.

A few days ago we heard from a reader who said:
“I received an email saying that I have won a huge amount of money in a world cup lottery. This was from Camelot UK national lottery. The claims finance manager was named as Ron J Marshall of tel no +447924551455 and email address of The online project coordinator is Cordelia F. Swanton at”
He continued:
“I wish to be helped to see if this may be a legitimate organization or a scam as I’m required to pay 0.1% of my winnings in advance, for the funds to be released. I would appreciate it if you could come to my aid.”
Clearly this reader needs to work on his skepticism, don’t you think?

There are several clues that I think a skeptic would notice. Firstly, and most importantly, you can’t win a lottery you didn’t enter, that’s just not how lotteries work. Lotteries don’t pick random strangers to win their money. No, they just don’t.

A skeptic would probably think that an email from Camelot (who do in fact run the UK lottery) would come from an email address like or and not from a free email address.

Then there’s the phone number they gave. I think a skeptic would have spent a few minutes on Google learning that any UK cell number that begins with “+447” is a cellphone number (the “7” is the clue). Real companies have landline numbers.

Finally there’s the 0.1% they say they want as a commission. Most lottery scams say that you’ve won between £500,000 and £1 million so 0.1% would mean you have to pay them between P7,500 and P15,000. That’s what the whole thing is all about, that’s what they want and what they’ll lie and cheat to get their hands on. A skeptic would have asked why a lottery company that claims someone has won a fortune would demand that the winner pays them some money first.

But skeptics aren’t the target for these scammers. On the contrary, scammers actively seek out people who are NOT skeptical. A researcher from Microsoft, Cormac Herley, pointed out that scammers do their very best to weed out the skeptics in their first email. By making the clues as obvious as possible, every skeptic will reject it immediately, leaving only the naïve and gullible potential victims behind. The scammer won’t waste any of him time trying to persuade skeptics to part with their money because they’ve already ruled themselves out.

As Herley said, the:
“initial email is effectively the attacker’s classifier: it determines who responds, and thus who the scammer attacks (i.e., enters into email conversation with). The goal of the email is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the non-viable ones, who greatly outnumber them.”
So there’s the evidence. Skepticism is your greatest shield against abuse. Get some now while you still can. If you can’t find any remember you can always borrow ours.