Saturday 31 January 2015

Why do you trust?

Why do you trust certain companies? What is it about them that earned your respect and loyalty?

In our recent Honesty Survey we asked several hundred people how much they trusted certain industries. We asked them about banks, insurance companies, furniture stores, micro-lenders, cellphone network providers, all sorts of difference companies.

The results weren’t particularly surprising. Although there were no industries that did particularly well there were some clear winners and certainly some clear losers. Top of the list were new car dealers (who almost reached “slightly honest”) and banks and supermarkets which both only barely achieve trustworthy scores.

There were no surprises at the bottom of the list. Furniture stores and micro-lenders were firmly in the “slightly dishonest” category but bottom place went to second-hand car dealers. I don’t think that’s a surprise, do you?

Most worrying for me was the bulk of industries in the middle. Remember that no industry did very well but the bad news was that most of them were seen as being close to “slightly dishonest”. This included a number of industries that you might expect would want to be seen as better than that, notably cellphone network providers, newspapers and attorneys.

However what worried me most of all was the score received by the insurance industry. They scored halfway towards “slightly dishonest”. This scares me because insurance is such a critical service. If you don’t have any form of insurance you need to ask yourself some serious questions. What would happen if your car was stolen or if you crashed it? Who would pay for it to be repaired or replaced? How well would you cope if there was a fire in your house? How would your studies or your business cope if your laptop was stolen? What would happen to your children if you suddenly died? Would they be able to pay for the funeral? Would they be able to live without your salary?

With insurance you might be able to survive these disasters. Without it you’d almost certainly suffer. Worse still, your children might.

So it concerns me to think that if our research is correct 60% of people think the insurance industry is dishonest. Only one in five people described the industry as honest to any degree.

So how does a company make itself appear honest? What can they do to improve the way the public perceive them?

I think it’s a lot about education. Customers are more likely to trust an organization that is not only open about the nature of its products but also goes out of its way to educate them on their industry, the fine details of their products and the impact they can have. A good example is the Madi Majwana project financed by Barclays Bank. This series of mini radio plays has been broadcast on various radio stations and has covered everything you can think of about money, how to handle it and how to protect it. As far as I’m aware at no point have any of these programs suggested that listeners should buy a Barclays product, they’ve just raised awareness about matters of critical importance to us all. Barclays also went out of their way to educate the public on security issues with their recent series of workshops on card fraud.

It’s also about maturity. I was with a senior manager of a well-known company recently and he told me that there was a crisis developing in his company. There was soon going to be some public embarrassment about a product they were about to launch. It wasn’t exactly their fault, it was in fact their supplier who had deceived them but that doesn’t matter. When the news hits it’s going to embarrass this company, not the guys behind the scenes. To his credit he had already realized what to do. Be honest. Customers would much rather listen to a company being grown up enough to admit they’d made a mistake and try to remedy the situation than to try to cover it up and make excuses. Customer appreciate a little humility sometimes.

However all of this requires that the senior leadership is mature enough to admit failure. And that’s not always the case. All too often the executives in a company prefer either to go into denial, make things up or just slam the door in customers’ faces

We were contacted recently by a variety of customers of Ellerines and Beares who had responded to a special offer they heard advertised on the radio. This offered massive discounts on various products of up to 50%. Customers turned up, selected the item they wanted, paid and went home to await delivery of their discounted goodies.

But not everyone ended up happy. It seems that what they had misunderstood was that the offer was only valid for one specific day. Many of the customers had actually turned up the day beforehand and even though they’d paid the money, got receipts and the staff in the stores had said everything was fine they were later told that it was just too bad, they couldn’t have the products. You can understand why they were upset, even angry. They’d paid for something and were now told to come back and pick up their money.

Unfortunately the management weren’t as flexible as we would have hoped. Once they’d stopped blaming their stock control systems, shortages and customer confusion for the problem they eventually conceded that this was a breakdown in communication. But no, they wouldn’t bend the rules, even though a legal sale had probably been made. Instead of doing the mature thing and making an exception for those decent customers who just wanted what they thought they’d bought, they stonewalled. Customers could just go away.

So maybe this begins to explain why furniture stores are among the least trusted companies in Botswana?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is X-Treme Fuel Treatment a scam?

I have recently to join marketing network for a company called Syntex Global. They sell a product called X-Treme Fuel Treatment. Please advice if this is a genuine proposals or its one of those scams?

No, I wouldn’t say it’s a scam but it isn’t exactly what you might have been told.

A number of people have come to us over the last year asking about this product and the business opportunity the company claims it offers and frankly I’m deeply skeptical about every aspect of it.

Firstly there’s the product itself. Syntek and their distributors claim that their product will loweryour fuel consumption, prolong engine life, reduce emissions and improve vehicle performance. But is there any evidence of this? I mean real, scientific evidence?

No. None at all. Several of the distributors have tried to persuade me that there’s evidence but so far everything they’ve sent me hasn’t been evidence at all, just a number of dubious, unscientific tests and testimonials. That’s not scientific evidence. If this product really does all the things they claim then the evidence needs to be very clear. What’s more, anyone who “quotes scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated” will have broken Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations. Until they supply genuine, independently conducted, scientifically controlled, reproducible evidence we have to assume the product has no effect.

Then there’s the business opportunity they sell. On Facebook you’ll hear about distributors getting a “salary of $1,500 per month” and an "Audi of your choice" but that’s simply nonsense. All those distributors you see with a new Audi are buying it themselves, with their own money.

My advice is simple. Like all the other multi-level marketing schemes out there, the only people who’ll make any money from it will be those at the top of the pyramid, it’s never the people like you and me who are recruited later.

Please don’t waste your time and money.

Will they repair my keyboard?

On the 7th October 2013 we bought a keyboard for P9,700. Afterwards, still in 2013 it developed an audio problem and we sent it back to them. They attended the problem and the keyboard worked well for the next 3 months. After that the same problem surfaced. When we took it back to them they refused to assist us saying it is no longer under warranty. They say we have to pay for the repair service now. We feel we have been unfairly treated since the keyboard was having the same problem it has been having all along.

I suspect this all depends on the dates.

I’m assuming that the keyboard came with a 1-year warranty? What that effectively means is that if there’s a problem with the keyboard within the first year then the supplier or manufacturer will repair it free of charge. After that year it’s up to you to pay for repairs. However what often happens is that when a repair is done under warranty then that repaired component is also warrantied for a period. For instance if the store repaired one component after 11 months and said the repair was warrantied for 3 months you can take the keyboard back for problems with the same component until the 14th month. So I suppose my answer isn’t actually very helpful. It depends on the dates.

Feel free to send over the details and I’ll let you know what I think.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Dynapharm (or Dangerpharm?)

Why do we allow companies to sell products they say are "Anti AIDS"?

Several people have posted advertisements on Facebook for products from a company call Dynapharm.

Dynapharm's web site offers a range of products in various categories:
Amongst all the usual nonsense about "personal care", "cleansing" and "nutritional supplements" there are some more worrying things.
For instance, their "Bee Pollen Capsule" offers a range of benefits:
"Traditional uses 
Improving endurance and vitality, Extending longevity, Recovery from chronic illness, Adding weight during convalescence, Reducing cravings and addictions, Regulating the intestines, Building new blood, Prevent infectious diseases like colds and flu (has antibiotic properties), Overcome retardation and developmental problems in children, Protect against radiation, Protect & whiten skin, Prevent anemia, Improve nervous system, Anti-cancer qualities, Anti-allergy, Anti-asthma, Prevent prostate enlargement"
Look closely at those claims.
  • "Overcome retardation and developmental problems in children"
  • "Protect against radiation"
  • "Protect & whiten skin"
Those are fairly ambitious health claims. But it gets worse. Much worse.
Whoever invented their "Total Health Package" deserves a Nobel Prise for Medicine if what they claim is actually true. They describe it as follows:
"Removes accumulated waste & toxins (free radicals, uric acid, nitrogenous wastes from the body. Replenishes loss during the cleansing phase and boosts the immune system. Builds a protective barrier against viruses and bacteria and prevents proliferation of diseases."
And what do Dynapharm say you can use this "package" for?
  • Strengthens heartbeat
  • For Digestion/diarrhea
  • Anti-blood clot
  • Anti-stroke
  • Anti-cancer
  • Anti-aging
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cholesterol Control
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Anti aging
  • Anti AIDS
  • Anti-tumor
  • Anti-radiation
  • Anemia
  • Stroke protection/ therapy
  • Senility/ Alzheimer’s
Did you spot it? Let's overlook blood clots, aging, anemia, and diarrhea (sic). Let's look at the big one.

"Anti AIDS"

That's just scandalous and Dynapharm should be ashamed of themselves. So should all of their distributors. In fact they should be locked up because advertising such products breaks Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code which outlaws "prohibited advertisements" specifically for a range of conditions including cancer.

The local distributors I've spoken to claim that their products have been "approved by the Ministry of Health Botswana" which I find difficult to believe.

When I asked to see this approval I was told that it would be sent to me.

Strangely enough, this never happened and instead I was told a series of stories about why I wasn't allowed to get a copy of this "approval" from MOH. The conversation went like this:
Teddy N. Kgasa: I will send it to you Sir
Richard Harriman: When?
Teddy N. Kgasa: Come to the office KB mall
Richard Harriman: No. Please email or fax them to me a you agreed to do earlier today.
Teddy N. Kgasa: What do you want to do with it? Come see it
Richard Harriman: I want to read it. Why won't you send it to me?
Teddy N. Kgasa: The rules of the company
Richard Harriman: What do these rules say?
Teddy N. Kgasa: They do not allow me to send it to you
Richard Harriman: So if I come to your office can I take a copy of the document?
Teddy N. Kgasa: You can just see the document
Richard Harriman: Can I take a picture of it with my cellphone?
Teddy N. Kgasa: Not allowed
Richard Harriman: So basically your company refuses to offer any proof that you have such "approval" from the Ministry of Health?
Teddy N. Kgasa: You can come see it but you can't take pictures. We don't know what you are going to do with it
Richard Harriman: Is it secret?
Teddy N. Kgasa: It is not secret
Richard Harriman: Then why won't you publish it? Instead, can you tell me what it says?
Teddy N. Kgasa: It allows the products to be given to people
Richard Harriman: What are the exact words?
Teddy N. Kgasa: It is a long document
So Dynapharm is advertising products that are ineffective, illegal and massively abusive in my view.

Why are they still allowed to trade here?


Teddy later gave me a contact for someone who he said would be able to provide me with more information on the evidence that Dynapharm's products can do the things they claim, including Teddy's claim that they "counter the effects of HIV".

The contact is a "Dr John" who can only be reached, it seems, at his Yahoo email address. I emailed "Dr John" asking for the evidence and also for his credentials as a doctor. This is the reply I received (verbatim):

"Hi Richard ,

I received your email and I read your blog on dynapharm products.
Whereas am not the appointed spokesperson for Dynapharm , I am in a position to ( although not obliged )

1. Offer scietific evidence as you requested
2. Respond to any other queries as you may inquire for the benefit to you and your readers.

Therefore on the HIV issue , I will respond soon.
However ,I will do that on my own capacity not as a representative of the company .

Much as I appreciate the consumer oversight ,its strange to write an article and outrightly tell your readers how the products dont work ,yet you could have inquired further so as to have a balanced reporting.

Distributors are not representatives of the company and have no right to speak on behalf of the company.

I further need you to know that the person you were talking is not a representative of the company.

You will within 3 days receive a full attached response on your specific inquiries and the issues you raised on your blog!

Thanks in advance.
Dr. John."
You'll see more when he replies.

Friday 23 January 2015

Who do you trust?

Which industries do you think are trustworthy? Which of them tell the truth? On the other hand which industries do you think contain more than their fair share of liars?

Now we know.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been running an online survey on honesty, asking members of our Facebook group how they rated the honesty levels of a range of industries. To ensure some democracy we also questioned hundreds of people on the streets of Gaborone as they went about their daily lives. Our online survey and researchers asked people to say whether industries we named were very honest (+2), slightly honest (+1), neither honest or dishonest (0), slightly dishonest (-1) or very dishonest (-2). These results were then compiled, average honesty scores calculated and our honesty league table constructed.

Maybe the surprising news is that none of the industries were thought to be completely honest. The highest score for any industry as a whole was +0.6. It seems that there are no industries that we all trust completely.

Top of the league were new car dealers, who were rated as +0.6, just below slightly honest. This probably isn’t much of a surprise because new car dealers are very aggressively monitored by the car manufacturers they represent. Standards are set and policed and dealers who fail to meet the standards are very quickly sorted out.

Neck and neck in second place right in the middle of “neither honest nor dishonest” range were banks (+0.2) and supermarkets (+0.1). Again this shouldn’t particularly surprise anyone. Banks are quite heavily regulated by the Bank of Botswana and they all know the rules they must play by. However I think it says something about their reputation that they are in the “neither honest nor dishonest” category. I don’t think that banks always help themselves by not being quite as open and transparent as we deserve them to be.

The same goes for supermarkets but I think in their case it’s much more to do with the effect of competition. Most of us in Botswana have the luxury of choice of supermarket so they’re going to do their best to offer us the best deals. However the concerns we all have about food hygiene and pricing probably explain why they aren’t seen as more honest.

Just below zero and also firmly in the “neither” category were electronics and computer stores (-0.1).

Then there was might be a surprise. Attorneys, as an entire profession, scored -0.2, just the wrong side of zero. What is it about attorneys, one of the most aggressively regulated professions that stops them from appearing trustworthy? I think it’s simple. Apart from issues like house sales, executing wills and obscure bits of corporate law, the legal profession is about argument and half the time they’re not going to be on your side of the argument. Some attorneys will even admit this to you, that some of the time they don’t believe what their own client is saying or they don’t believe they have a valid argument but they are being paid to represent them so they’re happy to be “flexible”. It doesn’t actually mean that they’re dishonest but I don’t think that helps their reputation.

In a similar place are newspapers who score -0.3. I’m in a good position to comment about this, having worked with newspapers in Botswana for over a decade. The vast majority of reporters and journalists in Botswana are honorable, patriotic, honest people who just want interesting stories but there are some who are much less trustworthy. Yes, I DO mean you, the reporter to whom I gave a quote for publication a couple of years ago and who instead wrote an entirely fictitious comment from me. Even though an industry is dominated by good people, a few “bad apples” can ruin its reputation for honesty.

Entering the “slightly dishonest” category were cellphone stores (-0.5) and cellphone network providers (-0.6). I don’t think there are any surprises here. We’ve all heard of people buying cellphones that don’t work, who are told that there’s no warranty or who buy phones that turn out to be second hand. We’ve also heard too many stories about consumers’ confusion about airtime, special offers that turn out not to be special and vastly over-priced data bundles that disappear almost immediately. I won’t suggest that this is actually dishonesty but I can understand why people confuse the lack of education and clarity with dishonesty.

Then we get to the one I find most concerning of all. Our survey suggests that insurance companies aren’t trusted (-0.7) and that’s a real worry for me. Insurance can save your home, your business and your livelihood from disaster so it worries me that people will be suggesting to their loved ones that insurance providers can’t be trusted. It’s a real concern. Maybe it’s time for the insurance business to start educating the public a bit more?

And now the lowest three in the perceived honesty league table and there are no surprises.

Third from the bottom are furniture stores (-0.8) who, with their impossible to understand hire purchase schemes, secret contracts and repossession rules probably deserve this reputation.

Second from last are (yet again no surprises) micro-lenders (-1.0). What do I need to say? Rarely has there been an industry with such a large proportion of crooks, cheats and swindlers.

And finally, it’s official. The least trusted industry in Botswana is second-hand car dealers (-1.1). Is anyone surprised? I’m not at all. At least part of this must be due to the activities of the very dubious car importers we all know but also it’s the rather shady local types we all know.

So what do you think? Is this fair? Let us know what you think!

Note: the graph shows the average score for each industry. The vertical bars show the variance from average, one standard deviation above and one below the average. This should give you an impression of how consistent (or not) respondents were in their scores. As you can see there is considerable variation, not everyone's perception are the same.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want my Blackberry back!

Last year around the first week of December, my Blackberry Bold 9900 died and a friend managed to connect me with a guy who was said to be really good with Blackberries. Indeed he is good because he fixed the phone that several technicians said it cant be done. Around the 15th of December he couriered the phone back to me in Francistown and upon receiving it I noticed the speaker wasn't working. I called him back and because it was still under the agreed 3 months warranty, he requested that I send it back to him of which I did and by the 19th he told me he is done with it and will courier it back to me and he never did. Since then he has been taking me from one pillar to another post, doesn't answer my calls nor respond to my texts. First week of January I called him with a different number and he answered and I requested that he send the phone back even if he hasnt fixed the speaker, we agreed, and it is now 2 weeks later, still havent received the phone.

It’s such a shame that someone who started so good has turned out to be unreliable.

I think it’s time to stop being nice and start giving him some deadlines. I suggest that you write him a letter giving him 14 days to return your Blackberry otherwise you’ll take legal action against him to recover both the phone and the money you have wasted by hiring him to fix the phone.

If he doesn’t respond in that time you should then go straight to the Small Claims Court with all the facts and seek an order against him.

Meanwhile we’ll get in touch with him and encourage him to do the right thing.

How do I get my money back?

I need help, I took clothes in one of the shops on credit and I failed to pay the installments. Last week I received a call from one of the Debt collectors asking for payment and they told me that I can't get any assistance from the banks if I need to apply for a loan because they have blacklisted me and my name has been submitted at ITC. I want to know whether it's possible for them to ask for payment and blacklist me at the same time, because to me it's like a double punishment.

I’m sorry, this is how things work if you fall behind with store credit payments.

The bad news is that you are in breach of your store credit agreement because you did fail to pay your installments. The company is entitled to record your failure to pay with credit reference agencies like Transunion so that other companies can assess how good a risk you are before they decide to lend you money. They feel (and this is often true) that someone who fails to pay off one debt is very likely to fail to pay off another. The sad news is that you have become a bad risk.

The best thing you can now do is contact the debt collector and meet with them to agree a repayment plan. It really is in your interests to do this as soon as possible. Debt collectors aren’t unreasonable, they’ll agree to a plan that you can afford. I’ve even known debt collectors reduce the total amount to be paid for people who are open and honest with them.

When you’ve finished paying them you then need to get something in writing confirming that you’ve paid off the debt. You should then ask the store to make sure your record has been updated to show that you eventually paid off your debt. They won’t remove the record of the debt but they will show that you paid it off. This might take a few weeks but it’s in your interest to know that your record is now complete.

Then promise me that you will do whatever you can never to buy anything on credit again? It’s such a dangerous way to buy things.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Syntek Xtreme Fuel Treatment - where is the evidence that it works?

Recently you'll have seen advertisements posted all over Facebook inviting people to come to presentations where they can learn about Syntek's "Xtreme Fuel Treatment" product.

One says:
"Extreme Fuel Treatment is here. No more spending in Fuel. Save your money and place an order with [XXX]. You can also join to become a distributor and start making lots of money."
Another says simply that:
"our product save petrol"
Their South African web site makes a number of claims about the product including that it:
Another, rather more eloquently but also more incoherently, explains that the product is:
"An advanced burn-rate modifier and combustion surface modifier catalyst, which, when combined with gasoline or diesel fuel, increases the rate of the combustion reaction and changes the surface structure of the fuel to achieve a more efficient combustion process."
But is there actually an evidence that this product works?

The first, skeptical question to ask is this. If this product really worked don't you think the entire company would have been bought by one of the petrol companies by now? Either to make their fuel go further and reduce their production costs or, if you prefer a cynical point of view, to kill the product as part of their evil plan for world domination.

Meanwhile, is there actually any evidence that it does what they say it does?

I've asked various distributors in Botswana on numerous occasions to supply some evidence that the product does something. Some of them have taken the time to email me various documents but so far there's not been one actual piece of evidence. Not a shred.

Yes, they've sent me details of one report that suggested that there was a minor increase in the energy release from fuel combustion when their product was used but this study was enormously unscientific. My concerns about the test were that:
  • there was no indication of the margin of error understood in these tests,
  • the tests appeared to be single sample, unrepeated tests,
  • the absence of any indication of the statistical significance of the difference in results,
  • the absence of any indication of impartiality or of the funding of the examinations
  • the absence of peer-review
These are all fairly basic components in any scientific experiment, whether it's testing a fuel "treatment", a medicine or the existence of the Higgs Boson.

Another, more senior distributor sent me a huge quantity of material about various tests of their product they claim were made on a range of vehicles. One was done using a Dodge pickup.

But look a little more closely at the bottom of that page. Scientists among us will recognise that this is not an independent test,
The test was done, and presumably paid for, by the manufacturers of the product. That's not independent.

This particular test, like all the others I've read (and I admit I haven't read them all) have the same failings. For instance not one of them was scientifically controlled. Specifically the tests were not conducted “blind” or even “double-blind” as real scientific research requires. They also didn't actually measure fuel consumption and appear only to have used one test modality, the “carbon balance test” which does not actually measure fuel consumption but measures another factor which is taken as a proxy for fuel consumption.

In short this isn't evidence that it reduces fuel consumption at all. Not even close.

Since seeing that documentation nobody from Syntek has been able to send me anything more persuasive, nor have they been able to assure me that any such evidence even exists. All they can offer testimonies and we all know that testimonies don't count as evidence in science.

Sadly for the distributors of this product, until they produce such evidence I think it's safe to assume there is none and Syntek's distributors need to be cautious when making any claims relating to a product that cannot be substantiated. If they do they’ll likely be in breach of Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which says that:
"A supplier of a commodity or of a service shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance if" ... "the supplier quotes scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated"
All I'm asking for is something really rather simple. I want what a pharmaceutical company would be obliged to provide before marketing a drug: real evidence that it works. Not testimonies, not anecdotes, not stories but real evidence. Until that appears it's safe to assume the product does nothing at all.

By the way, it's a Multi-Level Marketing scheme as well. Did I mention that?


Click below to see an example (warning - it's a 1.1MB pdf) of the "evidence" Syntek will supply if you really persist. Read it carefully and you'll see the flaws I've mentioned. This isn't evidence of anything other than an attempt to recruit people into their pyramid.

Dodge 08 Pickup

Are they honest or not?

How honest do you think businesses are? How well do you think we can trust the companies that sell us things? Are there industries that lie to us? Are there other industries that always tell the truth? Or is it more complicated than that?

It’s certainly easy to become rather cynical about ethics in business, particularly if you spend a lot of your time helping consumers fix the problems they’ve experienced. There certainly are some individuals I’ve encountered in the last few years who are no more than liars, cheats and fraudsters. The way they make money is by telling lies to people and stealing their money. But they are individuals who act that way. Is it possible that there are certain industries that are dishonest? Or others that are honest?

Like all things in life, it’s not as simple as that.

To begin with I think that on many occasions we confuse dishonesty with the results of a lack of education and clarity.

Let’s start with the insurance industry. We’ve heard from many customers of insurance companies over the years who have accused their insurance company of being dishonest. “I claimed on my insurance policy and they refused to pay me!” is a fairly common complaint. However, when we probe a little more deeply we often find that dishonesty is not actually the problem. One customer made this complaint but it turned out that the reason they refused to pay following his car accident was that he’d caused it because he’d been drunk. He’d even been charged with drink-driving. Their policy in fact made it clear that if you were involved in an accident and it turned out you were drunk at the time you would get nothing. So rather than being dishonest, the insurance company was actually just sticking to their contract. Probably the only real criticism that could be made against the insurance company was that they didn’t make this absolutely clear when they sold him the policy.

The lack of customer education also leads consumers to some other serious misunderstandings. We frequently hear from consumers who have had a funeral or life insurance policy for a long time but who have never made a claim. For whatever reason the policy lapses or is cancelled and then the consumer then becomes incredibly angry when they don’t get a refund, thinking that because they never made a claim they’re entitled to get their money back.

But that’s just not how insurance works. During the period of the policy the customer was getting something: cover against risk. If something bad had happened during the period of the policy the insurance company would have paid up. If a relative or the policyholder himself had died then the policy would have paid out. I sometimes wonder if such consumers would rather that someone had died so they got something tangible for their money.

A more complicated situation came up recently. Two different people contacted us about a company that sells satellite TV decoders that can receive various SABC TV stations. Both claimed that they could no longer receive the TV channels they’d bought. However the two cases were very different. In one case the decoder had stopped functioning and the company were taking way too long to fix it and they were being a little difficult to reach, not answering calls from the customer until I got in touch with them. The company was being somewhat dishonest about their willingness to offer their customer what she deserved. In the second case the dishonesty was the other way round. That customer’s failure to receive TV was actually because she hadn’t paid for four months. She was the one who could be described as dishonest, not the company.

Meanwhile the company is being fundamentally dishonest because they’re product is based on a lie. They register people who live in Botswana to receive South African TV channel in South Africa, not in Botswana. Presumably they can only do this by lying when they do the registration? Their business is a lie.

One of my least favorite industries is micro-lending mostly because they have more than their fair share of liars. I know that since NBFIRA appeared things have become a lot better but there are still lying micro-lenders out there. We still occasionally hear of lenders who don’t think they need to be registered with NBFIRA or who think they can charge whatever they want in interest, ignoring the “in duplum” rule. That’s the rule that says when a debt is settled the interest may not be greater than the outstanding capital amount.

Another thing I despise is hire purchase. I’m not suggesting that stores that sell on HP are liars but there are some that are certainly “economical with the truth” preferring to hide the nasty things they don’t want their potential customers to know in tiny text hidden in the middle of a VERY long contract written in language that very few of us really understand.

So who are the honest and dishonest industries in YOUR opinion?

We’ve recently been running an online survey on honesty and members of the Consumer Watchdog team have also been out on the streets asking shoppers who they think can and cannot be trusted. It’s only a very simple survey, it’s certainly not scientific and it only measures perceptions of honesty, not whether companies really are honest or not but I think it will give us a clue of how people perceive the trustworthiness of a range of industries.

So who do you think people trust? More importantly who do you think they don’t trust? The results aren’t in yet but you can see them here in Mmegi next week.

Friday 16 January 2015

The Ellerines and Beares sale. Or was it?

How should a store deal with a breakdown in communication?

Ellerines and Beares recently advertised a special offer of 50% off certain products. As you can imagine many consumers went along to the stores to buy things at such a big discount.

However a number of these consumers later contacted us because they'd been told that they weren't going to get the item they thought they'd purchased. The reasons included:
  • the advertised products weren’t available
  • stocks were now exhausted
  • payment was accepted but they were later told that they had come on the wrong day to get the special offer
When we contacted the stores we were given a number of explanations. We were told that there was a stock control system failure, that customers were confused and that customers who bought on the "wrong” day wouldn’t be assisted, even though they paid their money and entered into some form of contract with the stores.

It seems that the core of the problem was that this offer was available only on 3rd January but a number of consumers had gone to the stores on the 2nd January and had agreed to pay in advance to reserve the item they wanted. Most importantly the store staff agreed to this and took the consumer's money. Others went on the 3rd, the correct day, and paid by cheque.

Both of these groups were unhappy later to be told that they couldn't get the item they wanted and were told to return to the store to get their money back. As you can imagine they were angry and upset.

The response of Ellerines and Beares management was simple.

Tough luck.

If you paid in advance, even though the store staff accepted your money and told you it was ok, tough luck. If you had turned up on the day and paid by cheque (which takes a couple of days to clear), tough luck.

In one email to us the senior people at Ellerines / Beares said:
"We value our customers at Beares and Ellerines Botswana and have reviewed al queries with regards to the promotion held on 14/01/2015 with the purpose to keep a good relationship with our customer base.

As clarification:
  • The promotion was advertised for the 3rd of December with the following provisions:
  1. The promotion was only scheduled for the third on a first come, first served basis: I.e. the first deal concluded on the 3rd had the first choice of the goods, once the sale is concluded the stock is reserved for that sale; NOTE: Pre-payment did not reserve stock as sale can only be concluded on the 3rd.
  2. The promotion was on all stock on floor - I.e. whilst stock last; branches had no mandate to sell on order. This was very clearly explained by the GM on the radio interview (Radio Botswana). The newspaper adverts also stated clearly - "ALL ITEMS IN STORE".
  • We are willing to assist where we can in terms of the promotion and stock availability."
We then asked how they could reverse a sale that the store staff had agreed to make. Their response was simple:
"We are not prepared to entertain this any further. We have given you the detail below. Regarding the question below - if stock is sold out then it is out.  The stores are not supermarkets where goods are picked and taken to a till - each individual that applies for credit is interviewed and screened before such an invoice can raised.  Stock quantities are only updated once invoiced, therefor with a rush as what we experienced we do not have second by second up to date stock records."
And finally.

We've now heard from one consumer who went back to get his refund. This is what he said:
"I just talked to [XXX] at Ellerines. She says the refund is not readily executable because they might not have cash.... apparently people are not paying on time. I think she is not aware of the 50% scuffle. All shes saying is stock is coming i can wait. Its so confusing."
I don't know about you but I'm not sure that this is good enough. What do you think?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this a real university?

I found a scholarship for Batswana in the social network and I applied since I have been looking for a sponsorship for postgraduate studies. Within 24hrs I got a call from a man claiming to be in the US who explained the procedures, accreditation etc. What irked me was that though they are an online university they can also offer me a PhD based on my work experience, which is an alternative to studying for three to five years towards obtaining PhD. The man hasten to indicate that the PhD would be just like an honorary degree. What I you to help with is to find out whether NewFord is a genuine university and furthermore whether their qualifications are recognised especially those given based on experience.

I think you know the answer to this question already, don’t you?

This is not how real universities operate. Real universities award degrees to people who have attended classes, written essays and dissertations, who have undertaken research and submitted reports, who have taken exams.
There are no genuine degrees that are awarded on the basis “of life experience”. That is always an indicator that both the degree and the establishment offering it are bogus. We’ve dealt with dozens of fake “universities” like NewFord "University" over the last ten years and the story is always the same. They claim they can give you a degree in just a matter of days and all you have to do is give them your credit card number and you’ll get a certificate through the post. They might say their establishment is accredited but it’s only by a fake accreditation body that they set up themselves. In fact the “university” and the accrediting body are no more than web sites.

Finally, the most important thing. Anyone who buys one of these degrees and who gets a job or a promotion as a result of it is going to get fired and possibly prosecuted. Obtaining a financial benefit by lying is called fraud. Your employer will be entitled to fire you on the spot and drag you to court to get back all the salary you received as a result of lying.

Fake degrees are an insult to people who studied for genuine degrees and anyone possessing a fake one is as much of a crook as the people that sell them!

How do I get my money back?

Hi there, I would like advice on a matter. In December a friend asked me for cash to help clear some debts so I lent him P200, with strict instructions it must be repaid by the end of working hours at 5pm. Even he agreed with these terms & promised to pay to back before 5pm. But lo and behold little did I know what I was getting myself into. To cut a long story short 17 days later I still haven't been paid, all I get is excuse after excuse. I can make up to 30 calls in a day or send 10 messages, but he doesn’t bother to respond. Now I'm thinking of either taking it up with the police, small claims court or UB legal clinic. In which avenue would I have the best chance at getting recourse, or more importantly my money back?

What makes me feel bad is that my gut instinct told me not to lend to this person but I still went against it. Now see the mess I'm in. Your advice is welcome.

I’m really sorry for your trouble. This sort of problem might seem trivial to readers, it’s only P200 after all but it’s more complicated than that. You’ve had to spend your money calling and texting him and, more importantly you’ve lost a friend.

I suggest you try the Police first. A call from them might be all that’s needed to encourage your former friend to do the decent thing, if only because of fear. If that doesn’t work then you should write him a simple letter giving him 14 days to repay you and threatening him with legal action if he fails to do so. If that doesn’t work take a copy of the letter to the Small Claims Court and seek an order from them.

Or, and this is my least favourite option but it might be the simplest, just give up. How much more time and effort are you prepared to make to get P200 back?

Tuesday 13 January 2015

And yet another fake "university: Newford "University"

How much do I need to say about this? I think by now you'll recognise the signs that Newford "University" is bogus.

A clue. Of course they claim to be accredited by a range of impressive sounding bodies but as far as I can establish, none of them actually exist.

Saturday 10 January 2015

The more things change...

The French have a saying: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That was 2014 at Consumer Watchdog. Everything changed but everything stayed exactly the same.

Pyramid schemes were still here. Even though some, like TVI Express, had long disappeared we still heard from people who were selling World Ventures, a ridiculous holiday discount scheme.

World Ventures claim to sell holiday discount vouchers and they say that these vouchers can drastically reduce the price of holidays, hotel stays and travel in general but in fact they’re just a pyramid scheme pretending to have a product. Let be clear. A discount voucher isn’t a product, it’s a reduction in the price of a product. What they’re really interested in is you recruiting more and more people beneath you, forming the pyramid that makes the people at the top so much money.

In the USA World Ventures are required to publish their earnings figures and they tell the real story. Three quarters of all people who join World Ventures don’t make a single cent. 90% of all the money earned in World Ventures is earned by the top 1%. Only one American recruit in a thousand makes more than average national earnings from the pyramid. Why would it be any different here in Botswana?

Then there was Karatbars, a German scheme that involved buying minute quantities of gold and which promised riches as a result. In fact the prices you had to pay to buy this gold were much more expensive than the real gold price and besides, the price of gold has been dropping dramatically in recent years. That’s hardly a great investment, is it?

However the best thing about Karatbars was a claim one of their local distributors made: “the doubting thomases then went to consumer watch dog. They also gave us a thumbs up.”

That was a lie. We had not, did not and will not ever be giving “a thumbs up” to Karatbars or any other pyramid scheme. Anyone who says we have is a liar.

Despite the national lesson we had with Eurextradewe were still prone to the Get Rich Quick claims of Ponzi schemes. The most recent Eurextrade clone called itself Invest Partnership and it really was remarkably similar to Eurextrade except that they were even more ambitious in their claims. For instance they suggested that if you give them between $3,000 and $5,000 you could make 2% every day.

Elsewhere they claimed that if you invest $2,500 for a mere seven days you would make 15% every day, more than doubling your money in that week. I calculated that if you kept reinvesting your profits in this scheme for an entire year your earnings would be 400 billion times more money than exists in the entire world.

Fake qualifications were also still around, despite a growing understanding of how easy it is for someone with nothing other than money to get fake degrees. Last year we managed to irritate the fake degree industry so much that one of their organizers even went to the trouble of setting up a blog suggesting that I am “a paid blogger”. They suggested that I get “paid to publish and create different sort of blogs just to defame organizations” and that I charge “$2000 for this service. His aim is just to confuse consumers to get the good and real things and education. Kindly do not publish his blogs and believe on him. He is a big big big liar.”

Frankly I wish I WAS paid $2,000 for every blog entry I’ve made because by now I’d have earned $2,538,000 and I’d be writing this from a beach somewhere.

However the fake qualification industry evolved a little and is now selling fake professional membership schemes. The Gulf Project Management Association and the American Bureau of Project Management Experts will both sell you membership of their bogus organizations for nothing more than a credit card payment. No qualification, experience or skills are required, all that’s needed are your 16 plastic digits.

Then there were the fake healers and prophets so keen to separate us from our money (and health). One, the particularly courageous “Healer Nkunumbi” even managed to sneak into our Facebook group and post advertisements offering his solutions for a range of problems:
“lost lover, Marriage problems, stop your partner from cheating on you, Men and women who can’t have Babies. Breast, Hips, Bums, penis cream/. Business boost, Penis Enlargement and power in all sizes. Win court cases, promotion at work.”
He then showed how sophisticated he was by posting this:
“Sow a seed of P38 and see waht god will do in the next 38 hours............e-wallet by faith”.
Magic using hi-tech banking? Impressive.

The humor then stopped when he proved how dangerous he really was.
“Testimony............3 people are reporting to be healed H.I.V AIDS yesterdy after my meeting with them.”
That’s simply not funny any more. That’s dangerous, just like all the other crooks selling miracle cures to the naïve, gullible and desperate.

So the lesson is simple. Nothing changes. The individual crooks, charlatans and thieves might change, the names they give themselves and their businesses change and their particular tricks might change but their desire to steal our money remains exactly the same. It’s no surprise really. Despite what people say, “the oldest profession” is actually theft and it’s not going anywhere soon. It’s going to be up to us to fight against it using the only weapons we really have: skepticism, love for our neighbours and a willingness to confront thieves when we see them.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want a replacement phone!

I bought a phone on a two year contract. The first three months the phone was fine, after that it started giving problems. Sometimes it does not charge and goes off by itself. I took it back to the shop and they flushed it out and it worked for few days but then it repeated the same thing. I took it back and the technicians looked at it again and they felt that I must be given another phone. That’s when the management started running away from me leaving me with their juniors that can offer nothing or little help. I have been there five times and all I get is people running away and leaving me in their office unattended and they deduct P400 every month and I am not using the phone. I have my 1 year warranty paper that expires in January 2015, I will be happy if you could help.

The first thing to understand is that your contract with your network provider (BeMobile, Mascom or Orange) is probably entirely separate from the store from which you bought your cellphone even if the network provider gave you a voucher to buy the phone. It’s very important that even if you’re very angry with the store you don’t stop paying the monthly amount to the network provider.

Separately from that the store has to abide by Section 13 (1) (a), which requires them to offer products that are “of merchantable quality”. In other words you have a right to expect your cellphone to work for at least the length of the 1 year warranty.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see fi they can’t be a bit more helpful.

Update: We just heard that the MD of the chain of cellphone stores told the store to give the customer a brand new cellphone. Problem sorted!

Am I blacklisted?

Hi Richard, tell me, how do I check if I’m Blacklisted or not.

The reason I’m asking you is that ever since I lost my job in 2011 I have failed to service my debt due to lack of money and have not got any job yet as we speak. I have an outstanding bank loan and furniture debt. I’m living in fear that maybe I’m Blacklisted since I have not been paying for the past 4 years.

I’m however aware of the repercussion of failing to service the debt properly. How do I go about with it and find out if really I’m blacklisted or not?

First things first. There isn’t a blacklist. There are just credit reference agencies such as Transunion (which used to be called ITC) that hold details about customers like you and me on almost everything we do with our money. Most importantly they hold information on the good things we do as well as the bad things. Every time you pay off a debt they record that as well as the occasions when you pay late or don’t pay at all. They have a complete picture of what we’re like as customers and how well we behave. Banks, furniture stores, micro-lenders and a range of other companies check which these agencies before they lend anyone any money and what they are shown is the complete picture or you as a potential customer.

From what you have said you are almost certainly listed with one or more of these agencies as a bad payer. Forgive me for being blunt but that’s because it’s true. You owe a bank and a furniture store a lot of money.

What I suggest is going to require some courage. You need to contact the bank and the furniture store and find out what you owe them. Then you need to make a plan to pay them whatever you can afford before they take things to the next level and set debt collectors on you. It might seem embarrassing to confront the problem but it’s not nearly as embarrassing as seeing your name in the papers.

Finally you can contact Transunion yourself to check you record. I think you can do this from major post offices and it’s worth the small fee they charge you to see if your record is correct.

Thursday 8 January 2015

The AIDS "cure" Topvein has gone. Or has it?

In February last year we were alerted to a "cure" for AIDS.

Their web site, “AIDS Cure Found” claims that their product is a:
“scientifically tested herbal medicine that is used as the best alternative medicine in the treatment and cure of HIV and AIDS at 99% effective”.
One of their local distributors went this far when I asked if the product really cured AIDS.

Impressive you might think. They must have won several Nobel Prizes by now.

No, as you and I both know, they're just criminals peddling fake cures and they know it.

We contacted various people about this advertisement and the claims that had been made. Specifically we contacted the bank who held the account the Botswana representatives used to receive payments for this nonsense and also our friends in the Ministry of Health.

Yesterday I got a call from the Police.

It seems that the bank took this so seriously that they involved law enforcement. Unfortunately the Police couldn't find the Zambian national who was running the company here because it seems he's left the country (good riddance).

Meanwhile the Ministry of Health summoned the company that was selling Topvein in Botswana to a meeting and demanded that they stop selling this hogwash and making dangerous claims. The company was also instructed by the Ministry to remove the Botswana details from their advertising.

That's the good news. The bad news is that I'm not sure much has actually changed. The web site still shows contacts in Botswana.

One of these confirmed to me today that they are still selling Topvein and that it "gets rid of HIV".

So the battle continues. Back to the Police and Ministry of Health I think.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Should we apologise?

A few days ago a member of our Facebook group criticised a company called Stafix about an item they supplied for his electric fence. The suggestion was that a fuse in a device had been "bridged" or bypassed. A photograph seemed to confirm this.

The subsequent conversation between the customer and a former employee of Stafix then became a little heated and eventually I was forced to remove some of the comments that I felt were too argumentative and weren't productive.

However I thought we had a good end result because Stafix agreed to fix whatever the problem was and the customer agreed to pay for certain parts. I thought that was a good ending.

It was not to be so.

Apparently lawyers were then involved. Apparently one person on Facebook commented that they had gone to Stafix for a quotation but would not now be using their services and that seems to have angered Stafix. Understandably I suppose if they can prove that this really was a genuine loss of business. However you have to ask whether the original comment about bridging a fuse was a fair comment done in good faith.

So now an email comes in from Stafix. In the interests of openness here is the entire text of the email. The only thing I've removed is the name of the customer who originally complained.
Good Afternoon

I emailed both parties some requests yesterday regarding the posting on the Facebook Consumer Watchdog Page by [name removed] in my last emails that both [name removed] and Mr. Harriman (Yourselves) are aware of. I have categorically stated issues below of concern:

1) An inaccurate and malicious post was made by [name removed] aimed at our company and has defamed and caused loss of business for us.
2) The Consumer Watchdog Facebook Page provided a platform for the malicious posting of the inaccurate information which we deem defamatory and also responsible for the loss of business to ourselves.
3) Stafix has proven that there has been inaccuracy in the contents and the assumptions posted by [name removed] yet in good faith has still rectified [name removed]’s problem.

The management of Stafix including Mr. Humie Marapo and myself therefore expect the following:

1) A public apology on the same medium by both [name removed] and Consumer Watchdog. (The same medium being the Facebook Consumer Watchdog Page)
2) For the apology to state the inaccuracy of the accusation made by [name removed]. (based on information both parties have received about the actual damage)
3) For the apology to state by Consumer Watchdog whether their findings based on all details they are in possession of clear our name with them (The Consumer Watchdog as a consumer advocacy and support service in Botswana) and if they would advocate for Stafix by informing the viewers of the posted information to also be aware of the inaccuracy of the posts.

This we think will further remedy the removal of the post from the Consumer Watchdog Facebook page and reduce some of the damage that has been done to our reputation. I do however still want a meeting with you [name removed] so kindly advise when this will be possible.

Kind regards
So, should we apologise?