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.

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