Sunday 22 February 2015

Did we defame them?

We were accused of defamation recently. With great subtlety and courtesy, it was suggested that we had defamed an organization by permitting posts on our Facebook group to remain and not deleting them.

In fact over the last few weeks defamation has been in our minds quite a lot. It started with the subtle threat. A member of the group posted a message reporting a problem she’d experienced in a well-known service provider (who for now can remain nameless). Her problem was the length of time she and a relative had been forced to wait before being served: several hours. Her post was reasonably worded and I thought it was polite. What she really wanted was advice. “I want to log a complaint, where do I start?”

So far, so good. I forwarded the complaint to the Managing Director of the establishment and his response was swift. “We have started investigating the matter.” He also promised a very swift investigation. However it wasn’t all positive. He also said that if the “allegation turn out to be are false we will this time around have to consult with our lawyers to consider a defamation suit”.

That really isn’t very good, is it? If the complaint is valid they’ll take action to fix the problem and if not they’ll drag their critic to court to get revenge?

Let’s talk law. Defamation is defined in the Penal Code as:
“matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.”
The first question I’d ask is whether this particular organization actually has a reputation that could be damaged? In fact I think it would be hard to find many people who have a good opinion of them. I certainly don’t.

Meanwhile there are various defenses to the accusation of defamation. For instance you are permitted to say something defamatory if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. I think it’s clear that if the public would be concerned about delays in this company and that customer genuinely did experience the delay she claims then she’s allowed to say so. More importantly the law also permits you to make reasonably expressed complaints so long as “it was published in good faith”. In other words so long as you aren’t being malevolent you’re allowed, in a free country likes ours, to express your opinions about how a person or a company operates. It’s called free speech. The company might not like it but it’s a right protected by the law.

Unfortunately their approach worked. Under pressure from them the woman deleted her comments and felt herself forced to apologize to them.

Consumer Watchdog is not as easily bullied.

On the other hand just a few days later we had another post on our Facebook group that WAS defamatory. A member posted a complaint saying that he felt he’d been short-changed by a store when he’d paid P100 for airtime but had only been given P10. His mistake was then to post pictures of the managers at the store and to use the word “thieves” in his comments. The fact is that even if he did feel that they hadn’t responded well to his complaint his comments were unacceptable and I removed them as soon as I saw them. I contacted the guy and suggested that he was welcome to complain but he needed to moderate his comments to stay on the right side of the law.

Over the years we’ve had a few encounters with organizations who have said they’ve felt defamed by various things we’ve said on the radio or written here in Mmegi. To their eternal credit every time this has happened I’ve contacted the team at Mmegi and explained what’s going on. Their response has always been the same.

What you said was true and you can prove it. Bring it on.

There was the holiday club that really objected to us describing their customer agreements as “lifetime contracts” even though they wouldn’t let their customers cancel the “irrevocable offer” they were required to make to join the scheme. They came to see us to insist we retracted the suggestions accompanied by their lawyer only to find that we don’t scare that easily, particularly when we seemed to know the law on defamation better than their lawyer did.

Then there was the car firm who objected when we suggested that one of their South African dealers “are incompetent, discourteous and have shown massive contempt to one of their customers”. This was the dealer that had failed to repair the car belonging to a customer in Botswana for nearly a year. They also “lawyered up” and threatened us with hell and damnation unless we retracted our comments.

We didn’t. In fact we told their lawyers what we thought of their client’s bullying approach to criticism and we didn’t hear from them again.

There was even the legal threat we received from a lawyer representing a rather suspicious debt collector who threatened to sue a client for defamation for something that appeared in this column in Mmegi even though she didn’t write it, I did. A letter to the lawyer telling him to bugger off (metaphorically) did the trick.

The lesson about defamation is a simple one. If someone says something bad about you or your organization you have a couple of choices. If what they say is genuinely untrue and damaging then get your cheques book ready and talk to a lawyer. Otherwise just learn to take criticism like a grown-up.

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

A loan scam warning

In August 2013 we heard about someone in South Africa called Mandy Louw who claimed to represent a company called Express Finance and was offering to lend very large sums at a mere 2.5% interest per year. Was it real, we were asked?

No. There IS a lender in SA called Express Finance but this “Mandy Louw”, was nothing to do with them and in fact was stealing their company identity to run an advance fee scam.

In April 2014 a South African woman contacted us to confirm whether she had been a victim of this scam. The fake Mandy Louw had offered her a loan of R500,000 and all she had to do was fill in some forms and then send “Mandy” some money. Yes, in order to borrow money she had to give the lender money. Don’t you think that alarm bells would have been ringing by now? Don’t you think the words “advance fee” would have occurred to the victim by then?

Here’s the worst bit. The victim worked for the lending division of a bank. If anyone knows how genuine loans work it should have been her.

I told the victim very clearly that she was being scammed. My exact words were “This is a scam. There’s absolutely no doubt about it.” I urged her to contact her employer and let them know what had happened but then she went quiet.

Then it got worse. The victim got back in touch with us a few days ago. It seems that since we last emailed each other she had continued to give “Mandy” even more money in the forlorn hope that the “loan” might eventually appear. So far the victim has given the scammers a massive R184,000 and it’s only now that she’s understood that she will never see that money again. Worse still is that she borrowed money in order to raise the money the scammers were demanding. As well as being embarrassed and ashamed of herself she’s now impoverished because of her naïveté.

Luckily she’s now spoken to her employer, which we felt we needed to do for various reasons. Firstly she needs their emotional support but just as importantly they need to know they employ someone who is catastrophically gullible. Put these two things together and you have an enormous threat to bank security. She has also now spoken to the South African Police who will investigate the crime.

The lesson is a sad one. There are people out there who are so hopelessly gullible that scum like “Mandy Louw” find it easy to steal their money.

Please don’t be that naïve!

I damaged my sister’s car

Few weeks ago I bumped my sisters car when I was reversing and the bumper is completely ruined. She wants me to go to the police to make a statement so that she gets the insurance to fix her car. My question is what happens after the insurance fixes the car? Will they come after me?

Isn’t it better if I just fix the car myself because I don’t have any insurance? Please help.

If your sister claims for this on her insurance the insurance company will almost certainly come after you to recover their costs. That’s how insurance works: innocent parties don’t have to suffer, the guilty parties pay. In this case your sister and her insurance company are the innocent parties and you’re the guilty one. I think your suggestion is probably best. Get the car fixed yourself. It’ll be probably be cheaper and there’s less danger to your relationship with your sister. Also, do you really want to run the risk of being fined by the Police?

Monday 16 February 2015

Yet another fake university - Kentsbridge "University"

And another fake university emerges, this time calling itself "Kentsbridge University".

They appear to operate from a web site that was only registered for the first time on 29th November last year.

As always the best clues are to be found in the online conversation you can have with one of their "advisors".
David Vincent: Hello there
David Vincent: How are you doing today ?
[Me]: I'm very good thanks
David Vincent: Great
David Vincent: how may I assist you ?
[Me]: There is a vacancy in my department in a hospital that I want to apply for but it needs a Masters degree. How long does it take to get a Masters from you?
David Vincent: It would take 20-25 days to have it delivered to you
[Me]: Oh wow, thats' quick. Must I sit any exams?
David Vincent: It depends on your profile
David Vincent: if you have sufficient experience in the filed then you dont need to sit ina ny examination
[Me]: What experience do I need?
David Vincent: What program you are looking to enrolled in ?
[Me]: MBA Health Care Administration
David Vincent: OK, how many years of an experience do you have ?
[Me]: I've been working for 10 years.
David Vincent: Impressive
[Me]: Is that enough experience?
David Vincent: you can go ahead and get a Degree from us on basis of your working experience
David Vincent: Yes, for Masters Degree its enough
[Me]: A masters degree so I can get the promotion?
David Vincent: Indeed
[Me]: How much coursework must I do?
David Vincent: You dont need to
David Vincent: you will get the Degree on basis of your working experience
David Vincent: what we will do, is we convert your working experience into the college credits
David Vincent: on basis of that we can award you with the Traditional Degree
Interestingly this one is even prepared to haggle over the price.
[Me]: How much will this cost me?
David Vincent: which would be verified as a regular Degree that you have gone through online courses and classes
David Vincent: total one time payable fee is $1299.00
[Me]: That's a lot of money.
[Me]: Sorry, I don't think I can afford that.
David Vincent: How much is your budget ?
David Vincent: What is the maximum you can afford ?
[Me]: Around $500.
David Vincent: make it $600 and we can proceed
I don't think any further evidence is needed, do you? Real universities offer qualifications based coursework and exams, not just cash. Kentsbridge "University" is a fake.

Friday 13 February 2015

The world has changed

It’s 2015 and companies need to get with the times.

Whether people like it or not, things change and progress happens. I know that some people would dearly like things to stay exactly the way they’ve always been but that’s often because they have an interest in the status quo. Usually they get some financial, power or psychological benefit from how things have always been.

I assume that the rest of us are happy to move forward into the future and leave the past behind?

But what about the present? Have all companies reached 2015 yet? No, clearly they haven’t.

Given that it’s 2015 here are some things that we now have a right to expect.

WiFi. We have a right to expect free WiFi in those places where we choose to spend our time and money. Obviously I’m not demanding it in supermarkets, furniture stores and bus ranks but I do think that we have a right to expect free, unlimited and reasonably fast WiFi access in coffee shops, restaurants and hotels. Go to any of the coffee shops in Gaborone and Francistown and you’ll find people there to do business. Some will be having meetings but a lot of them are sitting by themselves with their laptops or tablets getting some work done. So long as they buy the occasional drink and a snack they can expect to connect to the internet to do all those essential business things like check football results, update their Facebook profile and send messages back to their boss saying how busy they are. And maybe even to do some real work as well.

Critically it should be uncapped and free. There are still restaurants that limit how long you can connect or who have to give you strange passwords that are different every time you visit but they need to learn from their more successful and welcoming competitors. Yes, there is always a risk that a customer will just sit there for hours with a glass of water exploiting the WiFi connection but the manager can always ask them to move on. They’d do that if someone just came and read a book for hours without ordering anything, wouldn’t they? There’s also the risk that someone will sit within WiFi range but won’t actually come into the establishment but the venues with unlimited free WiFi seem to cope well enough with that.

The plain fact is that in 2015 this has become a core part of doing the restaurant business. If you don’t like it then be prepared for customers complaining and choosing to eat and drink elsewhere.

It’s a similar situation in hotels. Whether you’re staying in the hotel as a guest or just as a visitor then free WiFi is fundamental these days. I was at a workshop a few days ago at a major hotel in Gaborone and they do offer a free WiFi connection throughout with no password and no restrictions. The last time I’d been there it made the interminable conference speeches a lot more bearable. But this time it wasn’t working. Luckily this workshop was actually interesting and I didn’t need a distraction but meanwhile it would have been very useful (as well as normal in 2015) to pick up my email for free rather than eating into my 3G phone data allowance.

Another problem the hotel conference room had was a projector no better than the one we have at our office and that’s just not good enough. Conference rooms need top-quality equipment or the conference room isn’t going to look sad, outdated and poor value for money like this one did.

So hotels and conference centers, if you haven’t invested in modern, reliable tech by now you’re going to need to soon.

Most importantly, we have a right as consumers to move forward from traditional ways of contacting stores and suppliers. In the past organizations had fixed complaint procedures that dictated how you and I could talk to them when we had a problem but those days are gone. Who writes a letter of complaint these days? Certainly we no longer get many letters to Consumer Watchdog and a dwindling number of faxes. Almost every communication we receive is electronic, mainly by email and Facebook. So why aren’t companies doing the same?

Actually a lot of them are. Almost all of the companies we deal with use email to a great extent but very few of them have taken the leap into Facebook and the reason for that is simple. It’s public.

When you post a message on a company’s Facebook page other people can see it. If a company representative posts a message in our group then every other member of the group can see what they say. All of this really scares them.

It scares them because it can so easily go horribly wrong. I’ve seen companies post a response that Facebook users have seen as arrogant or patronizing and instead of calming a situation it’s only made things much worse. On the other hand I know a few organizations who consistently get it right. They apologize if there’s been a problem, they don’t try to avoid blame and they offer a solution, all in public without fear or shame and Facebook users respect that. These situations have allowed the companies to show themselves as mature grown-ups not petulant, whining children and nobody wants to give money to a petulant whining child.

So to all these organizations the message is simple. Get with the times. Either embrace, use and exploit the technology of 2015 or be behind the times.

And behind your competitors.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where are my medical aid payments?

My boss has been deducting P450 from my salary which was supposed to be paying my Medical Aid. He was supposed to pay the other 50%. On Friday I went to my doctor and was told my Medical Aid has been suspended due to non-payment. When I spoke to my boss he admitted that he has not been paying the bills for 25 months now. I now owe the doctors P1,754 for 6 invoices. What advice can you give me? I need my money back. How do I approach him in a nice way as my boss? Seriously I need my refund and will start paying myself.

This is completely unacceptable. I know this might be strong language but your boss has stolen your money. Specifically he has stolen P11,250 from you AND he has denied you the medical aid cover you have been paying for.

I know it might antagonize him but you need to get some serious support and I suggest that the Department of Labour might need to be involved. They have the power to summon your boss and demand that he makes this situation right again. He owes you the P11,250 and the P1,754 in doctor’s bills.

However, in the meantime if you like we’ll be happy to contact your boss to politely explain that he needs to remedy this situation immediately by paying your medical bills and either getting you immediate medical aid cover or giving you back the money he’s taken from you. We’ll make it clear that it’s that or a call from the Department of Labour. Or would he prefer to be on the front page of The Voice? Does he really want that sort of trouble?

Saturday 7 February 2015

How to be trusted

Our recent research on honesty and how well certain industries are trusted didn’t just inspire and educate us, it prompted a range of companies to get in touch, asking for more information about how their industry performed.

The bad news is that no industry did well. The highest ranking industry, new car dealers, didn’t even reach “slightly honest”. Perhaps the most striking result of the whole survey was that of all the questions we asked, for all industries, 49.8% of them described the business as dishonest. The crude inference from this is that half of all people think that the business world is dishonest.

Let’s assume that this is true, that business is seen as largely untrustworthy. How can you company earn your customers’ trust? What can you do to make your customers think you’re an honest, decent company who will treat them fairly?

It’s actually quite simple but it takes something rare. Courage.

The first thing you should do is to commit your company to honesty. Absolute, scrupulous, 24/7 honesty. Think of the traditional oath you swear in a court of law. You put up your hand and promise to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. That’s what your company should commit to doing. Before you read on, read that oath again and see if you can spot the bit that every company forgets. The first element, “the truth”, is easy. Just tell the truth. The last bit, “nothing but the truth”, is also easy. You can’t slip a few lies in between the truthful bits, everything you say has to be true. The tricky bit is that second element, “the whole truth”. That’s where companies usually fail.

Often everything the salesperson tells the customer might be true but that doesn’t mean they’ve told the potential customer everything they should know. Did the insurance salesperson make it clear that if the customer falls behind with his premiums then any claims he makes will be rejected? Did the furniture store employee tell the customer that if the goods are ever repossessed then she’ll still owe them lots of money? Did the second-had care dealer tell the customer that once he drives the vehicle off the premises he can expect absolutely no support if it goes wrong? Did the cellphone store really point out that the legitimate phone you think you just bought only comes with a 3-month warranty, not the 12 months promised by the manufacturer?

Some companies are afraid of telling the whole truth because they think that if customer knew the whole truth they wouldn’t spend money there. Yes, that’s possible but what’s just as likely, perhaps even more likely, is that the customer will appreciate the honesty that the company is displaying. The company might lose one customer but they’ll gain several more who like to deal with honest customers.

Honesty needs to be coupled with humility. Humility is just having a modest view of your own importance but unfortunately that’s not a common thing in business. All too often business leaders think that because they drive a nice car and have a really big chair then they’re somehow really important. That’s not always true and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to point out that they are “only the Managing Director”. They might have lots of responsibility but that does NOT make them the most important person in the company. MDs and CEOs should ask themselves this question every day: “Which will have the greatest impact on the business today: my sudden death or the sudden death of my employees?”

Most CEOs and MDs are afraid to ask that question because they know the answer already.

There needs to be some corporate humility when dealing with customers. Companies need to admit that they make mistakes. They need to admit that despite all the ostentatious IT expenditure, the useless courses they send their staff on and the expensive headquarters, the company still comprises human being who occasionally make mistakes. It might not have been the shop-floor worker who made the mistake, it might have been the CEO, the consultant who designed their procedures or the 22-year old IT techie with no business understanding that made the mistake but one was made nevertheless and it’s time to admit it.

What so many business leaders forget (or perhaps never knew) is that even though admitting failure is a humbling experience, it’s also a very mature one. Grown-ups admit their failings. It’s only small children, the deluded and the emotionally pathetic that can’t.

A trick that can often help, once you’ve taken the leap towards humility, is to engage with your customer in finding a solution to their problem. Is your company humble and courageous enough to say something like: “How can we help fix this problem for you?”

Yes, there’s the risk that the customer will demand fortunes but they are much more likely to be perfectly reasonable and ask for just what they’re entitled to, perhaps just a replacement for their unsatisfactory product. Which, by the way, they are probably entitled to receive.

All of this, the commitment to honesty and telling the whole truth, the need to show some humility and the obligation to be mature can all be summarized in one word: respect.

If your company can show customers some respect, even when you think they probably don’t deserve it, you’ll be making a great leap forward, not just for the customer in question but for the entire company. A company that starts from a position of respecting its customers is one that will be respected back. And that’s the sort of company that we all want to buy from.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can store security guards search me?

Today I was coming out of a supermarket and I had a plastic bag in which there was a box of juice. In my other hand I had a gift bag. So the security guy asked me to stop so he could search me, and he also wanted the receipt. I asked him to hold the gift bag for me while I look for the receipt. I looked for the receipt but couldn't find it so I told him I cant find it, so he should give me my gift bag so I can go because with the little knowledge that I have, I don't have to be searched if I don't want to. So I asked him to give me back my gift bag so I can go but he refused and even held on tight to it, insisting that I give him the receipt. He told me that he is supposed to search people, whether they want to be searched or not.

I suggested that we go to the lady who sold me the items but he still refused and insisted on the receipt. He finally saw it in the bag which had the juice and saw that indeed I did not steal these items. My question here is what is supposed to happen by the shop door when a customer leaves with items they have paid for in that shop? Are these security guys supposed to do this to customers? I felt harassed and inconvenienced and I also feel that there is lack of education amongst some of these security guys. There is a need to address this in case the same thing happens to other customers. Even if security guys have the right to search customers, they are supposed to do so without ridiculing customers. And I asked him why he wants to search me and he couldn't even give me a clear answer. I would really appreciate if you enlighten me in this.

It’s very simple. Security guards have absolutely no right to search people. They often forget that they’re not police officers, they’re just civilians in uniforms. They have no more rights than you or I have.

All that a security guard can do is detain you if he or she has good reason to suspect that you have committed a serious offence such as theft but that’s ALL they can do. They are not allowed to search either you or your belongings unless you allow them to. Only the police can search you without your consent.

If a guard does ever stop you and demand to search your belongings you should remind them that the goods you bought (even the plastic bag which you paid for) now belong to you and that you will not permit a stranger to seize or search your belongings. You should also say that if they suspect you’ve stolen something then you’ll happily wait until the police arrive. Maybe even remind them that the police have more important things to do and they don’t like having their time wasted.

This security company should remember the case a few years ago when a woman who had a very similar experience in a supermarket took the security company to court and was later awarded P60,000, the judge explaining that this was ”considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society”.

Part of the problem is that security companies often tell their guards that they have special powers. In the court case the MD of the security company apparently told the judge that he taught his guards that they “had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers”. The judge responded by saying that the MD “did not know circumstances when a legal search could be made."

I contacted the Head Office of the supermarket concerned and they are taking this matter very seriously. You can expect feedback from them very soon.

Meanwhile let’s all stand up to security guards when they abuse us. We all know that shoplifters exist and that the money the stores lose to thieves they pass on to us, the law-abiding customers, and we have a part to play in helping stores protect themselves but that doesn’t they can think they have special powers. It’s time for them to learn this, don’t you think?

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Yet another phishing email

I've received a number of emails in the last 48 hours, each apparently from Apple suggesting that:
"This is the final email to inform you as of 03 - February - 2015 that you have not yet updated your account information. Under "Know your Customer" legislation Apple is required to perform a verification of your account, failure to do so will result in account termination in less than 48 hours.

To stop the termination of your Apple and iCloud please validate your account information before the deadline."
Each had a link encouraging me to "Verify your iTunes Profile". However instead of linking to an Apple web site they all went elsewhere.

One went to "", certainly not an Apple site and a domain that was only registered yesterday:

The other went to "", also nothing to do with Apple and also registered yesterday:

Another went to "", yet again, nothing to do with Apple and only registered earlier today.

All of the links redirected me to a VERY impressive copy of an Apple web site where you would enter your Apple ID and password:

When you enter these details (I entered a fake ID and a rather rude password that suggested a close relationship between scammers and farm animals) you are then redirected to a Google page and this is the clever bit. The Google page you visit has already done a search for:

Anyone's first reaction to seeing that is going to be shock, followed closely by horror that the internet will think you've been search for child pornography. That's almost certainly going to make you overlook the fact that you just gave away your Apple ID and password and before you know it your profile will have been compromised.

This is nothing to do with Apple of course, the target could just as easily be your Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account.

The lesson is simple. Don't click on links in emails unless you either trust the person who sent it or you look very carefully at where the link will take you.