Saturday 28 March 2015

The clues are there

We are often asked by consumers to check whether something they’ve seen is a scam. Almost always it’s easy because to us the clues are obvious. They’re obvious when you’re in the business of exposing scams.

The biggest clue that it’s time to be skeptical is any offer, invitation or suggestion that appears out of the blue from a total stranger. Real business opportunities, real investments, real job offers don’t just arrive in your Inbox, as if my magic, from someone you’ve never heard of. They simply don’t.

They certainly don’t when these offers involve staggering amounts of money. The daughters of deceased West African oil tycoons don’t email total strangers offering to share their inheritance if only they can open a bank account for them to send it to. But you all know that by now.

What many people don’t seem to realize is that this isn’t how people get jobs either. We’ve had many questions from readers who have posted their CV on a job seeker’s web site and then get approached by strangers saying that they are the perfect candidate for a vacancy they’re trying to fill. Sometimes it’s a well-paid job on a cruise liner or in a hotel somewhere exotic, other times it’s a nanny or au pair job in a fabulously glamorous part of a distant city like London or New York. Every time the salary is enormous, the conditions are wonderful and the perks are astounding: free flights, up-front salary payments, vehicles, lengthy holidays and hefty bonuses.

The simple truth, the clue, is that this isn’t how recruitment works. It’s certainly not how it works for low-paid jobs like childcare and it isn’t how it works for high-paid jobs in the oil and construction industries. Above all other things the clue is that nobody is EVER offered such a job without the potential employer and the candidate meeting each other. These days the introductory interviews can be done by Skype but even with that there will always be a face-to-face meeting.

Of course these job offers are really not about the job. That’s fictitious. It’s all about the “advance fee” the fake employer or recruiter will soon demand from the victim. Sometimes it’s a “visa fee” or a fake professional licence that’s needed but that’s what the whole enterprise is about.

Other clues are certain key words and phrases. Whenever you see or hear things like “passive income” you should know that someone is about to do their best to recruit you into a Get Rich Quick scheme. I saw a post on Facebook where someone claimed he had “discovered a programme which claimed to generate a passive income with no risk and very little work”.

Here’s a suggestion about what you should do whenever you read claims like these. Ask yourself a simple question. How does the person posting the message gain from telling you about this scheme? Surely if he or she has discovered a wonderful way of making money they should just use the scheme themselves? Why do they want to recruit other people into the scheme? Is it perhaps because the way to make money from the scheme is actually to recruit other people rather than actually selling any products?

That’s what they won’t tell you. Recruiting you and persuading you to recruit other people beneath you is how people in the pyramid try to make money. What they also won’t tell you is that the only people who actually make money are the people at the top of the pyramid, not the mere mortals at the bottom who pay to join the scheme.

That’s certainly the case for true pyramid schemes and it’s also true, to some extent, for their less disreputable cousins, multi-level marketing schemes. Even though MLMs involve selling products they frequently present their new recruits with a very different picture. They talk about lifestyle opportunities, holidays and riches but they neglect to mention the fact that the vast majority of recruits either make no profit from joining the scheme or they actually make a loss. In case you’re skeptical, I’m not making that up. Those are facts from the biggest MLM schemes in the world, Amway and Herbalife, who are both obliged to disclose their recruit’s earnings every year. Their own figures show that people don’t make money from joining them.

Here’s another clue word. Whenever you hear the word “quantum” from someone trying to sell you something you should be prepared to hear utter nonsense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ridiculous health product like the “QXCI” or “SCIO” device that its proponents claim cures all manner of diseases. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone trying to sell you life skills or personal development. The moment you hear someone saying that quantum physics has some relevance for your everyday life you should walk away and, whatever you do, don’t hand over any money.

In May this year we’ll be welcoming Dr John Demartini back to Botswana for another “Leadership Conference”. Here’s a quote from the Doctor’s web site:
“Your brain acts as a love-seeking, balance-seeking, quest-ion dissolving organ. Your genetic code assists your brain in its search to elevate your consciousness awareness quantum by quantum.”
If that’s a sign of his thinking, what do you think he, or anyone else with such a slim grasp on science can teach us about leadership? It’ll probably be just more quantum hogwash.

The clues that someone wants to abuse you are out there if you’ll just look for them. So please keep your eyes open and always be on guard.

Friday 27 March 2015

Consumer Alert - "Download Your eTAX e-Statement Report"

We received an email entitled "Download Your eTAX e-Statement Report" that appeared to come from BURS, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service.

Attached to the email was a file named that contained a Windows program called monthlyreport.exe.

You must not open the zip file.

You must not run the program that it contains.

If you did run the program please tell me what it did.

The program could easily do damage to your computer and its contents.

Consider yourself warned. When did you last update your anti-virus software?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I trust her?

I saw a job post on Facebook by a lady from London named Verisuku Lusiana Cawai looking for nanny saying she pays £1,906 saying its P28,164. She asked for my details and referred me to her lawyer Andrew Lewis. They say I must send my passport scan and to travel they pay 80% and I pay 20%, say travelling is £1,200 so I only pay P3,600. She says I should send today and come next week.

Are they to be trusted or are they scammers. Please help me!

This is undoubtedly the beginning of a scam. I’m 100% certain of it.

The first clue is that people don’t really advertise for nannies on Facebook. Real nannies are recruited through specialist agencies. Real nannies need to be highly trusted and thoroughly checked because they’ll be caring for children, often in a foreign country. The parents and the authorities in these countries are very strict about this.

Ask yourself this. Why would someone in London try to recruit a nanny from 8,000km away instead of from her neighbourhood? Why can’t she find a suitable nanny in London? It can’t be because in Botswana we’re seen as cheap labour when they’re offering a salary that high. I suspect it’s because they think we’re gullible and likely to fall for scam. We need to prove them wrong.

What these scammers are looking for is the money they say you should send them for the travel, that P3,600. I guarantee that if you pay them the money they’ll just string you along with more and more demands for money until either you realize you’re being scammed or you just run out of money. They’ll take as much from as they possibly can.

Update: I reported this scammer’s profile to Facebook and it was immediately removed. However, be careful. This scammer will be back with another scam within minutes!

Help me get my phone!

I opened cell phone insurance with a store last year, last week my phone was stolen and I submitted my claim. It took more than a week to get response after I emailed them pleading with them to assist me, I was issued a claim of P4,000, that I have to claim a phone amounting to that amount. I have been looking for the phone of P4,000 the only available phone that I found is around P2,000 and when I ask them they told me that they are not expecting any stock soon so I can take any available phone.

I have been paying enough money to be able to claim a nice phone, so I cannot afford to claim a cheap phone while I have been paying for a nice phone.

Please help me to convince them to either give me money to buy myself my phone or place an order for my phone.

This is tricky. I think that this depends entirely on what the insurance policy says. Does it offer you a “new for old” cost where you get a brand new phone to replace your phone, which I guess is now a year old? Or does the policy say that it covers the replacement value of the phone so it would give you the cost of replacing a year old phone with another year old phone?

Either way you deserve to be given whatever value the insurance policy promised you. Whether the store has phones in stock or not is irrelevant, they owe you whatever the policy says. They have to stick to their side of the agreement, just as they expected you to stick to your side of it.

I suggest that you contact the store and get a copy of the insurance agreement before you do anything else. Let me know what it says.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Baytown "University" - another fake

Yet another fake university. This one calls itself Baytown "University".

Someone contacted us with the following comment:
"Few months back I got a call from Baytown University which said I can get a degree based on my life experience. I got an MBA degree for $500. I showed it to my employer and as per the HR its an unaccredited degree 'Diploma Mill' being run from South Asia, probably Pakistan. I want to inform all people to stay away from them. Its an unaccredited university and due to it I almost lost my job. Now i'm finding my way to get my full refund (chargeback will be my last resort)."
So I thought I'd enquire. Their web site has the usual "Live chat" facility. All the usual clues that it's bogus are there. All it takes is cash to buy yourself a degree. No exams and "There will be no classes No courses".
You are now chatting with 'Rob Garner'.
Rob Garner: Hi Samuel
[Me]: Hi
Rob Garner: How are you
[Me]: Good thanks. How are you?
Rob Garner: I am doing Great, How can I help you
[Me]: I need to get a Masters degree in Physics as quickly as possible to get a promotion at my school.
Rob Garner: Sure,
Rob Garner: Do you have any working experience?
[Me]: Yes, I'm a Teaching Assistant.
Rob Garner: How old are you
Rob Garner: Do you have your updated resume?
[Me]: I'm 35. I don't have it here with me.
Rob Garner: Okay
Rob Garner: Can I call you?
[Me]: Not at the moment, I'm in a class.
[Me]: I just need to know how quickly I could get a Masters degree.
Rob Garner: How quickly you want?
[Me]: As soon as possible?
Rob Garner: Okay
[Me]: The vacancy I want to apply for is closing in about two months and I don't know how long it normally takes to get a Masters degree.
Rob Garner: I can get it deliver before that
[Me]: Oh wow. What about exams? Must I sit exams?
Rob Garner: a) There will be no classes No courses
Rob Garner: b) Your Records will be kept as YOU HAVE STUDIED AND OBTAINED THIS DEGREE(Online Education)
Rob Garner: c) It will take just 15 days & documents will be delivered via DHL
Rob Garner: e) This degree is acceptable worldwide just like a normal traditional degree.
Rob Garner: f) This Degree can also be stamped by The US State Dept.
[Me]: That's amazing. How much does this cost?
Rob Garner: It will cost you $500.00
It's interesting that they claim to have been "internationally accredited by ABOET (Accreditation Bureau Of Online Education & Training)" but that this apparent accreditation agency has only ever accredited one establishment. Yes, you guessed it, the bogus Baytown "University". Bogus accreditation of a bogus establishment by a bogus accreditation body. At least they're consistent.

Please don't waste your time, your money and your reputation on this fake establishment.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Questions and answers

These are just a few of the questions we’ve had recently. Let me know if you think we responded well or not.


“I have been inconvenienced by a bank teller which resulted in the cheque which I wrote not going through. The guy I was paying was very angry with me and didn’t buy my story when I explained that I still have sufficient funds in my account so I was definitely sure the cheque didn’t bounce because of insufficient funds. Please, I need advice; will I be successful if I demand that the bank compensate me for the damages and sufferings I'm going through? In case they refuse to compensate me, is there any possibility of winning the case if I sue them? I also intend to send a copy of this letter to Bank of Botswana. Please advise me in all options that I can use to solve this issue.”

Let’s leave legal action to one side for now. That will just cost you lots of money, bother and frustration. Instead I think you should contact the bank and see if they won’t sort this out for you. If you want we’ll get in touch with them as well and help explain that this has caused you enormous embarrassment. It’s also left you in trouble because giving someone a cheque that bounces is a crime in Botswana. Anyone who receives a cheque that is dishonored can call the Police and lay a charge using Section 23 of the National Clearance and Settlement Systems Act. It’s critically important that the bank take responsibility for fixing this problem for you.


“I received an email from Robert Alfred of Belltown University. I replied to this person to ask how they much they will convince you to pay for their fake diploma and I received several calls from that number from Pennsylvania to send my resume to update my profile, which I will never sent.”

I admire you for noticing that Belltown “University” isn’t a university at all, it’s a complete fake. Belltown, like others calling themselves Headway, Rochville, Belford, Ashfood, Woodfield are all just web sites designed to sell fake qualification to people gullible or crooked enough to think that they can get a qualification without doing any work to earn it. I had an online conversation with a representative of Belltown in 2013 when they told me that without sitting any exams or doing any coursework I could “get a Masters degree in Psychology to get a promotion”. All I needed to do was give them my credit card number and pay them $274.

The bad news if you are tempted to fast-track your career using a fake degree is that if your employer ever finds out they can fire you instantly and call the police to charge you with fraud. You’ll have stolen the money they paid you when you lied to them about your qualifications. Is that a risk worth taking?


“Please may you let me know if it is legal to have an office tenancy lease without an exit clause? My husband and his partner rent offices in Francistown and last year they wrote to the landlord to terminate the lease but we're told they couldn't because the is no exit clause so they can't leave before two years is up.”

I’m afraid that the lease agreement that your husband and his partner signed with the landlord is a contract and they’re committed to it.

Did they actually read the contract before signing it? I’m sure they would have noticed that there was no escape clause allowing them to terminate the lease before the two years had completed.

Think of it this way instead. Do you think that the landlord should have been able to change his or her mind halfway through the lease agreement and kick your husband and his partner out? Or do you think he should have honored the agreement? It works both ways.


“Who pays compensation in the event that a bag put on a bus shelf by its owner falls on top of another client resulting in their glasses being broken? Is the compensation paid by the bus owner or client who put his/her bag on the shelves?”

I think it probably depends on who was negligent. Was it the client who placed the bag on the shelf carelessly and allowed it to fall on you? Perhaps it was too big for the shelf? Or perhaps the shelf wasn’t attached to the bus properly and it collapsed? It depends on various things. You should also check to see if the bus company has a disclaimer saying they’re not responsible for any loss or damage caused while you’re on their buses. However, even if there is such a disclaimer it can only go so far. Imagine that a company had a sign saying that if you fail to pay on time they can have you shot. Would that be a legal disclaimer? Of course not.

I suggest that you contact the bus company and ask them what their policy is on these issues. If they don’t give you a good enough answer let us know!


And finally, the question we frequently receive.

“What do you charge for helping people with their problems?”

It’s very simple. Consumer Watchdog has never, does not now, and will never charge consumers for anything we do to help them. Everything we do for consumers is entirely free.

And it always will be.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can we escape from a lease?

Please may you let me know if it is legal to have an office tenancy lease without an exit clause? My husband and his partner rent offices in Francistown and last year they wrote to the landlord to terminate the lease but we're told they couldn't because the is no exit clause so they can't leave before two years is up.

I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to understand this situation.

Your husband and his partner willingly and competently entered into an agreement with the landlord, an agreement that was put in writing. Neither of them was insane at the time. They both read and understood the lease they were signing. They noticed at the time that there was no early termination clause. They did read the lease agreement, didn’t they?

Unfortunately your husband and his partner are committed to whatever the lease says and are not able to exploit things that aren’t in the lease, but they wish were there. If there’s no early termination clause in the lease then no early termination is possible without the consent of the landlord.

Think of it this way. Do you think the landlord should be able to kick your husband and his partner out just because he changes his mind or should he or she be committed to the two-year agreement they all signed?

One option would be to try and find a new tenant to take over the lease so the landlord doesn’t suffer any losses but that’s not always easy to do.

The lesson is simple. You must read and fully understand anything you sign before you sign it. If you don’t understand the document, whatever it might be, then don’t sign it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lease for a property, a banking agreement or (most importantly) a store credit or hire purchase agreement you must not sign it until you’ve understood it. If necessary ask a relative, a friend, a colleague, your kid’s teacher or Consumer Watchdog to help you understand it. Just don’t sign it until you know what every word means.

They took my money!

I am glad to have read about how your organisation had helped both customers and business's to resolve issues with fairness of what the law permits.

A friend of mine had applied for a loan at a bank in January, she was told she has to clear a debt at a store, about P2,500, which she did, then she received another charge of about P890 in the name of charges as they had reported her at ITC. When she thought it was over, the store gave her a letter that shes cleared but the information from the bank indicated she still owed about P400, she went back and queried then the store deleted it. Now it is hard for her to be given a letter clearing her from ITC, she is being told it may take up to 7 days.

It is all confusing why after paying all these has to happen and instead of easing her financial needs and make use of the funds to invest, she’s being tossed around.

How can u help her?

My understanding is that “clearing” your name with TransUnion (who used to be called ITC) does take a few days. Your friend also needs to understand that getting a loan to “invest” is a remarkably poor financial decision. The fees you pay on loans are likely to be a lot more than the profits you make on any form of investment. Do you know what sort of investment she’s considering? Have you checked that it’s not a scam? Please let me know.

I think your friend needs to get a full statement from TransUnion. You can get this directly from TransUnion but I think you can also get them from major post offices for a small fee. That will show her everything that the bank sees about her. Then she’ll know where she stands.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Guard yourself

Against security guards.

The behavior of some security guards is getting out of control. Not only are they exceeding their powers, they are assaulting and abusing people.

Last week we heard from a consumer who had visited a store but hadn’t actually bought anything. As she left the store a security guard approached her from behind demanding that she return to the store. The guard believed she had stolen something from the store. Rather than undergo further embarrassment she did as she was told.

Once back in the store the guard, another woman, insisted on taking her prisoner to a changing room and then insisted that she lift up her dress to prove that she hadn’t hidden anything under her clothing. The poor customer was then forced through the indignity of stripping to her underwear in front of this guard, finally proving that there was actually nothing hidden, nothing stolen.

After this ordeal was over and the guard had conceded that there was no cause to detain her the victim decided to stand up for herself. She demanded to see the manager to complain about the way she had been mistreated. That’s when this already unpleasant situation became bizarre. The guard’s excuse to the manager for her behavior was to point to the victim and say “this is the one that stole shoes on Wednesday”. That’s when the victim got even angrier. Quite rightly she went straight to the nearest police station. Not only had she been insulted and abused, she was now being accused of being a proven criminal.

To their credit the police demanded to know the evidence for the guard’s claim that the victim was a previous criminal. Under pressure from the officers in blue the guard relented. No, she said, that wasn’t actually true, she’d made that bit up.

So we have a guard who accosts innocent people, strip searches them and then makes up lies to defame them and defend her actions. We know who the real criminal is here, don’t we?

Despite being a strong woman with the courage to stand up to abuse she was still very upset. She told us “I am an honest member of society and this incident has really upset and unsettled me, my blood pressure is high and I am now taking medication.” I think she’s the victim of a crime.

The first ever case we had of abuse by a guard was many years ago when a guy called us to report his 17-year old daughter’s experience. She had also been accused of stealing from a store, this time a pair of shoes that the guard suggested she had hidden down her jeans. Given that the daughter was very slim and was apparently wearing skin-tight clothing this seemed unbelievable. Nevertheless the male security guard had insisted she strip off her clothing in front of him.

You can imagine how her father felt and what he was tempted to do. Luckily reason prevailed and he was able to express his understandable rage to us and then to the store. To their credit the store was as appalled as everyone else and they apologized for the disgraceful conduct of their lecherous, perverted, sex-abuser guard.

However the tide is beginning to turn.

In May 2011 a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store a security guard from Scorpion Security stopped her and demanded to search her handbag. Rather than asking nicely he just grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. She got angry and took Scorpion Security to court.

And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown in August 2013 the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence. He explained that he saw their job as looking after their client’s goods but then went on to embarrass himself in front of the judge by having no idea what powers his guards had. He told the judge “that security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.” In his ruling, the judge said that the MD “did not know circumstances when a legal search could be made.”

The judge went on to said that:
“I find that indeed the Defendants searched the Plantiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.”
It gets better. He continued:
“On the issue of damages, considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society I have considered that P60,000 would be sufficient solatium for her dented image in society.”
So let’s make it clear, yet again. Security guards are just civilians in uniform. They do a difficult job that helps to protect us but that doesn’t mean they have special powers. All a security guard can do is detain you until the police arrive. Only a police officer can search you against your will.

Of course we should do our best to help stores protect themselves against thieves but that doesn’t mean they can treat those of us who are honest members of society as criminals.

Next time you are accosted by a security guard make sure you stand up for your rights!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I give my cell number?

On Thursday 6th January I went to a store where I bought a few items and then paid with my debit card, the receipt came out and I was asked to sign and write my cell number.

I asked the assistant why they need my cell number, she told me it is the policy, I refused and asked her to call her supervisor, she came and the supervisor started shouting to me that I am the first customer to ever do that. I was very offended.

I want to understand the significance of writing the cell number on the bank receipt, because in my opinion by signing the receipt it shows I have authorised payment.

Good for you for standing up for your rights. I think you are within your rights to keep your cell number private. I always refuse to give people my cell number when they ask me for it, even when they argue. Sometimes I tell them that my number is secret and if they persist I just tell them that I don’t have a cellphone. That usually shuts them up.

I also think that you’re right that when you’ve authorized the transaction that’s the end of it, particularly these days with PIN-based payments.

I understand that stores are scared that cards might have been stolen or compromised somehow and that they don’t want to lose money but how does taking a customer’s cell number help with that? Do you really think that a criminal using a stolen card is going to give his own cell number? I’ve no idea how they this this will help.

I don’t blame the assistant who first asked you for the number, I blame the supervisor and the manager who has presumably made up this silly rule. They are the ones who should explain why they need to insult and bother their customers instead of showing them some respect.

They took my money!

In February a gentleman from Hotel Express International called me and we talked for 20 minutes and he convinced me to join. He explained that the membership was to be confirmed by the existence of a credit card. He stated that by giving him the Credit card details it would just be confirmation purposes so I gave my credit card number and expiry date. Two days later a transaction went through my Credit card and they debited P852.42 and a few days later they debited yet again P686.12. A few minutes after I received another call from a lady from Hotel Express ad she confirmed that I have been activated and that my card had been debited. I made it clear to the lady I was furious and requested that they reverse the transaction and that I was not interested anymore but she was adamant that it was not possible and that a confirmation email has been sent to me regarding the membership. I have never received that confirmation email to date.

I decided not to put any money into my credit card which remains over drawn because of their transaction and they continue to check for funds in my accounts and the account continues to charge me failed transaction fee.
Can I get my money back from this organization?

Unfortunately you are not the first person to have this experience. We’ve heard from many people who told us exactly the same story. Luckily Hotel Express International say they record all of their phone calls so they will be able to check that you didn’t actually consent to joining and paying their fees. I’ve sent your details through to them so there’s hope they might fix this situation.

The lesson is NEVER to give your card details to anyone over the phone like this. How can you be sure they’ll respect your wishes and your money?

Saturday 7 March 2015

The priorities

Despite the excellent protections offered to consumers in Botswana there is still a long way to go.

I’ve no real complaints about the Consumer Protection Regulations, which are well written and comprehensive, but there are still some gaps, areas where consumers are left exposed.

Credit is probably my biggest concern.

Of course I’m not defending those consumers who borrow recklessly, signing up for as much as they possibly can because they want instant gratification but I do think there should be mechanisms that prevent them from actually getting those loans and hire purchase agreements. Although many people are skeptical of them that’s where credit reference agencies like TransUnion have a vital role to play. People often see them as an obstacle to getting credit but my view is different. They’re not an obstacle, they’re a protection. A protection not just for financial institutions, but also a protection for you and me.

They protect those of us who are regular payers, who do our best to pay off our debts because we are the ones who pay extra when bad payers default. We’re the ones who pick up their bills. They also protect reckless or desperate borrowers from getting into even deeper trouble.

That’s why it’s good news (even if you don’t believe me) that the credit bureaus are now considering sharing information amongst themselves to ensure that that protection is really thorough and comprehensive.

What’s really needed is a specific law that deals with lending and credit in general, a bit like the National Credit Act in South Africa. This is one of the few areas where we’re lagging behind our cousins down south.

My favourite part of the South African law is the bit that describes “reckless lending”. Before a credit provider can offer someone credit they are required to check if it’s really affordable. They’re obliged to look at the customer’s repayment history, their current financial status and to ensure that the customer fully understands what they’ll be getting into if they sign the agreement. Most importantly they are required to assess whether the new agreement will make the customer overly indebted.

And why should they do all this? What’s in it for the lender to go to all this trouble? It’s not just because it’s a legal requirement, it’s because if they fail to do so the customer can later go to court and have the entire agreement cancelled and the lender will be left to pick up the pieces.

That’s something I’d like to see in Botswana as well. The prospect of losing the entire deal might make some lenders behave a little bit more responsibly.

I’d also like to see much stronger protections against pyramid schemes. We’ve had our fair share of them in Botswana, starting with the so-called Success University, which was then take over by World Ventures, then there was TVI Express, then Pyxism. The only one of these to survive has been World Ventures but they’re on the way out having been declared an illegal pyramid scheme in at least one other country.

The same goes for Ponzi schemes, the most notable being Eurextrade. This was particularly curious because it was a scheme specifically targeted at Botswana and it was surprisingly successful, but only for the crooks running it. They made a lot of money from it but everyone in Botswana lost out massively. Some people lost millions to the scheme.

The problem is that there’s no specific law against either pyramid or Ponzi schemes in Botswana. The closest we get is the power the Bank of Botswana has to declare any scheme an “illegal deposit taking scheme”. In the past it’s taken Consumer Watchdog and some brave people at NBFIRA who have stood up to these frauds but we urgently need a specific law against these schemes so we can stop them and, if they’re operating in Botswana, prosecute them.

We also need some much stronger regulation of security companies. Yes, I mean the companies, not just their guards because it’s the companies that should be taking responsibility for their guard’s actions. We’ve all heard of guards who insist (illegally) on searching honest customers going about their lawful business, often because they’ve been told by their employers that they have the right to do so. But it gets worse. Much worse.

Anyone on Facebook will have seen a video that’s repeatedly posted that shows two security guards beating up an alleged shoplifter in a store in Gaborone. While nobody is saying shoplifters should be arrested it doesn’t mean the guards can use excessive force.

More recently we heard of a case where a customer in a restaurant in Gaborone witnessed an incident in which a “security guard manhandled and subsequently hit a woman so hard she fell hard on the floor”.

It later transpired that the woman in question had been seriously drunk and disruptive but does that excuse hitting her so hard that she fell to the floor? With the exception of two morons who suggested that she deserved a beating everyone who discussed the issue in our Facebook group was outraged by the guard’s behavior. Let remind ourselves that security guards are just civilians like you and me. They have no special powers and they most certainly are NOT police officers. They have no right to search you and your belongings and they most certainly can’t beat you up or hit you so hard to fall to the ground.

And this is before we confront the issue of a male guard hitting a woman.

These are just a few of the areas where I think we need greater control, stronger rights and some enforcement action from the organizations with the power to do so. What do you think?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

A recruitment scam warning

I have applied for a job outside in Australia by the company called Princess Cruise Line. So these guys accepted my application and offered me the job as a hotel night auditor. They send me a contract letter to sign and send it back to them as they are processing my workers permit. Now they said I must get international crew certificate (ICC) that will enable you to work in Australia Maritime Industry. Please confirm with me for the honesty of this company.

This is a scam.

This really isn’t how cruise line companies recruit staff. In fact this isn’t how ANY company recruits staff. It’s very simple: no genuine company ever offers jobs to people they haven’t interviewed. These days it’s possible to be interviewed by anyone from any place in the world using tools like Skype but I bet this didn’t happen in your case, did it?

Another thing to remember is that recruitment companies don’t charge potential recruits money to recruit them, they get paid by the company hiring staff. Also there’s no such thing as an “International Crew Certificate” in the cruise line industry, they’ve just made that up to scam you.

We’ve seen many recruitment scams like this one over the years. Sometimes it’s for a job in a fancy hotel somewhere glamorous, others times a ridiculously highly-paid job in the oil industry and quite often it’s for a job on a cruise liner like this one. The clues are always there if you look hard: unrealistically high salaries, amazing conditions and often no tax to be paid. They are simply too good to be true.

Always with these recruitment scams there will soon be a demand for you to pay for something, presumably in your case for this fake certificate, very often it’s for a visa. Please don’t send these scammers any money. You’ll never see it again!

Do I owe them?

Please help me understand this. I opened an account with a furniture store in 2010 while I was a student. After finishing school I could not afford to pay the instalments as I am still unemployed. I owed P3,000 at that time. Last week someone contacted me and said I owe them P7,000 and I was told to start paying P300 every month. He then sent the account number, so I am wondering why don’t I pay at any branch of the store as it used to be? And what do I do if I still can’t afford to pay that amount monthly?

I imagine that the person who called you was a debt collector engaged by the store to chase you for the money you owe them.

If you stop paying your debts to a furniture store (or indeed any company to which you owe money) then they’ll quickly contact you to remind you to pay. They are normally very quick at doing this because that’s how they make money. Your store credit, hire purchase or club card payments are the most important source of income to most furniture stores. As the Managing Director of one of them told me years ago, “We’re not really a furniture store, we’re a moneylender.”

However you have a right to know exactly what you owe them and how they can justify a debt of P7,000 considering that you owed P3,000 when you stopped paying. You can’t avoid repaying them but you are entitled to a full breakdown of the debt and you have a right to check it’s not more than double the capital amount you owed. The “in duplum” rule gives you that protection and we need to check they’re obeying that.

I suggest you get a statement from them and we’ll take it from there and you can then negotiate a repayment plan with them that you can afford.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Why are staff ignorant?

Why do some companies leave their staff so untrained and ill-equipped to do their jobs?

Of course there are organizations that do their best to ensure that their customer-facing staff have all the knowledge and skills necessary to serve customers well, there really are but there are still so many that throw their staff, in particular their junior managers, in at the deep end and just expect them to be able to swim.

For instance why don’t companies teach their staff about consumer rights? Why do they waste time and money on hugely expensive seminars and workshops where their staff are told the usual stuff about showing empathy, smile and making the customer feel important but they totally ignore the law.

It’s very simple really, store staff, in particular managers urgently need to know what rights their customers have so they don’t breach them.

Very recently we heard from a consumer who had bought a TV last August on hire purchase from a furniture store. A few months later it developed a fault and he returned it for a repair. No problems so far, the store were happy to receive it. However the repair took longer and longer and eventually he asked for our intervention. A few phone calls and a couple of days later the TV was back with him. Or was it?

He immediately noticed that the remote control didn’t work with the TV. A little investigation later he discovered that it wasn’t his TV that had been returned, it was another customer’s TV that had also been for repair. He then mentioned something curious to us. When the original TV had been delivered to his house last August it hadn’t been in a box. So we asked the store whether the TV had actually been new?, Yes, of course they said, it had been “new used”.

“New used”? What does that mean, we asked? It was new, they said, but had been on display in the store.

So not new at all then?

Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations is very clear. It says that a supplier “fails to meet minimum standards and specifications” if “representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”.

New means new. It means still in the box, sealed, unopened. It means new, dammit. A display model has been used, it’s not new and there’s simply no such thing as “new used”, that’s just a pair of words being used to deceive customers.

I should stress that there’s nothing wrong with buying former display models. Sitting next to me as I write this is an iMac we bought recently that was a former display model. Understanding the rules the store manager offered it to us for a 15% discount. It wasn’t scratched or marked in any way and we were perfectly happy to have it and even happier to get a discount. A friend bought a car from a major dealer a few years ago and was given an enormous discount because the vehicle had been their demo model, the one they used for customer test drives and that the bosses sometimes borrowed at the weekend. It had only done a couple of thousand kilometers, it was as good as new and he was a very happy guy to get a bargain.

Once we explained to the guy with the TV problem what his rights were, and then explained them in very simple terms to the store (and even to their Regional Manager who was so pleased to learn this that he hung up on us) the problem was quickly resolved. A brand new TV (in a sealed box) was shipped to him and he’s happy again. Eventually.

Surely if the store manager had known that you can’t sell something as new if it isn’t in fact new, this wouldn’t have happened? Surely if the manager knew a bit about consumer rights problems like this wouldn’t happen?

It would also probably be helpful if employers taught their store managers that they’re not allowed to be bad at their jobs. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations says that a store “shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance” if “the service is not rendered with reasonable care and skill”. That doesn’t sound controversial, does it? Put more simply it means that the store and its employees must be at reasonably good at their jobs. A computer store that says it can do repairs must be able to do repairs. The builder who said he could build your house must be capable of building your house.

Perhaps the most common mistake that employees make when they haven’t been sufficiently well-educated by their employers is that they then do their best to defend them by just making stuff up.

Over the years we’ve heard so many times of situations where staff just make things up because they really don’t know any better. One of the Consumer Watchdog team was told many years ago that as an non-working expatriate woman bringing up children it would be illegal to give her a bank account. Another bank once told a customer that post-dated cheques were illegal. Furniture store staff will insist that it is mandatory to take their store insurance when you buy a product from them, even if you already have your own insurance policy that will cover the item you want to buy.

All of this is nonsense that a member of staff made up on the spot when confronted with their own ignorance.

Can’t stores do better by giving their staff the knowledge they deserve? Or do they want their staff as ignorant as their customers?

The Voice - Consumers Voice

A lottery warning

Good day. I have been playing a lotto for some time now. I have always wondered who can help me how to find if this is a legal lotto or one of the scams. Please may you check and advice if this is scam. Their website is Please send your findings and also advice others people if this is a scam lotto as they will also fall for it. I have been paying US$14.99 for more than 5 years now.

Here’s a simple question. You’ve been paying about P150 every month for five years for a lottery that has “free” in its name? That doesn’t sounds free to me. You’ve paid a total of around P9,000 over the past few years and I guess you’ve not won a single thebe in return?

The site you mention makes some extraordinary claims, including that they have “already awarded $103,141,469.00 in cash and prizes to lucky FreeLotto® lottery-style game players”. That’s a truly extraordinary amount of money but I can find no real evidence that their claim is actually true. And did you spot something else in that claim? “lottery-style game”. This isn’t a lottery at all, it’s a form of online gaming.

If you do a quick Google search you’ll find that there are many complaints and criticisms of this site, suggesting that you have to pay to win prizes. As your experience shows, they’re not free in any way.

I suggest that you do your best to cancel your monthly payments although I’ve seen comments online that suggest getting them to stop taking the money can he difficult. Good luck!

Can they search me?

Is it rite for security guards to search our bags when we leave a shop?? I was told either I leave my handbag at the door or I’ll be searched when I get out.

You’re not the first person to ask us this questions and I know you won’t be the last. So many people contact us asking this, usually because they’ve felt violated and insulted by a guard who has insisted on searching either them or their belongings when they go shopping.

So let’s make this perfectly simple. Security guards have no right to search you. They can only do so if you agree to being searched, otherwise they can’t touch you. The only exception to this is if they have a good reason to think you’ve committed a serious crime like theft but even then all they can do is detain you and then call the Police. Only a Police office can insist on searching you or your belongings. Security guards are just civilians like you and me. Think of it this way. If I come to your house or office and when I leave you think I’ve stolen your laptop all you can do is to detain me until the cops arrive.

A couple of years ago a woman was stopped by a security guard at a major supermarket in Gaborone. The guard insisted on searching her handbag even though he had no evidence to think she was a thief. This brave woman got extremely angry and took the security company to court and was later awarded P60,000 in compensation. The judge explained that she deserved this ”considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society”. What made that case worse was that the Managing Director of the security company told the court that he thought his guards had the same rights as police officers. Not so, the judge told him.

Those of us who are honest members of society have a right to exercise our freedom unimpeded by security guards who have been told they have special rights and powers. While we all understand how much stores lose to shoplifters they have to learn that the vast majority of us, the ones who are decent and honest shouldn’t be treated like criminals.