Saturday 31 October 2015

Inform yourself

Every day it becomes more important for consumer to inform themselves about how things work. Not understanding can lead to unhappiness, embarrassment and poverty.

Let’s start with modern technology. In the last month I’ve been forced to remove twelve posts from our Facebook group because they appeared to be advertising pornography. In fact they weren’t linking to porn at all, they just linked to advertising sites that (I assume) were trying to boost their popularity and therefore earnings by getting as many clicks as possible.

The thing that interests me is how these links came to be posted. Almost every time I contact the member of the group who posted them their answer is roughly the same. One said:
“My fb acc was hacked yesterday morning by sum1 in Lagos, this person has been posting malicious and xplicit content on diff groups. Pliz ignore those msgs. I sincerely apologise for th disturbing msgs. I am now in control of my acc n hv since changed security n access details to improve th security. Thanx for notifying me.”
But that simply isn’t true. Nobody in Lagos has “hacked” his Facebook account. The truth is much simpler, and potentially more embarrassing.

When people see these links offering pornography some are tempted and click on the link and are then faced with a request to allow the malicious web site or Facebook app to post on Facebook on your behalf. Tempted by the prospect of seeing something titillating they say Yes. The app then starts doing exactly what it has now been permitted to do, posting the very same message that first tempted that Facebook user to click on it, but this time using his or her name. In fact that’s how it happened the first time. This is nothing more than an app spreading itself virally, just like someone with the flu. Every time they cough or sneeze some people are infected and then start coughing and spreading it further themselves. In exactly the same way, every time a Facebook user clicks on a suspicious link and then gives permission for the app to post on his behalf, the virus is spread further.

The lesson is a simple one. There are people out there who will do their best to abuse your Facebook presence to make themselves some money. Ask yourself this. Why would you believe a total stranger who offers you online pornography and then explicitly asks you to trust them and hand over your Facebook identity?

If you’re worried you should sign on to Facebook right now, click on Settings and then on Apps and see who you’ve previously permitted to post on your behalf.

It’s not just technology that people don’t understand. Insurance is perhaps the biggest areas of ignorance. One of the commonest questions we get asked runs like this:
“Please help. If I surrender my Mmoloki funeral policy from Botswana Life will they refund me all the money I paid?”
Unfortunately, so many people fail to understand what you’re buying when you sign an insurance policy. You’re paying someone else, in this case an insurance company, to take a risk on your behalf. If something bad happens during the period of the policy that it covers, such as a car crash, a break-in or a death, the insurance company will pay for things instead of you having to do so. However, the critical thing is that it’s not the payout you’re buying, it’s the cover that might (and only might) lead to the payout. No payout is guaranteed. If the bad thing doesn’t happen then there’s no payout. But if it does happen you don’t need to worry about the money.

Insurance companies make money by knowing the chances of bad things happening and then calculating how much they should charge people so that they take in slightly more money in premiums than they are likely to pay out. Those of us who have made claims are benefiting from those who were lucky enough not to have a problem.

Several times in the last few months we’ve been asked the same question about insurance. If several people have included the same person in their funeral plan policies can they all claim when that person dies? Several people have apparently been told that in these circumstances only one person can submit a claim and get the money. That’s simply incorrect. One of the big insurance companies told us, in very simple terms, “This is definitely incorrect. We pay benefits based on whether or not all premiums are up to date and not based on how many people had covered the deceased.”

So everyone who has a fully paid-up policy can submit a claim.

And finally there’s an issue of pricing. Is it legal for companies to sell things in Rands? Part of the confusion is that certain stores display price stickers showing prices in Rands as well as stickers in Pula. We all understand that this is because they import goods from their mother companies in South Africa but my question is why they don’t take the time to remove the Rand sticker when they put a Pula sticker on?

The rules are actually very simple. You and I can buy and sell things in any currency that we choose to. I can sell you my car in Pula, US dollars or Russian Rubles so long as we both agree to it.

Perhaps what’s more important is that certain stores obey the law but show us contempt. The issue isn’t the currency of sale, it’s the price that matters. If Woolworths are selling an item for R18.95 in SA why do they sell it in Botswana for P18.95? At current exchange rates it shouldn’t cost more that P15 at the most. Yes, maybe that’s a very small difference but if that’s the case with every item they’re selling they’re making a lot of extra money from us.

So why can’t they explain to us how that works?

No comments: