Saturday 19 December 2015

Some healthy skepticism

Don’t believe everything you read. Or hear. Or see. Above all you certainly should be VERY careful about anything you see on the internet.

It’s not that everything you hear is lies, that’s certainly not true, but the truth is that there’s an endless supply of lies and deception out there and most of it is trying to get you to part with your money.

A reader sent us an email he received that said:
“Hello Everybody, My name is Mrs Sharon Sim. I live in Singapore and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of S$250,000.00 to start my life all over as i am a single mother with 3 kids I met this honest and GOD fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of S$250,000.00 SG dollar, he is a GOD fearing man, if you are in need of loan and you will pay back the loan please contact him tell him that is Mrs Sharon, that refer you to him. contact Dr Purva Pius,via email: Thank you.”
Obviously this is a scam, you know that I hope? Real lenders don’t lend a quarter of a million Singaporean dollars (almost P2 million) to total strangers. They simply don’t. Real lenders don’t operate from Gmail addresses. Real lenders are companies, not just some guy calling himself “Dr”. Real lenders use their customer’s names and don’t just say “Hello Everybody”.

Another reader sent us this one:
“I am a dynamic financial assistance. I loan funds out to individuals in need of financial assistance, that have a bad credit or in need of money to pay bills or to invest on business. I want to use this medium to inform you that we render reliable and beneficiary assistance as be glad to offer you a loan. Presently i own 45% of the shares in CGP (Capital Group PLC, London) a government approved Financial. Institute. I am currently setting up a scheme in form of Loan acquisition. to help various individuals as well as organizations who have intentions of. renovating, debt consolidation, re-financing and also establishment of. business outfits. I am an international business man and Lender that has offered Loans to so various individual and firms in Europe, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. We give out our Loan in USD($) and GBP (£). The maximum loan term we can offer is 30 Years at fixed interest rate of 3% per year.”
Again, real lenders don’t use Gmail addresses. Real lenders know how to write a sentence in English if they’re selling to English speakers. Real lenders know how to use a full stop.

Above all, and unfortunately, real lenders charge a LOT more than 3% on loans.

Let’s face one undeniable fact. Neither of these so-called lenders are lenders at all. They’re both scammers. At no point in the transactions they offer will any money flow from them to you. The only money will go from you to them. At some point just before the fake loan they’re offering is supposed to reach your account there’ll be a last-minute hitch. It might be a legal fee, a duty or tax or perhaps an account opening fee, but regardless of what they call it, it’ll be between P3,000 and P10,000 that they demand from you before the money arrives. Which of course it won’t. The entire business is about that money from you to them. It’s what they call an “advance fee”. That’s why they’re called “advance fee scams”.

The same goes for any emails like this one that I received recently:
“Greetings to you dear, my name is Rina i came across your contact today, i am interested to be in contact with you. please reply me”.
This is just another example of the same sort of scam but this time it’s not a loan that’s meant to tempt you, it’s romance. Or perhaps just something more physical.

Not all stories you see relate to scams. Some are just rumours. Last week someone shared a story in our Facebook group that suggested someone had found a condom inside a Woolworths sandwich. The comment from the original poster said “My colleague just bit into a condom in his Woolworths chicken and mayo sandwich” and the picture they posted does seem to show a Woolworths sandwich with a condom on top of it, as if someone had indeed found it there.

But here’s the thing. There is no evidence that this condom was ever actually inside that sandwich. The person who originally posted the message on Twitter apparently only created their Twitter account a few weeks ago and has subsequently deleted the account entirely. There is, as art experts and archaeologists say, no “provenance” to this story. There is no evidence that the story is true.

I know I’ve written this repeatedly before but what we all need is a much greater level of skepticism. Being a skeptic is a bit like being a healthy eater. If you want to lose weight or become healthier, you need to eat less, eat better and exercise your body. To be a skeptic you need to believe fewer things, believe only those things that are backed with evidence and to exercise your brain more.

I promise you that doing both of those things will make you a happier and more energetic consumer. It’ll also make you a lot healthier, both below the neck as well as above it.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where’s my deposit?

This letter serves as a formal complaint against my former landlord for refusal to refund my security deposit in full as per agreement of the lease agreement. After serving notice of thirty days in advance he stated he would deduct a total of P1200 from the security deposit of P2,500 leaving the balance at P1,300. His reasons being that the house needs to be re painted which was never stated in the lease agreement.

The house was cleaned and left in its original state. Therefore I am hoping you may kindly assist in solving this dispute.

This is such a common thing. We probably hear from someone having exactly the same problem every week and their question is almost always the same. Can the landlord keep some or all of the deposit the tenant gave them when they moved in? The answer is almost always the same.

It depends what it said in the lease. There’s a simple rule in law when it comes to written agreements such as leases. If an agreement is put in writing then that’s the entire agreement. Nothing else has been agreed. Nothing else that was said, discussed or even informally agreed over a handshake has any value or importance. To put it another way, your landlord can’t just make stuff up. He has no right to keep your money unless a court has ordered that he can do so.

I suggest that first of all you double check the lease agreement you signed. Make sure that it does NOT say that you had to repaint the house before you left. You should do this because most leases DO include a clause like this. It IS normal practice for the tenant to return the property in roughly the same condition as when they moved in and in many cases it will specifically mention that you need to repaint it.

Once you’ve checked I suggest you write your landlord a letter reminding him that the lease didn’t mention this and that as the property was returned in its original state he has 14 days to refund you completely. Tell him that if he doesn’t you’ll take legal action against him to recover the money. If he fails to refund you then take a trip to the Small Claims Court with all the paperwork and seek an order against him from them. Let me know how it goes!

Is the charger covered?

I’m asking for a poor old woman. She bought a brand new laptop for her son and within 8 days the charger stopped working. The shop say they can’t do anything about it and it’s her loss. Is this fair? What can be done to help her?

It certainly does NOT sound fair to me and I suspect everyone else will feel the same. Like the first case this week I think it depends what was agreed in writing.

EVERY component of a device like a laptop (or a cellphone, refrigerator, car or TV) is covered by the warranty unless the store has made it clear that a part, such as the power supply, is not covered. The Consumer Protection Regulations say this very clearly. Section 17 (1) (e) says that “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed” constitutes an act of “unfair business practice”. In other words if the power supply was excluded from the warranty then the customer needed to be told that very clearly when she bought the laptop. There should have been no doubt in her mind about that.

Section 17 (1) (f) of the Regulations goes further and says that the store can’t suggest that the customer has waived her rights to the complete warranty “unless the waiver is clearly stated and the consumer has specifically consented to it”. She needs to have signed something confirming that she understood that the power supply was excluded.

I suggest that someone explains this to the store and sees if they can’t be a bit more helpful. If you send me the name of the store we can also get in touch and do a bit of free “store education” for them!

Saturday 12 December 2015

Be perfect

Ok, that might be asking a bit much.

As I’m repeatedly told, nobody’s perfect, least of all me. We all have our flaws, our weaknesses and our failures but that doesn’t mean we should strive to be better. My view is that while we can’t be perfect, that doesn’t mean we can’t be perfectionists.

I spend a lot of my time writing things, newspaper articles, emails and reports for clients and it always upsets me when I look at something I wrote some while ago and discover a spelling mistake, incorrect punctuation or just some messy language. I know there are more important things to worry about but it still distresses me.

Maybe we should embrace our failings and our mistakes? Maybe we should embrace the unexpected? In fact some of the greatest examples of progress have come from mistakes and mishaps.

The most famous was penicillin, the first of the major antibiotics. Its discoverer, Alexander Fleming left his laboratory for a holiday and on his return found that some of his petri dishes containing bacteria had been contaminated by a mould, the story goes because they’d been left near an accidentally open window. What Fleming noticed was that the mould had killed off some of the bacteria. Being the curious sort he wanted to know why. Years later he got a Nobel Prize for his discovery and, perhaps above all, his scientific curiosity.

According to a list prepared by Popular Mechanics, it wasn’t just penicillin that was an accidental discovery. The list includes Velcro, microwave ovens, vulcanized rubber, Coca-Cola, and Viagra. Even radioactivity and the Big Bang theory of cosmology were discovered accidentally.

I’m not suggesting that humanity should sit patiently awaiting pleasingly beneficial accidents, what they call serendipity, but I do think we should recognise that many things happen at random and it’s the job of people interested in change and improvement to recognise and welcome these events when they occur.

Many years ago I worked for an American software company and at a customer conference one year, after all the drinking and over-eating had been completed, two of our customers ended up at a bar. One guy’s company made pipes for the oil industry, another’s made bread. They thought they had nothing in common other than both using our software to help run their businesses. Until they started chatting. That’s when they suddenly realised they were actually in the same industry, they were both bakers. Admittedly the things they baked were hugely different but the essential elements of their processes were the same. Raw ingredients were prepared, placed in moulds and cooked until done.

Apparently following that chance meeting in that bar the companies, having nothing to lose because they were in no way competitors, started exchanging ideas, experiences, even staff and both prospered, all because of that accidental meeting.

Here’s a free tip for businesses. These chance encounters can happen to you as well. You don’t need to attend a conference in some far-flung, exotic location with a huge entertainment allowance to have one. Al you need to do is tear your eyes away from the spreadsheet in front of you, get your backside off the chair and go out there where the customers are. And then talk to them. Ask them what they think of your store, the products and services you sell and this month’s special offers. Ask them what they’d like to see you doing in future. Ask them openly. What would make you come to my store more often? What are my competitors doing that you prefer? What can I do to make your shopping experience better and more rewarding? What can I do to make you spend more money in my store?

Ok, most customers will come up with the same old story. Lower your prices, they’ll say, but you expected that. With luck what might happen is that chance encounter with a customer who has a genuinely good idea, something that might stimulate your imagination, something that might transform your business. I promise you that this can happen. It’s happened to me several times.

But here’s the real lesson, perhaps the one biggest lesson I’ve learned in business.

Strive for perfection but never be afraid to make mistakes.

The best proponent of this approach was Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, perhaps the world’s most successful technology company. Shortly after being reappointed to run Apple he said:
“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re gonna try to sell it. I’ve made this mistake probably more then anyone else in this room and I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it and I know that it’s the case.”

Later he came out with one of my favourite management quotes.
"Some mistakes will be made along the way. That's good 'cos at least some decisions are being made along the way. And we'll find the mistakes. We'll fix them.”
Despite what you might think, Apple, while Jobs was in command, made a series of major mistakes but their approach was the right one. Listen to customers, be imaginative, make bold decisions, look at the results, listen to your customers some more, learn from them and then move on.

I’m not promising you the same level of success as Apple but I will promise you this. Your customers will respect you for talking to them and for taking some risks. They’ll respect you for being different. And for being better.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where are my company documents?

I have a problem, around end of September I needed services of a company secretary so I spoke to this other young lady who once told me that she is into that business. I appointed her as my company secretary and also asked her to remove one of the directors in which she is suppose to create share certificate cancellation document.

I was charged P280 for those services which I paid, now my problem is she was suppose to return my company documents within a week but even now she hasn't return the documents and now I can't register for PPADB because of her.

Every time she would arrange an appointment so that she can bring the documents but she will never show up and she would either switch off her phone or ignore our calls. Can you help me get my documents back?

As I send this message she was suppose to drop the documents by my offices she didn't show up and she is not taking my calls. I'm also planning to involve the police because she acts like she didn't do what she was suppose to do.

Clearly she is the wrong person to be acting as anyone’s company secretary. My understanding of what you asked her to do is that it’s actually quite simple to do, it shouldn’t be too difficult, you could have done it yourself. However P280 is probably a very fair price to pay for someone else to drive to the relevant office and stand in line instead of you.

The big problem is that she still has your company documents and you need to get them back from her urgently. I suggest that you write her a letter demanding the documents back within three days. Tell her that you will also expect a refund of the money you paid her within that time as well. Explain in the letter that if she fails to do either of those things you’ll take legal action against her to recover both the documents and the money. You should also make it clear in the letter that she doesn’t have you permission to act as your company secretary and has no authority to act on your behalf.

Make it clear in the letter that you have copied it both to us and to the Companies and Intellectual Property Authority. They’re the people who took over the job of the Registrar of Companies and I doubt they’ll be impressed by someone acting the way your fake “company secretary” has done.

I lent money to friends!

Good morning Mr Harriman and your team. Please I need your help but I don't know if it is relevant to what you do. Two of my friends owe me some cash and every time they have to pay me it's story after story and I don't know what to do. The other one it's P2,700 since last year may and the other is P5,300 this year. I really thought I was helping them.

I would really appreciate your help on this one because I need the money.

You know Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”? Those were wise words. I know you know this now but while it’s fine to lend friends very small amounts of money, the moment you start lending larger amounts you’re asking for trouble. We’ve probably all done it and many of us have learnt the lesson the hard way. Never lend money to friends that you really, truly want to get back. You should always assume that every loan you make to a friend, whether its small or large, will never be repaid. Always prepare to be disappointed. Always be prepared to lose the friendship of the person who borrowed the money.

In your case I think your chances of getting the money back depend entirely on whether you put these loan agreements in writing. If you did then you should be able to go to the Small Claims Court and get an order against them both. If not, then I’m afraid all you can do is apply moral pressure. In other words you’re going to need to beg to get the money back.

The lesson is that whoever you lend money to, get the agreement in writing. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy and expensive legal contract, it just needs to be a note confirming that on a particular date you lent mtheme this sum, to be repaid before another date, signed by both parties and preferably with the signatures of witnesses as well. And be prepared to be disappointed. And minus a friend.

(The fuller quote is:

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.")

Saturday 5 December 2015

The Facebook blessing

Facebook really is a mixed blessing.

I should start by saying that I really like Facebook and I think it offers us the opportunity to change they way we communicate and, more importantly, to improve it. Yes, to improve it.

However, like all developments there is a downside. If you’ve never seen it, watch Inherit The Wind, a film from 1960 loosely based on the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925 when a biology teacher in Tennessee was prosecuted for teaching his students about human evolution. In the film, the defending attorney says, when talking about progress:
“You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline."

I certainly saw the downside of Facebook recently when a number of people posted graphic pictures of the appalling tragedy of the school kids from Matsha College. We’ve all seen the pictures of the truck that carried the students but these pictures went much, much further. They were the sort of thing no right-minded parent would want to see, certainly not the bereaved parents.

Luckily many of these pictures were rapidly removed when the people who posted them realised they had gone too far.

Facebook has also emerged as the primary channel for scams these days. That’s not a reason for abandoning or restricting Facebook any more than we should discard books, the telephone and television. They can also be misused but we’ve learned how to use them properly and safely.

Some months ago I received a message from Facebook. She said:
“I have been communicating with someone named Luca Anders and he became my Facebook boyfriend. He said he is working in the UK and his contract is ending this month end. He took all his benefits from the company and he wants to come and settle with me in Botswana. He called me that he is coming with a flight which landed at Cape Town at 0930 this morning. Those that claim that they are at the airport called me asking if he is coming to me and I confirmed. Now they say he is carrying a lot of cash.

They say he should pay R10,000 for money laundering and now he says I should deposit the money and he’ll pay me back when he comes because they are now going to send him back and without that cash. Please check for me if its the truth. He says I should not tell many people coz he is carrying lots of money and he is fearing for his life. I’m in a fix. To deposit or not to or is this a scam?”
Yes, it was a scam but it was a very smart one. The story about the guy arriving at Cape Town that very morning was very clever. It added a real sense of urgency to the pressure she was under. The thought that her lover was in custody and might be kicked out of South Africa made her desperate.

Of course all the scammers pretending to be “Luca” wanted is the R10,000 and if she’d paid them they just would have asked for more and more money until either she finally realized it was a scam or she ran out of money.

Just a few days later I got another message.
“Help me out. There is this guy we had been talking since April. He stays in the UK. Recently he wanted to send me some goods which includes 2 phones, iPhone 6 and S4, a Canon camera, a laptop, clothes shoes and handbags, make ups, perfume, jewellery and cash. The goods were sent last Saturday and they were to arrive in South Africa on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning I received a call from a guy by the name of Peter Lucas from the Cape town airport saying the package has arrived in Cape Town Airport. So I need to pay $300 for tax clearance for the goods to be delivered. They are saying its a direct delivery. What scares me mostly is the money that he says he has put inside the package $5000.”
Of course there was no guy, no shipment, no laptop and iPhone, no jewelry and make-up and certainly no cash. The only genuine thing about this story was the money they wanted her to pay to get the mythical shipment of goodies.

With this particular victim there was bad news as well as some good. I asked her if she’d already sent them any money. She said:
“Yes I did sent them the $300 they needed but when I was expecting the package the same day I deposited the money. The guy said the package was scanned and cash was found inside so it had been charged with money laundering so he suggested to talk to one officer he knows who might help. He later called and said the officer needs a bribe of $300 again so he can pass goods. Thats when I began to be suspicious.”
Luckily she only lost around P3,000 and she quickly became suspicious and sought our advice. P3,000 is a lot of money but it’s not going to ruin her life. Others haven’t been so fortunate and have paid scammers money huge amounts before realizing the truth.

The lesson is simple. Be careful with Facebook. Embrace all the benefits is has to offer you and your loved-ones but remember that not everything you see there is either right or good.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is it wrong of me to have stopped paying?

I bought a Hisense cellphone from a furniture store and I was to pay on installments now the problem is I used the cellphone and it started to give me an earpiece problem. I reported it to them and they checked the cellphone but I was told to go back home with it so I continued struggling with the problem. After 4 months the cellphone started to black out and couldn't even charge and I went to them again and they took it promising me to replace it until now. My problem is I haven't finished paying my installments and they haven't replaced it and I have also stopped paying them. Is it wrong of me to have stopped paying? And I’m so annoyed of them calling me and asking about the money and not say anything about the said cellphone?

First the bad news. Yes, you WERE wrong to stop paying the installments. I really can understand your frustration at having to pay for something you don’t have any longer but the problem with hire purchase is that until you’ve made the final payment you don’t own the item you thought you’d bought. It’s only after you’ve paid that last installment that you own the phone. Until that point the store still owns it.

However the phone presumably came with a warranty, probably for a year, and I hope you’re still within that period? If so the store is obliged to fix the phone, so long as you catch up with the installments.

I suggest that you get in touch with the store and tell them that you will be catching up with the payments and that you expect them to honour the warranty that came with the phone. If they’re awkward you should remind them that they can’t ignore the warranty without your consent and that all items sold are required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations to be “of merchantable quality”.

However, here’s some more bad news. Possibly. You don’t say when you bought the phone. If the warranty has now expired then you are in a very difficult place. You still must catch up with the installments and you’ll need to pay for fixing the phone yourself. That would be very unfortunate.

We’ll get in touch with the store to see if they can get things moving.

The lesson? Whenever possible buy things for cash. Hire purchase leads to problems like this.

When will they compensate me?

On the 19th October I went to an agricultural store to buy seedlings but I was unfortunately injured in the store as their employee was moving their stock past us, his cart squashed me against the payment counter leaving me with a back injury. The shop assistant enlightened the manager on the incident but she was hesitant and asked me to leave my details.

About 10 minutes after leaving the store I got a call from the store owner who asked that I go see their company doctor for examination. Their doctor had closed at the time and I ended up going to see a different doctor. I was charged P321.80. I called the owner to inform him of the payment and asked for my refund, he said he will send me insurance claim forms on Monday 21st October as their insurance is liable for such. It's been more than a month and each time I call or text him he keeps on saying his insurance will contact me.

Kindly assist me on how to claim my money back, is there a procedure to follow on such? I have suffered at their hands but they keep on passing the blame to their insurance company which they cannot even provide information on except saying they will call me.

I think you’ve been patient enough. The least you can expect when you are injured by someone else’s actions (or inaction) is a rapid response. I understand that submitting an insurance claim can take a little while but I they should also understand the urgency of this issue. If they have any care for their public image I’d also think they’d want to resolve this issue as quickly as possible to avoid any negative publicity.

I suggest that we address in two different ways. Firstly you write to them saying that they have fourteen days to resolve the issue and refund you for the doctor’s fees or you’ll take them to the Small Claims Court. Secondly we’ll contact them asking how they allowed a customer to be injured while in their store and what plans they have to prevent this happening again.

That should shock them into settling this!