Saturday 30 April 2016


We get lots of questions every week. Some of them are simple to answer, others are more complicated. Some are deeply satisfying, others are almost unbearably depressing. Some just make us mad. Really, really mad at the abuse and mistreatment that some consumers are forced to endure.

A reader asked:
“What's is Forex Trading, and what experience does someone require to do.”
Forex is an abbreviation for “Foreign Exchange”, the process of exchanging one currency for another. Anyone who’s travelled will know the process. However, you’ll often see Forex being advertised as a way of making money. The idea they sell is very simple. Sign up on an online trading platform, send them money and you can start trading between various currencies, trying to buy some cheap and sell them if they improve in value.

It sounds simple but the truth is very different.

In fact Forex trading has the potential to ruin your finances. Another reader contacted us recently asking about one particular web site that offers to multiply (“leverage” is the technical term) your investment by up to 200 times, effectively giving you millions of Pula to trade with. What they neglect to tell their customers is that it works both ways. Yes, if you can correctly predict the fluctuations in the exchange rates between currencies you might make some money but they conveniently forget to tell you that it also means you can lose your entire “investment” in moments if the exchange rates go the other way. Within minutes of searching online I found stories of people who had lost over half a million Pula in moments trading Forex.

Another reader also asked us about a web site calling itself “23Traders”. He said that “they phone me everyday to invest on them, there is a guy who normally phones me telling me to deposit up to 10 000 US dollars so that I can make good profit”. Anyone who is that keen has an agenda they’re not telling you about. It’s curious that this company, who claim to be registered in Anguilla (an island in the Caribbean with a population half that of Ramotswa) and who claim to have a subsidiary in London were calling this reader from a number in Manchester.

The simple truth about Forex trading is that it’s a business full of suspicious characters. It’s a business that should be left entirely to the experts and that means experts such as banks and professional investment companies, not mere mortals like you and me.

My advice is only to trade Forex if you can afford to lose every thebe you invest instantly. If you care for your money, then think again.

Another reader asked the following question on our Facebook group.
“I have received a letter from RSA. The post stamps are from RSA and the envelope is addressed to my former address... with a pen. No letter head, but tempting contents. NO LETTER HEAD. Apparently a Mr X died in a plane crash in 1959 and FNB RSA CEO is looking for me to give me millions as I am an identified beneficiary. I hv to treat it urgently and confidently. Now i hv to send all my current particulars. Is it real?”
I’m sure most of you will instantly recognize this as a scam. The novelty is that this time it was an old-fashioned letter, not an email or a message on Facebook. I suspect that this particular scammer thinks it adds extra authenticity to the story he’s telling.

Of course what’ll happen is that in order to get these “millions” (which we all know don’t really exist) the victim will first be asked to send money to the scammers. They’ll claim it’s a legal fee, an account opening fee or sometimes even a bribe. Whatever it is, that’s what the scam is really all about. As with all scams, it’s about you giving them money, not them giving it to you.

Another question we got was about one of our old “favourites”, furniture stores. The reader said:
“I want to bring to ur attention the question of reasonability of furnished shops. Imagine buying a stove, fridge etc refurbished as new?!! This is happening herein Bots. Any refurbished item should be labeled as so and the price should reflect so as well. But I hardly see any item displayed and labeled accordingly. I can honestly say they do repair and refurbish so how come we never see the differences. What are u guys doing about this so we can pay for what is consciously?  Secondly some items on display like fridges tvs etc are they suppose to get the same price as a packaged product? If not how much discount?”
It’s an excellent question. It’s also one of the maddening ones.

The rules are actually very simple. Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that a company “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”.

It can’t be simpler. If something has been refurbished (and there’s nothing wrong with that) then the store must make that clear to any prospective customer. The same goes for items that were returned by another customer, that were repossessed or that have been on display. They’re not new so they can’t be sold as if they were. It’s forbidden.

What a sensible store would do is offer second-hand, refurbished or returned items to new buyers at a discounted price. We all love a discount, don’t we?

And what are we doing about it? We’ll explain this in simple enough terms that even the simplest of store manager can understand it. Like I just did.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get delisted?

I want to complain about being listed at a credit agency by my bank without being notified of the arrears that I had with them. I went to the bank and indeed they listed me. But after approaching them, they told me that the arrears were cleared and the credit agency delayed to clear my name. I insisted them to write me a letter stating the date that the arrears were cleared but they are refusing. But I need this letter at another banks for them to process my loan. Without that letter I’m gonna have to wait for 6 months. What should I do for these guys to write me that cover letter?

I can’t speak for your bank, the one that listed you, but I suspect they’ll say that it was as much your responsibility as it was theirs to know that you had arrears with them. They were also within their rights to list the arrears with the credit reference agency. Despite what many people think credit reference agencies are good for everyone. They enable lenders to make rational decisions about who they lend money to. Lending to the right people makes borrowing cheaper for reliable borrowers.

However, when you clear a debt they are meant to update their records to reflect that. Obviously the fact that the arrears existed will remain on record (it’s true) but the full story needs to be there.

We’ve contacted your bank and asked them to investigate and maybe they can act a little faster. It’s the least they can do.

Correction: In the published article I said that the credit reference agency should "act a little faster". In fact they act solely on the instructions of their clients, in this case the bank. It's the job of the bank to work faster, not the credit reference agency.

Will they replace my phone?

My phone wouldn't on so I dropped off my iPhone6 at a phone repair shop in January 2016.

We kept calling the repair shop to check how far they were with the phone. They told us that the battery had died and needed a new one. They said they were expecting a shipment to arrive. He said batteries would be among the expected stock and that he would fix the phone.

My hubby kept following up and eventually they told him to come and collect the phone as they could not repair it. They said they didn't get the battery they were hoping for. I went there in March and the guy made a quick phone call and immediately told me that the phone was at his other repair shop and asked me to go with him to this new repair shop. Then they told me that my phone had been stolen along with other customers' phones.

They told my hubby the same story. Interestingly, they told him that he didn't report the theft to the police but he promised that he would replace it. Then they told my hubby that he needed until end of Easter to buy a replacement. Easter came and went and both me and my husband called him and his phone went unanswered. I then sent him messages through Whatsapp and SMS but he chooses to ignore them. Whatsapp also indicated that he has received and read my messages.

Please help. I have lost valuable information and quite an expensive phone. He is neither taking my calls nor my husbands. I really need your intervention. Should I report the matter to the police?

I don’t think this is a Police matter. As far as I can see nobody has committed a crime. Being useless isn’t a crime. Of course the repair store should have called the Police when they had the break-in and the reason is simple. If you don’t report a crime to the Police, how can you expect them to investigate it?

What this also means is that the store clearly didn’t have insurance. If they had insurance against theft then the insurance company would demand a police report. So they didn’t have insurance. So they’re even more useless.

I contacted the manager of the store and asked what he was planning to do to fix this problem and this is what he said.
“The plan is to get her a replacement, the only delay is the funds which ae not yet enough as of now but by month end April she will have her phone. As earlier we are taking full responsibility. Apart from her 3 other clients are getting replacements.”
So some good news. I hope. We’ll follow up with him to make sure he keeps his promise.

Monday 25 April 2016

Another phishing email arrives

In comes an email, advising me to update my email account. Needless to say this doesn't relate at all to my email accounts anywhere but they're hoping it will for some of the millions of people receiving it.

If you click on the UPDATE link (which you shouldn't) you visit the following web page. However the see you're visiting is actually, clearly nothing to do with Microsoft or Outlook. Someone's web page has clearly been hijacked.

If you're mad enough to enter genuine details (I'm not and didn't) this is all you get.

Meanwhile your email details are now in the hands of a crook somewhere far, far away.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Be reasonable

Consumers need to be reasonable.

My dictionary defines “reasonable” as meaning “having sound judgment” and being “fair and sensible”. Unfortunately, not all consumers always behave that way.

Yes, before I complain about unreasonable consumers, of course I know that some stores, some suppliers, some service providers are unreasonable too but today I’m interested in bad customers.

A few years ago we were approached by a friend who ran a restaurant. He asked for advice about an awkward situation he’d had.

A customer arrived at his restaurant with a friend one weekend morning and they ordered coffee and cake. Shortly afterwards she called the owner over and told him that she didn’t like the taste of the cake. Ignoring the fact that she had eaten almost all of it before deciding it wasn’t to her taste he apologized profusely and told her she didn’t have to pay for it. In fact, she didn’t have to pay for her coffee either. She seemed happy and went away.

The following weekend she was back and guess what, exactly the same thing happened again. Having consumed almost all of a different cake she made exactly the same complaint. Although he was beginning to get a little angry he did the same thing again, apologized and reduced her bill to say sorry. She went away happy again.

The next weekend the same thing happened yet again but this time he was more assertive. His patience had worn thin and he politely told her that as his cakes clearly weren’t to her taste maybe she should think of eating elsewhere in future. For the third and final time he cancelled her bill and wished her farewell.

She came back the following weekend. This time he refused to serve her. He reminded her of the previous occasions when she had complained and he’d suggested she should select a different restaurant in future. She was stunned. Only when he made it clear to her that she wasn’t going to be served at his restaurant again did she understand. She’d been banned. Eventually she left, muttering and promising to wreak vengeance upon the restaurant and its owner for the rudeness she’d experienced.

She was a very good example of an utterly unreasonable customer. The restaurant owner was the reasonable one in this situation. She was costing him money and taking up a table that could have been used by a customer who was more reasonable.

We heard more recently from a consumer who was threatening to take legal action against his bank. Some months before he had taken out funeral and life policies with an insurance company and had completed forms with the bank to pay the premiums every month.

But something went wrong. For some unknown reason the bank failed to set up the monthly payment and the insurance company didn’t get their money so after a few months they cancelled the policy. That’s when the customer got angry.

Clearly the bank screwed up when they failed to make the payments they were meant to make. Also the insurance company were at fault. They seem not to have contacted the customer to remind him to make the necessary payments. However, both organisations have since apologized to the customer.

But that’s not enough for this customer. He wants to take action against them in the courts for P150,000 in damages.

But what loss has he suffered? Yes, the bank and the insurance company irritated him and I think I would be irritated in his position but I still don’t understand why he wants money from them. During the period he thought that he and his family were covered by the policies nobody died and no claims were made. What’s more, he didn’t even spend the money. The premiums he would have spent, he didn’t spend.

So you have to ask, what loss has he suffered? You could even argue that, admittedly through good fortune because he never made a claim, he saved money. And why hadn’t he noticed that the money wasn’t being deducted from his account every month?

I don’t think this guy is being reasonable. All he’s doing is spending quite a lot of money on attorney’s fees. Fees he won’t see again after the court rejects his case as having no value. Which they will.

We’re also frequently asked by readers why they can’t get their money back when something they bought doesn’t work. Whether it’s a computer, a cellphone or a fridge, when it stops working they take it back to the store for a refund and then get cross when the store says it’ll try to repair it first. Aren’t they entitled to a refund, they ask us?

No, they’re not. Not yet. The general rule is that when something you buy doesn’t work you are entitled to one of the three Rs: a refund, repair or replacement but critically it’s up to the store to decide which of these they offer you. They’re entitled to try and repair the device first. It’s only after the repair doesn’t work they you’re entitled before they offer you one of the other two Rs. That’s the reasonable thing to expect.

Here’s another reason why being reasonable is useful.

If you behave reasonably, the people you deal with are more likely to be reasonable too. If you go into a store and greet the serving staff with a smile, they’re more likely to smile at you. If you treat them with respect, they’re likely to do likewise. Yes, we all know that they’re paid to do it and you’re the customer but isn’t life better when everyone is nice to each other? This had even more effect when the situation is difficult or tense. I guarantee that you stand a better chance of getting that refund, another portion of cake or compensation for your losses if you’re the pleasant one in the conversation.

So be reasonable. Maybe even be nice. Your world will be a better place if you do so.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay?

I need your advice, I booked a restaurant for a private dinner on 2nd April as a birthday celebration. I was quoted P6,600 for this dinner (at P220 per guest).

But the venue was double booked because the landowners booked a festival in the gardens at the same time (the restaurant is in the garden) which attracted hundreds of people. At the last minute, the restaurant owner decided to move my private dinner to another spot to avoid the festival patrons. But now the owner wants me to pay the landowner a portion of the P3,000 that the landowner normally charges for events since my dinner was not hosted in the restaurant.

Is this acceptable?

No, of course it’s not. It’s completely unacceptable.

You had an agreement with the restaurant owner to host your function. You and he had agreed the details of this, including the price. The fact that he’s so useless that he double-booked the function is a matter for him to resolve, it’s not your responsibility.

If the only option available to the restaurant owner was to use the other spot for your meal, a spot that cost more money, then he should have explained that to you well in advance. If he wasn’t prepared to pay the extra money himself then he should have given you two options. Firstly, to pay the extra money yourself (which obviously you should have rejected), or for him to arrange an alternative venue for you that was at least as good and for no extra money.

Meanwhile I suggest that you write the restaurant owner a letter saying that the additional money is something for him to cover, it’s not your problem. He can cry as much as he likes for it but it’s not your problem.

It leaks!

I bought a gas stove on the 23rd February 2016.

On the 5th March I returned the stove to the shop after realizing that there is gas leakage when the stove is off despite that the gas cylinder is closed every time after cooking. The shop owner refused to change or refund saying they have to take it back to the manufacturer to investigate the leaking. I tried to tell the shop owner that taking the stove will mean that I don’t have a stove to cook with. He brought an old used stove as a form of loan to me while he has taken the stove. He was to call me as soon as the stove is back from Gaborone where the manufacture which was supposed to be about two weeks.

When I got home with the loaned stove I realized that it has the same problem as mine and is worse so I never used it. I waited for the shop to call until I went to the shop on the 2nd April to check if the stove is back. To my surprise the stove was in the shop but they had never called to collect it. I was furious about that then collected it. When I got home the stove is still leaking. I have not told them yet since they had told me that they can not change nor refund.

That is when I decided to seek help from your respective office.

First things first. Are you sure the problem isn’t with the regulator or the pipe you connect to your gas bottle? It’s worth checking that it’s working properly first of all.

If the regulator is fine, then you need to go back to this slightly suspicious shop and explain to them that selling you a stove that leaks gas is firstly a breach of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which requires them to offer products that are “of merchantable quality”. Section 15 (1) (a) also requires them to offer services (such as a repair) “with reasonable care and skill”. More importantly it’s also enormously dangerous.

Explain to them that they’ve had a chance to repair the leak and they’ve also had the opportunity to give you a replacement stove that isn’t likely to blow up your house. I think you should suggest to them that the time has come to give you a refund.

Let me know what they say!

Monday 18 April 2016

You still won't make money from Herbalife

Herbalife have released their 2015 earnings figures for their US "members".

If you ignore the fact that they can't calculate percentages correctly the results are still interesting. Interesting but not surprising. In fact it's the same old story. Almost all of the money is earned by a tiny proportion of the members.

Here are some specifics, taken directly from Herbalife's own figures.

80.2% of the members, that's 437,152 people, are just people who buy their products and don't have a "downline". These are the people on the bottom rung of the pyramid. They buy stuff from Herbalife but there's no evidence they sell it to other people.

The most interesting group is those people who earned commission from their downline sales. These are the "Sales Leaders With a Downline". In the USA in 2015 there were 68,768 of them. These are the people that Herbalife offer as examples of the riches you can earn from joining Herbalife.

But there are no riches.

Of these people, three-quarters of all the money is earned by the top 3.5%. The top 10% earn nearly 90% of the cash.

At the other end of the scale, the bottom 90% earn just over 10% of the money. The group earning between $1 and $1,000 in 2015 (that's 62.5% of the entire group) actually earned an average of just $303.

And that's their income, not their profit. That's before they paid their expenses, the phone bills, the transport costs and their electricity bills.

So yet again it's the same old story. If you want to make money from Herbalife you need to be at the top of the pyramid and all the money they earn comes directly from the people lower down that pyramid.

Do you really want to make rich people richer? That's all you do when you join Herbalife.

Sunday 17 April 2016

The clues are there

Despite everyone’s efforts, people are still falling for a variety of scams. Not in foreign countries far away, but people here in Botswana. Our relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours are still falling scams that are leaving them poorer and unhappier people.

A couple of weeks ago a reader contacted us saying:
“I have a friend I met when I was in South Africa. We had a chat and we exchanged numbers, and he was calling me everyday now he asked me what can he send to me I said anything. Later he sent me a receipt from Fastlink Couriers. Now I'm asking whether these things are for real or are they scammers. They called and I have been told that my parcels are in South Africa in Johannesburg and I have to clear them. I didn't give them anything I told them I will send but that I will contact you first. Please help me.”
I suspect that most people reading this will have heard the story many times before. You know this is a fairly common scam these days. We know that that there is no package, the courier company doesn’t really exist and that in most cases, even the friend doesn’t exist. The slight novelty with this case is that the friend is a real human being, someone she actually met “in the flesh”. Despite that I think it’s safe to assume that the name he gave her was false. Everything he told her about himself will have been lies.

I don’t know how far things went between them when they met in South Africa but I know of other cases where things went a lot further. Let’s say that we’re used to scammers screwing their victims financially but on these occasions they had other ways of doing so.

They’re not just scammers, they’re rapists as well.

Sadly we didn’t quite get to this case in time. She told me:
“I sent them 500 Rand and when they called for the second time then I started to have that belief that they are scammers. Till today I didn't send anything they are calling me everyday to process the payment.”
Luckily it was only R500 she lost. Subsequently they’ve asked her for payments of R1,600 and then R2,500 because they claim her parcel “has overstayed”. Unfortunately for the scammers she’s not planning ever to pay them anything again.

It’s not just conventional “advance fee” scams that are conspiring to steal your money. There are various “investment” schemes that are just as suspicious. A member of our Facebook group recently asked us about a scheme calling itself “Easy Wealth” which offered some remarkable profits. Their page claimed that for a “Donation” of R5,000 and a monthly fee of R400 the donor would experience “monthly growth” of R3,000. According to these people if you’re prepared to be offer a donation of R40,000 each month and pay the fee of R4,000 you’ll get a growth of R31,650. That’s a monthly return of 79%.

Their advertisement says:
“Saving Plan allows you to let your money grow and choose a certain amount you want available every month! contact us for more details
Can you spot the clues that this is a scam?

Firstly, any money-making scheme that includes the word "easy" is a scam. Making money is never “easy”, it requires either hard work or very smart investing. Secondly, any scheme that says you can have "growth" of 79% each month is a scam. Thirdly, any money-making scheme that operates from a Gmail address is a scam. Fourthly, any money-making scheme that operates from a Vodacom cellphone number is a scam.

Finally, any money-making scheme that adopts the same model as MMM Global is a scam. Like MMM Global is. Or was.

MMM Global is a classic Ponzi scheme that was created by a Russian called Sergei Mavrodi. They claim they are “a mutual fund exchange network where people provide financial help directly to each other in automated Private Offices via the internet. You Provide Help to someone else (donate) then get rewarded with 30% every month on the amount you Provide Help with (donate). You then get an opportunity to Get Help (withdraw your funds) you have Provided Help. The Power of Giving lets you receive in 23 times more than you gave to others in a year!!!”

Mavrodi isn’t new to this business. He’s already spent several years in a Russian prison for running an identical scam there. Clearly this is a vocation to him, not just a job.

Image of Mavrodi being escorted to prison in Russia c/o Mail & Guardian
Of course MMM Global is nonsense. Like “Easy Wealth”, getting returns of 23 times your investment is ridiculous and only Ponzi schemes make such claims. Schemes like Eurextrade did the same, and they survived for a couple of years before they collapsed as all Ponzi schemes eventually do.

Remember that Ponzi schemes, like pyramid schemes, always collapse when the supply of new victims dries up. Ponzi schemes rely on those new members because that’s where all the “growth” comes from. There is no real investment or growth in a Ponzi scheme, only money flowing from new members to older ones. And of course the largest proportion of the money that flows to the founders of the scheme.

The bad news for the victims that joined MMM Global is that this scheme now seems to have collapsed. Some reports say that Mavrodi is on the run again.

When you know a little about scams, the clues are obvious but the best clue of all is implausibility. If it sounds too good to be true then you can bet that it IS too good to be true. That works for advance fee scams but also any investment that offers enormous returns.

Just look out for the clues. Please. If you are ever in doubt, you know you can contact us. For free.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get it cheaper?

Last week i saw a Police watch in a store and the price was P999. I told the lady who works there that I would like the watch and she came with the key to open the display. As I was proceeding to pay, she then said there's a mistake, the watch is P1999. And she showed me where the 1 must have been. She then proceeded to look for the 1 in the display unit to prove to me that it had fallen off but she couldn't find it. I then told her that I'm going to pay the price that I see but she said that would be impossible. I then asked to take a picture as proof that the watch was indeed labelled P999 but she said they don't allow that but she will call the manager.

When the manager started helping me he was very rude and plainly told me that I would be cheating the store if I get a watch that is worth P1999 for P999. And he even went on to say it is not his or the store's responsibility that the 1 fell off, these things happen.

The following day I sent an email to the headquarters in South Africa and related the incident. They failed to answer me on what their policy is regarding incorrect pricing. They apologized however for the incident and told me someone in Botswana will get back to me. Yesterday, a lady called and said she had investigated my complaint and is willing to offer me a 10% discount on the watch. I told her that that's not good enough because as far as consumer right's go, you pay for the price on the item even if it is not the price reflected at the till.

I need advice if I should pursue the matter or just let it go.

I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment. However I don’t think you have an argument here. The store will argue that this was a simple mistake and not a deliberate attempt to deceive customers. They will point out that the lady explained to you that a mistake had been made as soon as she saw it.

You could argue that they breached Section 13 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations by not offering to sell the item "as advertised or represented” but that same section requires you to show their “intent not to dispose of the commodity” as represented. They will argue, probably rightly, that there was no intent to deceive anyone, just a mistake.

Finally, they’ll be able to show their regret and good will by relating their offer of a 10% discount.

I understand your frustration but I’ll be surprised if you can argue this one successfully. Time to let it go!

Can I get my drive back?

In 2014, first week of January I took my 1.5 TB hard drive to a repair place as it was not working and they promised that they will fix which was not done.

On the 17 January 2014 I paid P285 after they promised that it was working but as at the time we didn't have a computer to check if it was working. I paid them the said amount. When I got home I checked it but it was not working and I took it back to them to work on the same problem which they failed to fix.

The manager told me that he will give it to a certain man who said he will be able to fix but he also was not able to do that. The man whom was given this has an office at Mogoditshane and he received the hard drive in my presence. I kept on calling this man to check if he managed to fix it but he was rude as he kept on dropping my calls every time I phone him.

I have been calling the manager demanding refund and the hard drive who was always promising to return the hard drive and money till today. I have on several times went to his workshop from Lobatse but to come back with promises which never materialized.

I think you’ve been patient enough, maybe even too patient. Waiting for more than two years to get your hard drive repaired is completely unacceptable. I suggest that you write the guy (the first guy, the one you paid) a letter stating that he has failed to honor his agreement with you, that he’s failed to satisfy Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations because his services are “not of merchantable quality” and demanding that he refunds you the drive and the money you paid him within 14 days. Tell him that if he fails to do so you’ll take legal action against him without any further delay.

If he still fails to refund you after 14 days go directly to the Small Claims Court with all the paperwork you have and ask for an order against him for the money. Don’t hesitate!

Saturday 9 April 2016

Say sorry

I was taught that it’s always good to say sorry when something has gone wrong.

But some people are scared of doing so. That because they confuse apologizing with expressing regret. The difference is about responsibility. When I say I’m sorry that your auntie died I’m expressing regret and sympathy, not personal responsibility. I’m not confessing that I killed her.

The problem is that when many companies face a situation when saying sorry would be a good idea they are terrified that expressing regret will be seen as admitting guilt. And nobody wants to be seen as guilty. Guilt implies the need for punishment.

To be fair, sometimes punishment is necessary.

The first significant case Consumer Watchdog dealt with was the result of an accident in a supermarket in Gaborone. During poorly-signed maintenance in the store an elderly lady had tripped, fallen and suffered slight injuries. Although minor they required seven trips to hospital. She had approached the store management and they offered her a measly P210, P30 for every trip she took for medical attention.

That’s when she asked us for help. We spoke to the Regional Manager of the store chain and we asked if they couldn’t at least apologize and maybe offer her some compensation? His response was simple. She would get nothing more than the P210 they had offered and she certainly wouldn’t get an apology. The ‘S’ word would not be mentioned. “You know what these people are like”, we were told. The Regional Manager was clearly scared that a stream of elderly, dark-skinned ladies would be in his stores falling over in order to claim compensation.

Our response was simple. We discussed the situation on the radio and that’s when they got really angry. That’s when we got a “cease and desist” letter from their attorneys. We were to stop criticizing them and what they’d done. Or else.

Our next response was even simpler. We read the threatening letter out live on air a couple of days later. The response from the public was equally simple. How dare they? How could they treat a customer like this? Why don’t they go back to South Africa?

Some weeks later the store’s management got in touch with us. They told us that their turnover had shown a noticeable drop following the affair. It had cost them money. Would the customer be prepared to accept several thousand Pula in compensation?

The irony is that the lady hadn’t ever been seeking compensation, other than for her medical costs. She would have been content with nothing more than a decent apology but she was unfortunate enough to shop in a store where the management weren’t prepared to offer that.

Another irony Is that saying sorry is perhaps the best thing you can do when a customer feels wronged. Even if you say nothing more than “I’m sorry you’re feeling upset”, it offers the customer a sense that you care about their feelings, that you’re human enough to understand how they feel.

While on the subject of apologies I have to offer one. A few weeks ago both in writing and on air I covered a story brought to us by a reader. He’d hired a real estate agent to sell his house. He said:
“I need your advice on a certain estate agent with whom I had agreement with to sell my house for me since last year in October until I decided to cancel the sale agreement with them because i was not happy with their service.” He went on to say: “Now the agent expects me to him the entire amount of the 4% that he charged if he has sold my house.”
My advice was simple. Tell him to take a walk. He didn’t sell your house, he doesn’t deserve the 4%. Simple as that. I said this both in writing, online and on air.

Except it wasn’t that simple. The reader later came back to me saying the real estate agent had now instructed an attorney to recover the 4%, a total of P25,000 from him that he claimed he owed.

Only then was I told that the agent HAD found a buyer for the property who offered the full asking price. He told me:
“The Agent had found a buyer and the loan was approved for the buyer, the lawyers for the buyer issued a letter of undertaking to the bank and the transfer papers had been prepared and the Land Board mentioned that I couldn’t sell my house if it is the only property I have.”
So my advice was completely wrong. I should have asked more questions before dispensing my so-called wisdom and advice. The good news for me is that I didn’t name the real estate agent at any time, mainly because I was never told his name. To this day I have no idea who he is.

Nevertheless, if you are that agent and you read or heard what I said, then I’m sorry. I regret commenting without the full information and I apologize if you suffered any inconvenience based on my comments. Yes, you are owed your P25,000. However I wish you lots of luck in getting it. The reason he was selling his house is because he was jobless and desperate for money.

If I can do it, then you can do it. Even if the mistake you made wasn’t really your fault and you don’t feel like you were completely to blame, grow up and take responsibility for the mistake or misfortune that occurred.

Here’s a secret about apologizing. Customer like and respect companies who apologize more than they do companies who never had anything to apologize for in the first place. They see them as companies with humility, responsibility and humanity. Exactly the sort of company they’ll want to spend money with in future.

So find something to apologize for. Right now.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can it cost this much?

I would like to know who regulates the pricing of re printing of IGCSE Certificates? My nephew went to a private school doing his IGCSE. He happened to have lost his certificate. We went to the school last week and they are saying for them to reprint a new certificate is P2,500. I feel this is too much and daylight robbery as the ink and paper used cant even be more than P500.

I mean at Botswana Examination Council for you to get a copy is P50. I know it’s a different organisation but I still feel P2,500 is a lot of money to part ways with.

I would really appreciate it if you could look into the matter and make a follow up on this issue.

P2,500 does sound like a lot of money for a simple reprint of a certificate but I thought it was worth checking if this can be correct.

I contacted the principal of the school in question and asked him to check this out. He responded saying that he checked with the IGCSE authorities in Cambridge and they told him that it costs £141 to replace a certificate. At the current exchange rate that comes to about P2,200. The school here in Gaborone charges just P100 for their time and effort so I can actually see how the cost might be around the amount they quoted.

It sounds like certifiactes are something you really need to take a lot of care with.

Must I pay her?

Last year in July I borrowed an amount of money from an individual who runs a micro lending business from her institutional house. The total amount of hard cash I borrowed adds up to P23,000. In November last year she sent me a form to sign indicating the total amount plus the interest I owed but the form was bearing a different name and I was told they were business partners. I then asked her stop adding interest because the money was too much. She told me that from that amount she will no longer add interest. So when I finally managed to pay her P46,500 she told me the money was still short by more than P13,700. But when I told her I didn't have money she started insulting me. I then explained to her that what she was doing was against the laws of the country. I told her that the business was not registered, is not paying tax but reaping a lot of money from Batswana cos I am not the only one who paid her such an amount of money. I also told her that she has overcharged me but to her it became like I was fighting with her and threatened to destroy my name. She wanted to consult my pastor and she threatened in SMSs to tell everyone at work why I borrowed the money. What do I do in such case?

The first thing you can do is promise me that you won’t pay her a single thebe more. This woman is clearly operating an illegal moneylending operation. I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who operates like this is an unscrupulous crook. Anyone who submits agreements with the wrong name, charges horrible rates of interest and who harasses people and threatens them with destroying their name deserves investigation.

I’ve already sent her details to NBFIRA, the Non Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, the organization that regulates micro-lenders in Botswana. They’re also an organization that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty with unscrupulous crooks like this one.

I’ve also sent her details to BURS so they can check whether she’s paying tax on the foul profits she’s making from you. I guarantee that if she’s treating you this way then she’s reating a lot of other people the same way.

If she threatens you in any way please give her our contact details. Maybe she wants to encounter the only organization scarier than the combination of NBFIRA and BURS. The Voice.

Friday 1 April 2016

It's a secret

I know lots of secrets. Really juicy ones.

But I’m not going to tell you what they are. That’s because they’re, yes, you guessed it, secrets. That’s what a secret is, something you don’t tell people.

The trouble is that some people can’t keep secrets. Either because of some psychological disorder or because they’re just blabbermouths they can’t help tell you things they’re not meant to tell you. We’ve all had an experience when someone starts a sentence with “I probably should tell you this, but…” and then shares some gossip about who’s seeing who or who’s about to be fired. Alternatively, they end their disclosure with “I probably shouldn’t have told you that, you won’t tell anyone else, will you?”

We all know, or we should, that while these people are fun to spend time with, they’re also the people with whom our secrets are unsafe. If they’re betraying other people’s trust, why will they treat ours any better?

So how would you feel if your bank behaved like one of these people? Or the furniture store from which you recently bought some goods?

Surely no company would behave like that, would they?

Yes, they most certainly do.

A couple of years ago we went undercover to a number of furniture store in Gaborone to investigate how well (or badly) they treated potential customers. This had been prompted by a survey we’d done when we asked people who had bought things on hire purchase if they’d been allowed to read the hire purchase contract before making a decision. Almost everyone said they hadn’t been allowed to see the contract. Some were told they could see it when they signed it, others were told it would be posted to them, some were told they could see it when the goods were delivered. One was even told they couldn’t get a copy even after the delivery because “it’s confidential”.

So we tried our luck. Wearing hidden cameras, we went to a variety of stores and asked the staff if we could see a copy of their HP contract. We had mixed luck. Some told us that they didn’t have copies right now (but I bet they would have done if they thought we were really going to spend some money), others said we could see them later, when we were ready to sign them. To be fair, a couple did give us copies to take away to read at leisure. However the most memorable was the store whose sales representative told us that they didn’t have any blank copies right now but would we like to have a copy of the last customer’s agreement? Off he went and came back with the bottom copy from a multi-part form that he gave us to take away. We still have it stored safely in case the customer ever wants it back.

This agreement shows the customer’s full name, postal and residential address, phone numbers, Omang and a full description of the details of the items he bought. Luckily I wasn’t in the mood to rob his house.

Of course you’d be correct to say that nothing that confidential was disclosed. There’s not much I can do to abuse this guy, is there?

But consider this. What if he’s my business rival? Or my romantic rival? What if I used the details I’d been given to check his credit history?

More importantly I think privacy is a human right. The philosopher AC Grayling said that privacy “is an indispensable adjunct of the minimum that individuals require for a chance to build good lives” and that “it is crucial for personal autonomy and psychological well-being”.

Obviously privacy, like free speech, isn’t absolute. Just as we don’t have the right to “shout fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire” we don’t always have a right to privacy. This right can be removed by the courts from criminals under surveillance but those of us who are law-abiding have a right to live our lives privately. Section 3 of the Constitution even makes the privacy of our homes one of our “fundamental rights”.

So what the furniture store did was wrong. It was also rather stupid. When we mentioned this event on a television program a few weeks later they went into a tailspin, making up excuses about why they behaved so badly. They knew they’d done something silly, something that customers wouldn’t like.

So what about banks? Would they do something as silly?

No, they wouldn’t, mainly because they would be punished by the Bank of Botswana which regulates the banking industry in Botswana. But that doesn’t stop them doing some strange things. One of the banks, one of the bigger ones, does something I still don’t understand. When you sign up for their cellphone banking or internet banking services they ask you to go to their web site and enter some details. One of these details is your ATM PIN.

I find that strange. The advice we give everyone and that banks also give, is never, ever to give your PIN to anyone. Never give it to a stranger, not even a relative, and certainly not to anyone from the bank. We’ll never ask you for your PIN, that’s what they tell us. So why does this bank then break this rule, a rule I though was absolutely never to be broken?

I don’t know the answer but it’s a real risk. Crooks go to extreme lengths to get our PINs and this is a great opportunity for them to steal our PIN in a “phishing” attack when they create a fake version of a bank’s online banking service.

My view is that your PIN should be a secret known only to you and the ATM. Anything else is a major breach of privacy. Don’t ever give your PIN to anyone, certainly not a web site.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Who should pay?

Last year around February I was in debt and my car loan was in arrears. I however refused to give up my car to the bank but anyway I managed to pay off the loan. Before we paid off the loan we got a settlement statement from the bank which we were also told that it includes the fees for the company that was initially appointed to collect the car. We proceeded to make that transfer and cleared of the loan. Now here is the tricky part. Last month I was called by the people from the company saying that they never received any payment. I'm just wondering who is at fault here, because honestly we don't have any contract with them. I just feel maybe it was the bank's responsibility to give them their share since we paid them a lump sum.

Firstly, you have my admiration for the way you handled this situation. Despite having obvious financial difficulties you stuck up for your rights and fought to pay off the car loan, including the extra fees charged by the company that the bank engaged to repossess the car.

I agree with you. The bank needs to sort this problem out. You had an agreement with the bank to repay your debt, including the extra fees, and it’s them to which you gave the settlement amount. It’s their job to resolve it.

We’ll contact the bank for you and see if they can’t sort this out.

Must I pay the levy?

I am having difficulty getting my landlord to pay me back my security deposit. I moved into a company house in December 2014, my tenancy period was exactly a year. When I moved into the apartments I was helped by an agent from the property managers. Before I moved in the house I had requested to see a lease agreement upfront but I was told the lease will come after, I thought it was strange for me to pay and see the lease after, so I called head office in Gaborone and they confirmed I will get the lease after payments. I paid and I moved into the house with base rent of P2,500 and security and garden levy of P485. There were some discussions going on about the levy, so I asked the agent and he told me not to pay the levy, its still being revised and I will be notified whether to start paying or not. After 6 months of having been in the house, I get an email from the property manager that says I owe them the levy to which I replied as per my agreement with the agent, that I have been waiting to be told to pay, and I can’t now be told I owe them the said fees. The agents did not get back to me until after I moved out of the apartment in December 2015. When I asked for my security deposit, I was told I owe then and I cannot be paid my security deposit.

Its been three months now, and I am the one following up the issue, the said companies have basically left me to sort the issue out. The property managers are no longer managing the property and as for the agent, I don't know his whereabouts.

As a consumer I feel taken advantage of. My rent was always on time, but now I am told I am in debt.

I am very suspicious about you not being given the lease agreement. That’s not normal and it’s not right. You should never move into a property and you shouldn’t pay rent until you have seen the lease agreement, fully understood it and signed it. Verbal agreements are worth the paper they’re written on.

As you said, you were told that there was a levy of P485 in addition to the rent and you did consume the security and garden services while you stayed in the apartment. I don’t think you can argue that you shouldn’t pay it, even if some guy with no real authority told you not to. These things should have been put in writing before anything else. The security deposit you paid is there for two reasons: to pay for any damage to the property that you didn’t fix and to cover any shortfall in the rent. I suspect that the landlord is entitled to withhold the levies you owe from the deposit. Unfortunately, 12 months of levies will exceed the P2,500 they have. They might even ask you for more.