Friday 29 July 2016

Anarchy in the marketplace

I want anarchy in stores.

In fact, I want anarchy every time and in every place that consumers spend their money. I want to overthrow the existing powers and let consumers seize power.

On numerous occasions we’ve either been told ourselves or we’ve heard from consumers that they’ve been told how to behave by a service provider. I don’t mean about illegal, indecent or immoral conduct and I certainly don’t mean anything criminal. I’m not endorsing threats or rudeness. In fact, I’m entirely behind any manager who defends and protects their staff. While we can complain as much as we like we must remain polite. That’s part of our nature as a country. We’re a courteous people.

However badly you feel, I promise you that if you express your complaint in a calm, measured, reasonable manner your chance of getting a solution will be much, much better than if you go in furious. The reasonable complainant will probably even be thanked for his or her complaint. The shouting, rude ones will get the same treatment a friend who is a Managing Director gave to the customer who stormed into her office shouting and swearing, having already abused her receptionist and another customer. “Your contract with us is terminated. That gap in the wall over there is the door. Use it now.”

My problem is when companies tell their customers, the one who keep them in business, how they can voice their opinions. The ones who dictate how consumers are permitted to complain.

My message is simple. While dictating how your customers were permitted to complain might have worked in 1916, 1966, or even in 2006, it doesn’t work in 2016. Complaints procedures have gone. Like carbon paper, floppy disks and smallpox, complaints procedures have been relegated to the past.

I think it’s surprising that in 2016 you still see multiple-stage complaints policies being published. Just a few days ago a member of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group posted the complaints procedure from a hospital in the public service. It has nine steps. The first person to receive your complaint should apparently be the Supervisor in Charge. If that doesn’t resolve your problem you then escalate your complaint to the PR Officer, the Hospital Manager, the Hospital Superintendent, the Ministry HQ toll-free number, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, the Minister and finally to the Office of the President.

My view is that any complaints procedure with nine steps has six steps too many. Worse still, the procedure started with this: “In case customers are not happy with service provided at any of the hospital department/Unit, they have to follow the procedure below”.

“Have to”? We are obliged to follow this procedure? Says who? Show me the law that says that and maybe I’ll agree to it. Or maybe not.

Until there is a law that says that any other provider of products or services, including a hospital, is entitled to tell you and me how we can express our opinions about them, we are free to complain exactly as we see fit. If you do feel the need for some structure then you can adopt the Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.

Step 1. Complain to the individual who offended you. Whether it was the nurse who ignored your suffering, the rude waiter or the vanishing bank teller, that person is the person to whom you should first complain. If they refuse to accept your complaint or don’t show suitable humility and contrition, go to Step 2.

Step 2. Complain to the most senior person in the building. Their title will be something like “Branch Manager”, “Hospital Manager” or “Restaurant Manager”. Don’t bother with supervisors, administrators or team leaders, only the most senior person will do. If they don’t fix the problem, go to Step 3.

Step 3. Complain to the most senior person in the entire organization. Their job title will be something like “Managing Director”, “Chief Executive Officer” or “Minister”. In special cases you might accept people with titles like “Country Manager” or “Regional Manager” but it must be someone who has the capacity to frighten the person who originally offended you.

I’m not blaming the hospital for having complaints procedure that is much, much longer than necessary but I do think they need to get with it. Firstly, they shouldn’t be telling their patients, the taxpayers that fund the public service, how, when and where they should express their complaints. They certainly shouldn’t be telling them that they “have to” follow their procedure. Secondly, that procedure is absurd. It could take years to exhaust the nine steps and do we really even need to involve the President’s office? Isn’t something simpler required?

Service providers, whether they’re hospitals, banks or network providers also need to remember that it’s 2016. Whether they like it or not, and in most cases it’s the latter, social media has taken over. The age of writing and faxing letters of complaint has long gone. We are firmly in the electronic age, in fact the social media age. If your complaints procedures don’t include email, Facebook and Twitter then your competitors’ certainly will and they’ll be seen as the company that listens and is prepared to give customers some control over their own lives.

They also need to understand that despite what they think, they’re not in charge. The party with the power in the relationship is the consumer, not the supplier. The party who can choose to go elsewhere is the consumer. The party who can make or break a company is the consumer, not the supplier.

So let’s have some anarchy when we deal with the companies that sell us things. Let’s just ignore any attempts that are made to control us. Let’s be anarchists.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can it be trusted?

I saw an advert on Facebook from Cashsociety that said “a poverty braking system has finally been launch now it close to your country log in a experience the change and see how other peoples lives have change in a short space of time. This is just a community of people who are in a mission of burying poverty and liberating themselves financially.” It said you pledge R500 or $10. Can this really be a way to make money?

I checked the web site of this scheme and it’s remarkable how little they say about how this scheme works. Their web site and Facebook group say that they are “empowering economic freedom and suggest that you can “Benefit from the power of giving” but that’s all they say.

But I know what this is. This is a clone of MMM Global, a Get Rich Quick scheme that claims you can take money from the scheme so long as you donate to it first. What these schemes fail to explain is that people can only take more money from the scheme than they give if the amount of money going in is always increasing. That requires an increasing number of new members, or old members repeatedly contributing more and more money.

There’s a name for this sort of scheme. They’re called Ponzi schemes. Eurextrade was a Ponzi scheme, just like MMM Global is a Ponzi scheme. The simple truth is that most Ponzi schemes never even start properly because they can’t find enough victims gullible enough to fall for their lies. Those that do, like Eurextrade and MMM Global, all eventually fail, leaving people poorer, sometimes ruining people’s lives. The only people that do well are the crooks who start them and the collaborators who help recruit new victims.

As with all Ponzi schemes, the decision whether Cashsociety succeeds or fails rests with us. Are we prepared to let another Ponzi scheme succeed?

Is he a real lender?

I had tried to get a loan to purchase houses in Gantsi after a successful tender that was placed in the local Newspapers by BHC. I couldn't get a loan so I decided to ask a friend who recommended I check LinkedIn for Venture Capital investors and came across Pashley Venture Capital with offices in Florida USA and City of Edinburgh owned by Mr Frank B.Duncan. I sent him an email and he responded positively and explained that he loans people money from a few thousands to up to $800,000 to be paid over a period of 12 years. He sent me a contract for $800,000. He explained I will need to pay $4,380 for the closing agent who is registered in Florida. I sent the money to his agent in Florida City and he duly acknowledged having received the money and that the loan amount will be in my account 24-48 hours. After a day he sends me an email to let me know that transfer has not happened because I have to pay $2,185 to International Monetary Fund Tax Authorization Fee for clearance of loan funds. I asked IMF in Washington DC who said there is nothing like that and I sent him an email telling him that IMF has recommended that law enforcement be called upon him so a friend of mine recommended I pay him the $2,185.00 so that a case can be built around everything he says. I sent him the money again and waited. After a day he sends me an email saying the loan is delayed again because we have to pay $26,720 which is split in half between me and him and he forwarded some email claiming is from Counter Intelligence and Counter terrorism center for Wire Transfer.

Can you help me to solve this problem?

I’m sorry that you came to us too late to save your money. The bad news is that the money you’ve already sent him, a total of $6,565 (almost P70,000) has gone and you’ll never see it again. Scammers don’t offer refunds.

As readers of The Voice will know by now, real lenders don’t lend money to total strangers that they contact online. They certainly don’t lend money to people who they’ve never met face-to-face. It just doesn’t happen.

Also this business about the IMF and the Counter Intelligence and Counter terrorism center is simply unbelievable and is all part of the scam.

This is nothing more than an advance fee scam. There is no lender, no Frank B Duncan, no Pashley Venture Capital and no loan. The only thing that’s true is that they wanted you give you them large amounts of money. Tragically, that’s what you did. I’m sorry for your loss.

Friday 22 July 2016

Herbalife need your money

By now everyone knows my feelings on Multi-Level Marketing schemes such as Amway and Herbalife. I don’t like them.

I don’t like them for one simple reason. They simply don’t work. Their distributors will tell you that they’re a way of producing income. They might talk about supplementing your income, adding a little extra money on the side or even that it’s a full-time, wage-earning job but it’s simply not true. Their own figures prove this.

For instance, the latest data for Amway that I’ve seen was from Amway’s UK business for 2013 and it makes rather poor reading. It shows that in September 2013 they had 30,415 Retail Consultants, 13,141 Certified Retail Consultants and 81 Business Consultants in the UK. The average income figures for these groups were, I'm afraid, rather pathetic.

Retail Consultants had an average income of a mere £42 per month which is about P7,000 per year. Certified Retail Consultants averaged only about P18,000 per year and the very rare (fewer than one-fifth of one percent) Business Consultants brought in about P300,000. None of these people came even close to the UK’s average national income, not even the top earners.

Most importantly, these figures are income, not profits. They don't take account of the costs involved in running their little business, recruiting people beneath them, electricity and their phone and internet costs.

It’s the same with Herbalife. The figures for their US business in 2015 are just as miserable but they show how a MLM scheme really works.

80% of the members, over 400,000, 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" and in 2015 there were 68,768 of them in the USA. These are the people that Herbalife offer as examples of the riches you can earn from joining Herbalife.

But there are no riches. In fact, the 10% at the top of the pyramid take nearly 90% of all the money. 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 again that's their income, not their profit. That's before they paid their expenses, all the bills necessary to recruit all the people below them.

So yet again it's the same old story. If you want to make money from either Amway or Herbalife you need to be at the top of the pyramid and all the money you’ll earn will come directly from the people beneath you in the pyramid.

Now there comes some more news. Just last week the US Federal Trade Commission concluded a lengthy investigation of Herbalife and reported that Herbalife "have agreed to fully restructure their U.S. business operations and pay $200 million to compensate consumers to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the companies deceived consumers into believing they could earn substantial money selling diet, nutritional supplement, and personal care products.”

That’s right, Herbalife will be paying $200 million to the distributors who fell for the sales hype that seduced them.

The investigation found a number of things wrong with the Herbalife business model. The report observed that the “overwhelming majority of Herbalife Distributors who pursue the business opportunity make little or no money, and a substantial percentage lose money” and that Herbalife “does not offer participants a viable retail-based business opportunity. Defendants’ compensation program incentivizes not retail sales, but the recruiting of additional participants who will fuel the enterprise by making wholesale purchases of product.”

The report (268kb pdf download) also gives examples of how absurd the Herbalife model can be. It reports that “during the years 2009–14, one top Distributor paid over $8 million for product (with a total Suggested Retail Price of over $16 million) which the Distributor purchased in the names of various downline members, thereby generating additional rewards and qualifying for higher payments from Defendants. This Distributor then donated all of this product to charity, rather than attempting to sell it. The Distributor generated enough rewards through these purchases to make a net profit, without even selling the products.”

The difference between a Multi-Level Marketing scheme and a pyramid scheme is usually explained by the absence of products in a pyramid scheme. The FTC report shows that even with Herbalife the products can be irrelevant. If you can give the products away to charity and still make a profit then you have to ask which of the two Herbalife really is.

The Chair of the FTC, Edith Ramirez said:
"This settlement will require Herbalife to fundamentally restructure its business so that participants are rewarded for what they sell, not how many people they recruit [...] Herbalife is going to have to start operating legitimately, making only truthful claims about how much money its members are likely to make, and it will have to compensate consumers for the losses they have suffered as a result of what we charge are unfair and deceptive practices."
This ruling from the FTC is yet further proof that Herbalife, like many other Multi-Level Marketing schemes, are a very good way for some people to make a vast amount of money. The few at the top do very nicely but only at the expense of the many lower down the pyramid.

Unfortunately, this ruling only relates to Herbalife’s operations in the USA but I bet we’ll still see the effects here in Botswana. They’re going to have to find that $200 million somewhere and I suspect it’ll be the victims elsewhere in the world who’ll be pressurized to raise it. Expect to see Herbalife pushing its bogus business in your direction soon.

Hopefully you have a door that you can show them?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I trust this publisher?

I received an email from Omniscriptum Publishing Group, a "publishing house" in Germany concerning work that I had submitted to present at a conference last year. They have just sent me a follow-up email to find out if I am still interested to have them publish a book on my work on the subject. On the surface, the proposal looks interesting because I would not have to spend on editing and publishing costs but I would like to know if I can trust them with my intellectual property, because I don't know if the publishing house really exists or it is one of those fake ones which disappear soon after you have given them your work.

If they are genuine, what would you advise in terms of agreement concerning my work. In the latest email, they have said that after evaluation of submitted manuscripts, they edit where necessary and give back the edited version for the owner to approve before publishing. They then publish and market the books worldwide on behalf of the writers and pay royalties on sales, at between 10% and 15 % of the book price. A formal contract would have to be signed between them and the writer of the book.

What do you think?

When I first saw your email I was suspicious. Now, having done a little research, I’m even more suspicious. These people are a deeply dubious, so-called publishing house. They have a terrible reputation.

Their approach is to bulk email students and academics who have written dissertations, offering to publish them. In order to get published the author is required to hand over all rights to their work, meaning they can never publish that piece of work again themselves. Yes, as you say, they offer you 10-15% of any income they earn when they sell your paper but there’s a minimum value you have to reach before you get anything. One source I found said that you only get paid if the publisher makes €50 (about P500) every month for a year. Realistically, that’s not going to happen.

To make matters worse, one report I read said that the publisher will then try and sell you copies of your own work for P500. Remember that they now own it, they can do as they please.

If you sign a deal with this bogus publisher I’m afraid all you’ll be doing is handing over your hard work to a suspicious stranger who’ll likely never give you a thing in return. Do you really want to do that?

Why won’t they repair my sofas?

I and my wife bought leather sofas in late December last year by credit at a certain furniture store in Gaborone amounting to P22,000 with a deposit of P700 and in February this year we noticed that the sofas are starting to crack or tearing off. We informed the store to come and see the situation because we feel it was so soon for sofas to start to wear out, again it was our second instalment of payment.

The furniture people did not come to see the situation but told us to bring pictures of the sofas to them to send them to their supplier and we did that by using our cell phones cameras, but on our arrival we were told that the pictures are not clear we have to find a better camera or cell phone to bring the better pictures which we did not have. We told them that our cell phones can only show that kinds of pictures and ask them if it cannot be better for them to come and take pictures, and they told us that they do not have transport. Now we are stalk we do not know what to do. Every month we pay an instalment of P700 sometimes they call to remind us to pay but when we talk about the sofas they say we must bring pictures. Please advise us on what to do next?

This is simply not good enough. You’ve done everything right and the store seem to be trying to do everything wrong. You’ve given them evidence that there’s a problem with the sofas and their argument about picture quality sounds like a delaying tactic to me.

I also congratulate you for continuing to pay your instalments. Many people stop paying in situations like this which can be the worst possible thing to do. That just enables the store to repossess the goods, sell them and still hold you responsible for the debt. Remember that repossession doesn’t mean you can walk away. You can even end up owing more after the goods have been taken away.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see if they can’t exercise a bit more care for their valuable customer!

Friday 15 July 2016

Herbalife is poorer by $200 million

Herbalife have a long history with US government enforcement agencies.

The latest is a notice from the US Federal Trade Commission who report that Herbalife:
"have agreed to fully restructure their U.S. business operations and pay $200 million to compensate consumers to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the companies deceived consumers into believing they could earn substantial money selling diet, nutritional supplement, and personal care products."
FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said:
"This settlement will require Herbalife to fundamentally restructure its business so that participants are rewarded for what they sell, not how many people they recruit [...] Herbalife is going to have to start operating legitimately, making only truthful claims about how much money its members are likely to make, and it will have to compensate consumers for the losses they have suffered as a result of what we charge are unfair and deceptive practices."
The evidence has been around for many years that very few people actually make any money from Herbalife. Their own income figures, the ones that regulators like the FTC have insisted they publish every year, show this clearly.

This ruling from the FTC is yet further proof that Herbalife, like many other Multi-Level Marketing schemes, are a very good way for some people to make a vast amount of money. The few at the top do very nicely but only at the expense of the many lower down the pyramid.

Yet another reason to avoid them and anything similar.

[Thanks to for the alert.]

Get the basics right

I have a theory that in every industry there is a single test of whether a particular outlet is doing a good job.

For instance, I think the test of a bar should be that if beer is cold. If they can’t get that right, then they probably can’t get anything else right.

So what should the test be with a hotel?

It’s simple. They should give you somewhere to sleep. That’s what any hotel does, whether it’s a basic guesthouse or the fanciest 5-star place, it’s all about having somewhere to sleep at night.

Ok, before you comment, I know there are hotels that cater for what we might call the non-nocturnal customer-base, those customers who have a need for a very short-stay during daylight hours, accompanied but a recently acquired good friend. But that’s a completely different market. They should just supply free condoms.

We heard from a reader last week who encountered a hotel that managed to fail the basic rule of providing somewhere to sleep. She’d been working in Palapye and had been staying quite happily in a hotel for a few days. However, one morning the housekeeping staff asked for room key as she left so they could clean the room. Why didn’t they have their own key? You’ll find that out later.

It was later that evening when things started to go wrong. When she got back from work the reception desk was empty and the only person present was a security guard. He told her he had room keys but hers wasn’t there, presumably it was still with the housekeeping staff.

So there she was, locked out of the room that contained her clothes, toiletries and personal belongings. No other member of staff could be found.

Luckily she had a friend who was staying in another hotel in Palapye so she had a roof for the night but what if she’d been in Palapye alone? It would have been a night spent in her car.

The next morning things weren’t any better. First thing in the morning she went back to the hotel only to find there was still no manager to be found and the other staff were no more able to help her than the poor security guard had been the previous night. No other key to her room could be found.

Don’t forget that this woman was working in Palapye, she had a client to see and every moment wasted was a potential threat to her business.

Eventually the staff identified a solution to her problem. Force.

Brute force eventually removed the lock from the door to her room and by mid-morning she’d had a shower and had been reunited with her clean clothes.

But still no manager. Apparently he “couldn’t come to the site”, presumably because something more important or entertaining was occupying his attention. But that was a mistake. Maybe he was unaware of her profession or didn’t realize that it might be relevant. No, she wasn’t a hotel inspector or a reporter from a tourism magazine. She was something infinitely worse.

She’s a lawyer. In fact, she’s a really pissed-off lawyer. A really pissed-off lawyer who spent the previous night sleeping on a floor, despite paying a hotel P1,200 for a bed. Ouch. Not only does she want a refund of the P1,200 she paid for the bed that night, she also wants compensation. Even though I doubt she’ll get anything more than a refund, she’s going to make him suffer.

Clearly this hotel has to consider a number of things. Firstly, a hotel should always have spare key. These days most hotels have switched to electronic key cards that can be reprogrammed in seconds but even if they still adopt the old-fashioned approach surely they should have backup copies in the safe? It’s also not good enough for the manager to just be absent. If he can’t be there, then he should have a deputy manager on duty at all times. They’re called “Duty Managers”. It’s not a new idea.

None of this is rocket science or brain surgery. A hotel manager who can’t get this sort of thing right shouldn’t be running a hotel.

Photographers. That’s another very simple one. Photographers should supply photographs.

A couple of times a month we get a complaint from someone who hired a photographer for their wedding and months, sometimes even years later, they still don’t have their photos. Two weeks ago a woman contacted us and told us about the photographer she hired for her wedding in 2014. Two years later, she still hasn’t received her photos. The photographer now claims that his laptop crashed and he’s lost everything but when she offered to employ a technical specialist to try and recover the lost data he refuses to hand the laptop over.

Again the solutions are simple. He should hand over the laptop to the expert to see what he or she can recover. He should look through the backups he took from the camera and the laptop. He should examine the other memory card from the camera because all responsible photographers use at least two cameras and two memory cards.

Or maybe he didn’t do any of these things? No laptop? No backups? No other memory cards? Then he shouldn’t call himself a twenty-first-century photographer. He failed the test.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for some basic standards. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a bank, an insurance company, a bar, a restaurant, a photographer or a hotel. If they can’t get the basics right, then they shouldn’t be in that line of business.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this loan real?

I received an email from offering me a loan offer from Swiss Financial Group Loan Department Easypay Loan Services.

They said “We are private investors operating in several areas (Banking, Finance, Insurance). We have the legitimate ambition to invest in all business in any country economically and politically stable, whose laws and regulations protect and secure foreign investors. It is for all these reasons that we want a frank and sincere collaboration in all profitable activities in the private or public sector. We are willing ? finance any individual or private or public company who desires it. Our finances are between 500,000 Euros minimum and maximum 500 million Euros at a fixed interest rate of 3% per year.”

Do you think this is real?

No. This is undoubtedly the beginning of a scam.

The clues are there. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, real lenders don’t approach potential customers like this, by email and without knowing their name. Lenders suggesting they’re in Switzerland certainly don’t do so from a free email service based in Latvia (did you see the .lv at the end of the email address?).

It’s also unbelievable. Real lenders don’t offer vast amounts of money (500 million Euros is about P6 billion) at ridiculously low interest rates. They simply don’t. They also don’t lend across borders and indeed continents as easily as these people say they do.

There’s the issue of language quality. Do you really think that a company that offers billion Pula loans can’t express itself properly in English?

This is actually the beginning of another advance fee scam. Sooner or later, probably just before the day they’ve convinced you that you’re about to get the money, they’ll demand a last-minute fee of some sort. Sometimes it’s a legal fee, other times a tax or duty payment. Whatever it is, that’s the “advance fee” that gives the scam its name.

Just delete the email and any others like it.

Can I get my money back?

I made a booking online with to a hotel yesterday and the system requested me to input my banking details so to keep a reservation for me and it went ahead and debited my account P940. When I tried to cancel the money has gone already. I tried getting hold of the hotel and I was taken from pillar to post till this morning I spoke to the owner and she made it clear to me she won’t refund me as I needed 5 days to cancel. My issue was where would I get 5 days from if the booking was for that day and when I was requested for banking details it so I make a reservation?

I’ve spoken to the hotel in question and also looked at the web site you used to book the hotel and unfortunately there’s not much that can be done. The hotel’s cancellation policy is that you get a full refund if you cancel a booking more than five days before you stay. After that nothing is refunded and they’re not prepared to reconsider that. I don’t know for certain but the hotel might have lost a booking from another customer because you cancelled your booking. is also very clear. As you go through the booking process you see a warning saying “You can cancel free of charge until 5 days before arrival. You will be charged the first night if you cancel in the 5 days before arrival.” It also says: “100 percent of the first night will be charged at least 5 days before arrival.”

I know it’s frustrating that there weren’t five days between you booking and your planned arrival but that isn’t really the hotel’s fault, is it? I know a lot of hotels only actually charge you when you check out but a lot do demand some financial commitment up front to hold the booking, particularly if you’re booking online.

Sorry I don’t have better news.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Trévo, yet another MLM. Can it really kill cancer?

Here comes another multi-level Marketing scheme offering wealth and health.

This time it's Trévo, which they say is:
"not just another fruit drink, nor is it just another multi-vitamin. In a world of sugar-filled juice drinks and caffeine-saturated energy shots, Trévo stands alone as a complete health system in one bottle. Containing 174 of nature’s finest nutraceutical ingredients from around the globe, Trévo is unlike any other nutritional supplement you will find on the market. This remarkable formula provides you and your family with a quick, delicious and easy way to restore, renew and revive your bodies."
Sounds good, doesn't it?

As often happens, the manufacturers are cautious. They say that consumers of their product might:
"enjoy increased energy, enhanced mental focus, vibrant good health and even weight management support".
However, they are also cautious. They publish a disclaimer that warns:
"This product is in no way intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease."
Their distributors aren't always as cautious. One in Botswana made some very clear claims on Facebook.

After posting a picture of herself holding a bottle of Trévo she said "Trevo has this weapon!" and posted this image claiming that it can kill cancer:

She also posted this:

Both of these claims are illegal in Botswana. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code outlaw what are called "prohibited advertisements" that offer treatments for cancer and a range of other illnesses and disorders.

They're also completely without any supporting evidence. None at all. The only detailed endorsement they have comes from a "Certified Chiropractic Wellness Practitioner". So the best they can offer is a proponent of bogus, pseudoscientific nonsense? That says something.

This is really all about a Multi-Level Marketing scheme, a cousin of the pyramid schemes we've come to know. This is how Trévo describe their "monthly commission compression":

What does that look like to you?

 Ok, half of one.

Like all MLMs, only the people at the very top of the pyramid make any money from the scheme. Even the largest ones, Herbalife and Amway, concede this in the income statements they are required to publish.

Please don't waste your time, money and effort either drinking a bogus cancer cure or investing in yet another pyramid-structured Multi-Level Marketing scheme.

Saturday 9 July 2016

Search or molest?

Yet again we get THAT question. Can security guards insist on searching you when you enter or leave a store?

A member of our Facebook group recently asked again. I’ve removed the name of the store for now.
“On Saturday I went to store XXX in Francistown. There is a writing by the door which you will not see when not careful which reads something like "we have the right to search any bag or luggage that gets in or out of these store". You will not see this writing if you are not careful as it is small. Most people were shown that writing when they were trying to resist being searched. When I asked about it they said their search was legal, and they even said the writing was known by the authorities and was approved. They even said the consumer affairs people knew about it and there is nothing they could do. How true is it? Anyway I do not think I will ever go back there since I really, really hate it when someone goes through my handbag as I feel its just too personal. Anyway I just want to know if true the small writings make it legal for them to search us. Just curious. Thank you in advance.”
We get this question every couple of months, usually after some unfortunate person has been mistreated by a security guard. They ask what powers security guard have. Can they, for instance, ask to search our bags as we enter or leave the store they’re guarding? Can they insist on doing so? Can they detain us if we don’t want to let them search us? What exactly can they do?

Our advice has always been simple. Security guards aren’t police officers, they’re just normal civilians like the rest of us. They don’t have any powers that we don’t have.

On the other hand, stores are private property, just like our homes. You have the right to prevent me from entering your house as well as from entering your store if you don’t want me there. In exactly the same way the owner of a store can refuse you entry unless you play according to his or her rules, so long as they’re legal ones. A store is entitled to refuse you admission unless you volunteer to leave your bags at the counter or volunteer to be searched. But how many stores are really prepared to do that? How many are really ready to turn away people with the money they so desperately want?

But why do security guards behave this way? Is it because they’ve been told they can by their managers?

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 blocked her way and demanded to search through 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. Her later complaint to the security company about the way their guard had treated her was met with a promise of an apology but this never came.

So she dragged Scorpion Security to court.

And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence in defence and told the judge that his “security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.”


In his judgment the judge found that “indeed the Defendants searched the Plantiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] The Plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.”

He went on to say that she had suffered “humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society” and that she deserved compensation for that. He forced the security company to pay her P60,000 in compensation.

Maybe you think this case was a very rare event? Unfortunately not. Last year we did a large-scale survey of security guard behaviour. 82% of the people we questioned said that they had, on at least one occasion, been stopped by a security guard as they left a store and almost 90% of them had been asked to show their belongings to the guard to be searched. 83% of people had indeed allowed the guard to do so.

62% of the people who’d had their belongings searched said they were “offended or upset” by the experience and I can imagine why.

Then we went further. How many people had been searched themselves? Not just their packages, but their bodies?

Only one in six people had been stopped by a security guard who then wanted to search their person and 70% of these people had felt obliged to permit the search. Almost all of them said they had been offended or upset by the experience.

And the worst thing? In over half of these situations it was a male security guard searching a woman.

This suggests that one in seventeen adults in Botswana is a woman who has been molested by a male security guard.

The situation is out of control and we do not deserve to be treated this way. I urge you never to shop in any store that allows its guards to mistreat and molest you.

Next time a guard tries to search you or your belongings I suggest you ask them if their MD can afford P60,000 in damages. And to be seen as an employer of molesting perverts.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where’s my wedding video?

I got married in 2014 and used a photographer for the wedding and to date we have not received our package. What is worse is he is now avoiding our calls, text and WhatsApp messages and he is never in the office. There was no contract signed at the beginning and this might have been intentional because we did ask about it but with wedding pressure I guess it just never happened

Early in 2015 he informed us that the laptop which had our footage crashed and that he has tried to recover but failed. Apparently there was no back up. In mid 2015 I referred him to a friend and he said the laptop and memory card are empty. Later in 2015 I referred him to another friend who says he may do the recovery if he is furnished with the original hard drive, however, the photographer is reluctant to go to him and now avoiding our calls.

He once suggested he refund us and he claims I am confusing him. Please note that monetary refund is not an option as it can never equate to the precious moments of our wedding day which are irreplaceable.

I have taken this long to seek your intervention because i hoped that the service provider will keep his word and promises but he is proving to be dodgy.

I believe since he has now spent our money and now chasing after new projects he doesn't care to deliver our products. Since he’s avoiding our calls and is never in the office, my fear is that he will change offices and we will have no way to trace him as we have never been to his home. We not getting value for our money and situation seems helpless as we are at the mercy of the photographer and it seems he's content that we have no powers to do anything. He is violating us as consumers.

How much did you pay him for the work? How much of what was agreed would you say he has delivered? 10% 50% 75%?

You’ve probably realized by now that you’re never going to see the video he shot. Nevertheless, you should estimate what proportion of the total package you bought he has failed to deliver and then take legal action against him to recover that amount. Write him a letter explaining that he has failed to deliver what was agreed (make sure you quote as many dates and facts as possible) and give him 14 days to refund you the appropriate amount. Say in the letter that if he fails to refund you within 14 days you’ll immediately take legal action against him.

On Day 15 go to the Small Claims Court with the letter and every email and message he’s ever sent you. Ask the Court for an order against him for the amount you claim.

Must my Dad pay to fix the guy’s car?

My dad was involved in a car accident recently. He bumped his car on another vehicle at the back. The police were called and he found to be at fault hence he was charged. The car which he bumped into is slightly damaged, nothing major. The guy who was hit got quotes for fixing his car with the assistance of his insurance company. Now the guy is harassing my dad saying that he wants P8,000. Dad has already signed the insurance papers agreeing to foot the bill.

The reason why I am asking for advice from you is what would you advise in this case?

Unfortunately, your Dad is responsible for paying to fix the other guy’s car. It was, after all, your Dad who was found by the Police to be responsible for the accident.

What’s also unfortunate is that your Dad didn’t have vehicle insurance. Even a third-party policy would have covered the costs of repairing the other guy’s car.

Your Dad should also consider himself lucky that the repair bill was only P8,000. We recently heard of a similar case where someone did P25,000 damage to another vehicle. A friend who works in the insurance business told us about another case there the other guy’s Mercedes was totally destroyed, leaving the guilty party facing a bill of P750,000. Could you or your Dad afford to pay that sort of bill?

This is one of the reasons why I believe that third-party vehicle insurance should be compulsory for all vehicle owners.

Monday 4 July 2016

Ethical variation

I love the variety within humankind. I genuinely enjoy the vast variation in appearance, character, beliefs and behavior. It makes life more interesting. Can you imagine how dull life would be if we were all the same? If we lived in some Maoist dystopia where everyone dressed the same, carried their little red books and did exactly what they were told to do?

Luckily life isn’t like that. It certainly isn’t in Botswana. We have some incredibly bright, intelligent and professional people. Unfortunately, we also have some more “interesting” specimens of humanity, some who are a little less intelligent and bright.

On 24th May this year I removed this post from the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. It was posted by someone who said:
“Do you have a problem with your health lifestyle, want to gain or loose weight, have hair problem, skin, immune system problem, eating disorders, want build muscles, are u a sports person and need more energy… or you simply want to join and help change other live better lifestyle… Herbal life products is the products to go.”
After giving his contact details he wrote:
“Take a step and change your lifestyle, nothing is impossible with herbal life products.”
I’m sure you can guess why I wasn’t too happy about the post remaining in our group. Firstly, we don't permit advertisements in our Facebook group. Not ever. We certainly don't permit advertisements or endorsements for Multi-Level Marketing schemes in the group. The promises of "better lifestyle" are simply untrue, as almost everyone knows by now. Herbalife's own published figures prove that the vast majority of recruits make nothing from the scheme.

Perhaps more importantly we object to any claims that any product can help with medical conditions such as "immune system problems" and "eating disorders". They are lies and I know that Herbalife agree with me about that. I know because Herbalife have told me so when we’ve contacted them in the past when their local representatives have made similar claims.

After removing the post, I sent the person who posted it a message. I admit that I was perhaps a little short-tempered following his post. I said: “Please don't post MLM marketing nonsense and lies in the Consumer Watchdog group.”

A few days later I got a reply. See if you can make any sense of it. It said:
“Uhu..."nonsense "? No wonder your msg hs been filtered, u so full of yoslf and arrogant, that's not how you suppose to talk to people... I had respect for you so dont ever send me such msgs, dont cz first of all im not a thief nor a scammer,im also a law inforcer for your own information...”
I haven’t been able to confirm whether he is indeed "a law inforcer". Perhaps he’s actually a law "enforcer"? I took a look at his Facebook profile which suggested that he works at Central Police Station in Gaborone. Maybe he’d be better placed enforcing the law instead of peddling miracle cures?

There’s also been a lot of discussion in our group about a Chinese herbal medicine company called Green World. One of their proponents posted a message inviting people to join their multi-level marketing scheme and help to peddle their products. The problem is that Green World sell products that it is illegal to advertise in Botswana.

They claim, for instance, that their Cardio Power Capsule can "reduce the burden of heart and its oxygen consumption; expand the coronary artery; alleviate the chest stuffiness, suffocation, pericardia pain; prevent angina, arrhythmia, and myocardial infarction; and to treat coronary heart disease".

Their Green World Immune Care Package is apparently "Suitable for ... People has immunodeficiency acquired condition such as HIV/AIDS" and that it "can greatly boost immunity, detect tumor cells, as well as improve general wellbeing of people who has HIV/AIDS."

Another miraculous product is their Green World Cancer Care Package that apparently can "help stave off cancer and some can even help inhibit cancer cell growth or reduce tutor size."

Their Green World Nutritional Diet Care For Diabetes People (their English, not mine) can apparently help "eliminate symptoms of diabetes, restore function of the insulin, and improve normal secretion of the insulin cell."

Green World, as well as many other companies peddling miracle cures should know that advertising such products in Botswana is contrary to Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code of Botswana. The law specifically outlaws “any advertisement of any medicine” for a range of conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a lot of others.

Of course companies like Green World will concentrate on harmless protein powders and vitamin pills but I believe that it is fair to judge a company by ALL of the products they offer, particularly when those products are a clear and present danger to our health. I think it’s fair to say that companies offering these products, even if they don’t currently sell those particular products in Botswana have some serious questions to answer. Do they really believe the claims the company makes? Do they really think their products can cure all these diseases? Have they been nominated for a Nobel Prize for Medicine yet? If even half of their claims are true, they deserve one and probably the prize for Peace as well.

The most entertaining bit of this occurred when I SMSed one of Green World’s local reps asking him to confirm if their products could really do all of these things. He confirmed some of the claims but when he managed to identify me he said:
“you are richard harriman and m going tothe police officers now”.
Variety is, as they say, the spice of life and this is just as true for humanity as any other aspect of life. The danger with it though is just as there’s variety in height, skin color, shape and size, there’s also variety in people’s ethical behavior.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where’s my carpet?

Our company recently made a purchase of carpeting material. We placed an order and paid of 480m2 (which translates according to them as 120 linear meters) which was according to our bill of quantity from client. The carpet arrived at the supplier and we further instructed them as our suppliers to deliver the order which was done.

We received the carpet which had on them length measurements which were in tally with what we had ordered (120 linear meters). We then accepted the delivery without any form of cross checking the length of the said carpet rolls (the carpet rolls are bulky and heavy thus making this difficult). We then proceeded to install the carpets, only to have a shortfall of 120m2 presumably 40 linear meters) which we then approached our suppliers and notified them of this occurrence.

The matter has since been escalated from Sales and dispatch up to the General Manager who we had a meeting with. He feels that they have honoured their obligations to us and have followed their internal procedures and measures, thus are unable to assist, unless their supplier otherwise feels the need to compensate. The General Manager has written to the supplier requesting this and copied us in the correspondence. From the tone of the letter we feel that we are not going to get any positive assistance.

This has caused delays and is going to attract penalties we will not be able to absorb. Please assist and advice.

I suspect that this is going to be a difficult case to conclude. The main problem will probably be that you accepted the delivery. A signed delivery note confirms that you’ve accepted the shipment of carpet and that it was correctly delivered. The supplier will show anyone interested (such as a court) that you confirmed that the delivery was done perfectly. You’ll then have great difficulty proving anything to the contrary.

Nevertheless, I’m happy to contact the supplier for you to see if they can investigate a bit further and confirm if your delivery was correct or not. But I’m not optimistic.

Where are my potatoes?

At the beginning of this month me and my partner contacted a certain vegetable supplier by the name of Derek Moore in South Africa, with the intention of buying potatoes from his farm and selling them in Botswana. During our email and telephone conversations he explained everything and told us that we have to confirm our order by making a payment and sending him the proof of payment. We went to the bank where we made the transfer, a few days later the account was debited and we emailed him the proof of payment and acknowledged the it. Two days later we emailed and called him to check if his account is credited, indeed it was and he confirmed it, he promised us on Wednesday that by Saturday we will have received our goods. Saturday came, we have not heard a word from him, not even an email, our endless calls went unanswered, even up to this day.

I’m sorry but I have bad news for you.

I called the number you had for “Derek Moore” and got through to a guy who claimed to be him but had a rather West African-sounding accent, not at all like the selfie of a white guy that he included in his emails.

In fact, the picture has been taken from the internet, as were the pictures of potatoes they sent you to scam you. The picture is actually of a Professor of Medicine at the University of South Carolina.
"Derek Moore", the name and
picture used by the scammer.
Joseph Schoepf, M.D.,
Professor of radiology and medicine,
Medical University of South Carolina
The documents you sent over are very suspicious. The “farm” appears to have no landline and operates just from a cellphone number. The email address he used has also recently been used in advertisements for a range of non-farming products such as A4 paper, cement mixers and ice-cream machines. Not the sort of thing you grow on a farm.

I’ve warned the bank that the account these scammers used to receive your money is being misused and they told me they’ve already frozen it and it’s under investigation. Hopefully this will put a stop to them for a little while. However, you can rest assured they’ll be back in business again very shortly.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.