Saturday 30 September 2017

Will we ever learn?

Why do we keep falling for scams? Why, as a nation, are we serial victims to scammers?

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe people only ever fall for a scam once and then they learn their lesson. Maybe each scam that hits Botswana only affects people who have never seen a scam before. Maybe each time it’s a new set of victims?

If only it was that simple. Yes, each time a new scam arrives it finds some new victims but very often it’s the same people who fall for them over and over again. Some of us really are serial victims.

Anyone in our Facebook group or who listens to us on radio will have heard us warning people about what appeared to be a suspicious recruitment exercise being undertaken by a company calling itself Voxcom Voice and Data Solutions. A letter from this company started with the following bizarre statement: “The world has never been a place where peasants have held power”. It then continued to welcome each “Prospective Employee” “to the Voxcom family” and confirmed that the recipient had been successful in their “application for a weeks training”. So far so good, you might think.

But no, not good. The letter continued by asking people to “Kindly note that your training fee of P750 has been duly noted.”

And then it got even stranger. According to the letter there was a formal dress code for the training. It insisted that “during training full company uniform must be worn, ie, black pants/skirt and jacket paired with a white shirt/blouse.”

Stop and think about that. A company that is offering a job to people (“Prospective Employee”) demands that they pay to be trained how to do the job while wearing particular clothes? Is that normal? Is that how recruitment works?

No, it’s not. It most certainly is NOT how real businesses hire people.

But it’s stranger. The logo on this letter was quite distinctive and with just a few seconds work on Google I’d found a company called Voxcom Voice and Data Solutions with exactly the same logo based in Maryland, USA. So I called them and asked if they knew anything about a company running a recruitment exercise in Botswana using their name and logo. No, they told me, they knew nothing about this.

The real Voxcom's logo

So now there’s a very good reason to be suspicious.

After we posted and broadcast warnings several people got in touch to defend the program, saying that they had willingly paid the P750 because they were going to get jobs earning P2,500 in a call center that this company was establishing in Francistown. Some even sent pictures of the trainees proudly holding certificates they’d been given following the training. So was it perhaps genuine and just a bit strange? Was it all actually legitimate?


Let’s not forget the issue of theft. The people running this program had stolen the logo and name of a company in a foreign country and while that might seem like a minor thing I think it tells you a lot about someone.

But then the whistle-blowers got in touch.

The first said:
“I saw your post warning us about Voxcom and I am one of the affected. We have been conned out of our P750 with promises of jobs. We went there every morning till month end and now the company is dodging to pay us our salaries as per our agreement.”
Another told me:
“This is totally a scam and people are kept there with so many unfulfilled promises. There is nothing going on, no furniture, no permanent offices, people are there without contracts. The so called investor has long gone and made promises that he is coming back but they keep postponing his arrival. The company’s account is at zero while the investor is busy saying he is transferring millions.”
They went to say that:
“100 people paid during my time there and went through customer service training and I did hear they trained some batch. The 1st batch was trained and got certificates. The 2nd batch didn't get their certificate.”
Yet another whistle-blower was able to offer a wealth of insider information about the finances of this strange scheme, about the troubles the organiser was having crossing the border from South Africa, and even the politicians he was trying to seduce into endorsing his business. They also confirmed the story from the others that the organiser:
“had promised the employees that they will get paid but he kept postponing dates when they will be paid and up to this day they still haven't been paid. He lies all the time about him being on his way to Botswana everyday.”
This person said that the:
“most disheartening thing is that some of the people that were promised jobs are people who had other jobs only to quit hoping for greener pastures. And to this date they are still registering more people getting P750 from them. I am of the knowledge that 50 employees have since been fired because they are said to be under 21 but you wonder why it wasn't stated in the beginning that they are unemployable yet their P750s were still taken.”
They concluded by reporting that
“When employees complain or ask when they are getting paid they get threatened that they will be fired. All in all this is a scam and its continuing. I don't know how these people can be stopped.”
The good news is that this scam has already collapsed. The bad news is that the organiser appears to have stolen at least P75,000 from people, probably a lot more. The worst news is that we’ve fallen for a scam yet again and I don’t see an end to it any time soon.

So when will we learn to be less gullible? When will we truly understand that there are many people out there whose only objective is to steal our money? When will we become a nation of skeptics? It needs to be soon!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

The knives are out for me!

I bought knives for a customer from a catering supplies company after seeing them in their catalogue and they then ordered them from South Africa. After they arrived I took them to my customer and they were rejected because it was not the one they wanted. On returning them to the catering supplies company they told me to pay the courier costs for them to take them and tax clearance for them to refund me. So I am asking whether this is the right thing to do?

This surely depends on the answer to a single, simple question. Who made the mistake?

If it was you who selected the wrong type of knives from the catalogue then yes, I think you are the one who should pay the cost of that mistake. However, if it was a mistake by the catering supplies company then no, you shouldn’t be forced to pay for their mistake. If they ordered the wrong item then the cost should be paid by them.

There’s also a third possibility. Was it your customer’s fault? Did they advise you incorrectly? In that case you could probably approach them and explain that they should pay the cost of their mistake but I’m not sure that’s the best idea. If it’s only a small amount, and they’re an important customer, do you want to run the risk of irritating them that much?

Must she keep the box?

A friend of mine bought a Huawei smart phone around March this year.  In less than a month after purchasing the phone, the phone began freezing and switching off on its own. She then took it back to the shop and they tried to fix it and when she collected it the mouth piece was damaged. They refused to fix the mouth piece. After a few days the phone began freezing and switching off on its own like before. She took it back and they tried to fix the phone but failed to fix it and then they agreed that they will give her a new phone since they failed to fix that one. Yesterday when she went to the shop they told her to bring the box of the phone. She told them she misplaced it and then they told her that they she won't be given a new phone because of the misplaced box and they can't help her anymore. 

I suspect that this store needs a quick lesson in the Consumer Protection Regulations. Firstly, Section 13 (1) (a) which requires companies to offer commodities and service that are “of merchantable quality” which means “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. A cellphone that doesn’t even last a month before going wrong is clearly not of merchantable quality. Then when they tried to repair the phone and only caused more damage to the mouthpiece, that would be a breach of section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations which requires a supplier to offer service “with reasonable care and skill”. They don’t seem either careful or skilful to me.

That bit about having to keep the box could well be a breach of Section 17 (1) (d) which forbids a company from “causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. By making up a rule that your friend must keep the box in which the phone was sold, I think they’re clearly causing confusion or misunderstanding. They’re also in breach of Section 17 (1) (e) by suggesting that they were disclaiming their obligations to offer a phone that was of merchantable quality, unless they made the condition very clear when she bought the device. Finally, I think they breached Section 17 (1) (f) by saying your friend waived her rights without her specifically consenting to doing so. To me, “specific consent” means a signature on a piece of paper saying she understood she needed to keep the box.

So there you go. Five different rights potentially abused in one sale and failure to fix a problem. Are they trying to break a record?

I suggest your friend goes back to the store with this edition of The Voice and reads this to them. See if that has any effect!

Friday 22 September 2017

Staying safe online

We all know how to protect ourselves against infection, don’t we? We know to sneeze into our elbows, wash our hands after visiting the toilet and to use barrier methods when doing anything particularly intimate. We all know these things, even if not all of us follow the advice we’re being given. But we know.

Do we really know how to protect ourselves when we’re in front of a computer? Do we have any understanding of what the threats might be? Do you have any idea what the impact would be on you and your company if you fail to protect yourself?

We recently had a very useful lesson about cybersecurity. In May this year computers around the world were attacked by the so-called “WannaCry” ransomware. According to the BBC
“200,000 victims in 150 countries” had been infected including hospitals in the UK which “left hospitals and doctors unable to access patient data, and led to the cancellation of operations and medical appointments.” The attack also affected systems in several European countries and victims in Russia were hit hard.

WannaCry was an example of “ransomware”, a particularly vicious descendant of the old-fashioned computer virus. Once it got onto the victim’s computer all the documents on the computer would remain visible but could no longer be opened. Instead the victim was presented with a message saying that if they wanted to access their documents they need to pay the criminals behind the scheme the equivalent of P3,000 but not by any conventional means. Like all criminals who kidnap for ransom, they wanted payment in an untraceable form, in this case Bitcoin.

This particular example was focussed specifically on Windows computers and in particular those using older version of Windows, and those who haven’t been downloading the regular security updates that Microsoft releases. It also did its best to spread itself across any network in which it found itself so that once one computer was infected, all the other vulnerable computers on the network would likely be infected as well.

The worrying thing is that even though this attack targeted computers that were running very old versions of Windows, most notably Windows XP which became unsupported by Microsoft more then three years ago, there are still many businesses that persist in using it. Within a few days of the WannaCry attack I saw a computers running Windows XP at an airport check-in desk and, much more worryingly, in a hospital. I know my fellow techies will say that it’s often hard to upgrade certain “legacy” systems but I don’t care. Which is more important to you, saving money upgrading systems or the security of your customer and patient data?

What would happen to your business if all your files were suddenly inaccessible? Would you be able to continue? How would you sell anything? How many customers would you have left by the end of the week?

What’s more worrying to me is how risky some people’s behaviour can be. Just like in other areas of life, people are frighteningly careless, inserting memory sticks from unknown sources into their devices or visiting dubious web sites and allowing them to install software on their computers when they are offered something that’s either free or titillating. It’s just as worrying when I see people in coffee shops and restaurants using the free WiFi and doing some extremely reckless things.

Like online banking.

In case you don’t know this already, you should never, except in a national emergency, and probably not even then, go to your bank’s online banking service when using a public WiFi network. Just don’t, the risks are too high.

The biggest risk is that the WiFi network you join might not be real. You see a network called “CoffeeShop” and that’s the one you join, yes? But how do you know it’s for real? How do you know it’s not a fake network designed to lure you into connecting?

Even though it’s beyond the skills of most of us, a moderately skilled techie can set up a fake WiFi network very easily. I know this for a fact. Because that’s exactly what we did at the recent Consumer Watchdog conference.

Our technology partners, IT-IQ set up an unsecure WiFi access point at the conference center and conducted what they call a “man in the middle” attack. That allowed them to monitor the traffic that went through their network. During the session when the network was available 55 people connected to it and each one of them could pick up their email, surf the web and post pictures on Facebook. Not one of them realised that they’d been deceived.

Obviously on this occasion nothing unethical was done but it showed how easily smart, cyber-smart people could fall victim to such a fake network. The look on the faces of some of these people when IT-IQ held a cybersecurity workshop later that day when they were told what had happened was both funny and scary. When they were shown details of some of the web sites they had visited to prove what had been done people learned a very valuable lesson. If this is what good, ethical guys can do, what do you think the bad guys will do?

So here are some free tips to help you stay safe online.

Don’t use unsecured public WiFi networks for anything sensitive. You probably shouldn’t use them for anything but be particularly careful not to visit any online financial services such as banking and BURS when connected to one.

Don’t use out-dated and unsupported operating systems such as Windows XP. If your computer is too old and underpowered to use a later version of Windows then install a form of Unix such as Ubuntu or Linux. They’re free and come with almost everything most of us will ever need. Or use a Mac.

Use one of the free malware protection services. You don’t need to use the one that came with your computer that costs money, choose a free alternative, they’re just as good.

Above all, we must all educate ourselves. Don’t ever think you’re too unsophisticated or old to understand technology. Just because you don’t understand how a car works, does that mean you don’t wear a seatbelt?

The Voice - Consumer'a Voice

They’re confused!

I received a text message saying I owe some money at a private hospital lab, P1194 and that I was to settle the bill in 7 days. I then called the number that was at the end of the message to enquire and was told I owe P987.94 instead as my account had some credit which was used. On asking why then they sent P1194 I was told the person who sent messages was not looking at the system. Apparently my medical aid had not paid their portion. I later on called the medical aid which confirmed to me that they have paid the bill. The amount and service date of the bill was the same, except for the reference number I got from the hospital. The medical aid said the lab should call them if they need clarifications and they should correct their accounts. I finally called the lab and they said they would call medical aid and after a short while the lady from the lab called me and said now I don't owe anything. She said the reference number used by med aid is different but they are the same. I am so confused. Apparently each account has 2 reference numbers according to her. How can reference numbers be the different and be the "same"? And how can the amounts that I was supposed to pay in 7 days be different? I’m hoping u would maybe help me understand this.

Unfortunately, I don’t understand this at all. Like you, I’m as confused as the hospital lab and your medical aid. The difference is that you and me being confused is acceptable, your two service providers being confused is not. We pay companies like the medical aid and the hospital to be experts in their field and keeping accurate, timely and complete financial records is meant to be within their expertise.

My fear is that this is the sort of problem that will keep on occurring if they don’t get their records correct. I suggest that you write a letter to the CEOs of both the medical aid and hospital politely asking for a statement showing that you don’t owe either of them any money. Next time their systems have a meltdown you can wave those letters at them.

The lesson from this is whenever possible to get some form of evidence when you settle a debt or a debt is cancelled or corrected. Always insist that the letter confirms that no information regarding the false debt was ever passed to a credit reference bureau. Good luck!

I’ve waited 9 months!

I bought double bunk beds and sofas from a furniture store and reported some faults in December 2016 and up to today they haven't attended to them. Literally I go and raise the issue monthly. Please advice me on drafting a formal complaint letter. 

Assuming that the items you bought were still within the warranty period I think you should write a letter to the Managing Director or Country Manager of the furniture store chain, certainly not anyone less important. Ignore any complaints procedure they might have, remember that it’s 2017, we live in the era of Facebook. Customers are in charge now, not them. The letter should say something like this:

“Dear MD

On [purchase date] I bought a double bunk bed and sofas from your store at [location]. In December 2016 I informed the store of the following faults with the items [describe the faults]. These faults were clearly a breach of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which require a supplier to offer commodities that are “of merchantable quality” and that are “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. Since my original complaint and despite numerous reminders, your store has failed to honour this obligation, which I consider to be a breach of Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations which requires a supplier to offer services “with reasonable care and skill”. A failure to respond to a complaint for nine months is clearly not reasonable.

Please will you ensure that my complaint is resolved within the next 14 days. If not, I will be forced to escalate the matter to the authorities and to instigate legal action if it is not remedied.

Lots of love and kisses.”

You might want to leave out the last line.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Why are they here?

Why do people come to Botswana?

Obviously a lot of them come there because Botswana is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our landscape, our wilderness, our animals are exceptional. They come to see that and hopefully leave some of their lovely money behind when they leave.

Others come here to invest and make profits and there’s nothing wrong with that either. In fact we need a lot more of that. We need more foreign businesses coming here with their expertise and money. That can only help elevate the general quality and volume of business in Botswana and a bit of healthy competition is always useful.

But that’s not who I mean. I’m asking about the people who come to Botswana and try and steal our money.

If you’re on Facebook (and I know many of you are), you will have seen messages from a variety of people offering you a range of “opportunities”. One I saw recently, from an enterprising Filipino, said this:
“HELLO BOTSWANA! We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone? DOING IT PART TIME and AT HOME. Just comment "HOW" below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. First 10 person will be prioritized!!!! HURRY!! Let Do this 7 heads INVESTMENT. JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”

Let’s start with the first question. Who or what is “Aim Global”? Their full name is “Alliance in Motion Global”, a Filipino multi-level marketing scheme selling nutritional supplements. Of course there’s nothing illegal or improper about food supplements like the ones AIM Global sell, they’re just useless for almost everybody. With very few exceptions none of us need to take them. A reasonably balanced diet involving plenty of fruit and vegetables will give us all the nutrients a normal person will ever need. Expensive extras are just a waste of money.

However, and this is common among companies offering supplements, their distributors make some remarkable claims. I found one who claimed that AIM Global’s “C247” product could help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, beri-beri, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, hypertension, hepatitis, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”. We all know what that last claim means, don’t we?

Another headlined his blog post with the title “Cure For Cancer Is Possible!” before claiming that their products can offer such a cure.

These are all lies and the clue is obvious. If such a miraculous, magical product existed, someone would been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine by now, if not even the prize for Peace as well. And they haven’t. No single product could do any of those things, certainly not all of them. So it’s safe to assume they’re lying.

Like all similar schemes the important thing to note is that the products aren’t important. Look back at the Facebook post above and you’ll notice something interesting. They don’t mention the products. They give you no clue whether the products this company sells are nutritional supplements, dishwashers or saucepans. That’s because they don’t care. Like the other schemes the real attraction is making money. Phrases like “P200 to P3,200 daily”, “business opportunity” and “be the next Millionaire in your Country” tell you all you need to know.

Dig a little deeper into the into AIM Global and you find all the usual signs of a pyramid-structured business. No mention of products, instead just hints about opportunities to make lots of money and become a millionaire by doing your best to recruit multiple layers of people beneath you to build your own personal pyramid.

Let’s go back to the original question. Why are they visiting us (electronically) us in Botswana? Why would people in the Philippines try to get people in Botswana to join this business? If the business is so successful, why aren’t they trying to recruit people in their own neighbourhood? Why aren’t they recruiting Filipinos?

That one I can answer based on personal experience. As someone who worked and lived for a short period in the Philippines, I can tell you with some certainty that Filipinos are a skeptical nation. They lived through dictatorial oppression and they know to be skeptical about scams like AIM Global. I suspect AIM Global have emptied the pool of gullible victims over there and are now exploring new regions to exploit.

But why us?

I know I mention it often but it’s a fact that the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme that hit us hard five years ago was specifically targeted at us in Botswana. They didn’t have significant numbers of victims in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho or Swaziland. They just had victims in Botswana. That should tell us something. The problem is that we have a national reputation for gullibility. We’re known as a nation that is easily scammed. That’s one of the reasons companies like AIM Global are so busily trying to recruit people here. In the last week I’ve denied twenty AIM distributors entry into the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group but meanwhile they’re being allowed into many other Botswana-based Facebook groups and as soon as they’re admitted they’re actively recruiting people.

We have a choice. Are we going to allow companies like AIM Global to abuse us the way other schemes have done? Are we going to allow them to steal our money?

I think we need to be a bit more selective about the visitors we allow into our country. Yes, tourists and investors should be welcomed with open arms but we need to establish some stronger controls about people who want our money. The problem is that the internet and Facebook don’t know anything about national borders. What we need are skeptical border posts inside our heads and a much stronger mental passport control system.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is World Ventures legitimate?

Please help us understand. World Ventures is now talk of the town and many people are lured to fall into it. Meetings are held almost everyday. Personally I was enticed to join and I did not have cash amounting to $411 or P4,500. I asked the lady who wanted me to join to use her money from her account to help me join since I was skeptic and indeed she gladly did so. I later in the day asked her to ask the administrators to cancel my transaction since my skepticism grew by the day.

I humble request that your organization makes more and loud noise about this movement. it is very pathetic to see even poor workers falling into the bottomless pit.

I’m glad that you didn’t waste your own money joining this scheme. It was very smart of you to get the person recruiting you to spend her money instead!

World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. The Gaming Board in Norway announced a few years ago that following a lengthy investigation they were certain that World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. Their main criteria for deciding this was simple. 95% of all the money paid out to recruits in Norway was for the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things. That’s a pyramid scheme.

Like many other schemes that try to appear legitimate World Ventures have been forced by various countries to post income statements that illustrate what their distributors actually earn from their business. The latest figures showed that three-quarters of all people who join make nothing at all from the business. Of the quarter that had an income, almost all of the money was earned by the tiny proportion at the top of the pyramid. Everyone else had to share the small amount left over. But don’t forget that these statements only talk about income, they never mention profit. These figures exclude all the costs associated with running the business like transport, phone and internet bills. It’s likely that, with the exception of those very few people at the top, everyone else loses money.

So don’t waste your time on this scheme or any others like it. The rule is simple. Get Rich Quick schemes only make the crooks at the top rich, at the expense of you and me.

Where’s my insurance?

I insured my vehicle last year in May. This year in August I had an accident, and when I tried to lodge a claim the insurer told me that my policy had expired. This completely shocked me as I was NEVER informed by the insurer that my policy has expired even when I was in contact with them in throughout May for a claim that I was processing at the time. I appealed to the CEO, who informed me that they will only give me feedback on the appeal once they have assessed the vehicle (meaning that they needed to know the cost of the damage first before deciding on whether to cover or not). I have subsequently received a notification that the vehicle wont be covered.

They claim to have tried to call me once and failed, which I don't believe since I didn't get any missed calls from them; and I also feel that calling once was not enough! They could have sent email and or sms to actually inform that the policy had expired.

This I believe is very unfair business practice where the insurance company does not want to take responsibility for failure of the staff to inform a client that their policy has expired. 

Yes, I agree with you that the company should have made efforts to contact you to. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires a company that offers any service to do so “with reasonable care and skill”. I think that means they should have tried harder to let you know the policy had lapsed.

However, if the policy lapsed because your payments stopped for some reason, then there’s also an obligation on you, the consumer, to have noticed this. Yes, perhaps it was the bank’s fault but it’s still your job to ensure that the payments went through. You, after all, are the customer, not the bank.

Nevertheless, we’ll get in touch with the company and see if they can reconsider their decision.

Saturday 9 September 2017

It's all about health

You want to be healthy. I want to be healthy. We both want our family members, our friends and the people we respect to be healthy, don’t we?

I want to suggest something to you. There’s another group of people that you want to be healthy. Your customers.

It might seem obvious but with the possible exception of funeral parlours and private hospitals, every industry benefits from having healthy customers. We want our customers to be healthy because the alternative is a threat to our business. Sick customers aren’t as able to get to your store or office as healthy ones. Sick customers are less likely to spend money on the fun things of life because they’re too busy suffering. Sick customers are too busy spending their money on medicines and transport to the clinic to spend money with you.

It gets worse. Those customers who are so sick that they die don’t spend any money at all and often leave their family members poorer after their departure, further reducing the chances of them visiting you and leaving their money with you.

As well as being morally good, it’s also in your selfish interests to help your customers to become healthier. I recently met a senior manager from an insurance company in another country that already rewards its own staff for being healthier. Every day that an employee takes more than 10,000 steps counts towards a bonus scheme that gives the staff discounts on their shopping (so long as it’s healthy stuff, not chocolate and wine), discounted holidays and even financial bonuses. And guess what? They’re thinking of rolling out the same idea to their customers. And who benefits from this? Everyone. There’s no downside. The staff, and soon the customers, will enjoy slightly better health and treats, the insurance company benefits because the average life expectancy of the customers will probably increase slightly, allowing them to pay their premiums for longer, society benefits from having slightly more healthy, happy people and the economy benefits from the increased tax these longer-living people will contribute.

Health is a comprehensive good.

But let’s not forget that health isn’t just about the physical things. Health is much more complicated than that. You can’t have a completely fulfilled life if your mind isn’t healthy as well and having a healthy mind is almost as difficult as having a healthy body because they’re both so complicated.

For instance I don’t think you can be fully mentally healthy unless you can manage your finances properly. Those of us who fall for financial scams such as Eurextrade, Helping Hands International or MMM are not only going to end up poorer as a result of the money we lose but we’re also going to end up despondent, miserable and desperate. There have been too many stories from Nigeria reporting on the people who have been driven so desperate by their losses in the MMM scam to doubt this.

On a more positive note, I genuinely believe that the development of a personal savings habit is one of the best things you can do to boost your mental health. Owning your own things makes you happier, it genuinely does. Not being crippled by debt is a very good medicine for your mind.

We also need to start thinking about healthy workplaces. Those of us lucky enough to be employed typically spend about a third of our lives at work and we need to think more carefully about staying mentally healthy there as well. As employees but also as managers we need to work harder to make sure our colleagues are getting along with each other as well as possible, that our managers aren’t bullying staff rather than leading them and that when conflict inevitably appears, we deal with it in a mature, sensible, rational and compassionate manner.

We did a very unscientific survey recently and asked people how stressed they felt at work. 77% of the people who answered said their stress levels were either high or very high. I’m not sure that’s entirely true because I doubt that proportion of people are in genuinely high-stress professions. Those of us sitting in offices and meeting rooms might think we’re stressed but have you considered how stressful it is to be a police officer, emergency room doctor or a paramedic? That’s where you’ll find genuinely high stress.

Nevertheless, if people are reporting such high levels of stress I think they need to be taken seriously. Our business culture needs to incorporate ways of helping people deal with the stress they experience. The good news is that the solutions are actually quite easy.

I also don’t think we can call ourselves healthy if we’re open to cyber-infection. It used to be rogue computer disks, then it changed to infected USB drives and now it’s email and shady web sites that are doing their best to infect our devices with malware. You might recall just a few months ago that computers around the world running older versions of Windows were victims to a ransomware attack. When infected the contents of the computer would be encrypted and only unlocked when the victim paid a Bitcoin ransom to the crooks who created the tool that did the damage. Can you imagine the effect to your mental wellness if the entire contents of your computer were taken away from you? How would you cope? How would your stress levels be? And can you imagine how you’d feel when you found that even after paying the ransom nothing happened?

The good news is that all of these issues are on the national agenda. I know this for a fact because I know some of the people in business, the public service and the media who are all very keen to raise these issues for public debate. I also know it because it was the theme of this year’s Consumer Watchdog conference. We had a range of experts speaking about the issues and running interactive workshops where participants could learn directly about the things they could do to address them. But this is just the beginning. Only when we all start taking health more seriously will our nation stand a chance of being a healthy one.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want a refund!

On 31st of July I bought a phone at a store by the Gaborone station. Upon arriving home I realised it was not performing well and on the 2nd I took it back only to be told by the shop assistant that it only needs to be flashed and maybe it has virus. She did this and I went back home only to realize that following day the phone was still not performing, I went back again for the 3rd time and was told maybe it needs to be updated software and thy asked me if I don't have WiFi at work. I said I have and they showed me how to do it. When I get at work but it showed that the phone was updated in only 5 seconds but the problem was still there and I went back again and that time I only wanted them to give me a new phone or my money back of which they owner said the phone needs to be repaired. I was shocked that how can I buy something new and be told it needs repairs? I refused and decided I will look for help, I’m hoping you can be of help to me.

Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations states that goods and service must be “of merchantable quality” which means they should be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. In other words, a cellphone should make calls, send messages and do whatever smart things it says on the box. Clearly in this case the phone isn’t of merchantable quality.

In these situations the store is obliged to offer you one of the three Rs: a refund, a repair or a replacement. However, and here’s the difficult part, the store can decide which of these three Rs it chooses. The store is entitled to say that they’ll try and repair the phone, however much you would rather just get your money back. It’s only after they fail to repair it that I think you can demand a different solution, like a refund.

I suggest that you give the store the opportunity to repair the phone and then see what happens.

Meanwhile, we need a change to the law. We need to follow the other countries around the world that now allow consumers to demand a refund if something they buy fails within the first 7 or maybe 14 days. I think that’s a right that we deserve, don’t you?

Can I trust them?

Hi Mr Harriman, kindly assist and unpack another too good to be true scheme marketed by Men of God. It is called Atlantic Global Asset Management (AGAM) or Questra World. Is it a scam or not?

Atlantic Global Asset Management and Questra World are a scam. They make some remarkable claims, such as you making “4-7% interest every week”. One of the people trying his best to recruit victims posted on Facebook that “You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.” Isn’t that a very clear warning sign?

The same person, someone fairly well known as a religious leader, has been presenting on the supposed benefits of this scheme in various locations around the country recently. I think it’s interesting that in 2010 he was marketing TVI Express, a pyramid scheme that eventually collapsed, leaving many people poorer and desperate. In 2015 he was doing his best to recruit people into the Xtreme Fuel treatment scheme, selling a product that they claimed improved fuel efficiency but in fact did nothing of the sort. And now he’s recruiting people into a new Get Rich Quick Scheme. Looks like a pattern, don’t you think?

Rather than describe the Atlantic Global Asset Management and Questra World business, I’ll quote the Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority who expressed very clearly their feelings about Questra. They said that the scheme “clearly resembles that of a pyramid scheme or, at the very least, a Ponzi fraud." Similar warnings have been issued by the authorities in Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Poland, Spain and the UK.

I think the lesson is simple, don’t you? You can trust this new scheme as much as you can trust the other schemes this person has tried to sell people. They were scams and countries around the world think this one is a scam as well. Why should we think any differently?

Saturday 2 September 2017

What's free?

You’ll have heard people say that nothing in life is free. Others might have told you that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The general consensus is that everything has a cost.

But is that true? Is there anything you can get for free?

Some technical nerds (like me) will tell you that even the things you think are for free aren’t. Facebook, for instance. Facebook is free, isn’t it? No, it’s not, even though it costs you nothing to register, you know that it‘ll use your precious data to post things and to wade through the inconsequential nonsense in your search for chrmesomething interesting, don’t you? Yes, there are image-free options that don’t use airtime and that certain network providers offer “for free” in the packages you buy but either way, even if you’re not paying for Facebook in money, airtime or data you’re certainly paying for it in another way. In return for access to their connections and your Facebook “friends”, you’re paying in a currency you probably didn’t ever consider. Privacy.

When you sign up for Facebook you “sign” an online agreement that says Facebook owns you. Not like a slave but they have the right to do almost anything they please with the photos you post, your friendship connections, the groups you join and the pages you like for their advantage. Of course they’re not going to use them for anything criminal or too dubious but they are going to mine them for nuggets of information they can use to exploit your use of their systems. Most importantly they’ll be targeting advertisements at you based on the understanding they, or rather their cleverly programmed computer systems, develop about you. If it’s obvious from your posts and the pages you like that you’re interested in financial matters then the ads you see will focus more on such things. If it appears that you’re very interested in sport then you’ll probably see more ads for sports news pages and online betting services. If they see that you like Donald Trump they can obviously market anti-psychotic drugs in your direction. It’s intelligence-based advertising that you permitted them to do. Yes, you did, in that agreement you signed electronically, you remember the one you chose not to read?

And no, before you ask, I didn’t read mine either. I found this out later.

And should you complain? Should you feel aggrieved or upset that you agreed to share your personal material with Facebook? No, I don’t think you should. They are, after all, giving you space on the largest global social media channel and the widest communication channel the world has ever known. It’s remarkable it’s even free, considering the amount of work that’s gone into developing it.

What else is free? What about education?

Yes, education can be free. No, I don’t mean qualifications, they always cost money, I mean a wider education. The source, however, is both the solution and the problem. The internet is a remarkable source of education. It’s also an enormous supply of misinformation, nonsense and deliberate deceptions. In a matter of seconds you can find “evidence” that the world is run by alien reptiles, that vaccines cause autism, that homeopathy has some beneficial effect and that the world is flat. Of course, all of these “facts” are nothing of the sort, every one of them is utter nonsense but if you’re even slightly gullible you might fall for them if you believe what you read on the internet. The good news is that despite the vast amount of rubbish on the web, there are sources of high-quality information and educational resources that you can use for free. I’ll post links in the online version of this article. (Udemy, University of Oxford, BBC, TED)

Those of us who own smartphones will also have access to some rather wonderful free things. Ignoring the data download costs, the Facebook and Messenger Apps, along with WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Google Maps, TripAdvisor and an enormous range of news, health, weather and productivity apps are all free. And genuinely useful.

And then there are sources of information. I know certain friends and colleagues will sigh when I mention Wikipedia but it’s not as bad as many people make out. Yes, the truly remarkable thing about Wikipedia is that it’s an encyclopedia, a body of knowledge, that is developed by the public. That does mean that any charlatan, crook of madman can go online and create a page of insane gibberish but it also means that you and I, the rational, (reasonably) sane ones can also go online and correct the lunacy. If you’re a registered user (which also costs precisely nothing) you can then go and see who edited it, when and what changes they made. It might be anarchy but it’s transparent anarchy. It’s what those of us old enough to remember the early days of the internet always hoped it would become. A democratic medium of information exchange. And like all other examples of democracy it’s flawed, slightly out of control and sometimes surprising.

And another thing that’s free. Consumer Watchdog.

Everything that Consumer Watchdog does for the consumers of Botswana has always been free. It’s still free and it always will be. The question we sometimes get from consumers, how much will it cost them for us to help them solve their problem is simple. Nothing. Zero. Not a single thebe.

And here’s one final thing that’s free. Something much more important than anything else I’ve mentioned. Something I firmly believe can change the world for the better. Something that can prevent, ease and settle arguments at a personal and an international level, one of the few things I’d describe as having miraculous properties. Kindness.

Next time you go into a store, a bank, or in fact any company you deal with, go in feeling kind. I know that it’s their job to greet you, their job to humble themselves to your needs, their job to greet you first but get there first. Why don’t you be the surprisingly nice one? You’ll be surprised what good it does to everyone’s life.

And that works for Facebook as well. Be nice. It’s free.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can’t they repair my broken TV?

I bought a television on high purchase from a furniture store in the Main Mall Gaborone last year. The selling price was P8,999 but through high purchase was P18,999 of which I managed to pay more than P10.000.

I happened to miss some installments due to financial problems which I alerted them about. Then my TV got damaged due to a power cut and I went to them to inform them about the television. To my surprise they told me that they can’t repair nor replace it because of my arrears and when I asked them to at least take it back because I can’t pay something that I am not using. Still they are refusing even though the television is still under guarantee. Please help!

Unfortunately you’re in a very bad situation. Let’s start at the beginning. It’s not “high purchase” although I can understand why anyone would think it is. It’s certainly a very high-priced way to buy something. Your own figures show this. You were buying something that was available for P8,999 cash but for more than double that price on HIRE purchase. That’s what it’s really called. The word is “hire” and it’s very important that you understand that. Until you pay the last instalment you’re only hiring the TV and only then will it becomes your property. The other thing to understand is that the hire purchase agreement that you signed certainly included a clause saying that their obligation to fix the TV if It went wrong was only valid if you were up-to-date with your instalments.

Finally, even if you weren’t in arrears, I suspect they wouldn’t have repaired anyway because it had been damaged due to a power cut or the power surge that followed it and these events are often excluded from the warranty. It wasn’t, after all, the store’s fault that there was a power cut.

A quick tip. Install a surge protector with every sensitive electrical item or on your main distribution board. It might prevent expensive items from exploding when there’s a power surge.

Probably the only thing you can do is to rapidly catch up with your instalments and then see if the store can then honour the warranty.

Must I keep the box?

I bought a Huawei smart phone around March this year. In less than a month after purchasing the phone, the phone began freezing and switching off on its own. I then took it back to the shop and they tried to fix it and when I collected it the mouth piece was damaged. They refused to fix the mouth piece. After a few days the phone began freezing and switching off on its own like before. I took it back and they tried to fix the phone but failed to fix it and then they agreed that they will give me a new phone since they failed to fix that one.

Yesterday when I went to the shop they told me to bring the box of the phone. I told them I misplaced it and then they told me that they I won't be given a new phone because of the misplaced box and they can't help me anymore. Is this right?

Who cares about the box? How does it matter?

Well, it DOES matter if you agreed when you bought the phone that the box was so important that you needed to keep it. But did you? Did you sign anything saying that you agreed to keep the box the phone came in? If you did NOT sign such an agreement then the store can’t demand it. Section 17 (1) (d) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids a company from causing “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. Making up a rule after a problem occurs that you must supply the original packaging is clearly causing such a confusion. Section 17 (1) (e) also forbids them from “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability” unless they made the requirement to keep the box very clear when you bought the phone.

I suggest you double check whether there is any evidence that you agreed to keep the box and if there isn’t, go and explain the law to them. See if they feel like obeying it before we escalate things further.