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!

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