Many of us will remember those days in the past when things were very different. If you’re old enough, cast your mind back fifteen or twenty years and think of the number of loan sharks that were operating in Botswana. Do you remember how they were charging up to 30% interest per month? Do you remember how they were completely ignoring the “in duplum” rule, the rule that says that when a debt is settled the interest charged cannot exceed the remaining capital amount? Do you remember how they were routinely taking people’s ATM cards and sometimes even their Omang cards as insurance that they would repay their loans? Do you remember how there were loan sharks operating from car parks, fried chicken restaurants and in one case I personally witnessed, from a government office?
Today these offences are rare. That’s because the micro-lending industry is now regulated by NBFIRA, a regulator that actually seems to enjoy getting its hands a bit dirty and exercising the powers they’ve been given. These days hearing about a micro-lender misbehaving is a much rarer event. Not unheard of, but rare. It was a surprise when a few weeks ago we got a message from a consumer who asked:
“Are these cash loans allowed to keep our bank cards and keep on paying themselves every month? I’m shocked right now that my mother who is 70 years a pensioner has been without her bank card It's like it stay there for ever.”We sent that consumer straight to NBFIRA who no doubt explained to the lender that their conduct was unacceptable and confined them in their dungeons.
Also in the past we had hire purchase. Yes, I know we still have it but we did have one minor success in making the cost of hire purchase easier to understand. You might remember that when items were advertised on “credit”, the stores just advertised how much the deposit would be, the number of instalments you needed to make and how much each one would cost you. The stores were ignoring the legal requirement, as expressed in the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 which says that when “goods are offered for sale on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale or on any other terms as to deferred payment” then the details shown must include “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”.
When we first discovered this rule we wrote to the Managing Directors of all the stores that sell things on credit or hire purchase and asked them if they knew about this. To their credit, they almost all came back to us apologetically, saying they weren’t aware of it and would change their advertising as soon as possible. One of them was a little bit less cooperative. It doesn’t matter, they said, we abide by South African law. That’s lovely, we told them, then go back to South Africa. In Botswana the laws of Botswana apply, not the laws of another country that you prefer. They eventually complied with the laws of the country that had welcomed them and allowed them to exploit its people.
Another thing that has changed, although not completely is the number of people with fake degrees. A number of highly publicised cases involving senior managers and academics who were exposed as having purchased degrees from unaccredited so-called “universities” has made us all a lot more aware of how skeptical we need to be about people’s qualifications. Over the last eight years we’ve warned readers about forty-five different establishments that claim to offer qualifications but none of which actually require their “students” to do any coursework, sit any exams, deliver any dissertations or do any actual work. All they’ve ever required is a credit card number and then, as if by magic (or Mrs Mugabe) a degree certificate is in the post.
Not all of these crooks have been pleased to be exposed. Several of them have threatened us with all sorts of consequences once they realised their scam was likely to dry up.
One of them, calling itself “Headway University” even created a web site for a fake law firm calling itself "Joyce & Nielsen" who sent us an email demanding that we retract the accusation that Head way was bogus. They accused us of spreading “defamatory, harmful and malicious content in violation of state, federal and international law … with the intent to harm, defame and cause financial damages to our client, Headway University”.
I wasn’t sure at the time how it is possible to defame a fake university that sells fake degrees to fake graduates. Defamation rests on the assumption that the victim has a reputation to protect. Peddlers of bogus qualifications are criminals. They had no reputation to lose.
It didn’t take too much detective work to discover that the law firm didn’t actually exist. The crooks behind the fake university had created an entirely fake web site to pretend that the law firm existed, even stealing the text on the web site from other, genuine law firms.
So maybe things haven’t changed that much after all?