Sunday 27 January 2019

Radio show notes - week beginning 21st January 2019

Source: Wikipedia
How to spot pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes

Example 1. 50/50 Crowdfunding

50/50 are busy recruiting on FB and real life as you read this.

They describe the process.  You "register" for $29 (about P325) and then you'll "be allocated two people” who each “make donations of $125 (P1,400) each making (P2,800) to the two people allocated”.

You then need to recruit 6 people beneath you and the pyramid starts to build.
“1. level $250 will earn you $750 (P8,400) in one week”
“2. Upgrade to Level $500 will earn you $1,500 (P16,800) in one week”. 
Etc etc etc until you reach Level 5 when they say you'll get $23,250 (P260,000).

I asked one of their active recruiters “Do we have to sell products or just recruit people?” and her answer was very simple:
“No selling of products”
Let's do some arithmetic If 6 new people are recruited at each level and they then each recruit another 6, by Level 5 there will be 9,330 people in the pyramid. They will have paid a total of P3,032,250 to join. And you get a miserable P260,000. Someone somewhere is making a lot of money BUT leet's face it, they're not really. There aren't enough gullible people to make that work This is all about the small payments victims make to join this obvious pyramid scheme.

The clues? Magic words (crowdfunding), multiple levels, exponential growth, impossible targets and the phrase “No selling of products”.

Example 2. Siza Charity Network

The Siza Charity Network describes itself as:
“an international platform as well as a global family. It is a non governmental organisation registered and established in South Africa”
The company does indeed exist but was registered in South Africa on 4th Jan 2019. Their domain was registered on 27th Dec 2018. This scheme is less than a month old.

They say that their plan is to
"build a solid financial base devoid of slavery, over bearing points and balancing that creates a stumbling block for active networkers to count their blessings."
That appears to mean nothing.

Their scheme consists of several levels as follows: Builder, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Diamond, Crown diamond, Ambassador and Crown Ambassador.

Hang on. Doesn't that sound familiar? This is an exact copy of the Jamalife pyramid scheme that was busy stealing people's money last year. Either this is the same people or it's a case of one pyramid scheme stealing from another.

As with Jamalife the promises are extravagant. If you reach the top level, Crown Ambassador you'll:
"Become a shareholder, Non Cash Incentives A family home worth 2 million, An Investment Property worth R1million, Furniture worth R500 000, Infinity Bonus of all your direct downlines R200 000.00, R200 000.00 Infinity allowance from all direct downlines becoming Crown ambassadors"
I asked one of their recruiters the usual question “Do I need to sell anything?” and I got the expected answer:
“U don’t sell anything you recruit 2 people to join under you an tell those people to do the same.”
And then “So we make money just by recruiting others?”
“Yes dear”
The clues? Multiple levels, crazy numbers, a copy of previous pyramid scheme, the fact that they admit it's all about recruitment and the big one, that in order to reach “Crown Ambassador” level, you'd need to recruit 16,777,214 people.

Example 3. CBN aka "Charity Begins Nathi"

CBN offers the expected model of multiple levels of recruitment.

At Stage 1 you get R60, at Stage 2 R120, Stage 3 bring you R1,100 and a R900 smartphone etc etc etc until you get to Stage 8 when you get R1.2 million plus a car worth R1.2 million, a house worth R2.5 million and furniture worth R500,000.

Again, the arithmetic doesn't work well. To get to the top you'd need to have 2,015,538 in the pyramid beneath you.

And yet again the conversation I had with a CBN recruiter told the same story. It's “Recruitment only”, “No selling products” and “Simply recruit them to join under you, and you will be making money.” 

The clues? See above!

The penalties

Section 9 of the 2018 Consumer Protection Act defines a pyramid scheme as:
“where participants in the scheme receive compensation derived primarily from their respective recruitment of other persons as participants”.
It goes to say that people:
“shall not directly or indirectly promote, or knowingly join, enter or participate, or cause any other person to promote, join, enter or participate in … a pyramid scheme”
Did you see that? Even joining a pyramid scheme is forbidden.

And if you're caught? You can face a fine of up to P100,000 or jail for up to 5 years. Or both.

And another thing. Academic fraud.

A company calling itself “WritersBlock”, apparently based in Zimbabwe advertise that:
“We can help you with essays, assignments, research paper, coursework, dissertations and more. All papers 100% unique, delivery on time, affordable cost, complete privacy of your info.”
I contacted them and asked if they could write a Masters-level dissertation for me. Yes, they said, for just $900. Referring to their customers in Botswana they claim to have helped "4 Undergraduate and 3 Masters students last year". When pushed further they told me they were "2 from Botho University and the rest UB."

I asked another company, “Prime Tutors” who are based in Botswana the same question. "Can you write a Masters dissertation for me?" They said:
"Yes we can" 
"Even now we have some projects for environmental science(Ph.D. ), 2 projects for education management( masters). Others are undergraduates"
All it would take was P4,000. And the subjects available?
"Education management, marketing, accounting, psychology, environment management"
Regarding the finished product:
"It will be in your name. It will be yours"
When I asked whether submitting a dissertation written by someone else as if it was my work might be fraudulent, I was told:
"All professors work with research assistants"
"As long as you read and conceptualize it. Even Obama's speeches are written by other people"
I disagree.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this a real job offer?

Please help me in confirming the authenticity of the company called ISFuels (claiming to be based in the USA). Last month the flouted some job vacancies through some local newspapers. I applied for one the position with the believe that the company is planning to set-up a branch here in Botswana.A week later they responded to me by sending a questionnaire (interview) of which I answered and sent back. Three days later they sent me an offer letter but i am a bit skeptical about the whole issue.

You are the fifth person who has approached us about this supposed job offer in the last couple of weeks. Like you, all the others responded to the advertisements, mostly on Facebook, thinking that they were communicating with “ISFuel Inc” that claims to be a fuel company based in Texas, USA. In fact there really is a company called “ISFuel Inc” in Texas but this isn’t who you or the other people have been talking to.

The clues are simple. Firstly these job offers aren’t coming from, they’re coming from people with free email addresses. It’s also curious that they don’t give a single telephone number. I suspect they don’t want people contacting them and asking difficult questions.

The other clues are in the job offer itself. Everyone has been offered the same job, “Assistant Administrative Manager”, a job that they say offers a monthly salary of $4,800 (nearly P600,000 per year), free “feeding and accommodation”, medical aid, sports facilities, flights, annual leave and relocation. You have to ask yourself, why would a company in a country with over 6 million unemployed people want to recruit someone to a basic level position from the far side of the planet?

The answer is simple. Because they want your money. Some of the other potential victims got to a later stage in this recruitment scam when they were asked for money for a visa fee. That’s what this is all about, the “advance fee” that gives this scam its name. Thankfully, none of the people who’ve contacted us have paid anything yet, but who knows how many other have? Please spread the word to everyone you know.

Where’s my bag?

On Saturday 22nd I went into a store at Rail Park Mall. I put my bag containing my house keys at the parcel counter and was given a disc for my luggage. I went into the store to buy things, but when I went to claim my luggage I was given a different bag from mine and I told the attendant that that was not mine.

She informed her supervisor about the ordeal who started checking the cctv footage which showed me while handing in my bag. Unfortunately the footage can't show how my bag got out. I’m told all this has been reported to their security personnel for assessment but to now haven't heard anything from them since then.

On Sunday I was asked to submit the estimated value for everything that was in the bag. Please help.

I don’t like parcel counters and I don’t trust them. More specifically I don’t trust the stores that have them. I don’t trust them to look after the goods that are left with them and your story is yet more proof of how untrustworthy they are.

Part of the problem is that stores know themselves that they can’t be trusted. That’s why there’s almost always a disclaimer by the parcel counter saying that they take no responsibility if goods left there are lost or stolen. If they don’t trust themselves to look after your property, why should we trust them?

I suggest that we escalate this issue to the senior management at this chain of stores. Regardless of any disclaimer they might have, they still had a moral responsibility to look after your goods with some care. The fact that their CCTV conveniently didn’t record your bag being taken should surely raise their suspicions as well as ours.

Meanwhile, the good news is that they want a list of the items in your bag. That suggests to me that they’re thinking about compensating you. I think they know they’re responsible somehow. You should give them the list and don’t be shy about the value of the items that were in your bag. Include the cost of changing all the locks at your house as well. Who knows who has your house keys right now so you need to be cautious and protect the security of your home.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Radio show notes - week beginning 14th January 2019 - Predictions

Source: Wikipedia
Predictions for 2019

Here are our predictions for 2019. No, we don't have psychic abilities, just enough evidence and intuition to feel certain that they'll come true.

1. People will still sign things they shouldn’t sign, and won’t sign things that they should sign

People will continue not to read and understand hire purchase and loan agreements, tenancies and, most importantly, investments and insurance product policies. They'll carry on assuming (incorrectly) that “verbal” agreements have some value when they later need to take action against someone who has abused them. This failure will be exploited by less-than-honest people.

2. Cellular network operators

We will continue to be disappointed, frustrated and angered by cellular network providers who appear to be short-changing us with airtime, data and general quality of service.

3. Some event organisers will continue to be useless

Is any further explanation necessary?

4. Ponzi and pyramid schemes

Ponzi and pyramid schemes will continue to promise wealth, comfort and excitement in return for recruiting multiple levels of victims beneath us. They will have only one aim: to make lots of money for the people at the top and at the expense of those lower down. However, they’ll soon face the fact that, for the first time in our history as a nation, their schemes are now illegal. Section 9 of 2018 Consumer Protection Act will make a difference.

5. Electricity and water will continue to increase in price

That’s just how life is.

6. Public transport providers

Some public transport providers will continue to be awful, horrible people who hold their paying customers in contempt and will continue to employ psychopaths as drivers.

7. Miracle cures

Peddlers of miracle and magical health claims will find that Botswana is a harder place to sell their dangerous lies. They won’t go away but they will be silenced more quickly thanks to new and more effective regulators.

8. Regulators

Regulators with an interest in consumer protection will be a bit more effective BUT only if consumers demand that they do and support them by raising issues and submitting complaints to them. BOCRA, BOMRA, BOBS, NBFIRA are all being more active. We pay for them to exist, so let’s get our money’s worth.

9. Best Before and expiry dates

Best Before dates will continue to be just advisory. Expiry dates will continue to be the things that matter. Consumers will continue not to understand the difference.

10. My Salary might have competition

There will be even more dedicated, inspirational and amazing people working in customer service.

11. It's 2019 

Some companies will understand that it’s 2019 and the ways they engaged with customers in the past are out-dated. They’ll understand that, whether they like it or not, consumers can now express their feelings wherever, whenever and however they like. And there’s nothing companies can do about that. Their choice will be to accept that and work with it, or die.

12. Bitcoin

People will continue to say that Bitcoin is the future of money but they’re probably related to those who said MySpace was the future of the internet. Something like Bitcoin might end up being important and blockchain technology is fascinating but don’t believe the hype. It’s an area that will continue to have more than its fair share of Ponzi and pyramid schemes and other scams. Victims will lose a lot of money.

13. 2019

In 2019 Consumer Watchdog will spend even more time on consumer education. I mean LOTS more time. Watch this space!

Monday 21 January 2019

Consumer Alert - Siza Charity Network

The Siza Charity Network, based in South Africa, describes itself as "an international platform as well as a global family. It is a non governmental organisation registered and established in South Africa."

Some of that is true. It is registered in South Africa but was only first listed on 4th January 2019, just 17 days ago. Its domain was only registered on 27th December last year. The whole thing is less than a month old.

They say that the scheme is "designed to create an evallenge of wealth and Financial Freedom for all".

"Evallenge"? Do they mean avalanche? Or something else?

They say that they plan to "build a solid financial base devoid of slavery, over bearing points and balancing that creates a stumbling block for active networkers to count their blessings."

Again, that's hard to understand. Every word has a meaning but that particular sequence seems to mean very little.

Their business model is very simple.

They offer multiple levels of recruitment, calling them Builder, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Diamond, Crown diamond, Ambassador and Crown Ambassador.

Wait a moment. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Aren't those exactly the same names as those by the Jamalife pyramid scheme from 2018?

Even the graphics are identical.

And of course, like most obvious pyramid schemes, they're very open about the fact that there are no products and it's all just about recruiting other people.

It's safe to assume that Siza Charity Network is a clone of Jamalife, yet another pyramid scheme. Please don't waste your time, effort and money, particularly as with the introduction of the 2018 Consumer Protection Act, promoting or even joining a pyramid scheme is illegal and you could face a fine of up to P100,000 or jail for up to 5 years. Or both.

You have been warned!

Friday 11 January 2019

Academic fraud

Who's the crook, the person you pay to write your dissertation for you, or you for paying for it?

Here's an advertisement spotted on Facebook earlier today.

The advertisement said that their service was "100% Confidential" and "100% satisfaction guaranteed". They promise that the work they produce "is guaranteed to meet the grade you order" and that we should "get a quote for our writing services today and finish your studies with a grade that you can be proud of".

I contacted the advertiser, Victor Mangoma in Zimbabwe, and this was the critical part of our conversation:
Me: Hi. Can you really write my dissertation for me? How much will this cost?
Victor: Good morning. Which program are you doing?
Me: Sociology. I need a dissertation on the radical sociological movements of the 1970s.
Victor: Okay, is it for undergraduate or Masters?
Me: Masters
Victor: We can assist you, it'll cost $900 US.
Me: So I can submit this dissertation as if I wrote it?
Victor: Yes, you'll have full ownership of the work. We won't use it anywhere else. Your privacy is also guaranteed.
Me: So this means I can complete my Masters without doing any real work?
Victor: Correct, we can even do the whole data collection process for you but an extra cost.
So, for $900 (about P9,000), they'll write my dissertation for me. And I can then complete my Masters without doing any real work? "Correct", they say.

What's the word I'm looking for? Oh yes, "fraud", that's it. And "plagiarism", that's another good word.

Anyone buying such a service has committed fraud and, if caught, will be thrown out of their educational establishment and if they've already obtained a qualification it'll be revoked. They could even lose their job and reputation. They might even be prosecuted for "obtaining by false pretence".

One last thing. They told me that their company, "WritersBlock" has "been assisting students all over Africa for the past 4 years". I asked whether they'd helped any students in Botswana and I was told that: "We assisted 4 Undergraduate and 3 Masters students last year". He obviously wouldn't name them but when I asked which universities they were attending, he said "2 from Botho University and the rest UB". The subjects were "Accounting, Business Administration. Media studies and Social Work".

Are you one of those people? Or is Victor just making things up?

And those selling such services? They're frauds as well and they know it.