Wednesday 30 October 2019

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Crowd1 a pyramid scheme?

I would like to ask about Crowd1 investment group, how genuine is it? Is it a pyramid scheme?

Yes, it’s possible. The other possibility is that it’s a Ponzi scheme. Either way, it doesn’t matter, getting involved could result in serious fines and even jail time.

Several people have approached us recently asking the same question and it really seems that this South African scam is now looking for victims here in Botswana.

I joined one of their WhatsApp conversations and the introduction was always the same. “I would like to introduce you to a legitimate business that is paying so well and is still new globally. You get paid even if you dont recruit Register and earn real money.” There’s an interesting clue there. Why would a legitimate business make such a point about being legitimate? It’s a bit like a stranger introducing himself by saying “Hi, I’m not a criminal”.

The other clue comes in the next sentence in the conversation. “TURN R1800 TO R66000 MONTHLY SALARY”. I asked whether that was really correct, that by paying just “R1,800, you could earn R66,000 every month and they were clear that this was possible. However, they couldn’t give any real explanation about where the extra money might come from. Curiously, they also claim that people joining can make profit of “100% In 5 Days” and a bonus of “50% Per Referral”.

I think this is most probably a Ponzi scheme, in which some of the money paid by people to join is passed on to people who joined earlier. That’s the referral payment they’re talking about. In fact, what happens in most Ponzi schemes is that money isn’t actually paid to the people joining, it’s just held in a fake account online. The victims are often prevented from withdrawing their money because it doesn’t actually exist.

The good news for Botswana and the bad news for Crowd1 and anyone promoting it or even joining it is that this scheme is illegal. Section 9 of the Consumer Protection Act 2018 outlaws what it calls a “multiplication scheme which “offers, promises or guarantees … an effective interest rate that is above the market rate”. It also outlaws what it calls “chain letter schemes” in which “each successive newly recruited participant is required to make some form of payment which would be distributed to some of the previously existing participants”. The punishment for even joining such a scheme can be a fine of up to P100,000 or five years in prison. Are you prepared to take that risk?

Is the interest correct?

I bought some furniture a few months back on hire purchase. I was doing some end of year computations when I noticed that the interest charged on this contract of P1567.68 is precomputed. This means that it doesn't take into consideration the fact that the principal amount is been reduced with every instalment going forth and it will not change unlike in the AMORTISED system. Is this legal considering that they demand instalments which include capital. This doesn't favour consumers.

Do you think there is anything about hire purchase that favours customers? I don’t.

There are so many things I don’t like about hire purchase. The goods you think you’re buying don’t belong to you until you’ve made the final instalment, they remain the property of the store. The store can repossess the goods if you fall behind with your payments without a court order. The insurance included in the hire purchase agreement is often up to ten times as expensive as the insurance policy you can get elsewhere. If you buy something on hire purchase over two years, the total amount you pay is often double the cash price. Even if the goods are repossessed you can still owe the full amount or more once they add penalties and interest. The warranty on the goods you buy is usually only one year so if it goes wrong on the 366th day, you get no support and you still must pay for another year for something that no longer works.

Your question about interest is a good one but it’s not how hire purchase payments are made. As you say, the interest is calculated at the beginning of the contract and along with the various other elements such as delivery charges, installation and handling fees, contract costs and insurance and the total is then divided by the number of instalments and you pay them evenly throughout the entire period of the agreement.

Saturday 19 October 2019

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can’t they delist me?

I would like you to intervene and speak to my bank management on my behalf to leniently remove me from ITC judgement listing. I took a loan in 2012 while employed as a soldier by Botswana Defence Force and resigned the following year. However plans did not go accordingly upon my next move and I was left jobless with debts hanging over me. I explained to the credit team about my situation but they insisted that despite that I should pay as per our loan agreement contract. I did struggle to pay while I was still looking for a job and trying out business until I began to pay P500 monthly through their lawyers.

Fast forward this year I managed to settle all the loan fees I owed so that I can start over my life with CEDA finance to venture into transport business but the main issue is CEDA can only finance me when I am removed because it sets a bad credit record to me, mind you I do not qualify for any bank loan since banks do not finance start up businesses and CEDA is the only financial lending institution that can assist me with finance.

I am aware that I was at fault as per loan agreement and do respect the bank policies but as a person, a single father to a 3 year old pre school going daughter my future and business is at a halt because of the ITC listing, it is also hindering me from adding value to Botswana's economy by providing service and employment to the unemployed as well as to raising my daughter as a responsible father.

I am kindly appealing to you to speak and plead to the CEO to leniently remove me from the ITC listing because the matter has been addressed to Head of Credit, Head of Legal, Head of Customer Care.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how listings with credit reference bureaux work. While your debt was still outstanding, the bank was right to list you with their bureau of choice. That’s because the debt was real and you still owed them the money. Unfortunately, that listing doesn’t automatically disappear when you settle the debt. My understanding is that the listing remains online for two years after settlement. That’s because it’s true that you were in debt and other potential lenders are entitled to know about your recent history. Think about it from the lender’s position. They want to know as much as possible about your financial history before they take a risk on you.

I suggest that you rethink your plans to develop your business. Take a pause, do some more research and think about what lessons you can learn from your last attempt. Then you can apply again when the listing is finally removed.

Where’s my refund?

Please I need your help. I bought a bedroom suit early this year from a store in Mahalapye. The agreement was my goods would be delivered in Maun but the goods never reached Maun and the managers kept on telling me that they will deliver the goods. Finally we came into agreement 3 months ago that they would refund me. My main complaint is that the keep on promising to give back the money and now is 3 months. What can I do? Thank you.

Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that when an agreement is “rescinded, cancelled, or otherwise terminated in accordance with the terms of an agreement” then the supplier must “promptly restore” any “deposit, down payment or other payment” that was made. The Regulations don’t say exactly how long “promptly” might be, but I think we can all agree that three months is not in any way prompt. Taking three months to repay your money is either incompetent or a deliberate attempt to keep your money. Either way, it’s not good enough and it’s time you escalated the matter. I suggest that you tell this company that you will be going to the Small Claims Court and asking for an order against them for the money you paid unless you get your money back within a week.

Send me their contact details and I’ll also get in touch with them and let them know how serious you are.

Saturday 12 October 2019

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Global Green Network legit?

That depends if you consider pyramid schemes legitimate!

Several people have asked me the same question recently. They’ve been approached by various people, some in Botswana, others in neighbouring countries, encouraging them to join. Their web site (which was first registered three months ago) describes the business as “an international Empowerment Organisation with the ultimate design of uplifting life’s with entrepreneur development and migration facilitation as rewards for our business partners.” But that’s just words.

I contacted one of the recruiters on WhatsApp and she explained to me what the business really is. I asked her to confirm that to make money with GGN “we don't sell any products, we make money just by recruiting other people?” She was very clear and replied, “Yes we only market the business”. Another member of the WhatsApp group also said, “Yes in GGN we don't sell anything”.

The recruiter I spoke to, who was based in Namibia, was incredibly enthusiastic and has been bugging me ever since to join. I think that enthusiasm says a lot, don’t you? She clearly urgently needs recruits to make the money she was promised.

The bad news for anyone attempting to recruit into the scheme in Botswana is that Section 9 of the new Consumer Protection Act defines a pyramid scheme as a business in which income is promised or made “primarily” from the recruitment of other members rather than the sale of products or services. GGN’s own people confess that this is the case. The new Act makes it very clear that promoting, or even just joining a pyramid scheme is punishable by a fine of up to P100,000 or five years in prison. Or both. Is that a risk you want to take?

Where’s my car?

I bought a car at Mogoditshane on 11th June 2019 and I immediately noticed that it had a leaking engine oil which I reported. The manager said they can only repair it which I complied with. They took the car to fix the leaking oil and afterwards it had a "check engine light sign" which I reported and they said I should bring it for fixing. It also had a problem with water circulation. They took the car for the second time. To my surprise the car still had check engine light. I took the car to them and they tested with the machine and they explained to me that it was a sensor problem and I can bring it back to them to be fixed. I also informed them that there's a leakage of oil again. On 20th August the car engine died. They took the car for repair and now its 6 weeks since they took it and they still haven't fixed the problem.

My question is how long can I wait and what is the best route that I can take to attend this problem legally with minimal cost.

Unfortunately, this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard stories like this. I know it’s too late to give you this advice, but whenever you buy a second-hand car, there are several things you must do before signing anything or handing over your money. Firstly, and this seems obvious but you’d be surprised how often people fail to do this, but you must take the vehicle for a test drive. Even an ordinary driver might be able to identify some clues that something might be wrong with the way the vehicle behaves and responds. Secondly, ask the person or garage selling the vehicle for some evidence that it’s in good condition. Ask for a roadworthiness certificate if it’s an imported vehicle or for the service history. You should be looking for a vehicle that was cared for by its previous owners.

Lastly, and this is the most important recommendation, always get the vehicle checked by an independent mechanic or at least someone with more knowledge than you about how cars work. If you don’t know anyone, you can always “borrow” one from a garage you’ve used in the past. It might cost you a little cash or some beer but it will be worth it to get some specialist advice.

In your case I suggest that you write the seller a letter or email saying that Section 16 of the Consumer Protection Act of 2018 says that a consumer can return an item in its original condition within six months if it is not “of a quality that that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect”. You should also inform them that Section 17 says that when a supplier repairs something they must offer a three-month warranty on that repair. Do they want to be one of the first companies to be prosecuted for breaching this new law?

Saturday 5 October 2019

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can they take me to court?

I lost my job last year August and have not been able to get work since. I have a mortgage with NDB and have not been able to pay since Jan 2019. I then engaged the bank in July telling them my situation and asking them for options on what we can do so that I do not continue to owe them. The bank said they can do nothing but to litigate me at my cost and get a court order to take my house from me.

I wrote them a letter requesting them to not litigate me as I can afford the legal costs of litigation, nor want the added stress and emotional burden of being taken to court and my name being publicly published in the newspapers bringing shame and humiliation to my name and family name. Publicising my name in such a manner will also hurt my prospects of future employment. In the same letter I requested to them that I surrender the property to them immediately as the end result of the litigation will be the same. They refused and said it is not their process they have to litigate.

I wrote them another letter and asked for 6 months to sell the house privately. They agreed to give me the 6 months, the deadline is December 2019 but they said they will still go ahead with the litigation process and implement the court order in December 2019. I have had 2 offers to buy the house but both have fallen through. I really do not want to be litigated especially since I am willing to surrender the property without the added extra cost and emotional trauma.

Can you please help me to convince them to allow me to surrender the property please? They do seem to understand the mental damage they are doing to us. I know I owe them and I honestly would pay if I had money but I don’t. I hope you can help me Mr Richard. Please.

I’m really sorry to hear about this situation. I can’t imagine how stressful this might be.

Unfortunately, I think I can understand why the bank are being so strict. Not every customer is as cooperative and decent as you are. I hear plenty of stories about consumer being abused by banks, but I also hear many stories about customers who do their best to avoid their obligations. I suspect that the bank is being extremely cautious, based on their previous experience of some people in your position. They need that order against you in case you aren’t able to honour your obligations.

The key thing is to keep talking to the bank. Let them know about everything that happens so they can never tell a court that you’ve been uncooperative.