Saturday 27 June 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get a better bed?

Hi. In 2017 November I bought a bed and a fridge in Bradlows Game City branch in Gaborone which was delivered to my home by Mahalapye branch.

In 2018 I reported the bed because it had a depression in the middle and was sagging in less than 6 months. I was given an exchange and given a new bed of the same brand which did the same thing again and I lodged a complaint which took some months without being assisted. In 2019 October was given a new bed which is a lower quality from the previous one and its worse. In less than 2 years I had used 3 beds which I did not find any value for my money.

I have raised an issue with the managers to no avail. I am being tossed from pillar to post and their call center is harassing me and tormenting me on daily basis. They are telling me the bed is off guarantee therefore they cannot help me.

This is going to be complicated. I suspect the store will continue to argue that they provided you with a bed throughout the period you were paying for it and for much longer than the period of the warranty they offered. That’s one of the most frustrating things about buying things on hire purchase, the payment period is usually two years but the warranty is almost always only one year. If the product goes wrong after the first year you’re left paying for something that doesn’t work properly and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I know it doesn’t seem this way but you were lucky that the store gave you a new bed, even a poorer quality one, nearly two years after the purchase. I don’t think they were actually required to do that if the warranty was only for a year.

Nevertheless, I’ve contacted Bradlows to see if there’s anything they can do but please, don’t be too optimistic.

How can I spot a scam?

Given how many people are falling victim to a variety of scams, several readers have asked how they can spot a scam before they fall victim to it. So here are some ideas.

Whenever someone invites you to join their money-making scheme, you should first ask yourself WHY they’re inviting you. If they have a way of making money, why are they sharing it instead of keeping it to themselves? The answer is very simple. Anyone inviting you to join their scheme is trying to make money FROM you, not WITH you.

Another clue is products. Real businesses have products and services. Scams don’t. Or sometimes they do, or they pretend to have them, but these products don’t really matter. They are primarily interested in recruiting other people and then getting them to recruit even more. You’ll often hear the promoters of these schemes defend themselves by insisting their scheme isn’t a pyramid scheme because there are products. Others will say it’s legitimate because anyone can earn more than the people above them in the pyramid. That’s all just excuses. What matters most is the word “primarily”. Section 9 of the new Consumer Protection Act says that if “participants in the scheme receive compensation derived primarily from their respective recruitment of other persons as participants” then it’s a pyramid scheme. I think that’s quite simple.

There are also some key words you should look for. One is Bitcoin. As I’ve said endless times in the past, Bitcoin is a legitimate but very high-risk cryptocurrency that is a fascinating vision of how money might work in the future. However, it must never be seen as an investment and it’s surrounded by a huge number of scams, pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes. Just like the BitClub Network, whose founders are being prosecuted in the USA for running a scam that stole $722 million from victims around the world. That actually had no connection to Bitcoin at all, it was just an enormous Ponzi scheme.

The simplest lesson is to be skeptical. Don’t believe anyone, not a single soul, who claims you can make large amounts of money with little effort or just by recruiting other people. Anyone who claims this is either lying, deluded, na├»ve or desperate. Don’t believe it!

Sunday 21 June 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay them?

Hello sir I need your assistance. In 2010 I applied for a loan amounting to 36,000. Then in 2012 before finishing the loan I got a sponsorship to further my studies, I went for 5 years to study. During that time the loan wasn't been serviced or not paid monthly. So when I came back I went to them to check with my credit so that I repay them but I found it at P80,000. I tried to negotiate so I pay where from where I left of which was around P45,000 balance they said is not possible. Please help me on what to do.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s much I can do to assist. This is what happens when you default on a loan. The lender will continue to add interest and penalty charges to the amount you owe them. When they engage debt collectors their costs will also be added to the bill. Then if they instruct attorneys to take legal action against you those costs will also be added to the amount you owe. If you go back and read your loan agreement carefully you’ll see that you agreed to all of this when you first applied for the loan.

I’m not trying to be unhelpful but look at it from the lenders point of view. Imagine if you’d lent someone a lot of money and after paying it back for a short time they disappeared for five years without honouring the debt. Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you engage a debt collector and then attorneys? Wouldn’t you want to charge them extra for the bother and costs you’d incurred?

The lesson for all of us is whenever you owe someone money and then you have financial difficulties or your circumstances change, the lender must be the first person you call. Give them some warning that there will be problems and it’s much more likely that they’ll be flexible. Big lenders might offer you a repayment ‘holiday’ to give you time to get your affairs in order. They might also renegotiate the repayment schedule so that is easier for you. Remember that lenders want their money back as easily as possible. They really DON’T want to spend their time and money chasing you. They want an easy life.

I suggest that you contact the lender and ask to meet with them to negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford and that gives them their money as quickly as possible.

What can I do about this Bitcoin scam?

I just read your viewpoint online about Bitcoin and how it is not the most advisable to invest in. I’m actually asking on behalf of a group of 60 victims whom were mainly introduced into buying bitcoins by a certain lady who I would say is the guru in Botswana.

Late last year she informed us that the website where we were mining had “crashed” because of an influx of people. Then she blamed the court case of Bitcoin founders! After a lot of frustrated comments towards her in our Whatsapp group she then muted us. She presented herself as the know all, on top of all things Bitcoin but when asked for answers about the whereabouts of our monies suddenly she’s just as in the dark as everyone else. Her actions and responses are also very defensive, careless and insensitive.

Kindly advise me if we have a valid case in taking this matter forward or should we just count our losses and move on. Your help will be highly appreciated.

Yes, I have been very critical of people suggesting that Bitcoin can be seen as an investment. There’s nothing wrong with Bitcoin itself, it’s a legitimate cryptocurrency. If you want to use it to buy and sell things then that’s acceptable but remember that its value is extremely unpredictable. Remember also that it’s entirely unregulated and there are absolutely no protections if something goes wrong. The Bank of Botswana is not going to help you if there’s a disaster.

However, your situation is more complicated. You never had any connection with Bitcoin, you were dealing with a scam called BitClub Network. They were nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. Like all such scams it eventually collapsed and the one piece of truth you were told by the woman who recruited you is that there really is a court case currently underway. The people behind BitClub Network are currently being prosecuted in the United States for running a Ponzi scheme that led to people like you losing a massive $722 million.

We’ve been warning people about BitClub Network since late 2016 and I’m sorry that the warnings didn’t go far enough. I think the person who recruited you and the other recruiters need to be brought to justice for promoting an illegal scam. Let’s send the information to the authorities and see if they’re prepared to take action!

Saturday 13 June 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Do I owe them?

I have a query or a complaint to make, I bought a couch on hire purchase some time last year. I then defaulted. They then repossessed the couch and I was told since they took the couch they are going to sell it so I do not owe them. I just tried to apply for a loan only to realise that my name has been handed to ITC owing P10,471, I called the head of collections who told me that I have to pay this amount to clear my name and I asked him why would I pay such amount when they have already taken the couch and by the time they took the couch I tried to renegotiate but they did not want to listen. I asked as to why would I still owing, then he said that is how it is or else my name will remain blacklisted under ITC which I feel is not fair and it is double charge, why would I pay P10,471 on something I do not possess. They have taken the couch why should they list me. He also suggested that I pay P4,000 for them to at least clear my name and reactivate the account and I wondered which account was he referring to, as far as I am concerned I do not have an account with them. Kindly assist as I feel I am being treated unfairly and this is some kind of rip-off.

Unfortunately, this is exactly how hire purchase works.

You said “since they took the couch they are going to sell it so I do not owe them” but that’s not correct. When a store repossesses an item, they will then sell it and deduct the money they get from the balance you owe them. However, it’s important to remember that the repossessed item is now second-hand, perhaps not in the best condition and they’ll sell it to the first person who offers them some money. The amount they get will almost certainly only be a fraction of what you still owe. When you add on penalties, interest and debt collection and legal costs you can easily end up owing MORE than you did before the repossession.

I know it’s frustrating, particularly as you now owe money for something you no longer possess. I suggest you try again to negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford.

The lesson is that we should always do our best to avoid buying things on any form of credit if we can afford it. After all these years I still don’t understand why many of us won’t consider saving up and then buying second-hand household goods. We have no problem buying second-hand cars so why not other things as well? You can save a huge amount of money and you avoid the situation you’re now in. Let’s all change our mindset about spending money?

Is it legit?

Please check for me the authenticity of this page “Bank repossessed cars auction”. I found it on Facebook its in SA selling good cars but their prices are too good to be true.

Sometimes you can trust your senses. Not always, but sometimes. You should ALWAYS trust your senses when you think something is too good to be true, like you suspect with this Facebook page. That’s because you’re right.

I took a look at the page and yes, it does have some remarkable cars for sale at remarkable prices. For instance, they claim to be selling a silver 2017 Mercedes Benz C Class C220 that’s only done 51,000km for R75,000. That’s astoundingly cheap and if that was true, I’d be driving it right now. I did a little detective work and discovered the truth. The very same car, with the same registration number is actually a 2014 model, has done 84,000km and is on sale at a genuine car dealership in Johannesburg for R304,900. That’s a fair price for that car. I imagine it’s the same for every car they claim to be selling.

I suspect that this is nothing but an advance fee scam. They’ll demand some tax, duty of fee before you get the car and that’s what it’s all about, that money you pay them to get the car they don’t actually have. I’m really pleased that you realised it was too good to be true and have avoided being a victim. Please help us spread the word to everyone you know!

Saturday 6 June 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get my money back?

Can you please help me I bought a couch at a furniture store worth P7,000 on laybye. I paid it within two months. Now when I was supposed to collect it they are telling me that they have sold it and I need to identify another couch close to that amount. I couldn’t find anything likeable but only the one that was costing P11,000. Now they are telling me to top up it with P1,500 and am I’m telling them that I don’t have that P1,500 but only P1,000. They are now telling me that I can’t get it without the P1,500 but they are they are demanding it whereas they are the ones that inconvenienced me.

I think the time has come to remind this store who’s in charge here. In fact, I think a LOT of stores need to understand this. In the past companies often thought they were in charge of the relationship with their customers. That was also the case with banks, insurance companies, almost every industry. They thought that because they knew more about their products than we did, because they had big offices, huge salaries, fancy titles and nice cars that they controlled the relationship with us.

But times have changed. Consumers are now in charge. In particular two things have changed to our benefit. Firstly, the new Consumer Protection Act has given consumer a lot more protection and many greater rights. Perhaps even more importantly, social media came along and that has completely changed the landscape. Gone are official complaints procedures, gone are the day of suppliers telling us how we can raise our grievances. We can now complain whenever, wherever and however we please. We can now assert our rights much more effectively.

Maybe this furniture store didn’t get the message? I think you should contact the store and tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable. You gave them large amounts of your hard-earned money and they were required to deliver the product you bought. The lack of competence they demonstrated by selling your item not only breached the contract you had with them, it also broke various sections of the Consumer Protection Act. They need to give you a refund within seven days. Either that or they can look forward to being famous on Facebook. I wonder which would they prefer?

Have I been conned?

Hello sir, I have been recently retrenched and with the little package that I got I decided to buy myself a tractor and a plough to start farming. I made an enquiry to Alibaba and I got a response from Kebnel Groups LLC in the USA and went ahead to process the purchase, but ever since I made payment there were a lot of issues which led me to change cancel the deal and request for a refund.

The refund was promised but now there is communication breakdown between us and hence I suspect I’m being corned. I therefore consult you to know if you can help in resolving this issue.

I’m sorry but the bad news is that I also suspect that you’re being conned. I looked at the web site of the company claiming to sell these tractors and also the shipping company they claim to have used to ship you the tractor. Both seem very suspicious to me. The language they use is unlike what you would expect for reputable, legitimate companies. Also, I was able to find warnings from other people about the shipping company, claiming they’ve been used in earlier scams. There is a registered company in Texas called Kebnel but it appears to have no connection to these scammers. If you look closely at the emails you sent me you’ll see that they came from a Gmail account, not what you’d expect from a legitimate company.

Unfortunately, there’s little chance that you can get your money back. Scammers are not nice people and they certainly don’t offer refunds to their victims. However, as you transferred the money to their bank account it might be worth asking the bank to investigate exactly where the money went.

While I can’t offer you much hope I think there are several lessons for other people to learn. The first thing is always to ask ourselves if it’s realistic to buy an item like a tractor from the other side of the planet? We should also be sceptical of any company that claims to offer services like this that doesn’t offer a physical address. We should also think carefully about the quality of language used by such companies. The web site for a reputable company that claims to be in the USA should have reasonably good English, don’t you think? Also, the WhatsApp messages you sent me seem rather un-American.

Please spread the word always to be extremely careful before sending money to people you’ve never met.