Saturday, 8 May 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want a working fridge!

I bought a second-hand fridge in February from someone in Block 3 who repairs and sells fridges. After two days it stopped working. I told him to come pick it and refund me, he promised do so, but even now, he didn't, and he not picking my calls, please help me.

Despite what people might think, just because something is second-hand, that doesn't mean you have no consumer rights if it goes wrong. Of course, we must understand that a second-hand or repaired item isn't going to be quite a good or reliable as something new and we need to have sensible expectations. For instance, a 15-year old car isn't going to be as reliable as a new vehicle. An old laptop isn't going to last as long as a new one. A reconditioned fridge isn't going to be quite as good as a new one. That's just common sense but while a second-hand item might not still have the manufacturer's warranty the person selling it should still be as clear as possible what condition the item is in.

However, Section 14 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Act says that a consumer is entitled to:
"the use, delivery or installation of goods that are free of defects and are of a quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect".
That's the important thing in my view, "reasonably entitled to expect". We can't expect a second-hand and repaired fridge to be as good as a new fridge but I think we're "reasonably entitled to expect" a fridge that works reasonably well. It should certainly work for more than two days.

I contacted the fridge guy and asked him what he was planning to do to resolve this situation. All he could say was:
"Yeah only things wre not right bt dafnately by end of this months without failure lm going to give hr wht is hers of or before cs l delayed wth a project tht we wre doing".
I hope his fridge-mending skills are better than his keyboard skills. If you're willing, let's give him until the end of the month and see if he can do the decent thing.

I was sold a stolen laptop!

A guy in Palapye, a student at BIUST, he sells stolen items. He sold us a laptop for P7,500 in November. The Police called us and took it from us claiming it's a stolen item. The guy promised to make things right, to change it or return the money but up to this day he has done nothing. Now he doesn't even pick the calls, he's just a scammer.

This is serious. This is more than just a consumer issue, more than just a failure to offer good customer service. This isn't just a breakdown in communication or a failure to respect someone's consumer rights, this is receiving stolen goods and Section 317 of the Penal Code is very clear about the penalty for this. It says that any person
"who receives or retains any property knowing or having reason to believe the same to have been stolen … is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years".
I contacted the guy in Palapye and he didn't seem very concerned. He just said "the supplier isnt responding keeps postponing. he is in gabz". Unfortunately, I don't care. He sold you a stolen laptop and whether he was involved in the theft or not, he needs to treat this issue seriously and resolve it as quickly as possible.

If this guy has any sense, he'll do his best to distance himself from his supplier and give the impression he's an innocent victim of the criminal as well as you are. The best way he can do this is to give you either a full refund or a laptop that hasn't been stolen. Is that too much to ask? Or does he want to experience 14 years of official hospitality?

Saturday, 1 May 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Should I get what I paid for?

In March 2017 I paid one graphic designer/communications designer for some services worth P60,000 and I paid him P50,000 upfront. It has now been more than a year, the ONLY thing he has submitted is a logo, business cards and one editable letterhead. I have not paid him the remaining P10k because we were retrenched last year November and I am unemployed. I need your advice here Sir. I feel like I should terminate the rest of his services and ask for my money back or find a way to pay the remaining balance. In this case also, what is the best approach because for that long I have been asking for the remaining work but he gets arrogant and I ended up paying extra fees for something that he has promised to do? I think I have spend more than P10k asking for the same services that were covered on the invoice.

I think this all depends on what you agreed that he would supply and what he's failed to deliver so far. What's clear is that he has failed to deliver part of what you agreed and I think you need to make it clear that you know your rights and are prepared to demand he respects them.

The good news is that the law is on your side. Section 14 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when
"a supplier undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of a consumer, the consumer has a right to … timely performance and completion of those services (and) timely notice of any unavoidable delay".
Clearly he's failed to do that. Section 14 (2) also says that when a supplier fails to satisfy this requirement, they must
"refund the consumer a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed and goods supplied, having regard to the extent of the failure".
In other words if they only deliver half of the work, you're entitled to half of the money back.

However, there are some problems you might face. Firstly, you might have left this too long to take legal action against him. I'm not an attorney but I know that certain legal claims become 'prescribed' after certain periods. He might argue that you've left this too long and a court might agree with him. Also, he might also argue that the current Consumer Protection Act, which was passed in 2018 might not apply because you bought his services before the Act was passed. But let's not tell him that. Let's both tell him that you either want what you paid for, or a partial refund.

Which should I choose?

We have vehicle insurance and our car was mildly damaged at home when reversing, damaging the mirror, partially the front fender and door. The assessor told us we are at liberty to get quotes from our garage or that of the insurance company. The assessor says the damages amount to P7,000, which the Insurance can only pay P4,000 and we'd have to pay the excess. Our garage say they can fix the car for P3,500 but the insurance insists that we take the car to their garage citing issues like we're still going to pay the P3,500 excess even if we'd an option to go elsewhere. And that the Assessor is the one who determines which way to go. What should we do?

I disagree with what you've been told. It's up to YOU to decide what to do. The insurance company have their preferred garage which will charge P7,000 of which you must pay P3,000 or you can choose your own garage who are significantly cheaper but which will cost you P3,500 if you decide to pay for everything yourself and ignore the insurance policy.

We have to ask, why are the repair cost so different? What will the first garage do that the second one won't? Are they more experienced and might do a much better job? Or is it that the first garage does what many do and charge insurance companies a lot more than is necessary?

I think it's worth asking the insurance company to explain why their costs are so much higher and then asking the garage you found to explain why they are so cheap. Both you and the insurance company need to know why there's such a great difference.

Once all this is understood you can decide whether to allow the insurance company to take charge or whether you ignore them and do your own thing.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Do I really owe them?

Hello Mr Richard. I am inboxing this regarding to the issue I have with a furniture store in Masunga. I took a bed from them on instalment when I was still a Special Constable and unfortunately I was admitted at one of the tertiaries where allowance was P150 so I asked them to take the bed since paying it off would be a difficult thing. Yes they did not give me any headache. They took the bed. I only learnt after 10 years I still have my name in their system and I'm still owing a lot of money. Do I clear the debt and get nothing or I clear they give the bed back. Help I am clueless!

Yet again a story that shows how horrible hire purchase can be and how badly people understand how it works. I don't blame consumers for this entirely, I blame the stores that sell things on hire purchase for not explaining it to their victims. Sorry, I mean to say 'customers'.

The first and most important thing to understand about hire purchase is the name. It's called 'hire' purchase because you are hiring the goods, not buying them. You only get to own the items you're hiring when you've paid the final instalment. Only then is that bed your property. Up to that day, the bed still belonged to the store and they're entitled to come and repossess their property if you ever fall behind with your instalments.

The second thing to understand is that even if the bed is repossessed and whether that was their idea or yours, you still owe them money. You agreed to hire the bed over a two-year period and you owe them the full two years of money minus any instalments you've already paid and any money they might get when they auction your bed. Remember that the bed is now second-hand and used and not worth the original purchase price and when they sell it they'll probably only get a small fraction of the outstanding value of the bed. When you add on the various penalties, debt collection charges and interest, you can easily end up owing more than the amount you owed when you still had the bed.

The final lesson today is that debt doesn't go away if you ignore it. The store or their debt collectors really should have kept you updated on the debt you owed and I suspect you'll be shocked when you see the total bill now. However, the sooner you speak to them the better. The debt isn't going to get any smaller the longer you wait.

Where's my insurance?

I have a problem here concerning hire purchase. I bought a TV set and a microwave and defaulted a few months and the TV accidentally broke the screen and I was required to do a police report and bring a police affidavit for processing of insurance claim. I was called and told to clear off the arrears from my defaults before I could be assisted and I complied but now it's becoming a problem for them to assist me though I cleared arrears and on a good standing. Please advise and assist accordingly.

Another, similar story illustrating how hire purchase can go wrong. Another lesson about hire purchase is that while you'll often be offered insurance against the goods being stolen or damaged you really need to read the small print in the agreement you sign. You must check to see what exactly the policy covers and when. For instance, it's normal for the policy not to cover you if you're behind with your instalments, like in your case.

I contacted the Country Manager for the store and he confirmed that if your account is up to date they can process your claim but also mentioned that this needs to be done within 60 days of the damage occurring. If it's after that period then they might only consider the claim, there's no guarantee.

Update: I heard from the customer that the store lost his original police complaint and they need a new one. I hope this means they accept some responsibility for the delay and encourage their insurance people to do the right thing?

Saturday, 17 April 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Will he fix my TV again?

I requested for a TV repairs service from a gentleman who advertises on Facebook.

On 27th March he came to my house and fixed the TV around 1 pm and I made P600 payment for the service. Same day in the evening around 6 pm the TV went black and back to the state it was before it was fixed. Basically it only worked for less than 6 hours. I remember clearly asking after it was fixed how long I expected it to operate before I experienced the same problem and he said I shouldn't be worried by having the problem anytime soon.

I called the gentleman the same day it shut down after he did the repairs and he agreed that he will come the following day to come and attend to it. Ever since that day we have been going back and forth him telling me how busy he is all of a sudden and never comes through whenever we make appointments. I even suggested to go to his home so that he can attend it there and he agreed to meet only for him to not respond to my calls and texts when I arrived at the agreed place.. He is now ignoring my calls and texts and I have tried to plead with him to bring back my money since he failed to fix the TV as per the agreement and he said he does not have money to pay me. Please help me on how I could be assisted in getting back my hard earned cash from this gentleman as I feel robbed.

I think you have a right to feel robbed. You paid good money for a job to be done and the job clearly wasn't done properly. You have a right to get your TV working properly or to get your money back.

Section 14 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when a supplier:
"undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of a consumer, the consumer has a right to … performance of the services in a manner and quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect". 
Surely it's quite simple? If you pay someone to fix your TV, then your TV should work. 

The Act goes on to say that if a supplier fails to perform a service adequately, they must either:
"remedy any defect in the quality of the services"
"refund the consumer a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed and goods supplied, having regard to the extent of the failure".
I contacted the TV repair guy and he told me he has transport problems but he promises that he'll come and fix your TV. Let's hope it works this time.

Is it true?

I need your assistance. I bought goods on hire purchase in 2019. At the end of the first lockdown I went to them and told them I can't afford to pay them. They said I should keep on trying to find the instalment money but I failed to find it. I went to them the second time they said when they take the goods because of failure to pay, I will continue paying even after they take them. I am asking is how fair is this. Is there truth in it?

Regular readers of The Voice will know already what I'm going to say because we've covered this many times before. Unfortunately, what you've been told is 100% correct.

If you fail to keep up the payments on a hire purchase agreement the store is entitled to repossess the item you bought. 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 be only a fraction of what you still owe. When you add penalties, interest and debt collection and legal costs you can easily end up owing MORE than you did before the repossession.

What's worse is that you'll then owe money for something you don't even possess any longer. I suggest that you contact the store again and try to negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford.

The lesson is simple. Please do your best to avoid buying things on any form of credit if you can buy it for cash.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay?

Good afternoon Mr Harriman, I would like your opinion or possible help with the following Issue. I was involved in an accident some time ago. No one injured. Yes eventually I was charged with the usual driving a vehicle without due attention. Now the car I was driving is not insured but the other was insured. So the lady opted to use her insurance to cover the cost of repair. Now after maybe more than a year, I have received a demand letter from the insurance demanding me to pay all costs of the repair which is P27,000.

Is this lawful? What is the purpose of insurance if after paying premiums the insurance company demand all costs from the offender? I will share the demand letter as directed by your response. Thank you always for your help. 

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when you don't have vehicle insurance. It doesn't matter whether the other person has insurance or not, as the offender, you pay the bills. 

The key issue here is that the other lady was paying for a vehicle insurance policy and that policy protects her, not you. She was paying her insurance company to take the financial risk on her behalf so if there's an accident they pay her bills and she doesn't suffer financially.

But neither should the insurance company pay the bills if it wasn't their client who caused the accident. They'll do their best to recover the money they spent compensating their client and the person they'll chase for that money is you. You were the one who caused the accident and your admission of guilt or conviction for driving without due care and attention is all the evidence they need that you're the guilty party.

The simple lesson is this. Insurance benefits the person paying for it and nobody else. That's why every vehicle owner needs it. This might seem hard to believe but you were lucky only to cause damage costing P27,000. I've heard of cases where people caused crashes that completely destroyed another vehicle and were faced with bills of over P500,000. If you'd had a third-party vehicle insurance policy your insurance company would have paid this bill for you.

I suggest you talk to the insurance company and negotiate a repayment plan you can afford because insurance companies don't forgive debts like this.

I also suggest you shop around for a third-party vehicle insurance policy so that if this happens again, you might be better prepared.

What is insurance?

There is such an enormous lack of understanding about insurance, how it works and who it benefits. It's worth spending a moment to understand what it is.

I found a nice quote on Wikipedia that said that insurance "is something people buy to protect themselves from losing money". It went on to say that consumers "who buy insurance pay a premium (often paid every month) and promise to be careful". In exchange for this, Wikipedia explains, "if something bad happens to the person or thing that is insured, the company that sold the insurance will pay the money back. However, there are some times when the company will not have to pay the money back, such as if the person was not careful."

These policies can cover a wide range of things, including property such as our house and belongings, our vehicles and even the vehicles belonging to other people that might be damaged when there's a disaster. They can also cover our lives and those of our loved ones and even our health. It can cover the health of our employees and the people who visit our offices. In all of these cases, if something bad happens that costs money, the insurance company will pay the costs instead of the policyholder.

However, it's very important to carefully read any policy you consider and make sure you understand exactly how it works. For instance some vehicle insurance policies don't cover you if you are charged and convicted or you admit guilt following an incident. Most life insurance policies won't cover you if you engage in dangerous sports or activities.

The commonest argument I hear against having insurance is that it's expensive. Well, firstly, it's NOT that expensive and it's sometimes a LOT cheaper than NOT having it.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I return it?

Can you help me? I bought a fluffy mat and I paid P1100. I had bought another one at P1200 before this one and a fluffy blanket, so I negotiated to P1100. But It's not the same as the one I bought first. It's low quality and now they can't take it and refund me, I don't know their offices coz they claim to be mobile. They don't take my calls. It's been 3 months since I bought the mat. I Whatsapp and call them every day. I have run out of options coz they don't even take my office call since they established its me calling them.

So I have been calling them to get it so that they can refund me but they not taking my calls after they agreed to collect it.

I used to be dismissive of many businesses that didn't have offices and that are 'mobile' but that's changed completely in the last few years. In fact I'm now really supportive of start-up businesses that operate from home or have distributed workforces. That obviously works for technology businesses but it's increasingly how call centers and the service industry operate. And then came Covid and that forced almost everyone to think carefully about they run their business. Yes, we still need checkout workers in supermarkets but even that's changing now that so many of them offer deliveries. So in 2021 we can expect to see more and more companies being 'mobile'.

But that doesn't change their obligation, as a supplier of goods, to do so as required by the Consumer Protection Act. Section 15 (1) of the Act says that a consumer "has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects". You have the good luck to have previously bought the same item from this supplier so you know how good the products can be and can spot when the later goods aren't as good.

I contacted the supplier and told them that you'd been in touch. Let's see if they want to talk now?

How do I know if someone is trying to scam me?

The last year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of scams that are trying to exploit our ignorance and steal our money. Almost everyone on Facebook will have seen invitations to "invest" in Bitcoin, forex trading or binary options. All of them are scams. All of them want your money.

Here are some tips on how to spot these scams and how you can avoid falling victim to them.

The first question you should always ask yourself is why someone wants you to join their scheme. What's in it for them? Why would they want someone else to make money alongside them? Surely anyone would keep a money-making scheme to themselves rather than sharing the money with others, in particular a stranger?

The reason is very simple. They want you to join their scheme because they want to make money FROM you, not WITH you. They make money from recruiting new victims, not from any genuine investment.

Another clue it's a scam is if the people asking you to join or invest are shy about who and where they are. You should always ask these people to say exactly where they are and then demand they show themselves. Insist on a video call. Insist on hearing their voices. One of the scammers I recently spoke to claimed to be a successful businessman in the USA but was very reluctant to send me either a voice note or appear on video. I eventually persuaded him to speak on the phone and guess what, his accent was much more West African than American. The sound of chickens in the background was also not quite right for the multi-millionaire he claimed to be.

The most important clue is the remarkable claims these scammers always make. I've recently seen people claiming that their scheme can increase an "investment" of $350 to $3,500 in just a week. That's an impossible 1,000% return in a week. There's no investment of any sort that can offer returns like that. Others talk about daily returns or 2-3% or more. That's per day, not per year.

Anyone who makes claims like these is a liar and can't be trusted. Please help us by spreading the word to everyone you know so they fall victim to these scams.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Won't they change my shoes?

Kindly assist. Almost 2 weeks ago a bought 2 pairs of shoes from a store at Riverwalk. I am between sizes 5 and 6 depending on the cut. I had been allowed to try on the shoes in the store and a 6 was a perfect fit for the other shoe, while the other pair was a bit tight. I thought it was because my feet were a bit swollen at the time and would fit well when the swelling has gone down. I was wrong, it seems they are a small cut. I then went back to the store after a week as I was away on a business trip only to be told I cannot exchange the shoes as I did not have the receipt. I understand that their policy requires I should have a receipt, unfortunately I must have thrown it out.

The shoe has never been worn and still in the box and all I need it to exchange it for a more fitting size. Twice I have been to the store and they are plainly refusing to exchange for me. I have met the supervisor only, who told me he narrated my request to the manager who still insists they cannot help me. I am so frustrated as I really like the shoes and they were a bit expensive at just under P500. Thank you in advance for your assistance and stay blessed.

I know why stores say you can't return something without a receipt. They believe that some customers are lying, cheating crooks who do their best to steal money from stores by trying to return things they didn't actually buy there. But how often does that really happen? I don't believe that it's a common thing. All it does is insult the majority of us who are decent, honest people who just want a fair deal.

My problem is also that it's a bit lazy. Surely stores can see in their computer systems that I came and spent money in their store on a particular product on the date I claimed? Is it really that difficult? Surely their returns policy should talk about "proof of purchase" rather than a receipt?

The good news is that I contacted the MD of the company and he took a look at the situation, made a phone call or two and he told me "Thank you very much for this. We have since contacted the customer and sorted the issue."

There's a lesson for every company, every store, restaurant, supplier of anything. When things go wrong, treat the customer with respect, don't start by assuming they're a crook and do your best to find a solution. It's a shame that it took the MD to fix it but all's well that ends well.

Must I pay for storage?

Hi Mr Harriman I need help. I bought roofing materials last year in the first lockdown. Because of the lockdown restrictions we agreed that they keep the materials for me until I'm in the roofing stage or I started roofing. To my surprise in early February I sent the builders to go fetch materials and I'm now told I have to pay an extra 12k. They are now saying its for storage. it wasn't agreed on coz I could have taken them earlier to avoid the extra charges.

Is this OK or I'm being crooked by the shop manager?

The only thing that matters here is what was agreed in writing. There's a general rule that once an agreement is in writing that writing is all of the agreement. Verbal agreements and unilateral decisions by one party don't matter. One party to an agreement can't just make things up or decide that they want to add something to the agreement without the consent of the other party.

Meanwhile, it is quite common for suppliers to charge you a storage fee and that's probably reasonable. The goods you bought were taking up space in their warehouse and that cost them money. BUT they needed to tell you that first and get you to agree to it. You could have taken an informed decision about whether to take the goods then or later.

I think you should tell them that you never agreed to a storage fee and they can't enforce a charge you didn't agree to. Let's see how they react to a consumer who knows their rights.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

They damaged the laptop they were trying to repair!

Kindly help me here with advice. My cousin recently bought a laptop from a furniture store in Maun and within the first few weeks, it started having problems with the charging system. She returned it and yesterday they called her to come collect it but now it comes with scratches on its cover. When she ask about them they say, it is because it was transported to the Technician without its box. Is that really a good thing for them to say? Is there anything she can do, like getting an exchange for a new one or refund because now it is stressing her. Your advice would be much appreciated Sir.

Is that really a good thing for them to say? Obviously not.

Is there anything she can do? Yes. She can get angry.

Firstly, the store was obviously required to fix the laptop as it was still under warranty. At least they tried to do that.

However, Section 14 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when a supplier like this one 
"undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of a consumer, the consumer has a right to … performance of the services in a manner and quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect".
I think it's reasonable for a consumer like you and me to expect a repair done under warranty NOT to involve further damaging the product being repaired, don't you?

Their feeble excuse that it was transported without its box is just silly. The should have found another box. They're a furniture store, aren't they? They should be experts in packing. They should be Olympic Gold Medal quality packagers. It's simple unacceptable that they were so careless that they caused new damage to an already faulty laptop.

I suggest that we both contact the store and explain this to them using very simple, short words so that even they can understand that they needed to take some care with your property.

Whether they replace the laptop, fix it or give her a refund is up to them but they need to choose one of those options very quickly.

Where's my couch?

Good day Richard, I need your assistance on this matter. In December we bought an L-shaped couch from a bedding store in North Gate mall. Within 2 weeks the couch started tearing up and we notified them of this in January since we were away for the holidays. They came to collect the couch on February 10th after a whole month of struggling to get them to collect it. They gave us a 2-seater couch for the interim and promised that we will get the same couch that we had initially bought but with a different material. Its been over a month now and we are still waiting. I called again this morning they promised to call back but still no communication from them.

Their response was that they are fighting the supplier over the issue. So we are the ones who are now suffering because of it.

It's not good enough.

The facts are very simple, simple enough even for this store to understand. They sold you something faulty and the Consumer Protection Act says very clearly that in this situation they need either to repair it, replace it or refund you. They were within their rights to repair it I guess but they also have an obligation to do so promptly. Section 14 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act says a supplier like these should offer the "timely performance and completion" of any services they deliver.

And a second point. Who cares what their supplier is doing? Did you buy the couch from this store or their supplier? You bought it from the store and it's THEIR job to respect your rights. They can fight as much as they like with their supplier behind the scenes but it shouldn't be your responsibility or concern.

Again, lets both contact the store and offer them some free education on their obligations. 

Saturday, 13 March 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my borehole?

May you kindly help me by contacting a company. We have paid them in November 2019 a sum exceeding P100,000 for drilling a borehole at our field. They came to do the work in February 2020 and for 3 weeks they were still at our place and could not do anything right. They were not able to give us a finished product ie. a borehole with water due to the fact that they left the rods in the well and all those things. In a nutshell, we didn't get value for our money. So they agreed to come a drill another borehole for us.

Richard, little did we know that 2 years down the line we will still be without a borehole and still chasing a company with all the resources but do not want to fulfil their promise. To cut the long story short the 2 Directors always put us from pillar to post and as of Friday 26th February 2021 they are not picking up our calls. A Director promised that they will come to our place very soon and on probing him as to when exactly, he did not want to commit.

Now from 1st March he is not answering our calls for why? Only he knows. So please can you intervene and tell them that we are losing our patience and we are forced to ask for a refund if they are unable to come to our field/place this weekend?

I think the time has come to get angry. You paid this company an enormous amount of mon
ey to do a job for you that they have failed to do.

Section 14 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when
"a supplier undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of a consumer, the consumer has a right to … timely performance and completion of those services (and) timely notice of any unavoidable delay". 
It also says that consumers can expect:
"performance of the services in a manner and quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect".
Cleary this company has failed all of those tests and needs to face up to their obligations.And what are those obligations? The Act goes further. It says that when a supplier "fails to perform a service to the standards" they are required to:
"remedy any defect in the quality of the services" (or to) "refund the consumer a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed and goods supplied, having regard to the extent of the failure". 
So let's do our best to educate this supplier on their obligations to you under the Consumer Protection Act and, perhaps more importantly, because of their moral obligation to offer decent customer service.

Update. Despite giving me blue ticks on WhatsApp, they have chosen not to respond to any of my messages and they're giving me the same treatment they gave you. I think we can assume they don't give a damn about their customers. Do they care about their reputation because if they're not careful they might not have one for much longer. 

Where's my trailer?

I'm need of help. Last Year around March I bought a trailer from a company in South Africa which I paid 40k for so now the problem is due to borders been closed and we didn't manage to courier it. He kept telling me that he already made the trailer. By December we then agreed that if he doesn't courier the trailer he will send the money back. Until today he's unresponsive and no longer taking my calls. I wanted to know the steps I can take to reach him.

How many times must this be said? The last year has been very difficult for us all and many suppliers have had an extremely hard time. They've faced border restrictions, transport issues and staffing problems. Our South African cousins have faced lockdowns just as we have. It's no surprise that suppliers like this one have experienced problems satisfying their customers. We all understand that.

But that's no excuse for being useless. This company has made repeated promises that they have failed to keep and they still have a large amount of your money. It's time to start demanding that they do the decent thing. They can either deliver the trailer or they can send you back your money in full. We should both contact them and insist that they do the right thing immediately. That's if they want to continue having customers in Botswana.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I be cleared?

I would like to enquire if you can assist me to get ITC clearance, after settling full payment of the account.

I have fully paid a furniture store account on December 2020, which was handed to some debt collectors. Still to date I find my name listed under ITC. I trying to seek help from the debt collectors, there's no assistance. What do I do?

The most important thing you can do is to keep talking.

Credit reference bureaux like TransUnion and the others make money by holding records of customers and their debts that they can share with other potential lenders. Lenders like banks, micro-lenders and furniture stores pay these bureaux to record and then share our data so they can all lend money more carefully.

Are they allowed to do this? Yes, 100% they are. They can do this because we said they can. Hidden in our loan agreements, hire purchase contracts or credit agreements is a clause saying that if we fail to pay our instalments then they can register this with these credit reference companies. If you don't believe me then go and check your contracts right now. It's true.

The good news for the future is that the new Data Protection Act will force these companies to be much more open about this and will force them to allow us to see what the hold on us. However, despite being a very powerful piece of law, it's still not enforceable (Government, what are you doing about this?).

Another bit of good news is that credit reference bureaux do a good job for the majority of people who pay their debts carefully and without problems. They make it easier for these people to get loans because lenders can see who is most likely to be an easy, uncomplicated, profitable customer. They also allow lenders to keep interest rates a little lower by avoiding bad debtors.

In your case there seems to have been a mistake. If it's true that you have paid off your debt then the furniture store needs to update your records and call off their debt collectors. Today.

And for those of us who DO owe money to debt collectors? The lesson is simple. Talk to them. If you owe money to someone the very worst thing you can do is try to avoid it. Talk to them and you might be surprised how reasonable they might be. Most lenders would rather get something back instead of nothing. They'd rather get their money slowly rather than never at all.

How can I spot a scam?

(Several people asked me to post this warning again.)

There aren't many pyramid and Ponzi schemes active right now but you can be sure they'll be here very soon, doing their best to recruit people by promising them vast profits. A few months ago Crowd1 was busy, despite being declared illegal in various countries around the world. You might also remember people desperately trying to recruit others into a "WhatsApp gifting" scam that promised to multiply the money people paid to join. Both were just scams that relied on gullible victims joining and then recruiting multiple levels of victims beneath them.

Here's a simple recommendation. Whenever someone invites you to join their money-making scheme, ask yourself WHY they're inviting you. If they've found a way of making money, why are they sharing it with you 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 if they do, or they only pretend to have them, but they 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 excuses. What matters most is the word "primarily". Section 9 of the 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. It's not difficult.

Then there's the Bitcoin angle. As I've said before, 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. A good example was 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 and there were plenty of victims in Botswana.

The simplest lesson is to be skeptical. Don't believe anyone 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! 

Saturday, 27 February 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my refund?

I need assistance as I am at my wits end. In December 2020 I applied for admission to university. I received communication that I had been accepted. On the 31st December I made a payment to the university not only for the registration fee of US$ 50 but also a semesters fee of US$ 1,079.

Consequently by the 10th of January unforeseen personal issues cropped up. I knew I wouldn't be able to study online. I immediately notified the university via WhatsApp. They acknowledged it. Subsequently I have been inundated with calls and emails to register, to join zoom classes etc.

Upon enquiry I was told that I should ignore them. I was asked to write an email informing them about my decision. Which I did. I followed every protocol the university website stated.

My battle is to get my refund. Last week Thursday I spoke with the financial department. A man there was extremely rude to me. I reported his actions in an email to the Distance Learning's Head.

I was informed that the university only ever makes payment once a week on a Thursday and that by 18th February I should received notification but I have received no proof of payment. This being 6 weeks now from start of refund process. I am at my wits end as I am being pushed from pillar to post. I am being fed platitudes upon platitudes. All I ask is for my refund. 

The good news is that this university has a policy on refunds. They also have a web site that describes the process and you've followed those instructions properly. That's all the good news.

The bad news is that they're useless. And at least one of their staff is rude. And escalating the issue to a senior manager seems to have no effect. That's not the level of professionalism that you have a right to expect from a company that took a large amount of your money.

Back to the good news. I'll contact the head people at the university and make it clear that they should show that they can adhere to their own procedures and treat their customer with the respect they deserve. As a high-level institute of education they should be able to learn a lesson, don't you think?

How much is my refund?

I am in need of your assistance. I bought a service from a company for installation of a solar system for an amount of P27,500. This was on December 15. The system has never worked not even once since installation. These guys have been trying to get it running up to today they are failing dismally. So today I asked for my money back since the system is not working. They guy is saying he can only refund P26,000 instead of P27,500. He says he is covering his costs of going to the site many times. But who's fault is it? It's supposed to be his because he offered me a service that never worked so I want my money back.

Kindly advice on what to do to get my full refund back.

I think you should tell him exactly what you've told me. You paid for a working solar system and that is exactly what you're entitled to get. Or, if there's a problem, you're entitled to a refund. An entire refund. Not a partial refund. I don't care if he had to travel to the site many times". That really is his problem, not yours.

Section 7 (6) and (7) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when "goods or services are not availed as advertised, the consumer shall have the right to cancel the contract (and) the supplier shall refund the consumer the amount paid". I suspect that this guy sold you a solar power system that he suggested would work properly? He failed.

Maybe you should also tell him that Section 15 (1) of the Act says that a consumer "has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects".

This guy owes you P27,500. And an apology for saying silly things.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this fair?

Around March 2020 I borrowed the sum of P2000 at 25% interest to be paid on April. Unfortunately on the 1st of April we were on national lockdown and I couldn't pay the amount because I was not working and it was impossible for me to make money. On September I paid P1000 and on November I paid P1000.

Now they summons me and demand I pay a total amount of P3291.25. Is this fair and how do I deal with the matter.

Is it fair? Certainly not. Is it possible? Yes, certainly.

We have to remember that microlenders don't lend money because they're feeling generous. They're not charities, they're businesses and they're in busines to make money. Sometimes lots of it. And they make it from those of us who borrow from them.

The first problem with microlenders is that borrowing from them can be outrageously expensive. This one is charging 25% per month which is a wickedly high interest rate. It's many times the interest rate a bank or a large lender might charge. The second problem occurs if you default on the repayments. Your circumstances don't matter in the slightest to the lender, if you're behind with your payments they'll charge you interest on the outstanding amount and then interest on the interest you previously owed. Very quickly you can find yourself in a situation like yours.

The good news (and it's actually not that good) is that the amount of interest the lender can charge you when you settle the debt is limited by what lawyers call the "in duplum rule". This says that when a debt is settled the amount of interest can't be more than the amount of the original amount you borrowed that's outstanding. It means the maximum possible interest they can charge on a loan of P2,000 is another P2,000. They're allowed to add a little extra for their expenses but you should perhaps count yourself lucky they're not demanding more from you.

The most important thing you should do right now is talk to the debt collector who summoned you. Explain your circumstances and do your best to arrange a repayment plan that you can afford. You'll be surprised how willing most debt collectors are to do a deal. They'd rather get something than nothing and slowly rather than never at all.

Finally, if you are summoned to court please make sure you attend and explain your circumstances to the magistrate. If you can show that you're doing your best to repay your debts then you should be lucky.

How to deal with a complaint

We heard from a consumer recently who had made a terrible mistake. He bought building supplies from a supplier last December and when, after a couple of months, they still hadn't been delivered he did what every consumer should do in a situation like this. He cancelled the deal, found the supplies elsewhere and asked for a refund from the first company. Was that his mistake? No.

When the supplier failed to make the refund, he then posted a complaint in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. Was that his mistake? Again, no.

The supplier then threatened to sue the customer for complaining in public, claiming that they had lost business as a result of his complaint. They demanded that he apologize "for 5 days'. He refused. Was that his mistake? No.

He then complained to us directly and we got in touch with the supplier who implied that they would sue us too. Was that his mistake? No, that wasn't a mistake either.

Finally, he complained about them to the Competition and Consumer Authority. No, before you ask, that wasn't a mistake either.

So what was his mistake? It's simple. He chose a supplier so arrogant and insecure that they threaten to sue customers who try to exercise their rights. It wasn't his fault but it will be a mistake for anyone else to give that company money. No, we won't name the company although if they do ever sue either the customer or Consumer Watchdog, it will become obvious. And then every consumer can decide whether they're grown up enough to deserve our money.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Are these scams?

Mr Harriman, how we can we spot scams? My friend invited me to join Solmax saying we can make a lot of money. My other friend says I should join a scheme called PetronPay. Are these legit? 

Many people have asked me about both of these schemes and my answers have always been the same. It doesn't matter what name a scheme uses, if someone invites you to join a money-making scheme there's one simple fact you need to know. Anyone inviting you to join such a scheme wants to make money FROM you, not WITH you. 

I've already done some research on Solmax and it's complicated. The people recruiting others to join Solmax are actually inviting you to join a scheme called Igniter Pay, which they claim is an "internal project" of a company called Igniter 100 which then trades as YouRemit which is setting up as a money transfer service. They say that Igniter will be listing on the London Stock Exchange later on 2021 but there's no real evidence this is true.

While recruiting people they make claims such as "In Solmax you invest £100 Today … which can provide you with about £2000 next year same time" and that "Over 119.9 million people are into Solmax". They also claim that you earn a "direct bonus" of 10% of any investment made by people you recruit. So what's the truth?

It's a scam.

Like all such scams, the people running it will make lots of money from the people they recruit. Those recruits will make the organisers rich until they're caught and prosecuted.

PetronPay is very similar. It's another scheme that promises enormous returns that are completely unbelievable. For instance they claim that you can earn 2.5% return every day. Let's do the maths. If you "invested" P1,000 on 1st January this year and earned 2.5% interest daily and reinvested that each day, by 1st January 2022 you would have a balance of P8,207,500. Do you really think this is likely?

Like Solmax, PetronPay is a scam and is therefore illegal. Anyone promoting it, or even joining it, can face a fine of up to P100,000, five years in prison or both. Please don't waste your time, money, energy, relationships and freedom on these scams.

I'm paying twice!

At the end of November I got a loan with an agreement that they will pay off a loan from my previous lender. Now both lenders are deducting money from me because the first lender says they haven't received anything from the second. Its now 2 months and both offices are saying they can't help me. I'm now in financial problems because of that. Please help me sir.

I'm very happy to speak to both lenders to find out what went wrong and to encourage then to fix their mix-up. However, I think there's a more important issue here. If you are borrowing money from one lender to pay off a loan from an earlier lender then I'm scared that you might be in a spiral of debt.

When faced with debt many people think the solution is to borrow even more money to pay off earlier debts. In my experience that's a sign that their debt might be out of control. In these cases, it's time to seek some professional advice. I can put in you in touch with ethical debt counsellors who can help you to take a hard look at what you owe, your income and help you develop a plan to rationalise what you owe.

I know it's easy to say, but debt can be a crippling burden. Of course, there are some types of debt that are reasonable. Very few of us have enough money to buy a house for cash and that's a situation when borrowing money from a bank is a reasonable thing to do. Also, in most circumstances a property will increase in value during the term of the loan so it probably makes sense. However, you should ALWAYS be careful when borrowing money to buy something that will lose value, such as a vehicle.

The lesson is simple. While debt can sometimes be a sensible thing, it's something we must approach with great caution and only after we've sought advice from experts. Remember that lenders don't lend money because they're kind and generous people, they do it to make money from the people who borrow from them. It's their business to make money from us. Be careful.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

They won't fix my phone!

Hello Sir, I need your help, I took my phone for screen repair on 21 December 2020. On 22nd the phone went blank and I took it back to the shop and they refused to help me. I went to the Consumer Affairs office to report on the 19th of this month and they told me they will call the man but they haven't got back to me.

Please help me. 

Yet again a store needs a little education on their obligations. Or maybe they know their duties already and have decided to ignore them? Either way they need to fully understand that consumers have rights and aren't afraid to use them. 

I messaged the store inviting them to consider their obligations under the Consumer Protection Act and asking whether they might be more helpful. They responded by saying they offered "no guarantee" on screens of brand new phones and that the receipt also said there was no guarantee. They also said that you agreed to this by signing the receipt before collecting the phone.

Well, that's nice but it's also nonsense. I messaged the store telling them that they're surely aware that Section 15 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act says that a consumer:
"has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects".
I also reminded them that Section 16 (2) of the Act says that a consumer: 
"may return goods to a supplier in their merchantable or original state, within six months after the delivery of the goods, without penalty and at the supplier's risk and expense" 
if they failed to offer goods in working order.

As for their claim that you agreed not to have any rights, that's also silly. Section 23 of the Act forbids a supplier from requiring a consumer to "waive any right" or allowing a supplier to "waive any liability".

This supplier has clearly failed to honour their obligations under the Consumer Protection Act. They have also failed to treat you with the decency that a decent company would offer. Do they really want to be famous for this?

My phone doesn't work!

Please assist me, I bought a phone in December and I am always missing calls it rings sometimes and most of the time it doesn't ring, I can't even take pictures. I went to the shop about the issue of not taking pictures. They said memory card could be having viruses which I always bought from them and they formatted it I went home withing 2 days the phone did the same thing. Today I went back to ask them to either give me another phone or I top up and get a better one the lady refused and said they don't exchange and they don't refund, they wanted to remain with the phone and fix it. I couldn't leave it because I thought since the phone doesn't even have a month they can help me better. Please assist they even refused to give me the owner/managers number.

Ok, is this yet another cellphone provider that thinks the law doesn't apply to them?

Maybe not. I contacted this store and they responded quite quickly.

They said
"Good morning Sir. Indeed the customer came here complaining about the memory card of which we formatted. The second time he came saying the memory isn't working and he has now removed it but he didn't bring the memory card to us. The third time he came with the card of which I replaced and gave him a new one."
So hopefully this will fix your problem. It's a shame it took us to escalate the issue but at least there's been some progress.

The lesson here is never to give up. If a store lets you down, just politely assert your rights, explain what you need them to do and very often they'll be reasonable people and fix your problem. If that doesn't work, then escalate the problem to the management and that might help too. If that doesn't work, then you can always come to Consumer Watchdog.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Should I pay them?

Help! I received an email saying that I had visited pornographic web sites and that a hacker had installed malware on my computer and they had used the camera and the microphone without me knowing to record me while I watched pornography.

The email said that they had also installed a hidden application which had a second function to extract all my contacts from social media, phonebook list and emails.

The man said I must pay him $500 using Bitcoin or the video of me watching pornography will be sent to all of my contacts.

What must I do? I don't have Bitcoins and don't want to be exposed. 

Don't panic. Nothing is going to happen to you. You're safe. 

Despite the threats included in the email, you can feel safe that this is nothing more than a threat. The so-called hacker hasn't hacked your computer, they didn't record you watching porn and they didn't steal your contact details. They are not going to expose you and not humiliate you in front of your family, friends and contacts. This is just a scam designed to exploit the lack of knowledge people have about computers, the internet, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and technology in general. They rely on people either having a guilty conscience, or being terrified of being embarrassed. Or both. They rely on emailing thousands, if not millions of potential victims and hoping that just a few people will respond by paying them.

I can reassure you that they are emailing huge numbers of people because the very same day you emailed me, I got the same threatening email. I bet many readers of The Voice received the same email.

Just delete the email, add the sender to your Junk mail file and move on.

And finally, just to be safe, make sure your computer's firewall is switched on and any antivirus tools are up to date. These don't need to cost you any money and despite what a new laptop might tell you, there are plenty of free options.

Must I take the tablet to be repaired?

Good day Mr Harriman. I need your help, I bought a tablet for my son in Molepolole on the 16 December 2020. After 2 days of opening it it wasn't working and they took it for fixing. I got it back on 6 January 2021 but by evening it wasn't working. I went to them on 7th January they are suggesting I use my own expenses to take it back to their technician because there is nothing they can do. Please help what can I do?

You can explain to them that in 2018 the Government of Botswana introduced the new Consumer Protection Act. This replaced the older version of the Act and it reaffirmed a simple fact. If a supplier sells goods that don't work, they have three options. They can choose to replace the item, repair it or offer the customer a refund. It's their choice to decide which option they select but they MUST select one of them. They can't choose none of them. I suggest you tell them that it's Section 16 (3) of the Act they need to read, understand and remember. They need to stop making up stories about it being the responsibility of customers to help fix problems that are the supplier's job to fix.

You should also tell them that the next section of the Act, 16 (4), says that of the same problem happens again within three months of them repairing it, they don't get another chance. Then they only have two choices, a replacement or a refund. Given that they've already used up their one opportunity to repair the tablet, their options are now much more limited.

Ask them which they prefer, a replacement or a refund because those are the only options left open to them.

If they still argue, tell them that for a small fee I'll educate them on their obligations under the Consumer Protection Act. Correction, make that a large fee.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

When should they take my money?

Please educate me here. I have a policy with an insurance company and I signed that they take their money every last day of the month. For the past few months its not been the case, they take their money around the 5th, 8th, 10th which is not part of the agreement. The other month they did the same and found nothing in my account and my bank penalised and charged me P150 for that and still I had to pay them premiums. Can you explain to me why this is happening?

I'm sure many readers of The Voice will have had exactly the same experience. Maybe not with an insurance company but perhaps with their bank, network provider or any other company that takes regular payments from their bank account.

I suspect this all depends on what it says in the contract you signed with the insurance company. What were the precise words in the section about payments? Did it say the exact date that the payment would be taken? Or was it a bit more flexible than that? Did it say that payments would be taken on a specific date unless there was a reason not to? Did it perhaps say that the insurance company will normally take it on the agreed date unless they want to take it on some other date?

Regardless of what agreement says, there's a bigger issue. Simple courtesy. If a supplier such as an insurance company or bank needs to take money earlier than expected they should at least have to courtesy to tell me first. Or perhaps even to ask me if it's ok? Or to check whether it's going to inconvenience me or cost me money. The simple fact is that the insurance company were rude to you and that's not acceptable.

We should both contact them and remind them that courtesy costs nothing but brings forth respect.

A bed or a refund?

Hello Mr Harriman, I paid for a bed worth 1.5k in December 2019. I left the bed at the shop because I didn't have transport at that particular time. In February 2020 I found transport and told them that I am coming to pick the bed but the lady gave me endless stories that she is not at the shop so no one will help me, So I gave in. In September I called her again that I am coming to pick the bed she gave me a screenshot where she asked her boss if the bed is available and he said no and she told me it will be available after a week. I reached her after a week and she told me the bed is not available. In October I called her again that I am coming and she told me the shop has moved to a different place and i asked for her boss's number. She gave it and I asked for a refund and he also gave me endless stories and empty promises up to this date they are failing to refund me. I am so disappointed in them and if supporting local mean this its a problem now.

I can understand your disappointment. You paid for a bed more than a year ago and you still don't have it. That's completely unacceptable. You have every right to cancel this deal and walk away with your money refunded to you in full.

The bad news is that I've heard very similar complaints about this company before. They have a long history of mistreating customers like you and failing to deliver decent products in a decent way. That doesn't mean we can't get you a refund, it just means that this might be a bit of a struggle. However, it's a struggle I'm looking forward to!

The unfortunate fact is that some companies don't deserve to succeed, they deserve to fail. Those companies that sell decent products at decent prices and serve their customers with respect and care deserve to become fabulously successful. The others, the ones like this company deserve to lose every customer and shut down. It seems harsh but that's how business works. This company should close as soon as it's met it's obligations.

Like giving you a refund.