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.