Saturday 26 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why won't they fix my bed?

Hi Mr Richard I really need your help. Please our value for our money is no longer considered in furniture stores. I lay byed a bed worth P4,000 last year August. I went to collect it but after making the payment I spent a week before getting my bed being told that its at the warehouse. I ended up getting it a week later.

After 3 months the bed started making noise. I didn't even waste time I went back to the shop to lodge a complaint and I was told it might be factory fault. They then promised to change the bed but it has been 6 months. Now every month I pay them a visit and they keep telling me the same thing.

This bed is no longer comfortable 4 me. I don't rest well because of the noise. Please help.

I think you've been very patient. Perhaps too patient!

Firstly, they failed to deliver the bed when they promised but we can probably overlook that because of the difficulties we've all experienced in the last year.

What matters most is that the bed wasn't in a good enough state. Section 14 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Act says that consumers have a right 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". You are entitled to bed that allows you to sleep comfortably. That's what anyone would think they are "reasonably entitled to expect".

Then there's the warranty that came with the bed. You don't say how long the warranty lasted but I guess it was a year. The best thing you did was to highlight the problem with the bed as soon as you could and it's simply unacceptable that the store has taken so long and made so many broken promises to you. The Act also says that when delivering services to a consumer, they have a right to "timely performance and completion of those services (and) timely notice of any unavoidable delay". They failed.

I've emailed the Head Office for the company and they responded saying "that the complaint has been logged and further feedback will be provided once an update is received."

Let's see what they think they can do.

Where's my vehicle?

I ordered a vehicle from in December 2020 and was promised that it will be delivered around February or March 2021. The vehicle has never been delivered and I later realised that I have been scammed by someone hiding behind the company signage. I paid $4,800 and the police here say Interpol does not investigate anything less than $5,000. Is there anything I can do? I tried to report this to the company but to my surprise it appears the scammer has access to the number that in my view had thought its a genuine contact number. 

The scammer gave me the bank account number from the UK registered under "their company". Their office line from London is not accessible. It uses an answering pre-recorded voice detector that automatically hangs up if it does not recognize ones voice.

I have all along been trying to get hold of the actual company management to report the issue to them but unfortunately I haven't been able to contact them.

I don't think I can offer you any good news or reason to be optimistic. I checked the company you named in the UK and there are many suspicious things about them. Firstly, they claim to have an office in central London but the address they gave is just a serviced office that anyone can use wherever they are in the world. Also, there's no company with the name you gave that is registered in the UK.

I think it's still worth applying pressure to the local company to see if they can establish how this person managed to scam you. It's their name and reputation at stake and it's in their interests to try and help you and prevent other people becoming victims.

Saturday 19 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why can't they refund me?

My mom bought rafters for roofing from on the 3rd of June 2021 and was told they would be delivered which didn't happen. She tried calling them but the phone rang unanswered, she then went to their shop and was told that they were waiting for some people from around our area to buy so that they can deliver at once, which was not the agreement. She then arranged for transport to get them herself. Today when she got there they told her that they don't have them on stock which was surprising because they never said they don't have them and they were there on display. She then asked for a refund and the person told her that I (because she was swiping with my card) have to go to my bank and request that they write a letter confirming that the account is mine.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

I think this store needs to learn a few lessons about customer service. And also what the Consumer Protection Act says about the way consumers should be treated.

Section 7 (1) of the Act says that
"A supplier shall not advertise any particular goods or services as being available at a specified price in a manner that may result in consumers being misled or deceived as to the actual availability of those goods or services".
In simpler terms, a company can't advertise things they don't have, unless they're very clear that they don't have them. It also really shouldn't matter whether they have other customers buying things so they can deliver them all at once.

The Act then outlines what happens if a company fails to abide by the Act. It says that if goods
"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".
That's really not complicated is it? The only real difficulty is that the refund needs to be made to the account that paid for the goods, in this case your bank account. However, I don't think they need anything from your bank to do that. If you swiped using your card then they can just reverse it. It's their job to figure out how to do that.

Scam alert! 

There is a guy saying that he works for Botswana Railways. He is handing out counterfeit RFQs (Request for Quotation). He emailed me from an email address looking for 6 heavy duty drainage pumps. We quoted him and the quote totalled to about P6 million. He then phoned our office in Francistown and told us to go ahead with the order. He said once the pumps arrived in Francistown he would then organize his own transportation to collect the pumps and take them to Mahalapye.

This was all too suspicious for me as he only dealt with me over the phone and email and refused to come to our branch in Francistown. I then ended up calling Botswana Railways in Mahalapye. They said the guy left BR many years ago. They also said any email coming from a government organization should never end in .com it should always end in .bw.

I'm very glad you were skeptical. I've seen a series of scams like this over the last couple of years. They always involve someone pretending to represent a government department or parastatal who claims they need a proposal to deliver expensive equipment. There are often very professionally presented and the forms they send over look authentic. They also always give the name of someone who sounds real. It's only if you look closely that you can spot the clues that it's a scam. It's things like the scammers using a .com address, not a .bw one. The other clue is that organisations like Botswana Railways don't approach total strangers and offer them business. They have procurement processes, often very slow and cumbersome ones.

Sooner or later this guy would have demanded a payment from you, either a tender fee or some import duty. Whatever they say the payment is for, that's what this is all about. It's an 'advance fee' they'll demand you pay and as soon as you pay them they'll start inventing a series of other payments until you either realise it's a scam or you run out of money. I've heard from victims who've lost hundreds of thousands to scams exactly like this. Let's all spread the word to other potential victims and help them to be as skeptical as you!

Saturday 12 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can't I be refunded?

May you please advise on the situation below.

This past weekend I booked a room for one night P550 at a guest house in Mahalapye. I paid for the room and immediately left the lodge to go and finish what I was doing. Approximately 1 and a half or 2 hours later I called the lodge to cancel my booking. My cancellation was acknowledged and I was told to come see the owner on Saturday. Due to my tight schedule I couldn't go on Saturday and went on Sunday.

The owner was not there and I was informed that she left a message that said I will not be refunded because I inconvenienced them. I expected to be charged a penalty fee and given some of the money back because I informed them well on time but they refused. They told me that the person I talked to on the phone when I was cancelling did not work for the lodge. Now the question is can someone who does not work for the lodge be answering phones on their behalf?

Hope to hear from you soon.

Most hotels and guest houses have a cancellation policy. It's normal practice. I'm sure we can all appreciate that these places take booking in good faith and then often turn away other bookings because they thought their rooms would be occupied. If the person who initially booked changes their mind the hotel has lost money.

However, these cancellation policies need to be clear and easy to understand. Another consumer contacted us this week with a similar problem. They cancelled a booking a few weeks before they were scheduled to arrive and were surprised when they only got 75% of their booking fee back. That's because the cancellation policy said any booking cancelled more than 5 days ahead would incur a 25% cancellation fee. Cancellations later than that would result in a higher fee.

I don't know what the cancellation policy is for the guest house you checked into says but I'm certain of one thing. Anyone who cancels their booking after they've arrived isn't going to get anything back and I don't think that's unreasonable.

What should she do?

Good day. A friend bought a couch on hire purchase but now she's struggling to pay. She wants to return it but the shop says she still has to pay all the money. What does the law say about this? Kindly advise.

The bad news is that the shop staff are correct. If she returns the couch either voluntarily or if they repossess it, the store will then auction it but they'll probably only get a fraction of the original purchase price from the sale. They'll then deduct that money from the balance your friend owes but it's likely that when they add on the penalties, interest, debt collection fees and all the other costs she'll still owe them a lot of money, perhaps even more than she owes already. And the final insult is that despite owing them even more money that she does now, she won't even have a couch.

Hire purchase really is a terrible way to buy things. It's horribly expensive, the law offers you hardly any rights you can use to protect yourself and if things go wrong, you can end up in tremendous debt. I've always urged anyone who can't afford to buy something new either to save the money or to buy something second-hand instead.

We should also urge the authorities to consider a comprehensive Credit Act that governs all forms of sale on credit and hire purchase. Consumers have many protections offered by various laws but we need one that protects us against hire purchase going wrong. We've been waiting a long time.

Regarding your friend, she should talk to the store as soon as possible and explain her situation. With luck the store will help her negotiate a repayment plan she can afford.

Saturday 5 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where has her money gone?

I'm writing this email in so much pain, On 5th February we realized that more than P20,000 was been stolen from my mum's bank account. she was receiving emails alerts. We immediately called the bank to let them know that money was been stolen and Mum didn't know where it was going and she has no stop order only for a furniture store and a bank loan.

So she did block her card and she pleaded with the customer service to stop the money from going out since it showed the transactions were not yet completed but they refused saying if they do that then they can be sued. She then went through all processes from reporting and filing a case with the fraud department and they assured her that they will investigate but nothing has been done till now. They keep changing their stories.

They first said she was paying some college in UK to buying from Ali Baba, now they saying she is doing forex exchange. But she doesn't know anything about Forex. She doesn't know anything about online banking nor online payments. They are lazy to do the investigations to see what really happened to her money and it doesn't look like they will refund her money.

As I type this she is taking high blood pressure pills. It hasn't been easy for her more so that the bank doesn't take her case serious. Please assist.

I'm sorry for your mother's troubles, it must be incredibly frustrating for her.

The first thing to do is to speak to the bank and insist they investigate what might be happening. They need to check whether your account has been compromised and to establish exactly when and how these payments were authorised. I've also contacted the bank to alert them. 

However, your Mum should also check whether she has somehow disclosed her banking details to someone. It's a difficult situation but I've heard many times about situations like this when it has been a family member or friend who has been abusing someone else's bank account. Does she know of anyone who has spoken about studying abroad, buying things from overseas or experimenting with forex? Maybe you can ask your family members if they've heard about this? I know it might be difficult, becoming the family detective, but it's better to discover if someone is betraying your mother's trust and taking her money.

Must I pay them?

Hi Richard, I hope you are well and safe. I would really appreciate your advice on a problem I am facing with a college I signed up for. I enrolled into a college that trains on the stock market. The program I signed up for was a three year access to their trainings and I paid P1,500 deposit and P450 monthly deposit which I am supposed to pay for the next 3 years. However I decided to cancel 5 months in because it was becoming a financial burden that was not worth it, considering their content depth was similar to most YouTubers that provide it for free. I wanted to cancel but they told me the only way to cancel is if I pay for the whole program.

To be honest I didn't read the contract but just wanted to know if this clause was a violation of my consumer right. I asked them if they could charge me a cancellation fee but they refused. I don't understand why I should pay for the whole 3 year program to get out of a contract. Would really appreciate any advice. Thank you.

Firstly, as I'm sure you know now, you should never sign any agreement you haven't read and fully understood. You should also never agree to anything that commits you to something for so long. Every contract you sign should also have some sort of cancellation clause.

Secondly, what sort of training establishment offers services no better than you can get for free on YouTube? The answer is simple. A lot of them. Some of you will remember Stock Market Direct, a company that claimed to offer training in trading stocks and shares as well as giving their paid subscribers tip and recommendations, all for a large monthly fee. We discovered very quickly that their training was no better than you could get from surfing the web and the same tips were available for a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

The lessons are simple. Don't sign anything before you are certain you can commit to what the agreement says and do some research first. People who claim they can train you should really be experts.