Sunday 28 August 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my tractor?

I followed a certain page on Facebook in June who claimed to be selling used tractors in Caledon in Western Cape in South Africa. I made an enquiry on their Whatsapp line and they responded that they do have it. 

A proforma invoice was sent to me on 11 July 2022 and they told me that tractor will be delivered within 3-4 days. On 12 July they confirmed that they have received my payment and will now process the export documentation. That was the last time I heard from them.

The amount of money I sent is R85,000 and this was done bank transfer using FNB online banking.

Now they do not read my Whatsapp chats or answer my calls.

Unfortunately I don't think I have any good news for you. The bad news is that your money is gone, never to be seen again. You've been scammed.

There's a company with the name you gave me that's registered in South Africa, but it isn't registered with the number shown on the invoice you sent. The real company's registration number is very different. This isn't just a simple mistake, this is a con. The genuine company is also registered at a very different address to one shown on the invoice.

Their Facebook page is also suspicious. They only offer a cell number and the web site they give hasn't been set up yet. Also, the domain they're using was only registered a year ago. The Facebook page offers some very good deals on tractors but these deals are way too good to be believed. I'm no expert on farm equipment but I checked the prices for similar equipment and the prices these guys offer are incredibly low.

This is yet another scam, just like many others we've seen before. These scams always offer normally expensive vehicles or equipment at remarkably cheap prices. In fact they're nothing more than Facebook pages that anyone can set up.

The lesson for us all is a simple one. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

How do I buy cryptocurrencies?

Hello Mr Harriman, I need to buy a certain crypto currency. By doing a bit of research I have heard it's going to go up. I have tried to buy it through some American crypto app but cannot download the apps because of our region. I have done my research, I just need the correct avenue to enable me to buy.

I know it's a gamble but I don't mind I just need an avenue to buy it because there are a lot of scammers. You probably don't believe in crypto, I understand, but just like stocks, if done right it can be lucrative. I just need help on how I can purchase the currency.

Can you recommend any crypto person or company to help me buy?

It's not that I don't "believe" in cryptocurrencies, it's just that they're incredibly risky. Their value can rise extremely quickly but it can also fall just as quickly. That's why they should never be seen an investments, just like any other currency. People don't "invest" in the Pula, US dollar, Euro or Yen, they trade them. Some people, a very small percentage, make money by doing this but the overwhelming majority either make no money or lose it. That's even more so with cryptocurrencies. For example, if someone had bought Bitcoin this time last year they would have lost 57% of the money they spent by now. With the smaller cryptocurrencies like the one you told me about the risks are even greater. Just remember that even though it's quite easy to buy a cryptocurrency, it can be very difficult to sell it again if the value drops. You might not find anyone foolish enough to buy it from you and you'll be stuck with an asset that's disappearing in front of you.

Then there's the scammers. The currency you mentioned appears to be legitimate but the whole industry is dominated by crooks, scammers and liars, all trying desperately to get your money.

My advice is simple. Investing your money in cryptocurrencies, like any other currency, is little more than gambling and you should treat it that way. If you've done your research and have some spare money you don't need and can afford to lose, then have a go. Otherwise, play safe.

Saturday 20 August 2022

The Voce - Consumer's Voice

Where's my car?

Hello Richard. On June 15 I paid P68,000 to a South African car dealer through their agent in Botswana. I wanted a Nissan Dualis which they promised to deliver that same week. On the day when I was expecting to receive the car (20 June), they informed me that the truck that was carrying the cars to Botswana had a slight accident and unfortunately my car got damaged (they sent me photos of the damaged car). I then told then that I cannot take a car that has had an accident, so they promised that they will sort me out with another Dualis soon.

Days and weeks passed without any communication from them, unless if I am the one who questions on the progress. I am still waiting even now, and they are taking me from pillar to post. Every day is a new story. I have asked them for a refund since they cannot give me a new car, and still they are not helping.

None of them, the car dealer and the carrier company, wants to take responsibility. Please help.

I'm sure there are some honest people in the car import business but sometimes it's hard to find them.

I understand that when importing cars there are occasional accidents like the one that happened to your car. I also understand that in a situation like this, it's the job of the importer to find you're a new vehicle. So far, so good.

But something doesn't add up. If it only took 5 days last time, from the 15th to the 20th of June to ship your vehicle why is it taking so long this time? Why has it been two months? Perhaps they don't have the right vehicle available? If that's the case why can't they just tell you and let you decide what to do? Whatever the reason, I think it's time for a refund.

I suggest you contact them and give them a deadline. Tell them that if they don't refund you within a week you'll take legal action against them to recover your money. Tell them you'll also be contacting the Competition and Consumer Authority, Consumer Watchdog and The Voice. Between us we should have enough muscle.

Another second-hand car disaster

I bought a BMW X1 from a dealer in Mogoditshane on the 20th June. On the 31st July I experienced an engine problem and contacted the owner of the garage the next day only to be told that the warranty was only 7 days and that I had signed to agree with that since it's written on the receipt. I was never told about the 7 days before then.

Their salesman gave me the car with a dead left headlamp and promised to fit it but never did it and I had to pay someone P600 to fit it. I also had to buy myself the back wiper for P150 since they did not put it on. Also a pipe from the water tank started leaking and I had it replaced for another P600. On the 31st July while on a trip the car slowed itself down near Mahalapye and we stopped to observe what was the problem and there was some loud noise coming from the engine. We had a towing company transport the car on a truck to Mahalapye since it was the nearest place of safety. I paid P850 for the service.

Please help me get assistance.

Buying a second-hand car is an incredibly risky business. We've had hundreds of complaints over the years that were all very similar to yours and the challenge is always the same. Most second-hand car dealers offer almost no warranty on the cars they sell and customers often only discover this when they get a receipt, after having paid a huge amount of money. We could argue that explaining this after the consumer has paid isn't legal but that would be a job for attorneys.

The lesson is simple. Be VERY careful when buying a second-hand car. You should ALWAYS get a mechanic to inspect any car you're thinking of buying. Most of us have a friend or relative who knows more about cars that we do. Ask them to take a look. If you don't have someone, go to the garage that serviced your last car and ask if one of the mechanics wants to earn something extra. I promise you it will be worth a few hundred Pula or a crate of beer to get their expert advice. It might save you a fortune in the long run.

Also, get the dealer to put something in writing about the state of the car you're buying. Insist that they identify all the known problems before you hand over your money. If they refuse, ask yourself what they're hiding because they certainly can't be trusted with your money.

Saturday 13 August 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

How much was the engine?

Please advise. We went to a certain store in Mogoditshane to buy a car engine. Upon arrival we were told that the engine costs P9,800. After a discount we paid P8,700.

So then the manager told the shop assistant that the price has changed and was not updated on the system yet. He said the price is P14,000 and expected us to top up and pay the amount. We refused and requested a refund. He then changed and said it's fine we can take it. While they were preparing to give the engine to us another man came in seems like the owner and told us they will be making a loss if we took it at P8,700. They didn't want to give back our money and we ended up negotiating with them and taking it at P10,000.

I was just wondering if they are even allowed to do that to customers. I feel frustrated.

I think this store needs to think very carefully about how they advertise their products, in particular how they display their prices. You had a reasonable right to expect that the price displayed for the engine was the correct price and my view, as someone who isn't an attorney, just an amateur, is that once you paid the price and they accepted your money the engine was your property.

So maybe the store made a mistake when they displayed the price? Yes, that might be true, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. But the time to correct the mistake was before they took your money. And if they did make a mistake and don't want to sell you the item at the lower price, how dare they refuse you a refund? That's completely unacceptable.

You were very flexible and tolerant when you agreed to negotiate a higher price and I think the best thing is to put this behind you. Yes, you paid more than you originally thought but you paid a lot less than what the owner wanted you to.

Maybe you've done ok?

Where's my refund?

I wanted to track a lost phone and I searched numbers on Facebook to find someone to help me locate it. He said I should send P400. After a few hours I managed to find the phone and I called him to refund my money.

He said they had already cashed the money so I should wait until they close and he will ask his boss to ewallet which he didn't do. The following day he said we don't have enough in the till and he said he will do it when he goes for lunch. That's it, he stopped communicating with me. He's refusing to refund me and he's not picking my calls nor replying to my messages.

He said he is from a store which was a lie because when I called them they said they don't know him.

There are two issues here. Firstly, should he refund you? I think that depends on whether he did any work in the few hours after you sent him the P400. I suppose it's possible that in that time he was very busy doing his best to track your phone. It's possible you would have been very pleased to be told where your phone was. It's possible you would have thought it was value for money. However, I think it's up to him to demonstrate that he was a busy guy in that time. But that would mean he must answer his phone and anyone who refuses to answer for so long is hiding something.

The second thing is he's a liar. He claimed to be working for the company, he made excuses about talking to his boss and getting money from the till when in fact they've never heard of him. He was lying to you and you can't trust a liar.

This guy can't be trusted. I'll contact him and try to persuade him to do the right thing but you know something about liars? They lie. They can't be trusted. If that approach doesn't work I think you need to visit your local Police Station and suggest they consider laying a charge of Obtaining By False Pretence, contrary to Section 308 of the Penal Code. That should wake him up and help you get your money back.

Sunday 7 August 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can they charge me so much?

I'm kindly asking for your advice. I owe someone P1,500 motshelo money. When returning back the money is it possible for the person to say I owe them P6,000. Looking at the duplum law rule. Shouldn't I be paying P3,000.

Thank you.

I think you know your rights already!

The in duplum rule is something understood and enforced in many countries including our own and it's quite simple. To quote a highly respected judge (one of ours) in a judgment passed in 2008, the rule "serves to aid debtors in financial difficulties by holding that it is unlawful to recover interest equal to or more than the capital sum upon which interest had accrued". Later in the judgment the judge also said that "the application of the in duplum rule cannot be waived".

In simple terms, the in duplum rule is law and there's no way around it. If the person running this motshelo scheme wants their money back, they're entitled to demand it form you including interest but the interest cannot be more than the P1,500 capital you owe. So you're right, they can't demand more than P1,499 in interest payments.

I think you should also approach NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority and get their advice and ask them to examine this scheme. Depending on the setup of the scheme, they might be able to give you some advice and assistance.

The simple truth is that you can't avoid paying your debts. They don't go away and they can damage your finances for the rest of your life if you're not careful. However, the Consumer Protection Act offers consumers protection from lenders using "force, coercion, undue influence, pressure, duress, harassment, unfair tactics". They must recover their debt in a reasonable manner and charge only what the law allows them to charge.

If this person refuses to see sense, I'm happy to contact them for you and explain all this to them.

Will they pay us?

My brother is late we buried him this month. He insured himself and we proceeded with the claim and they promised that it will take 24 hours. We waited and waited until I phoned them and they said that the policy has been deactivated last year August but the owner has been paying until the last month, they didn't communicate with him telling him that the policy has lapsed. They took the money even after August.

They said he missed some months in different years and they didn't communicate as they are supposed to do. I went to the post office were the claim was processed and they were surprised because they didn't tell them as they do in all policies, when someone missed payments they inform them to tell the person to pay outstanding balance but with this one they didn't.

I know that some companies insist that it's entirely the responsibility of a customer to make sure that monthly instalments are made, whether it's insurance, hire purchase or a bank loan. I understand that. However, it's 2022 and don't they have our cellphone numbers and email addresses? Don't large companies have expensive computer systems that can be set to send out messages when the payments they expect aren't made? Is that too much to ask for? I don't think so. They're making enough money from us that I think they can afford to ask their IT people to help us all out.

However, that all depends on us keeping them informed if we change our contact details.

The lesson here is that we can't always rely on banks, insurance companies and hire purchase stores to let us know if there's a problem with our payments. Yes they should be telling us but we know they can't be relied upon to do so.

Update: I contacted the insurance company and they responded extremely quickly, saying they would look into the situation urgently. I then heard from the reader who said the insurance company had already been in touch, apologising and promising to make the payment the following day.