Sunday 25 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I spent someone else's money

Hello Mr Richard. Sometimes last year my bank sent P4,000 into my account without reason. I called them frequently asking them about the money but they told me its my money. I waited for 3 days without waiting for them to talk to me again but they failed. I used money on the fifth day. In May I received a call from them telling me the money wasn't for me and I have to come to their office. They told me I must pay the money back. I told them that I don't have money but they told me to pay money via instalment.

I managed to pay 800, 350, 1,000 but it still reflects that I'm owing them 4,000 in my account. What can I do?

The first thing you should do is to ask the bank why they haven't updated your account correctly to reflect the payments you've made towards the debt. That's a simple thing for them to do and they're negligent for not doing that already.

The second thing you can do is think carefully about how this situation happened. You know now, and you knew then, that the money that was paid into your account wasn't yours. I know it wasn't your fault and I know the bank told it was yours, but you knew that wasn't true when you spent it.

The best thing you can do is keep talking to the bank and repaying the money you took. They've already agreed to accept the money in instalments so it's incredibly important that you keep to that agreement.

The lesson from this is never to spend money you know doesn't belong to you. If money ever does appear in your account that you weren't expecting, tell the bank immediately and do NOT spend it.

Should he be in prison?

In August last year, a judgement in Francistown High Court was given that my brother can use his pension to pay his debt to his bank. He took all the required documents to the pension administrators and up to now they have not paid the bank. The only time they gave him updates is when he either called or when we went to the office on his behalf to follow up since he is in Francistown and unemployed.

As I am talking to you now, he got arrested by deputy sheriffs of the same bank on Monday as the pension administrator has not made a payment to the bank. He will be at Francistown State Prison until his debt is paid.

Is this a fair treatment from people who have kept his pension money and have not been able to assist him on time when he needed them the most?

No, this certainly is not fair. In fact, this is a disgrace.

I know your brother owes money to his bank, but that isn't the real problem. The bank should know by now that your brother has the money to pay his debt to them, just not now. They know that his pension will pay off the debt and it's not his fault that the administrators have taken their time. So they should have sat down with him and asked him to sign some sort of agreement that when the pension pays out they'll get their money. And then they need to be a little more patient.

We spoke to senior managers at both the bank and the pension administrators when we heard this and, to their credit, they were just as shocked about what had happened. They both recognized that they had failed badly. The pension administrators have assured us that they'll get the pension process done as quickly as possible and they also promised an investigation into why the process took so long that it led to their client spending time in prison. The bank told us they'd make sure your brother was set free as soon as possible.

However, two days later, he's still in prison. You can find out if he's released in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. One final word on civil imprisonment for debt. This system is being over-used and often punishes the wrong people. Of course there are some people who deserve it, those who willingly, deliberately avoid paying their debts. They deserve to face the consequences. But very often it's the wrong people who are punished this way, people like your brother. We need a new approach.

Update: The guy was finally released a few days later. He's now back home, recovering from a traumatic experience he didn't deserve. Both companies should be ashamed of how long they took to sort this matter out. 

Sunday 18 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

More scam alerts

Maybe it's the time of year, I don't know, but there's a lot of scams around right now.

Last week we warned readers of The Voice about a scam called Miracle Farm which is a replica of Ecoplexus. Luckily a lot of people are more aware these days but people are still falling for it, depositing money into a local bank account that is being used to channel the money to the crooks running the scheme overseas.

But Miracle Fam isn't the only scam going around. There are other, including Ace Car Rental, Ceptual Trade, Crystal Queens and Forzza Odds. They all operate primarily from WhatsApp groups full of promises of massive and quick profits. They all ask for relatively small amounts of money but if lots of people fall victim to them, they still make a lot of money. You can be sure that anyone who gives them a little will soon be encouraged to pay them a lot more.

So how can you tell if something is a scam? Here are some ways to help you decide. Firstly, ask the person who invited you to join, why they did so? Did they do it because they're just a kind and charitable person? If they say Yes, then you know it's a scam.

Next, ask them if the scheme is a registered company. Hopefully they'll tell you that it's registered somewhere but if so, ask for proof. Then check if it's true. If you don't know how to check, ask us.

Ask them how money is generated by the scheme. People marketing a legitimate investment scheme will talk about share or commodity prices, dividends or the income a company can expect from selling products and services. People marketing a scam will be less specific. They'll talk about cryptocurrency or forex trading, Bitcoin mining or they'll say it's a motshelo or 'gifting' scheme. If you ask them how profits are generated they'll do their best not to answer. Because they have no answers.

Those promoting a genuine investment will welcome questions. They'll happily give you complete answers to every question you ask. However, scammers will very quickly become defensive and ask you why you're asking so many questions. "Just trust me", they'll say. Anyone who says this is trying to scam you.

Above all, scammers will make incredible claims about how much money you can make from their scheme. They'll tell you that small 'investments' can earn a great deal of money. They'll also ask you to invest more and more money, encouraging you to 'upgrade' to higher levels with promises of even greater profits. That's a sure sign of a scam.

A common trick they'll try is to show you bank payment messages. These are almost always faked but a few will be genuine because they do sometimes pay the victims a little money to make the scam seem legit. It's not, it's a criminal enterprise and the law makes it just as illegal to join a scam as it does to promote one.

Finally, remember this simple truth. Anyone who invites you to join their money-making scheme wants to make money from you, not with you.

Will they fix my TV?

Mr Harriman I need your help sir. I bought a 58 inch smart TV at a store in Tonota last year July. On the 14th December I found the screen cracked. I reported it to the manager they took it but they don't want to refund me for the television. They say its my fault I broke it while it was mounted on the wall.

I think we need to ask one simple question. Who caused the damage to the TV? The problem is it's hard to say. It's possible that the TV was damaged before it was installed at your place or during the installation. However, the store have already suggested that there's no evidence they broke it and it's more likely that it was broken while you had it. From their point of view, the fact that you took 5-6 months to report it to them supports that.

I'll contact them for you but honestly, I'm not optimistic.

Saturday 10 February 2024

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

A warning – "Miracle Farm"

We all remember Ecoplexus. That scam started just over a year ago and promised people massive profits from a mysterious "investment" in solar power technology and generation. They were very smart. They used the name of a genuine, legitimate company based in the USA that does a lot of work in the solar business. But the scammers had no connection with this company. They were just exploiting the name.

I don't know how many people fell for this scam but it must have been thousands and between them they gave the scammers tens of millions of Pula. We warned people here in The Voice and on Facebook as early as January 2023 and luckily, many people took the warnings seriously. But many didn't. In May last year the scam finally collapsed but not before much of the money people had paid into local bank accounts had left the country. However, some was left here and that has since been frozen until the authorities can work out who deserves some money back. I think it's good that some people get some of their money back but personally I believe that anyone who actively promoted the scam shouldn't get a single thebe returned to them. They were willing participants in a criminal scam.

The bad news is that the scammers are back. There's a new scam that just started that calls itself Miracle Farm or Miracle Farm Capital or Miracle Farm Management and it's very similar to Ecoplexus. This time they make claims about making money in farming. 

For example, they say that if you invest P100 in peanut farming you'll make profits of P140 after 20 days. If you invest P12,000 in wheat, you'll make profits of P84,000 after 9 months. Like Ecoplexus, they have an Android app but it's all lies, just like the lies the Ecoplexus crooks told us.

These Miracle Farming scammers claim to be based in New York but the fake registration documents they send people can't decide if they're registered in New York, California or Colorado. The people promoting the scheme refuse to communicate by video or voice, just like Ecoplexus. That's for a very simple reason. They don't want us to hear their real voices because we'll spot their accents immediately.

Please don't fall for this scam and don't allow anyone you know to fall for it either. Spread the word as far as possible. The lesson from Ecoplexus is that only by standing and fighting together as a community can we beat these criminals.

Can I get a refund?

Hello Mr Harriman. I really need your help. I bought school uniform from the other lady in Mochudi and I'm not happy with her service. She gave me girls trousers instead of boys trousers and she refused to exchange for me nor give me my money back. I ended up going to police but I didn't get help. I went to the byelaw people where she took the trousers and told me that she will send my money during the day but she didn't do that till now. I posted on Facebook asking for help asking if people can buy the trousers so that I can buy the one for boys but she went to report me at the police and court. I'm waiting for the court to call me.

This is insane. This sort of business person, someone who delivers the wrong products, refuses to exchange them, promises a refund, then fails to do so and then reports their customer to the Police for complaining doesn't deserve to be in business. They deserve to fail.

I'm happy to contact this lady and suggest various ways that she can fix this issue if you like?

I think she needs to understand that she has a very simple obligation to deliver what you paid for or give you a refund. She also needs to understand that complaining in public about this sort of experience is a reasonable thing to do. Any complaints we post in public are a form of free speech, so long as they're reasonable, polite, true, not malicious and expressed in good faith. You gave her several opportunities to fix the problem nicely. She's the one who needs to be held accountable, not you.