Saturday, 18 November 2017

Consumer fallacies

My dictionary defines a fallacy as “a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments” and I think we all know life is full of them.

For instance, it’s a fallacy to believe that a company selling you products or services will always have your interests at heart. And nor should they. More than two centuries ago Adam Smith wrote that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Companies sell us things, whether it’s meat, beer or bread or a bank account, an insurance policy or a cellphone because they want to make a profit by doing so and there’s nothing wrong with that. The “profit motive” is a healthy thing, so long as it’s done in an open and honest manner. Hopefully we profit as well from the deal. We get our dinner, a loan, cover against disasters and a phone we can use to update our Facebook profile to tell the world what we think of the weather.

Just don’t think that a company is primarily interested in you. That would be a mistaken belief, one based on unsound arguments. A fallacy.

It’s also a fallacy, one of the biggest in customer service, to think that “the customer is always right”. Let me tell you a secret. The customer is NOT always right. In fact, the customer sometimes is a jerk. Other times the customer is an idiot and occasionally even a lying, cheating scumbag doing his best to steal your company’s products, services or money.

Of course you shouldn’t assume this to begin with. When you first meet a customer they obviously deserve courtesy, respect and attention. You start the encounter by assuming that both you as a service provider and the customer should benefit from the encounter and that the best way to do this is to engage with them like a professional and find a solution that their needs. It’s only later that you can change this approach.

Some years ago we heard from a restaurant manager who had a customer arrive, order food, eat most of it and then complain that the food wasn’t good enough. Being a polite and flexible guy, he said he wouldn’t charge her for the food. The following week she came again and exactly the same thing happened. Again, he waived the bill. The following week it happened again. This time he politely explained to the customer that perhaps she’d be happier eating the food offered by another restaurant where they could satisfy her needs and she left. When she arrived the following week, he refused to serve her and explained that she was no longer welcome in his restaurant.

When he contacted us he asked if we thought he’d done the right thing and our response was very simple. Yes, of course he was right. She had effectively stolen his food and he was perfectly right to “fire” her. We suggested that his other customers, the one who didn’t abuse him, would probably agree with him as well.

I could offer you a long list of stories we’ve heard of customers who are even worse than this. We’ve heard of customers who lie, cheat and even one, very recently, who asked a supplier to forge a document to help them defraud a manufacturer of the product they falsely claimed was faulty. Obviously these are extreme cases and it’s important to understand that most customers are decent people, not crooks but I do think it confirms the truth. They’re not always right.

Royal crown curvedWhat about the common suggest that “the customer is king”. Sorry, that’s another fallacy.

We’re not all kings. Or indeed queens. We’re just ordinary people, not royalty, not people with inherited wealth, position or power, not people that everyone has to stand up to greet, not people who deserve red carpets and impressive titles. We’re just people, people who deserve respect until we demonstrate that we no longer deserve it. Most importantly, I object to the suggestion that only royalty deserve good service. Everyone does, whether we’re of royal blood or the mortals required to serve them. Isn’t it the 21st century and haven’t we long put aristocracy behind us?

Then there’s the fallacy that service has to be the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in a bank, a filling station or a government office, we all deserve respect and courtesy but I believe that different levels of service aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s natural for service to vary. The quality of service I get at the filling station doesn’t need to match the service I get in a luxury hotel. It might seem uncomfortable but the more I’m paying for something, the better the service I expect. That’s certainly the case in restaurants. If I’m grabbing something quick for lunch then I don’t want a lengthy welcome and a conversation, I just want to hand over my money, get some food and a smile is the only other thing I want. However, if I’m spending a small fortune in a high-end restaurant I deserve excellent, not just adequate service.

It also depends where you are. For instance, certain industries need to offer a slightly different quality of service. If I’m in a bank I deserve service primarily with efficiency. If I’m in a restaurant, I want friendliness. Perhaps most importantly, if I’m in a hospital, I deserve service that is, above all other things, compassionate.

In healthcare compassion isn’t just a luxury, it’s an essential thing. When people are unwell or damaged they deserve more than the usual attention. They need more than just a smile, they need to know that the person serving them genuinely cares about them and understands that they are anxious, in pain or miserable. All very unlike the experience of someone who spoke to me a few days ago. With a few wonderful exceptions, their experience of healthcare was dismissive, uncaring, sometimes even brutal. In those situations we deserve something a lot better than the norm. That’s not a fallacy, it’s a humane truth.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I’m in a mess!

Am sending this email with pain in my heart. I took credit with a furniture store of which I could not settle in time. They then contracted a debt collector to collect money on their behalf. I paid money on 9th October 2017 to them then it took me 2 weeks to receive a settlement letter from the store. Now I have issue with ITC update. The problem is ITC now its still showing and I cannot be assisted at the bank.

I am owing someone so I wanted a loan to settle and now ITC is holding me. The person wants sheriffs to take to jail and I also owe some cash loans. How can you assist me am really desperate my job is on line now. Please assist me on this issue.

This is a real mess. I know this doesn’t help you get out of your situation but this is a very good example of what can happen when you buy things on credit, more accurately called hire purchase. Even if nothing goes wrong you’ll typically end up paying twice the cash price, probably three times the real value of the items you’re buying. And to make matters worse, you’ll have absolutely no legal protection against the store if things go wrong.

My understanding is that it can take up to 30 days for TransUnion (formerly ITC) to update their records once a debt is finally settled so with luck your record will show that you cleared the debt very soon.

Meanwhile, in your position, I think you should formally notify everyone to whom you owe money that you are unable to play them right now. That means something in writing, explaining that you simply don’t have the money to repay your debts. I get the impression from what you say that you’ve approached a bank, presumably for a loan to repay the various debts you have. However, while this seems like a good idea, you might be out of luck. I suspect a bank will look at your credit record and decide that you are a very poor risk for them to take on.

In the letter you write to all your creditors, I suggest that you say that you are seeking debt counselling and will be contacting them within 21 days with a proposed repayment plan. Meanwhile I’ll put you in touch with a debt counsellor that might be able to assist you.

Good luck!

My phone can’t be repaired!

Earlier this year I bought a STK phone from a store in Broadhurst. On 14th August I dropped the phone and broke the touch screen, I went to them seeking assistance and they referred me to a specialist repair shop for the repair at my cost (fine with that because it is not a factory fault), only to be told that they do not have parts for the phone. Now I am stuck with a phone that has no after sales service.

I talked to one of the store’s reps in South Africa when they wanted their money (I do not have a problem paying them) just because I missed one instalment date. I mentioned that whilst I am to service my account, I am not enjoying my purchase. She responded by saying that they did not have warranty on the screen, I told her that I know screens are not warranted but all I wanted assistance on where I can get a replacement at my own cost but she told me it was my choice of a phone. Yes I chose the phone but was not told that it is not serviceable which is very wrong. I cannot be held accountable for a withheld information. They did not let me make an informed decision by disclosing all the information. The Caveat Emptor rule I suppose.


Please help me because I am stuck with a product that does not have after sales service. Is the shop not responsible for selling products that they know have no after sales service? Will I be wrong to demand that they take back their phone and replace it with one that has after sales?

Yes, you’re right, the caveat emptor rule (“let the buyer beware”) probably applies but I suppose one important question is whether the store knew when they sold you the phone that its screen could not be repaired in Botswana. If so, then I think they sold you something that wasn’t “of merchantable quality”, as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations but it might be hard to prove they knew this. I suspect you might be out of luck and have learned a painful and expensive lesson about where to buy cellphones!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Who’s the fool?

Who’s the greater fool, the person who buys Bitcoins today or the person who does not?

As I write this, last Sunday, the value of one Bitcoin had just reached $7,443, over P78,000. A year ago, you would have been able to buy one Bitcoin for less than a tenth of that amount, just over $700. If you’d bought into it then, your money would have grown more than tenfold. Even if you’d bought some just six weeks ago, you still would have doubled your money.

[Update: As I post this, the price has dropped to $6,931 but that's the way of things like this, they fluctuate wildly.]

So does that mean you should buy Bitcoin today? If you do, will your money double again in the next six weeks? Will the exponential growth continue?

Image c/o Coindesk

Nobody knows. Honesty, nobody does. Despite what a lot of people will tell you, the future value of Bitcoin can’t be predicted but here are some things that we DO know about Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a currency, but it’s not like any currency we've seen before. With Bitcoin there are no coins or notes, no bits of metal or paper you can put in your wallet or purse. This currency exists solely in cyberspace. It's a digital currency, sometimes called a virtual currency or more often a cryptocurrency. ‘Crypto’ refers to the fact that Bitcoin transactions are kept encrypted online. That’s one of the reasons Bitcoin has been adopted by

The biggest problem about Bitcoin is that it’s confusing. As soon as you start researching Bitcoin you encounter terms like "blockchain", "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining" and they’re hard to understand for us amateurs. There's also the confusion that your money is "out there" in cyberspace and not in your pocket. That's something new and hard to comprehend.

The "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, the online database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. There is no central repository of these transactions, they’re all over the place. That’s the “distributed ledger” you’ll hear people talk about. That idea is truly revolutionary and will probably play a role in many new ideas in the near future, not just cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

An obvious major concern with Bitcoin is security. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin seems highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is fool-proof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be instantly worthless. Say goodbye to your money.

But maybe you think this can’t happen with Bitcoin? Bad news. It already has. The “Mt Gox” Bitcoin exchange collapsed in 2014, losing 850,000, allegedly stolen by unknown criminals who had somehow managed to find a way around the security protocols built into the blockchain.

The fact that it’s completely unregulated is another concern. If a conventional currency like the Pula, US dollar or Euro showed signs of failing, central banks would do something to support it. We've seen that happen before in various countries when their currency has been under threat. But with Bitcoin, there's nobody to help you.

What’s more, when you spend Bitcoins instead of conventional banking systems there are fewer payment protection mechanisms available to you. There are no rights to refunds and no chargeback mechanisms. In December 2013, the European Banking Authority warned consumers that "No specific regulatory protections exist that would cover you for losses if a platform that exchanges or holds your virtual currencies fails or goes out of business."

Perhaps more importantly there’s a very dangerous thing happening with Bitcoin right now as you read this. Hysteria.

If you get the chance, go to Wikipedia and look up “Tulip mania” and you’ll see a story of the absurd rise in prices of tulip bulbs in the Dutch Republic in 1637, one of the first examples of what economists call a “speculative bubble”, when the price of a commodity increases rapidly, far beyond what logic and reason suggest is a valid price. That’s what happening with Bitcoin right now. The price people are paying is utterly absurd and has no connection to reality.

[Yes, I DO know that much of the tulip mania story was an exaggeration but the point is nevertheless a good one.]

Economists also talk about an idea they call “greater fool theory”, which according to Wikipedia states that “the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants”. Unlike in normal circumstances, when investors and speculators know to “buy low, sell high”, sometimes they adopt a different, more high-risk approach. With Bitcoin, many people seem to think “I know I’m a fool to buy something at such a high price, but I’m hoping I’ll find an even greater fool in the future who’ll buy it from me”.

That’s what often happens in economic bubbles. It happened in the property market, it happened with tulip bulbs and it seems to be happening with Bitcoin and some of the other cryptocurrencies. There is simply no justification for their current value. It’s not connected with the value of any real commodity, the performance of any country’s economy or any share price index. Its value is solely determined by whatever the current “fools” will pay for it, hoping that there will be greater fools in the future when they choose to sell.

But there’s bad news about economic bubbles. Like their distant cousins, pyramid and Ponzi schemes, they all eventually burst leaving their investors depressed and poor. I’m certainly not qualified to predict when this will happen but I know that it will happen sooner or later. I doubt that Bitcoin will disappear soon but its value must eventually drop to a value that’s based on reason and genuine market pressures, not just hysteria.

The question is simple. Do you want to be the fool that invested in a bubble or the fool that didn’t but at least didn’t have their bubble burst?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Botswana Magic Land legit?

Please advise me. Botswana Magic Land are advertising on Facebook asking for people to invest in their water park. Is it legitimate?


I admit I’m very skeptical about this scheme. I’ve seen the advertisements on Facebook as well and it doesn’t look good to me.

They describe their scheme as “The Biggest Park Ever In Africa” and suggest that it will be based on a “50 Hectare Land with the Latest RIDES & GAMES”. They go on to suggest that we can “BE ONE OF THE OWNERS” and that “Shares are ready NOW For You To BUY”.

A member of our Facebook group did some investigation and reported that despite what the people behind this scheme claim, no 50-hectare plot has been allocated and that they can’t even say where this plot might be. Despite offering shares for sale there is no share prospectus, no company documentation and no evidence that any of this is genuine. When he requested some evidence from the organisers that the scheme was genuine his requests were unanswered. Given that there appears to be no registered company in Botswana and the organisers only offer a telephone line based in Lebanon, I think that we have good reason to be very suspicious.

Another member of the group found that the images the organisers showed of the possible park in Botswana were taken from another, presumably genuine, amusement park scheme.

Given all this, I suggest extreme caution. I’ll also be asking some questions but for now I think it’s safe to assume that this isn’t a genuine scheme and that your money is safer in your bank account. Or even under your pillow.

Are they penalizing me?

“Is it fair to be penalised for clearing up your loan before maturity time? I'm not black mailing this bank but I want to understand whether is lawfully financially?”


Let’s start by asking why banks lend us money. Do they do it because they’re feeling charitable? Are they lending us money because they’re nice people? Are they doing it because they’re kind? No. Banks lend us money so they can make money from doing so. The interest they charge us when we borrow money from them goes towards the salaries and bonuses of their staff, their electricity, water, internet and alcohol bills. It also goes towards their profits and the dividends they pay their shareholders.

When you take a loan from a bank, that loan becomes part of the business plan of the bank. They know they’ve given you or me some money and they expect that money to be repaid over the next few years. Their cash flow expects to see our monthly repayments coming in every month. They also expect to see profits every month. That’s what we agreed with the bank when we signed the agreement.

If we later go back and ask to change that plan we’ll be affecting their plans. Most importantly, we’ll probably be reducing their income over what they thought would be the duration of the loan. They expected two years of income and now they can expect slightly less. When you ask to settle the debt early the bank will calculate a “settlement amount” that is somewhere between the amount you borrowed and the total amount they expected to get back from you.

So to answer your question, no, the bank isn’t “penalising” you for settling your debt early, they’re actually being helpful to you and not demanding that you stick to the original loan agreement you both signed. They’re offering you a compromise that allows you to settle the debt early, not pay the full amount you agreed to pay and which still allows them to make the money their shareholders and their bar bills require.

Finally, I’m glad you’re trying to repay a debt ahead of schedule. That’s always the wisest thing you can do if you can afford it. If you ever have some extra money to spare, the very best thing you can do is firstly set aside an emergency fund, and then to repay debt. Don’t buy a car, don’t invest it, don’t spend it on beer. Create an emergency fund and pay off debt before you do anything else.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Exploitation or abuse?

Twelve and a half years and five-hundred and ninety-seven articles ago, the very first Consumer Watchdog article began with this:
“The consumers of Botswana are being exploited. This isn’t really news to any of us but perhaps the sheer scale of it might still be surprising.”
Has anything changed?

Yes, I think it has. In the last decade, things genuinely have improved a great deal. There’s more choice, greater competition, and I personally believe that the general quality of service has improved. Of course, those three things are all connected. The more companies we have offering services, the more competition there will be between those companies and that inevitably leads to better quality of service for you and me. Those of us old enough will remember the days when BTC was the only choice for making phone calls and then Mascom and Orange came along and even though they still aren’t perfect, look what happened to BTC. In the late 1990s they were universally despised and now they still offer landlines but also cellular and data services across the country. Yes, as I said they’re still not perfect but at least they’re doing their best to compete with the others and their service is far, far above the levels they showed in the past.

The issue that the article twelve years ago covered was store credit and the extraordinary cost of buying things on, what was then and remains, hire purchase. That certainly hasn’t changed but I do believe that more people now understand what a terrible way it can be to buy things. Expensive, risky and unregulated.

The bad news is that there are other areas that haven’t changed as well.

Store security is one of them. For years we’ve been trying to explain to Mmegi readers that there’s a very simple rule about store security and the guards who enforce it. Despite their uniforms and their attitude, security guards are only civilians and the rights they have are only those of civilians like you and me. But not all security guards know that.

In May 2011 a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store a security guard from Scorpion Security blocked her way and demanded to search through her handbag. Rather than asking nicely he just grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. Her later complaint to the security company about the way their guard had treated her was met with a promise of an apology but this never came.

So she dragged Scorpion Security to court. And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence in defence and told the judge that his “security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.”

Not true. Not even nearly true.

In his judgment the judge found that “indeed the Defendants searched the plaintiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] The Plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.” He went on to say that she had suffered “humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society” and that she deserved compensation for that. He ordered the security company to pay her P60,000 in compensation.

Just a few days ago a consumer contacted us with the following story. He said:
“I was insulted by a security guard in Maun because I refused to be searched, they wanted to search the things I had purchased from their shop and I found that whole exercise to be inhuman and degrading. I told them that instead of being searched I would rather be given my money back and the manager was called to address the situation and he also blamed me for refusing to be searched. I ended up getting my money back and I will never set foot in that wholesale again. Is it proper for customers to be searched at the door after purchasing goods?”
Of course, we all know the answer. It’s simply NOT proper to treat customers like this. It’s exploitation and the customer was quite right to decide never to visit the store again and to exercise his right to tell everyone he knows (and the 90,000 people in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group) about his experience and decision to take his money elsewhere.

Then there’s another form of exploitation. Perhaps a better word is “abuse”.

Many of you will have read and heard of a situation where a small girl was allegedly molested by a customer at a leisure resort outside Gaborone. The bad news is that this particular resort has a widespread reputation for such things. Many of us have heard stories for years that girls and young women ran the risk of being pestered by men, sometimes groups of men. The good news is that the management of the resort seem now to have taken the issue seriously and will be setting a higher standard of entrance and conduct for patrons visiting the place.

But the wider issue is how a business, whether it’s a bank, an insurance company, a supermarket or a leisure resort can offer its patrons a sense of security. I don’t mean being illegally searched by a guard with delusions of importance, I mean real security, the safety and welfare of the consumers who spend their money there. I mean a security guard who would take care to protect the customers, not just the store’s interests.

So things have changed for the better over the last twelve years, that’s true. But there’s still a long way to go until we’re free of exploitation and abuse.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Should I join Rain International?

I was invited to attend a meeting relating to Rain International in November. They say it costs between P200 and P1,000 to attend. Do you think its worth it?


So the organisers of this event want you to spend up to P1,000 just to attend a sales pitch to join their scheme? They’re confident, don’t you think? So what is it they are so confident about?

Rain International sell health products based on seeds. Yes, seeds. Of course there’s nothing wrong with seeds, they can be nutritious and tasty things. Like nuts they can be full of nutrients and they can be part of a healthy diet. But like nuts, while they can be good for you, they can’t perform miracles. They certainly can’t, by themselves, do some of the things that Rain International advocates say they can do. I contacted one of their local distributors who told me that “Our product are seed based nutrition. They help in body restoration. And there are lots of testimonies related to that.” He also told me, when I asked, they Rain products “do help” with heart problems and with high blood pressure”. He then sent me a document that claimed that their products could “strengthen the immune system”, “improve brain function”, “lower risk of cardiovascular disease”, “improve cardiovascular health”, ”protect genetic material”, “fight cancer”, “improve vision”, “help manage and prevent diabetes” and “raise the dead”.


Ok, I admit I made up that last claim but if it can do all those other things surely it’s only one step further to claim miracles?

But here’s the big thing. I asked this distributor whether, if I joined, I would make money by selling the product or by getting other people to join the scheme. I think his answer says everything you need to know: “I would say by getting other ppl to join.”


So there we have it. Their own distributor says you can make the most money by recruiting other people rather than selling the product. It’s yet another a pyramid-structured scheme and I urge you not to waste your time, effort and money on it.

Should I buy into this idea?

As a young ambitious lady, I am always on the look out of business opportunities that can earn me extra money as well create employment for others. This year I stumbled upon this 'opportunity' but I am reluctant to take the plunge because I am not so sure if it is real or it is a scam. The business goes by the name of I Quit Smoking (IQS) and they claim to assist smokers quit smoking through pain-free electrical stimulation in the auricles or ear. I have also received a prospectus from them after enquiring about franchising opportunities with them.

If this a legitimate business I would like to franchise it and avail it locally. Please advise. Your assistance would be very much appreciated.


Forgive me for being blunt but the whole concept behind this “auricular therapy” concept is ridiculous. It’s a bizarre combination of acupuncture and reflexology. Acupuncture is based on the idea that inserting needles into “meridians” that run through your body can control magical energy levels and reflexology suggests that there are spots on your feet that are connected to all the organs of your body and that manipulating these spots can improve the functioning of the organs they’re connected to.

The polite way to describe both these ideas is “hogwash” but if you speak to me informally I won’t be that polite. Every scientific examination of these theories has shown that they actually have no effect. None.

Also, you should know that offering such services in Botswana would contravene Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which forbids a supplier from quoting “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. That hasn’t stopped a number of people offering other magical health-related products but that’s no excuse in my view.

I urge you not to waste your time and, more importantly, money on this business.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Will World Ventures make me rich?

I’ve been asked many times by many people for my opinions about World Ventures and my answer is always the same. I believe it’s a pyramid scheme.

Let’s start at the beginning. Wikipedia provides a useful definition of a pyramid scheme. It’s
"an unsustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public.”
So, for instance, Amway and Herbalife aren’t pyramid schemes because they have products. They’re Multi-Level Marketing schemes that just have a pyramid structure. With these two schemes you’re certainly actively encouraged to build multiple layers of people beneath you in the structure but there are actual products being shipped. The figures that Amway and Herbalife produce show that hardly anyone makes any profit from the schemes but they’re not pyramid schemes. Not quite.

But World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. So say the authorities in Norway who investigated them and discovered that most of the money people were making from World Ventures came from the recruitment of other people in the pyramid, not the sale of any product. Similar investigations around the world have also suggested the same conclusion. So it’s not just me.

But let’s, for a moment, assume that World Ventures is a legitimate business. Let’s assume it’s not a scam. Will you make money from joining?

Almost certainly not. And who can I thank for teaching me this? World Ventures themselves.

In the USA, World Ventures publish an "Income Disclosure Statement" every year and it makes interesting reading. Like all such schemes the majority of the money is earned by a very small proportion of the people, the ones at the top of the pyramid.

The 2015 statement declared very proudly that World Ventures has 238,684 Independent Sales Representatives (“IRs”) in the United States. However, they reported that only "22.24% of all IRs earned a commission or override, while 77.76% did not". In simpler terms, three quarters of all their American recruits made nothing from the scheme. Nothing at all. Zero.

Of the quarter of recruits who earned something, the news was very good but only if you were at the top of the pyramid. In fact, 84% of all the money generated was earned by the top 19%. Or, if you prefer it the other way round, 81% of the recruits who earn something have to share just 16% of the money.

It gets worse. Two thirds (actually 68.7%) of all the income earned in 2015 went to the 3.7% lucky enough to find themselves at the very top of the pyramid. In fact, the people at the very top of the pyramid are doing very well for themselves. The 1 in 20,000 people described as "National Marketing Director" level had an annual income of $238,645. The 1 in 14,000 at "International Marketing Director" level earned an average of $409,280.

Overall, if you include everyone who made some money from the scheme, the average income was $1,348 but that's not a good indication of what the average recruit will earn because the figures are distorted by those fat cats earning a fortune at the top of the pyramid. The median income level is a much better illustration of what you can expect to earn. That's a meagre $150 per year, about P1,500.

But don't forget two important things. Firstly, like I mentioned above, less than a quarter of all the people who join earn anything. These figures just refer to the quarter of victims who earned anything at all. If you include the three quarters who don’t earn anything, the average annual earnings are a meagre $300. The median earnings, the more realistic figure, drops to a pathetic $33. Just P330 per year.

Even more importantly, all these numbers refer to income, not profits. These figures are before you take account of all the money the victims had to spend on travel, accommodation, electricity, internet access and trying to recruit potential victims. If the evidence from legitimate schemes like Amway and Herbalife can be trusted then it’s probably fair to assume that the vast majority of people who join World Ventures either make nothing or actually lose money.

In fact, all they’re doing is earning lots money for the tiny number at the top of the pyramid.

It’s the same for all the other pyramid schemes, and their cousins, the Ponzi schemes that abound. Only the people at the top ever make money and that’s always at the expense of the poor suckers at the bottom, the ones doing all the work, not even earning a salary for their efforts. Whether it’s the silly AIM Global scheme selling their illegal magical health products, Total Life Changes with their apparently disease-curing tea, Tupperware with their kitchenware, BitClub Network with their claim that people can become Bitcoin miners, Questra or alternatively Atlantic Global Asset Management with their Get Rich Quick claims, the claims are always exactly the same. With minimal effort, you’ll make lots of money.

Sometimes they’re brazen about it. One of the recruiters for Questra, a well-known “Man of God”, posted on Facebook that with Questra, there were “No Joining fees, No monthly payments, You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.”

If only life was that simple. But it’s not. There are no quick ways to make money without effort unless you win the lottery. Even then it’s not the complete truth. A lottery can only afford to give the winner a million if the losers have lost more than a million in total. The losers pay the winner’s winnings.

Pyramid schemes like World Ventures are even worse than lotteries. Imagine a lottery where the person running the lottery fixed the results and was also the winner, every single week. That’s what a pyramid scheme is like, a conspiracy organised solely to take money from the people who lose every week and give it to the winners, who also are the people who created the scheme.

Do you want to be that loser?