Friday, 20 January 2017

How good are you?

Are you a good driver? Or a bad one? Or just average?

Do you even think you’re in a position to comment on your driving skills? Are you impartial and honest enough to evaluate your own skills? Am I? Are any of us?

I suspect that most of would say the quality of driving in Botswana is poor. In particular, those of us who’ve been lucky enough to travel to other countries would probably agree that our levels of driving can charitably be described as “not the best”.

So maybe we should ask?

I recently posted a simple question in our Facebook group. It said “Be honest. How would you rate your driving skills?”. I gave people just three options for their answer: “Above average”, “Average” and “Below average”.

Before I give you the results, here’s a very quick maths lesson regarding the word “average”.  My dictionary defines an average as “a number expressing the central or typical value in a set of data.” You might remember this from school but the most important aspect of an average is that it describes what’s typical or normal. In various ways, averages represent the middle of a group.

Here’s an example. In a survey some years ago it was reported that the average height of adult South African women was 159 cm (I couldn’t find any statistics for Botswana so they’ll have to do). Assuming that’s true, if you then measured every South African woman’s height with phenomenal accuracy, down to the nearest atom, you’d find that half of all women were taller than the average and the other half were shorter than the average.

If you were less accurate you’d find quite a lot of women who were 159cm to the nearest centimetre but still, the number who were 160cm or taller would be the same as those who were 158cm or shorter. The definition of an average demands that the number above average is the same as the number below average. If not, you’ve calculated the average incorrectly.

In this little test I asked people to rate their driving skills by saying how they compared to “average” driving skills. I think it again follows the reality is simple. If we tested people and measured their actual driving skills, the number of people we found to be “above average” would be the same as the number we found were “below average”.

But our little survey didn’t show this. Of the 300 people who responded, 35% described their driving skills as “average”. However, twelve times more people (60%) said their skills were “above average” than those who said they were “below average” (5%).

This simply can’t be true. If you assume that one third (35% in our case) actually are “average” then the reality must be that half of the rest (32%) are above average and the other half (another 32%) are below average. That simply MUST be the case.

There are various explanations for this but the most important is simple. Very few people are prepared to announce in public that they’re bad at something. Would you? Whether it’s driving, intelligence or something more personal, would you be brave enough to say you’re lower than average? No, few of us would. But what’s interesting is how many people say they’re above average compared to those who say they’re average. There’s nothing embarrassing about saying you’re an average driver, of average intelligence or average at maths. But in our silly little test twice as many people said they were above average than said they were average. Something is clearly wrong here.

The real truth is that people are really bad at estimating their own driving skills.

Do you want to know the truth? When this question has been asked before, all over the world, the results are the same. People consistently rate their driving skills as better than average. And they can’t all be right. Yes, some people are better than average drivers but it’s fewer than you think. And you have to ask yourself this. Am I a good driver? Really? Or are you deluding yourself?
Are you falling victim to a fallacy that psychologists call “illusory superiority”, a cognitive bias that gives you the sense that you are better than the average? It doesn’t make you a bad person but it does mean you should think again about how good you are.

The truth is that this survey isn’t really about driving. It tells us precisely nothing about how good or bad we are as drivers. Instead it shows us how bad we are at saying how good we are. At anything.

And here’s the other big question. What about all the other areas of life where abilities vary? What about customer service? Just how quickly do you answer the phone when customers are calling? Just how friendly and helpful are you to your customers? Just how good is your product knowledge? Do you have an illusion, or perhaps a delusion, of superiority?

And what about your company? Does your company suffer from illusory superiority? Do all the silly awards your company paid to receive give them a sense of ability they don’t deserve? Do all the advertisements in the newspapers announcing how wonderful the company is just serve to boost managerial egos rather than the quality of service? Does your company really deserve to see itself as better than the competition?

Well here’s the bad news. It seems that we’re even worse at assessing our customer care skills than we are at judging our driving. Shortly after asking the question about driving I asked another question. “A question just for people who regularly deal with customers. Be honest. How would you rate your customer service skills?”

The results were even more eccentric. Twenty-four times as many people said they rated themselves as above average than said they were below average. More than three times as many people said they were above average than said they were average. Like with the driving question, it’s obvious that people are unwilling to publicly state that they’re bad at serving their customers but I think at least in part, people are deluding themselves here as well.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to think more carefully about how good we are at the things that matter? Maybe it’s time to stop be delusional and be a bit more honest with ourselves? It might save some lives and it might save your business.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

What is a pyramid scheme?

Can you kindly explain to me what is a Pyramid Scheme? Is Amway a pyramid? And also what is Network Marketing and or Direct Sales?

It’s an excellent question and it’s a very good time to discuss it. Maybe if more people understood, fewer would fall victim to the scams that are out there.

Let’s start with Amway. Amway is a Multi-Level Marketing scheme. They have a range of household products on offer but you can’t buy them from your local supermarket. Instead you buy them from people Amway have recruited, people operating small Amway businesses from their own homes. So far so good. If that’s how you want to buy things then good for you. It’s not a cheap or effective way to buy things but that’s your choice. The problem is that the Amway distributors are encouraged (some would say forced) to recruit distributors beneath them, having been promised a share of the business they bring in. If one distributor recruits five people and they each recruit another five you now have thirty-one people. If that continues another level you have 156 people in what look just like a pyramid. Add another few generations and you soon would have every adult in Botswana in your group earning money for you. You can see how this can’t work, can’t you? There simply aren’t enough people to be recruited. Amway’s own figures show that in the USA and UK their distributors are lucky if they make just a few hundred Pula per month and that’s before they pay all their business expenses. Most make nothing or even lose money. The same goes for all the other MLM, Network Marketing or Direct Sales companies. They’re all the same. Very few people make any money, no matter how hard they work. The only ones that make any money are the people who created the scheme, the ones at the top of the pyramid.

Then there are pyramid schemes. A pyramid scheme is the same as a Multi-Level Marketing scheme but without any actual products. It’s all about recruiting a pyramid of people who pay to join and whose money flows up the pyramid towards the top. World Ventures is a pyramid scheme, as is Bitclub Network and Helping Hands International. The focus with a pyramid scheme is all about recruitment, not about products. If someone tells you that you don’t have to buy or sell things to make money, rest assured they’re trying to scam you. Just show them the door.

Can I get a refund?

I recently sent my worker to buy me a charger at for P500. However when I arrived at the office I immediately contacted the store to tell them that I wanted to return the charger as it had no pin and was also expensive.

They told me that they could not refund me as they had already deposited the money. The following day I took the charger to their shop and they informed me that they don’t refund customers. I then left the charger at their shop.

I plead with you to assist me in this matter.

Thanks for sending me a complicated one!

Firstly, we need to establish why you want to return the item. Was it because it was missing something and it doesn’t work? If that’s the case then they’ve sold you something that isn’t “of merchantable quality” as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations and you have a right to one of the three Rs: a refund, repair or replacement. However, it’s important to understand that the store can decide which of those three Rs they choose. If there was a part missing they can simply give you that part. If the charger was working they can fix it.

However, if you want to return it just because it’s too expensive then I’m sorry, you’re out of luck. Despite what many people think, you don’t have a legal right to change your mind. In that case you need to ask yourself what the store did wrong. Did they lie to you? Did they deceive you in any way? Did they actually do anything wrong? They sold you something at a price that was openly displayed and you, a competent adult (or your worker on your behalf) consented to that deal.

Let me know which it was and I’ll happily get in touch with the store and see if they can be a bit more helpful. Either way their excuses about having deposited the money and “don’t refund customers” aren’t really good enough, are they?

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must we pay?

Hi. Just wanted to ask about this higher purchase set up. A few years ago I got a decent job or so I thought. As I was earning a bit I went and got a fridge and washing machine on higher purchase. Then at work we started having issues and we were not being paid on time sometimes even two months and we were renting so we landed up leaving and now we could not keep on living with the unsure salaries. On leaving I left the fridge and washing machine in my aunts care. I believed I would get back to work sooner than I did. Now naturally the store were calling for payment and after telling them my story I asked what my options were. Do I return everything or wait to start working again?

Eventually I told them to get the things from my aunts house. I believed that was the end. I had given them their stuff back and they would resell to get their cash balance back. Years later again I felt a bit comfortable with life so I felt I should try again to buy some furniture and I find I owe P7,500 and I was blacklisted at ITC so I cannot do anything that requires me to pay off like furniture and loans. All because these guys led me to believe something that was not true. My boyfriend experienced the same thing so all in all we owe about P18,000 we owe yet we have nothing to show for it.

So does this mean this is it I cannot do anything, take a loan, get something on credit or the like for the rest of my life?

What a horrible start to 2017. I despise hire purchase. It’s a truly terrible way to buy things. Firstly, it’s enormously expensive, you pay at least twice the cash price for an item. Secondly, when things go wrong you’re completely screwed. The problem with hire purchase is that you don’t own the goods you think you’ve bought until you’ve made the last payment. Until that moment the goods still belong to the store. You’ve just been hiring them. That’s why it’s called “hire purchase”.

It also means that if you fall behind with your instalments the store can come to your house and remove their property. They’ll then auction them for a fraction of their original cash value and deduct that amount from the balance you still owe them. That leaves you with no fridge or washing machine and still owing them almost the same amount of money as before the repossession. And get this. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. That’s because you signed an agreement accepting this. I don’t mean to be insensitive but did you even read the agreement you signed? If you had, you probably would have run screaming from the store.

Unfortunately, the only thing you can really do is ask for a full statement of the debt and see if you can negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford and the store can accept. If they’ve handed the debt over to debt collectors I suggest you meet with them as soon as possible. You might be surprised how flexible they’ll be.

What can I do about this juice?

I bought some juice at one of the wholesalers in Gaborone and my toddler started having a running stomach, thats when I realized that the juice I feed her which I bought was expired, when I took it back the manager who was very rude. It says best before 15.12.2016 time 11:02, I bought it on the 20.12.16.

Could you assist with which step to take.

There’s a lot of confusion about the dates that are shown on the goods we buy. The most important date you’ll see is the “Expiry date”, sometimes shown as the “Use By” date. Any store that sells something after these dates is going to be in big trouble with the authorities because that’s illegal, contrary to the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations. No store wants to do that.

However, what you saw was something different. The juice you bought showed a “Best Before” date. These dates are less strictly controlled because they’re just advisory, informing the customer when the goods will be in their best condition. There’s no suggestion that goods consumed after this date are necessarily harmful or dangerous. Although it’s certainly bad practice, it’s not actually illegal for a store to sell an item after the Best Before date.

I think you also need to be practical. Is there any actual evidence that the juice you bought caused your child’s stomach upset? We’ve all had upset stomachs and it’s often very difficult to identify what it was we ate or drank that actually caused it. I hope you took the juice back to the store and showed it to the management? Even though it’s not illegal it’s certainly not something a responsible store would allow.

It’s all about your health

I’m not usually one for New Years Resolutions, mainly because the resolutions most of us make, to drink less, eat better, take more exercise, be nicer to our spouses and drive more carefully usually last a matter of days before we revert to our old ways. The health resolutions are also often the quickest to disappear. Before we know it we’re back on the chocolate and fried food because, well, it tastes so good and we’re all rather weak-willed.

In 2017 Consumer Watchdog has resolved to focus on something specific. Something ambitious. Something that underpins what every one of us cares about more than anything else in life.

This year, everything we do is going to be about your health.

And this isn’t just for your sake, it’s also for the companies that sell you things. Despite what you might think, it’s in the best interests of the companies who sell you things for you to be healthy. Supermarkets, network providers, banks and insurance companies all benefit when you’re healthy, almost as much as you do. That’s because healthy customers spend more and go back to them over and over again. Customers who are unwell or dead make them less money so it’s in their interests to keep you healthy. Life and healthcare insurance providers are a great example of this. The longer you pay your premiums the more money they make from you and the longer it is before they have to pay for your operation, spectacles or funeral. But are you unhappy about this? You have a longer period of comfort, knowing that in the event of a disaster you and your family will be looked after and you’re not dead. Are you going to complain about that?

Everyone benefits when you and your loved-ones are in top condition. Your health benefits everyone.

We’ll also be talking about the threats to your physical health from the cast range of charlatans, crooks and scammers who do their best to promise us miraculous solutions to our health problems. It won’t be the first time we’ll be covering these issues but this year we’re going to be a lot louder. We’ll be talking about the people who approached me in a shopping centre car park just a few days ago handing out leaflets entitled “An end to ill-health”. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if they were selling religion or health quackery, it doesn’t matter. Such claims are illegal and immoral. They’re also incredibly dangerous. If only one person believes their lies and stops talking their medication for high blood pressure, cancer or immune problems then the peddlers of lies will have blood on their hands.

The same goes for the Multi-Level Marketing schemes selling vastly overpriced products and whose representatives make dangerous claims about their benefits. There are still people claiming that so-called alternative or complimentary products can cure cancer, diabetes, hypertension and can “boost” your immune system. We all know what they mean by that last one, don’t we?

We’ll continue to take them on this year as well.

But it’s not just your physical health we’ll be talking about. It will be your mental health as well.

Your mental health and your physical health are in fact the same thing. A healthy mind, as they say, leads to a healthy body and you can’t be completely mentally healthy if you’re worried about your physical health. You can’t also be mentally healthy if you’re worried by debt, unemployment and inflation. We’ll be talking a whole lot more about healthy ways to manage your money and how to spend wisely. We’ll also continue to go on and on about the scams, deceptions and lies you’ll hear from the endless line of crooks desperate to steal your money. We’ll be delving more in the foreign exchange trading scams, fake Bitcoin “investment” schemes and the ever-evolving variety of pyramid and Ponzi schemes.

We’ll also be talking about what you should be doing with your money to protect, preserve and grow it. Not just the things you should avoid, but the things you should be looking at to save and invest your money.

And let’s not forget your cyber health. With so many of us connected to the internet, socialising and spending our money online, protecting our cyber health is now as important as protecting our purses and wallets. Many of us now know about the “romantic” scams where victims have sent away lots of money to the scammers pretending to be their loving boyfriend who claimed to have sent them a package containing money, jewellery and technology that’s now held up by customs authorities somewhere. We know that this is just the attest incarnation of the “advance fee” scam and we know that there is no package, no customs agent and not even a boyfriend. We know it’s all a scam. But if we all know this why do we still hear about women falling for it? Because we haven’t made enough noise about it yet.

Despite our efforts to educate people these scams still occur and people are still falling for them. The fight needs to continue.

Of course, we can’t do this alone. While we know a thing or two about critical thinking, scams and customer service we’re not doctors, leading-edge techies, investment advisors or lawyers. That’s why we’ll be reaching out to the people who are. Expect to see input from some of the country’s leading experts in their various fields over the coming year.

Maybe you’re prepared to be part of this effort? Are you willing to offer your energy to protect not only yourself but also your family, friends, co-workers and neighbours? Will you resolve to be healthier in 2017?

Then come and join us as we all become a lot healthier, wealthier and happier.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Our response to the threat from World News Media

A few days ago we received an email from World News Media Ltd that said:
To whom it may concern,

Please take down the following page on your website:

This is a defamation of our companies reputation & character.

If you have any queries about the authenticity of our awards feel free to contact me directly & I will answer any queries you may have.

Please remove the post within 28 days or we will have no choice but to instigate legal proceedings.

[Name withheld] | Legal Assistant | World News Media Ltd
[Please note that any poor English is theirs, not mine.]

Having received a number of legal threats over the years, I was a little disappointed by this one. Firstly, it’s usual practice when composing a legal threat to establish your bona fides before making the threat. An introduction along the lines of “I am from company XXX and we own / represent / have been instructed by company YYY” is the norm.

The post they complain about, from July 2012, related to a news story in Mmegi entitled "Stanbic, Barclays, FNBB win banking awards".

The Mmegi article reported:
According to World Finance, banks were judged on a variety of indicators including new and innovative services, smart partnerships, key financial ratios, pre-tax profits, real growth and steps taken to prepare for stricter banking regulations."World Finance's Banking Awards celebrate those who have capitalised rather than caved at times of high stakes," says a World Finance statement.
My response was simple and you can see it here. I asked:
But how exactly are these "awards" awarded? Who selects the winners? Who checks that the companies are actually legitimate? Who makes sure they're not actually crooks?
All the original post from 2012 did was to report that certain banks in Botswana had received awards from World Finance and that the Mirror in the UK had reported that World Finance had given awards to two companies, World Commodity Partners Ltd and Tullett Brown Ltd, that had later been shown to be deeply suspicious.

[You can see a copy of the latest Mirror article about them here and an archived copy of the original article here.]

The Mirror told me yesterday that they’d asked World Finance to comment on the obvious mistake of giving awards to crooks but that they hadn’t taken the opportunity to respond.

That’s as far as my comments went about World Finance. I didn’t say their awards were bogus, fake or not respectable and I didn’t say anything bad about the company. I just said that they’d given awards to at least two suspicious companies in the past and that:
Before being impressed by a company winning an award you need to be very skeptical about the award. Ask some questions like "How exactly did they win it?"
Given the history of bogus awards that we covered over the years (that many companies still proudly declare they've won) I think that’s a reasonable question, don't you?

Another important thing that these threats should include is some explanation of what they think was defamatory. But on this occasion they don’t even give a hint. Not a single clue. They just said that “This is a defamation” and that if I don’t accede to their demands, they’ll “instigate legal proceedings”. Do they even know themselves what offended them? Have they even read the original post?

And it’s not defamation.

Section 195 of the Penal Code of Botswana says that a comment is not defamatory if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. There’s no evidence, not even a shred, that anything I wrote was untrue and it’s clearly for the public benefit if people are encouraged to be skeptical, don’t you think?

Here’s another thing. Why did it take them four and a half years to take offence? It’s clearly not high on their list of priorities. Here in Botswana, claims for defamation are “prescribed” after one year, which strikes me as very reasonable.

So, in summary, they’ve taken an awfully long time to be offended by something that isn’t offensive, that is actually true and that has been said by other organisations much more prestigious and widely read than us. They have no reason to object to anything that was posted. And they’re wasting my time.

So will I be removing or changing the post?


Saturday, 7 January 2017

A rather sad legal threat

In comes a rather sad legal threat about something we posted here four and a half years ago.

The post, from July 2012, related to a news story in Mmegi entitled "Stanbic, Barclays, FNBB win banking awards".

The article said:
According to World Finance, banks were judged on a variety of indicators including new and innovative services, smart partnerships, key financial ratios, pre-tax profits, real growth and steps taken to prepare for stricter banking regulations."World Finance's Banking Awards celebrate those who have capitalised rather than caved at times of high stakes," says a World Finance statement.
Our response was simple and you can see it here. I asked:
But how exactly are these "awards" awarded? Who selects the winners? Who checks that the companies are actually legitimate? Who makes sure they're not actually crooks?
Given the history of fake awards that so many companies proudly declare they've won, I think those are reasonable questions, don't you?

At the time I posted the comments, I also found a number of comments about the company that had given the banks these awards, World Finance. I mentioned that the Mirror in the UK had published accusations that World Finance had given awards to companies that turned out to be run by crooks. That story is no longer available on the Mirror site but you can see an archived copy of it here.

I concluded with this simple comment:
Before being impressed by a company winning an award you need to be very skeptical about the award. Ask some questions like "How exactly did they win it?"
Yesterday we received the following email headed "Cease & Desist notice":
To whom it may concern,

Please take down the following page on your website:

This is a defamation of our companies reputation & character.

If you have any queries about the authenticity of our awards feel free to contact me directly & I will answer any queries you may have.

Please remove the post within 28 days or we will have no choice but to instigate legal proceedings.

[Name removed] | Legal Assistant | World News Media Ltd
[Note: Any inaccuracies or grammatical errors are theirs, not mine.]

Note that they don't give any indication of how the comments might have caused their company any damage. They also don't repudiate or even deny any of the comments I made, they just resort to the usual response of "This is defamation" and they'll sue.

I will be going back to them and asking for some clues about how they feel they've been wronged.

Watch this space!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

World Ventures will still lose you money

World Ventures is a pyramid scheme that we've mentioned many times before.

Recently it updated its brand and started calling itself "Dream Trips" but it's still the same old thing.

World Ventures publish an "Income Disclosure Statement" every year and it makes interesting reading. Like all pyramid 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 statement for the USA in 2015 can be seen here and you're welcome to analyse it for yourself. However, if you don't have a calculator to hand, here are some of the highlights.
  • Referring to their Independent Sales Representatives (“IRs”), they report that "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.
  • Two thirds (actually 68.7%) of all the income is earned by the 3.7% at the top of the pyramid.
  • 84% is earned by the top 19%. To put it another way, 81% of the recruits who earn money have to share just 16% of the money.
  • If you're at the top of the pyramid you're doing well. The 1 in 14,000 people at "International Marketing Director" level earns an average of $409,280. The 1 in 20,000 described as "National Marketing Director" level have an annual income of $238,645.
  • However, of the small proportion who made some money, the average income was $1,348.82 but that's not a good indication of what the average recruit will earn because the figures are distorted by the tiny proportion at the top who earn a fortune. The median income level is a much better illustration of what you can expect to earn. That's a meagre $150 per year.
But don't forget two important things. Firstly, like I mentioned above, only a quarter of all the recruits earn anything. These figures just refer to the quarter of victims who earned anything at all. 

More importantly, these amounts refer to income, not profits. These figures are before the recruits took account of all the money they had to spend on travel, accommodation, electricity, internet access and the coffee and drink they had to buy when they did their best to recruit other victims into this scam. I suspect that most people earn less than they spend trying to make the money. They lose money.

In short, please don't waste your time, effort and money with World Ventures or Dream Trips.