Sunday, 28 December 2014

Cult of Mac: "Your biggest online security mistakes (and how to avoid them)"

Image c/o Cult of Mac and Scott Schiller
From the Cult of Mac site, an article worth reading if you want to protect yourself when buying things online: Your biggest online security mistakes (and how to avoid them).
"We all make compromises daily when it comes to online security. Everybody wants to be safe and secure when making purchases online, but practically none of us do everything necessary to keep our data secure."
It's not specific to Mac users, these lessons are important for everyone who operates online regardless of the type of computer they use.

They are:
  • Don’t reuse user names or email addresses
  • Use secure payment systems (not credit cards)
  • Only shop secure websites
  • Stop using simple passwords
That last one is particularly important. I know it's frustrating and irritating but passwords need to be complicated. Every additional character can make it up to 80 times harder to crack if you use upper and lower case characters, numbers and some of the weird symbols you can find on your keyboard. If you make your password 16 characters long rather than 8 and use all the extra possible characters you can make your password billions, trillions or quadrillions of times harder for a cybercrook to crack.

So instead of using a password like "watchdog" choose something like "Consum9rW#tchd0g" and you might save yourself a LOT of bother, heartache and money.

The Guardian - "How you could become a victim of cybercrime in 2015"

Image c/o The Guardian
Stuart Dredge from the Guardian predicts the cyber threats we'll face in 2015 in "How you could become a victim of cybercrime in 2015".

You don't have to be a techie or a nerd to understand the sort of threats he thinks will be likely.

He predicts:
  • Targeted attacks and sophisticated spam
  • Banking and healthcare companies at risk
  • Ransomware on the rise
  • Mobile payments could be hot... for criminals
  • Mobile malware aims at Apple, not just Android
  • Open source code still a target
  • Criminals hiding on the darknet
  • Social media malware and malvertising
  • Internet of Things a rising concern
  • Cyberwar as criminal/state boundaries blur
Read this to give yourself some warning of what is going to be.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

My Russell Hobbs iron is faulty

I need help. I just bought a Russell Hobbs iron at a newly opened store in Ghanzi. I asked about the guarantee and was told that it is 7 DAYS? I was shocked because I know for sure that those irons have a 12 months guarantee if you buy it anywhere else. I bought it anyway and when I got home I read the Warranty in the instructions manual and it clearly says 1 YEAR warranty. So my question is, does the store have a right to change the guarantee of a product and if not what should I do to make sure that I am given a 1 year guarantee for my iron. NB: Their receipt does not have anything on guarantee.


As you say Russell Hobbs is a very respectable manufacturer of electrical items, including irons and they certainly DO offer a 1-year warranty on their products. So why would a store ignore this and say it’s only valid for 7 days?

Is it possible they’re selling “grey imports”? Grey imports are legal but they are products have breached the manufacturer’s warranty in some way by being imported into Botswana. For instance some products are manufactured for specific parts of the world and don’t always work as well in other places. Cars are a very good example. The rules related to seat belts, headlights and emissions vary from region to region and you might find that a vehicle built for the Far East simply won’t work properly in southern Africa. The same goes for some refrigerators and cellphones.

What happens with grey imports is that the Botswana store selling them realizes that they can’t return faulty items to the manufacturer so they only often a token warranty of a few days when they sell them to us.

We’ll get in touch with the store and see how they explain themselves.

Breaking news! Russell Hobbs very recently issued a product recall for certain irons that have been bursting into flames. I’ve sent you the model numbers so you can check that yours isn’t one of these recalled ones.

Bring back the water

Is it ok for Water Utilities Corporation to disconnect water during weekends when their offices are closed?


Personally I think that no, it’s certainly not ok for Water Utilities to cut you off over the weekend.

Let’s start with the obvious. You have to pay your water bill, you really must. If you don’t your bills for water, power, your cellphone contract, internet connection or insurance, the company is within its rights to cut you off.

However, I think it’s cruel to cut people off over the weekend, even if they haven’t paid the bill. Who knows who else lives in your house who really needs water? Maybe your aged sick grannie lives with you. Maybe you are looking after a sick relative? Maybe you have a newborn baby? Either way I think it’s unreasonable not to give you a chance to pay the bill and get reconnected immediately, something you can’t do if they cut you off on a non-working day.

We contacted WUC and their first reaction was very simple. They told us: “A customer is eligible for disconnection for ANY bill that is over 30 days old. Disconnections can be done any day of the week.”

Then we asked them to be a bit more reasonable and they told us that they “will raise it with management.” Who knows, maybe they’ll do the decent thing?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Who can I trust?

Last week I wrote that while the Internet is fantastic, you can’t trust it.

I fully recognize that there’s a fundamental flaw in that statement. The Internet isn’t a thing that can be trusted or not trusted. Saying the Internet isn’t trustworthy is a bit like saying that the postal or telephone systems can’t be trusted. What matters is what is done with them. You wouldn’t blame BotswanaPost if someone sent you an insulting email or sent you a brochure for a service you didn’t want. Nor would you blame BTC if someone cold-called you in the evening trying to sell you a hotel discount scheme. It’s the people who publish material on the internet who can either be trusted or not.

The trouble is that the Internet is a breeding ground for crooks, charlatans, scammers and liars. The danger is that almost anyone, including amateurs like you and I can set up a web site selling our products, ideas or scams remarkably quickly and with virtually no cost.

You often see an example of this when you’re trying to research something on the web. Scams such as the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme and pyramid schemes like TVI Express all did their very best to make sure that if you Googled them the first few pages would only contain positive reports, forcing those of us who tried to criticize them to much further down the list. You can’t trust Google to give you the right results to a search.

However there are certain places on the Internet that I think you can trust. Places that offer reasonable, often skeptical advice on a range of issues.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s web site (fda.gov) can be a very good source of information, particularly on health products. Although it’s obviously centered on the US market some of their advisory notices are universal. For instance there is a page on the FDA site devoted to “False or Misleading Claims for Treating Autism” which is an area that has been populated by a number of dangerous charlatans in the last couple of decades. A variety of biased and unscrupulous people have spread a series of lies about autism, including the potentially fatal lie that vaccines can cause autism. This led to a catastrophic reduction in vaccination rates in some countries which even led to deaths. Children died of diseases that had almost been eradicated following mass vaccination campaigns and the vaccine deniers have their blood on their hands.

While this debate has raised people’s awareness of autism it has also led to an upsurge in bogus treatments for autism, several of which are mentioned on the FDA site. There’s also loads of advice about weight loss programs, dietary supplements, bogus cancer treatments and even the ridiculous SCIO or QXCI devices that people plug themselves into for miracle cures (yes, even in Botswana). It’s worth a visit.

I’ve only recently discovered the existence of the North American Securities Administrators Association (nasaa.org). This organization describes itself as “the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection” and consists of “67 state, provincial, and territorial securities administrators” throughout North America.

I heard of them when they issued a warning entitled “High-Yield Investment Programs - Don’t Get Roped In”. Eurextrade was an example of these HYIPs. It’s worth quoting from their warning.
“HYIPs are Ponzi schemes sold by unlicensed individuals. In the past, con artists relied on word of mouth to lure investors into these investments. Now they rely on the Internet and social media buzz to quickly popularize their schemes before the fraud is discovered.

The most notable characteristics of HYIPs are the promise of very high returns at little or no risk to the investor and the paying of referral fees to current investors for bringing in new investors. In this way, HYIPs blend elements of both Ponzi and traditional pyramid schemes into one scheme that can spread faster than ever before.”
That’s a perfect description of the Eurextrade scheme and also some of the others that followed it. The simple truth is that ALL such schemes, without exception, fail within a few years because the business model they use is flawed.

It’s not just the USA that has agencies prepared to educate and inform their constituents. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (fca.org.uk) and its predecessors have a long history of warning the public about shady investment schemes and scams. Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (accc.gov.au) has a web site full of advice and tips on how Aussies and the rest of us can protect themselves.

South Africa’s National Consumer Commission (nccsa.org.za) and National Credit Tribunal (thenct.org.za) are doing well online. The Tribunal’s site in particular has a long list of cases they’ve heard that make fascinating reading if you like legal rulings that have an impact on consumer rights.

Here in Botswana we’re not doing nearly as well. NBFIRA’s web site (nbfira.org.bw) has some advice in it but I think we deserve more. We want real life cases and rulings. The same goes for the Bank of Botswana site (bankofbotswana.bw) where I think we need a lot more advice and guidance.

There are also a few individuals who I think you can trust for advice. Kasey Chang’s MLM Skeptic site (amlmskeptic.blogspot.com), the BehindMLM site (behindmlm.com) and Patrick Pretty’s site (patrickpretty.com) are all excellent sources of information on multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes. Always check them before you even think about joining such a scheme.

And don’t forget that you can absolutely trust the Consumer Watchdog sites. Our blog, Facebook group and Twitter feed can be completely trusted, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? Try it for yourself and see.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a pair of beautiful and expensive trousers at a small independent boutique on Monday. I wore them on Wednesday and have now discovered that the seams on the inside of the thigh are already coming apart and there is a hole in the trousers. Having worn them, am I still within my rights to take them back???


I think it very much depends on what you were doing in the trousers!

If the damage is a result of the way you were treating the trousers then clearly it’s your responsibility to deal with the problem. However…

I’ll assume that you were wearing the trousers in a normal, responsible way and not mistreating them. In that case the situation is really very simple. Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that goods must be “of merchantable quality” which means “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. Trousers should clothe your legs in a suitable manner and should last a reasonable length of time. Yours only lasted a couple of days which seems unreasonable to me.

I suggest that you go back to the boutique and show them what has happened to the trousers and ask them what they plan to do to remedy the situation. Let me know how they react?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

My laptop was not booting and I took it for repairs. The technician who took my laptop gave me the run around from then on which resulted in my laptop being at his place of work for approximately two months. He later informed me that the motherboard needed replacing. He quoted an exorbitant amount for replacement and I felt it would be wasteful to replace the motherboard rather than get a new computer if indeed the motherboard was faulty.

After taking the laptop I asked another technician to give me a second opinion. He discovered that my computer's hard drive had been taken out and replaced with someone else's hard drive. I called the first technician and asked him why he removed my hard drive and he did not give me a straight answer. I told him to give me back my hard drive as the information in it was crucial and affected my current job greatly.

I have tried to make him comprehend the gravity of this situation but he has shown no remorse for what he did and complete disregard for me as a customer. The hard drive has information that is absolutely irreplaceable. The computer can be replaced if indeed the motherboard is faulty but not the information I have lost through such carelessness. This guy has not showed any concern of locating the hard drive wherever he took it and instead keeps lying to me and does not bother to answer my calls or respond to them anymore.


This is very suspicious. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations require a company to offer services “with reasonable care and skill”. More importantly, the first technician has stolen part of your computer and you have a right to get it back. We’ll get in touch with him to see what he says but if he doesn’t cooperate I think a trip to the Police is called for. That might inspire him to respond more properly.

Meanwhile, I hope you had a backup of your work? These days there’s no excuse for not having a backup of your work. External backup drives are very cheap and really should be an essential purchase when you buy a laptop. Also companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft all now offer free, online, cloud-based backup services where you can put backups of your key documents. If you haven’t set up some form of backup solution for your laptop then do it now. Right now.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Don't believe the internet

The internet is fantastic, it really is. But you can’t trust it.

I genuinely don’t know what proportion of the contents of the internet can be relied upon to be truthful but the sad fact is that a major proportion of it is untrustworthy, unreliable and partisan. Surf the web for a day and you’ll find a bewildering array of web sites whose only purpose is to sell you products and ideas that are deceptive, nonsensical and often stupid.

It’s no surprise to me that Eurextrade, our late, unlamented Ponzi scheme operated via the internet. The web offered a very good way for the hoodlums running the scheme to hide who they really were and what they were doing with the money. It took me a long time to establish their links with organized crime but those links were certainly there.

The internet is also used by less threatening but certainly suspicious people like the curious “JT Foxx” who graced Botswana with his presence a couple of months ago. “Foxx” the supposed business guru and motivational speaker intrigues me. Not because of what he says but because it’s almost impossible to find out any real facts about him. This is about the only description I can find of him, a story that appears all over the Internet:
“J.T. Foxx started investing with nothing more than a rusted out Ford pick-up truck, $974 dollars and 1 cheap suit. Now just 6 years later, he has acquired over 500 properties, closed over $40 million in real estate deals, started several multi-million dollar companies, became one the most sought out speaker and recognized as one of the top coaches in the world - all by mastering the Art of partnering, branding & marketing.”
But that’s it. I can’t find any actual evidence to support this. In fact, if you trawl through the various sites that have been set up specifically to market his services you find a darker side. You find a variety of complaints, suggestionsthat he does nothing more than talk and even records of legal threats against him for sexual harassment. You also get a picture of a person who has entirely invented himself. You get a picture of someone who, if this is true, seems to be a bit of a creep.

When you actually go to see him speak all you apparently get is a lot of talk and a lot of demands for truly staggering amounts of money for him to provide you with “coaching” services. One person attending his meeting in Gaborone told me that in order to be “coached” by Foxx he was asked to spend a massive P300,000. In return he’d get 24, 30-minute Skype-based coaching sessions over a 6-month period from someone who has no obvious history of ever having run a business other than as a speaker, mentor and “coach”. All very suspicious.

Then there are the hoaxes that abound on the internet, in particular the home of the hoax news story: Facebook.

Perhaps the most common hoax you’ll see is a post that offers an app that can show you who’s been looking at your Facebook profile. It’s usually something like "See who views your profile!" and has a link that you’re invited to click.

Here’s a simple truth. There is no app, no service, no web page, no thing at all that can allow you to see who’s been looking at your Facebook profile. They simply don’t exist and every one of the links you see, in fact connects to services that will require your permission to share your contacts and posts and might even link to sites that will infect your computer with viruses or a range of other type of “malware”. Clicking on these links is simply dangerous and you should never do so. If a friend likes such a link you need to warn them of the danger.

Then there are the gruesome, antisocial hoaxes. In September a post circulated around Facebook with a headline saying that the Center for Disease Control in the USA had said “Ebola vaccine only works on white people”. This, as I’m sure you can guess, was nothing more than a nasty, spiteful, hate-filled lie. The CDC had said no such thing and in fact the story came from a deeply unfunny “news” story on a fake news site on the Internet. Unfortunately that didn’t stop a number of newspapers in the region passing it on as if it was real. Even though they retracted the story in following editions, who knows how many people saw the story but missed the retraction.

Just a few days ago another Facebook hoax began circulating again. This encouraged people to post a message about privacy. It began:
“Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I do declare the following: on this day, 28th November 2014, in response to the new Facebook guidelines and under articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data, drawings, paintings, photos, texts etc... published on my profile since the day I opened my account.”
That was just the beginning, it went on for several more paragraphs of pseudo-legal speak. However this is more nonsense. This happens ever few months when Facebook change their rules on privacy. On every occasion various people who seem to think that Facebook is Big Brother scheming to enslave us (but who remain on Facebook nevertheless) start rumor-mongering and spreading silliness. It’s simply not true and anyway, even if it was true, Facebook isn’t compulsory and access to it isn’t a human right. It’s also entirely free. If you don’t like it then leave.

In fact if you don’t like what the internet offers then feel free to leave. Just switch your computer, iPad or phone off. It’s your choice.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Funeral policy cancelled

I have a friend who has funeral policy which was opened in July 2005. She was paying P110 every month towards this policy which they got directly from her bank account and she is self employed. She failed to pay for the months of August, September and October 2014. She went on to pay on the 21st of November 2014 and she was told to open a new policy as the old one was cancelled due to her failure to pay for the 3 months. What is the right procedure to deal with this issue, what happens to the money that she contributed since 2005?


I think we all need to understand much more clearly the difference between an insurance scheme and a savings scheme.

A savings scheme is a way of putting money away somewhere safe so that it will be available at a later date. Some savings scheme are for a fixed period, others are more casual. With all of them you get your money back at some point, if you’re lucky with some interest.

An insurance scheme is very different. When you buy an insurance policy you are actually buying something: cover against risk. When you have an insurance policy the insurance company takes on your risk on your behalf. If, during the period of the insurance policy a bad thing happens to you then the insurance company will pay the bills. Obviously insurance schemes vary. Some are for your car, others for your house or its contents, sometimes they cover your life.

A funeral policy is an insurance scheme. While you continue paying the premiums, if something dreadful happens like you or any of the other people covered dying, the insurance company will pay the bills. If however nobody dies then nothing is paid out, but meanwhile you had the comfort of knowing that they would have done if necessary.

I don’t think your friend understood this. When she stopped paying the cover stopped. The money she paid in over the years is gone because she was saving money, she was buying something: cover against risk.

I suggest you go back to her and explain what it was she actually bought. I’m happy to explain it to her as well if you like.

Mechanic stripped my car

I took my vehicle to one local garage for it to be fixed. They initially quoted me P14,000. I could not afford to pay that money at the time which was in July 2011. We then agreed with the garage owner that in the meantime I would either take the car and pay storage fee or let them fix the car at the quoted amount. Afterwards I could not afford to pay for the vehicle and decided it stayed with them until I have money to pay for them to fix the car. To my surprise I checked them now to go ahead with fixing the car at the agreed amount, but they told me that they will have to increase the amount I have to pay because prices for car parts have increased. I chose to buy parts for myself and let them fix the car and charge me service fee. I was surprised to hear them telling me that they have stripped the car, it doesn't have gear box, engine and even the slightest things like boot and fuel tank openers. In this case I don’t know what to do because my car was in good condition, except for them to fix rear windscreen, front wheels and suspension?


I think you might be in a rather difficult situation here. Most mechanics will have a limit to how long they are prepared to store a vehicle for an owner before they either dispose of it or start using it for parts, as they have done with yours. Normally this period is a few months and in order to discourage people from leaving their cars for too long mechanics also often charge a storage fee.

In your case you left the vehicle with the mechanic 3½ years ago which is a very long time. I can understand how the mechanic was losing patience with you. Nevertheless I hope that the mechanic tried to let you know what he was going to do to the vehicle before actually doing so? I hope, for his sake, that you signed an agreement in which you consented to him doing this? If you didn’t then I suspect he might be the one in the difficult situation.

Please let me know and we’ll be happy to get in touch with the mechanic and see if anything can be done to help you.

Holiday Club - First Issues program on BTv

Last week's First Issues program from BTv on Holiday Clubs.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

An official warning about Get Rich Quick schemes

A warning from the North American Securities Administrators Association:
"Have you ever seen an ad on the Internet or a posting on a social media site promising too-good-to-be-true rates of return in short periods of time? Then you may have encountered an advertisement for a high-yield investment program, sometimes referred to as an HYIP."
It continues...
"HYIPs are Ponzi schemes sold by unlicensed individuals. In the past, con artists relied on word of mouth to lure investors into these investments. Now they rely on the Internet and social media buzz to quickly popularize their schemes before the fraud is discovered."
Wise words, if it seems too good to be true, it certainly IS too good to be true.

Thanks to PatrickPretty.com for the update.

World Ventures is still most certainly a pyramid scheme

We've been talking about the World Ventures pyramid scheme for a long time.

The Norwegian Gaming Board declared World Ventures a pyramid scheme in February 2014. Presumably because they saw a threat to their dodgy scheme World Ventures then filed an appeal.

Guess what happened?

They lost.

World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. We all know this so please don't waste your money!

Yet again, thanks to Kasey Chang and the Behind MLM site for the update.

Friday, 28 November 2014

More fakes

I despise the fake qualification industry almost as much as I despise scammers.

In my view they’re just as bad as scammers, perhaps even more so because they’re not just morally bankrupt themselves, but they make their victims into moral bankrupts as well.

Scammers are thieves and their victims are just that: victims. Of course they’re often na├»ve and sometimes foolish but they’re victims nonetheless. With people selling fake qualifications it’s different. People who buy fake degrees are just as corrupt as the fraudsters they bought them from. The corruption is contagious.

Sometimes people ask where the harm is in people buying themselves fake qualifications. Who actually is harmed? The answer is simple. We all are. The person who didn’t get the job or the promotion because someone with a fake qualification got it instead suffers. The employer who hires or promotes someone because they think they’re genuinely qualified becomes poorer because of it, not only financially but functionally as well. They’ve employed someone who can’t do the job as well as a person who really had studied the relevant subject.

Finally you and I suffer when the companies we buy products and services from offer us the services of unqualified liars and cheats.

Ask yourself this. Is there really anyone who thinks they can get a qualification without doing any exams, coursework, dissertations or research? Without any actual work of any sort? If they do then clearly they are the sort of person who could ONLY get a fake degree.

These days the fake degree industry is branching out into new areas of crookedness. A few months ago a reader asked us if he could believe the email he received from the “Gulf Project Management Association”. It started like this:
“We are pleased to announce that based on a thorough review of your previous academic and professional record; the Board at Gulf Project Management Association (Gulf PMA) has directly approved you as a 'Project Management Expert (PME).”
It went on to explain that:
“the Association has allocated 10 Exclusive Member Seats for the Top 3% exceptional individuals who will be allowed to bypass the 'Interview Requirement' and directly qualify as a Member” and that “Since you have officially been conferred the Gulf PMA 'Member Status' & the 'PME' Title, the Membership Kit under your Name has already been issued. You are required to claim your kit for just $399”.

This is all bogus. This isn’t a real qualification or membership. In my online chat with these crooks they told me that this body has existed “since 1995” which is curious as their web site was only first registered two weeks before. They also told me that I didn’t actually have to DO anything to get this dubious honor. No exams, no coursework, no proof of anything that would justify giving me a title.

In fact this is no different to those fake degrees we’ve mentioned so many times.

Last week someone alerted me to another, almost identical offer. This time it was from the “American Bureau of Project Management Experts” (ABPMEXP) who suggest on their web site that membership of their body will “enhance your career prospects”. To join they say that “you must first meet specific education and experience requirements and agree to adhere to a code of professional conduct” and that the process “involves a rigorous, examination-based process that represents the highest caliber in professional standards”.

Rubbish. Simply not true.

I chatted online with one of their ”advisors” and I was told that given the length of my career I “already have enough expertise” to join and that he could “convert my expertise into credit hours” and “make you a member right now”. All I needed to do was I hand over my credit card number and allow them to take $399 for a year’s membership, $735 for lifetime membership. He also assured me that my membership certificates would be personally endorsed by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State.

The same clues were there. A professional membership of a body that requires no actual proof of competence, that claims to have existed for 19 years but whose web site was only created a few weeks ago and that doesn’t actually seem to exist? As for that business about John Kerry signing my membership certificate? Clearly they’re good at forging signatures.

Here’s a challenge for everyone. Every time you read someone’s CV and you see a university or professional membership you’ve never heard of ask us to check it for you. Don’t just Google the name because the first page will be full of planted hits to make the organization seem legitimate. Dig a little deeper and see if you can’t find the name on our blog or on the Wikipedia page that lists non-accredited universities. In fact you should go a little further. Politely ask your colleagues and your boss where they got their degree or professional membership, in particular if it’s something that sounds impressive. If it’s legitimate they’ll be proud to tell you. If they appear reluctant to tell you or if you’ve just never heard of the place then let us know and we’ll check it for you.

Who knows, you might be exposing a cheat and a liar and save your company the cost and embarrassment of later firing them when it’s finally discovered.

Wouldn’t you do this if you thought someone was stealing from the company bank account or payroll? There’s really no difference. They’re all crimes because every one of them is stealing money from their company, their colleagues and their customers. From all of us in fact. It’s your duty to expose criminals whenever you find them.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I saw an advertisement from “Invest Partnership” on Facebook which said “WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? THE MOST UNBEATABLE LONGTERM INVESTMENT PROGRAM. JOIN NOW. DONT LEFT BEHIND.”

Can this be trusted?


Certainly not. Please, don’t “invest” anything with this scheme! “Invest Partnership” is undoubtedly a Ponzi scheme.

Do you remember Eurextrade? This scheme is VERY similar. For instance they claim that you can make 2% interest every day on large “investments”, 1.5% for smaller amounts. On their blog they go even further, claiming that they can offer up to 15% each day. This is simply impossible. No investment scheme can ever offer such returns.

Like all such schemes they give no real clues about how they would make such amazing returns, saying only that they provide “superior investment returns by placing its on Forex market”. Clearly English isn’t their first language.

It’s also curious that they don’t appear to have a physical address, phone number or email address. They claim to have been operating since November 2013 but it’s also curious that their domain name and web page, the only mechanism for investing with them, was only registered on 14th October this year. And guess where it was registered? Panama. Do you remember where Eurextrade was registered? Yes, you guessed it, Panama as well.

Please don’t even think of “investing” your money in this scheme. Do you really want to be another victim?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Please help me get this man to pay back my niece P3,200. The make-up artist did not show up for the second wedding and won't give back the money he was given for the job.

He was supposed to work on the 13th of September 2014 but he never showed up. He had been paid for the work. He has made many promises to pay back but this being the 2nd month we doubt He will be bringing the money back without some encouragement.


I really don’t understand why the wedding business is so full of crooks and shady characters. At least once a week we get a message like yours for someone whose special day has been upset by someone like this guy. Sometimes it’s the caterers, other times the photographers, the dressmakers or a long list of people. I don’t understand why they don’t get that weddings aren’t like most other events. Birthdays, anniversaries, leaving parties, they can all be repeated but you can’t repeat a wedding.

That’s why we’re entitled to expect a much higher level of service with wedding services. We’re should be able to rely on wedding service providers to be better than everyone else, the occasions is too important to mess around.

I contacted this guy and he wasn’t too pleased to hear from me. He SMSed me saying: “Wow. Its a Watchdog issue now. From Aunts calling to watchdog. Well tell her that her refund is processed, it shall reflect in her Account tommorow”. We’ll see if he keeps to his word!

Update: Two days later he paid P1,800 into her account. No sign yet of the remainder but we’ll keep chasing him!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The constant war

It’s a sad truth but the war against crooks and their abuse will never end. Crooks are just part of life and even though we can win some battles they’re never going to go away. We’ll never actually win the war when some people just seem naturally disposed to lying, stealing and cheating.

Let’s take Eurextrade as an example. You’ll remember that this was a Ponzi scheme that stole large amounts of money from many, many people in Botswana. Although most of the victims only handed over a few thousand Pula we heard of others who lost hundreds of thousands. We even heard of one particularly gullible (and let’s face it, greedy) victim who sold two houses and a Range Rover to raise money to “invest”. He ended up hospitalized when he realized that he’d never see that money ever again.

So you’d probably think that we’d have learned our lesson by now? That miracle investment schemes that promise “up to 2.9% daily” like Eurextrade did can’t be trusted? You’d think so but maybe not.

Just a few days ago someone alerted me to an advertisement on a Botswana-based Facebook group that said “WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? THE MOST UNBEATABLE LONGTERM INVESTMENT PROGRAM JOIN NOW. DONT LEFT BEHIND.”

The advert gave a link to the web site of “Invest Partnership” who make some remarkable offers. They claim that if you give them between $3,000 and $5,000 you can make 2% every day. Not so far away from the Eurextrade offer, is it?


They also claim that if you invest $2,500 for a mere seven days that you’ll make 15% every day, more than doubling your money in that week. Just for illustration I tried to work out how much money you’d make if you kept reinvesting your profits for an entire year and the answer was very simple. 400 billion times more money that there is in the entire world.


This is clearly absurd. What’s more absurd is that these crooks want us to trust them with our money when they don’t offer a physical address, a phone number or an email address and even though they say they’ve been operating for a year their web site was only registered a couple of weeks ago. Offering impossible profits isn’t the only warning sign, there are plenty of them.

Nevertheless I won’t be surprised if some people do hand over their cash because gullibility, greed and a desire for something for nothing will always emerge and will always be exploited.

It’s not all about gullibility and greed though. Those of us who go about our daily lives not expecting to make instant fortunes without effort, are also threatened by crooks.

Most people now know about card skimming. This is when a crook manages to make a copy of our debit and credit cards and then starts spending our money. There are usually two stages to this. Firstly the card has to be copied. This can be done remarkably quickly using a range of portable devices, some so small they can fit in your hand. All it takes is a quick swipe and the contents of the magnetic strip on your card are copied and are used to manufacturer a duplicate card. Then they do their best to get your PIN. This can be as easy as standing next to you in the queue at the ATM or by installing a hidden camera on the ATM machine itself. It can also be gathered from a phishing attack when you give you card details away on a fake version of your bank’s web site.

With both the contents of the magnetic stripe and your PIN the crooks can be spending your money within minutes. Just last week we heard from a consumer who woke up one morning to find a series of SMSs on his phone telling him how much money he’d spend overnight in Peru. Needless to say, he’d never even been to Peru.

Last week Barclays took the lead in educating us on these issues. They brought some of their regional fraud experts to Gaborone to run workshops on the problems. Despite what many people think there are success stories. For instance, following investigations by banks and police forces so far this year over P200 million has been recovered from crooks around Africa and a number of them are now serving long prison sentences for the crimes.

One thing that Barclays’ experts were able to confirm was a suspicion we’d long had that the crooks who skim cards are very well organized. They’re also into other crimes including land fraud, theft, carjacking, armed robberies, drug smuggling, computer hacking, ID fraud and even assassinations. They really are organized crime.

One of the most important things they mentioned was a new threat that has only recently emerged. Fake POS devices. We’re all familiar with the machines our debit cards are swiped through when we buy things in stores and restaurants. The new threat is from fake versions of the portable versions of these devices. A waiter (who’s part of the conspiracy) will approach you when you want to pay and will swipe your card through a fake machine and ask you to enter your PIN, just like normal. However he or she will then apologize saying the transaction didn’t work and they’ll get another machine. The second one is genuine and your payment will work normally this time. Meanwhile the details from your magnetic strip and your PIN were recorded by the fake machine and transmitted to Peru (or wherever this particular gang are based).

At the moment the only solution is a mixture of public education and consumer vigilance.

Well done to Barclays for doing the first bit. Now it’s up to us to be vigilant.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I need assistance, we bought a laptop from Hi-Fi Corporation late July, early October the laptop failed to charge, it would display a message that says plugged in but not charging. We took it back to the shop, they had said the motherboard had a problem so they were taking it for repairs and they said their turn around time is 21 days. They said they will call within 21 days to notify us of any progress regarding the laptop. They said if it is not fixed in 21 days they will replace it with a new one. After 21 days we went back to shop, and they told us the laptop was still with the supplier, we then demanded a new one as promised, and they said they will get it from the suppliers and we should collect it the following day. When we came the following day we were told we can not get a new one because the repairs company said there was nothing wrong with the laptop. We asked them to check and show us that indeed there was nothing wrong with it and it still displayed the message and it still failed to charge. They took the laptop again, and said they did not know when we will get it back, they still refused to honour their 21 day promise. What should we do here?


It sounds like there’s been a mistake here and it wasn’t you that made it. I like HiFi Corporation’s policy that if something can’t be repaired within 21 days you get a brand new replacement. More stores should adopt this policy.

We contacted the management about this and they promised to look into the situation and confirmed that the policy still stands.

A couple of days later we received the following message from the reader:

“We went back there, the manager was very apologetic and said he was shocked by the treatment we got. We did not get the same brand as it was out of stock. We got a Dell that was P400 more and he gave us P300 discount. We only paid a 100 on top of the P4,200 and got a 4.6 machine. Thank u so much for assisting me.”

Excellent result. HiFi Corporation dealt with the situation with maturity and common sense. I wish more stores would behave like this!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Consumer Alert: Invest Partnership

Remember Eurextrade?

Here comes another Ponzi scheme that sounds remarkably similar.

Invest Partnership makes some extraordinary claims:


2% per day is a remarkable return. Impossibly remarkable. On their blog they go even further, claiming that they can offer up to 15% each day. This is simply impossible. No investment scheme can ever offer such returns.


Like all such schemes they give no real clues about how they would make such amazing returns, saying only that they provide “superior investment returns by placing its on Forex market”. Clearly English isn’t their first language.

It’s also curious that they don’t appear to have a physical address, phone number or email address. They claim to have been operating since November 2013 but it’s also curious that their domain name and web page, the only mechanism for investing with them, was only registered on 14th October this year. And guess where it was registered? Panama. Do you remember where Eurextrade was registered? Yes, you guessed it, Panama as well.

Please don’t even think of “investing” your money in this scheme. Do you really want to be another victim?

Friday, 14 November 2014

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In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed this post. If you wish, you may read more about the request at LumenDatabase.org.

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and it’s time for everyone to go slightly mad.

Almost all of us do it, even those who set a budget and who plan very carefully. There’s always that extra present, that temptation in the store, that once-in-a-lifetime deal we can’t refuse.

The result is that we overspend as well as over-eat and over-drink and we end up paying the price in the New Year, often for most of the following year. However, unlike the inevitable weight gain, the financial burdens can’t easily be removed by cutting back a little for a few months.

So, in anticipation of the spending frenzy so many of us will engage in, here’s a few tips for avoiding a horrible Christmas aftermath.

The first lesson is the boring one. Set a budget and stick to it. Make a rational decision about how much you can afford to spend, add up the prices of the essentials you need to buy and don’t go over that amount. Yes, I know it’s simple to say and harder to do, but we really have to be mature about spending at this time of year.

Perhaps the smartest thing you can do when shopping is to shop around. Don’t just accept the price offered in the first store you visit, check out several stores and you’ll be surprised by how much prices can vary. Then, if you’re still feeling loyal to your favorite store even though they have what you want at a higher price, ask them if they’ll price-match the cheaper store. Some stores even have a policy of price-matching their competition. All it takes is for you to politely mention to a supervisor that the other store has the item for less and you might be surprised how willingly they’ll knock the price down. I know someone who saved over P500 this way, just by asking. That’s enough to get another really nice present, several bottles of wine and could easily pay for one of the many family Christmas meals you have to endure (sorry, I meant enjoy).

You should also be practical when you things. Ask questions about the store’s returns policy in case the thing you buy is the wrong size or even just isn’t wanted. It can do no harm to ask and it might save you money and disappointment if the present you choose doesn’t go down as well as you hoped.

You really must ask about warranties and guarantees. For instance if you buy your spoiled offspring a fancy new phone (and as an Apple fan it pains me to say this) you should think about those manufacturers like Samsung that now offer a 2-year warranty rather then the normal 1-year promise. They also offer a free screen replacement if it gets damaged. Factors like those should be a major part of your decision. However all of this depends on you buying a legitimate Samsung phone, not a suspicious grey import.

While on the subject of technology here’s another tip. Surf the web before you spend any serious money on tech. Read online reviews and reports from other people who bought the item you’re considering. I wish I’d done that before splashing out on a new laptop for our office a few months ago. It’s from a perfectly respectable manufacturer and was in the middle price range so I expected things to be fine but it quickly became clear that the screen is really very poor. It’s a real eye-strain maker. However if I’d just spent a few minutes web-surfing before handing over the money I would have found that many other people around the world have made exactly the same comment. It hurts their eyes as well. Do yourself a favor and trust other people’s experiences.

Above all trust the experts. Look for leading online reviewers and see what they have to say. It’s their business, they’re paid to do expert reviews and they can be trusted. Before buying my latest phone I found one site that had written a 12-page review to the device, looking at every possible thing it does and making detailed, practical observations that helped me confirm that it’s what I wanted. I’m confident that I’m not going to be disappointed.

Above all, here’s the Number One tip for buying at Christmas. This one, if you can follow it, will save you a fortune.

Don’t buy on credit.

It’s really that simple. Buying on credit or its even more evil cousin, hire purchase, is a disaster waiting to happen. It really is a staggeringly expensive way to buy things. If you buy something over 2 years you’ll probably pay about twice the cash price and that’s before you face the risk of repossession and ruining your credit history if something goes wrong.

It’s probably too late now that we’re in November but the very best way to have an affordable Christmas is to save for it throughout the year, maybe putting a little bit aside every month in a savings account and even earning a little interest on it. Do the maths.

Instead of making hire purchase payment for two years put the same monthly amount away for just one year and you’ll be able to buy the same item for cash and you’ll actually own it. Nobody can then come round and seize it if you’re strapped for cash one month.

One last lesson. A very simple one. If you haven’t got it already get some home insurance. How are you going to feel if everything you bought is stolen or destroyed in an accident? Insurance might seem expensive but it’s not nearly as expensive as not having it.

The best present Father Christmas can bring anyone is financial common sense. Put that on your Christmas wish list.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a meal today from a store which comes with bread rolls. The expiry date written on the rolls was today’s date. I returned the rolls complaining that they sold me an expired item but they refused to listen telling me that the expiry date on the packaging means the rolls expires tomorrow not today. The supervisor was so rude and not cooperative at all. Is he right? Please advise.


You’re not the first person to get confused by expiry dates.

The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations defines "expiry date" and "use-by date" as follows: "the date which signifies the end of the estimated period under any stated storage conditions, after which the product is unlikely to have quality attributes normally expected by the consumers, and after which date, the food should not be regarded as marketable".

Section 4 of the Regulations then says that "No person shall" ... "import, distribute, sell or offer for sale, any food" ... "whose expiry date has lapsed".

So to make it perfectly clear, the rolls expired “today” meaning that today is the last day on which they can be sold. So it's legally acceptable to sell that roll today, but not tomorrow.

We all need to use some common sense with "use by", "expiry" and "best before" dates. It really depends on what the food is. If it's meat, fish or poultry then we should be very careful about the dates. On the other hand if it's an apple then you can be less fussy.

Either way, use your eyes and your nose with ALL foodstuffs. Millions of years of evolution have given us senses that can often tell us when things we want to put inside our bodies are likely to harm us. Ask your partner, relative, housemate or whoever is standing close enough, "Does that smell OK to you?" before you cook or eat something.

So read the dates and take care with them but above all trust your senses. If in doubt don’t eat it.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

On 16 September 2014 I paid a P5,000 deposit for a lounge suite which was to be manufactured for me. They promised to deliver by 19 September 2014. Up to date the lounge suite is still not delivered. I went over to the workshop in Ramotswa on 3 October and they committed to deliver without fail on 6 October. This did not help. On 10 October I asked for my money back seeing that they are not able to deliver as promised and they agreed that they will refund on 11 October.

I wanted to let you know that they still haven’t paid the amount he had promised to pay me and they have been putting across all sorts of excuses and avoiding to meet me.

I think a name and shame in The Voice newspaper would motivate him. He talks of being worried about the bad publicity to his company though he is not doing anything to avoid it.


We spoke to the owner of this workshop and he made a number of excuses to us as well. He even tried to blame you for the problem because he couldn’t find the type of fabric you wanted. He also claimed that he doesn’t have the money to give you your refund.

We suggested that even if he doesn’t have all the money he owes you right now he should nevertheless pay you what he can just to demonstrate that he’s prepared to cooperate. Following that I got a message from him saying that he’d paid you back P1,000.

I then got another message from him saying that he acknowledges his obligations to you and promising to make you a new couch entirely for free.

Let’s see what happens now. If he breaks his word we’ll certainly name and shame him!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Barclays Bank - Fraud Awareness Workshops

Barclays Bank have asked if we'd help publicise this for them, something we're delighted to do.

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Barclays Bank of Botswana conducts fraud awareness road-shows

As the festive period approaches, Barclays Bank of Botswana is embarking on a campaign to educate the public, customers and critical stakeholders to remain vigilant to avoid becoming victims of fraud.

From Monday 10th November to Thursday 13th November, the bank will conduct a series of workshops on Fraud Awareness under the theme: Act now! Fraud stops with you.

Puseletso Seitei, Regional Fraud Strategy Manager, Barclays Africa Fraud Risk Management, said the aim of the roadshows is to engage stakeholders on pertinent issues of fraud and how they can individually and collectively prevent it from affecting them.

“Fraud continues to be one of the most topical issues in the financial industry, affecting unsuspecting individuals and corporates. This initiative will therefore provide an insight into fraud awareness and prevention strategies and allow for interactive debates to educate the public,” added Puseletso.

Bruno Schiemsky, Head of Forensic Investigations & Whistleblowing for Barclays Africa, said: “Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in the number of fraud cases across Africa and an increase in the threat posed by organised crime groups and syndicates against the financial industry. Based on the feedback received from our customers, colleagues and the industry, Barclays took the initiative to provide fraud awareness to our customers. We are also engaging with industry stakeholders and partners, which includes the Law Enforcement agencies, to provide them with insights into the latest crime trends affecting the financial industry in Africa.”

Barclays Bank remains committed to the highest service levels and professional excellence which form part of our core values, as we affirm our vision to become the ‘Go To’ bank in Africa.

Danger to our health

Our Facebook group has been on fire recently. Various issues have been raised and the members of the group have been very busy commenting. It’s been rather heated.

It began with a comment from someone calling himself “MajorProphet Richard Watatua”. His comment was simple but remarkable:


“TESTIMONY............3 PEOPLE ARE REPORTING TO BE HEALED H.I.V AIDS YESTERDY AFTER MY MEETING WITH THEM.”

He later claimed that:


“ONLY 38 PEOPLE............SOW A SEED OF P38 AND SEE WAHT GOD WILL DO IN THE NEXT 38 HOURS............E- WALLET BY FAITH 71685938”

Despite my grammar police tendencies we’ll overlook his spelling and his use of capital letters. Instead we should look at what he’s actually offering. He claims to be able to heal people of AIDS and HIV infection.

Before I go any further I need to stress that this isn’t an attack on religion in any way. Instead this is an attack on the scandalously dangerous claims he’s making. In a country that is badly affected by HIV we have to deal with these issues very carefully.

As a nation facing enormous challenges we’ve done very well. The distribution of ARVs and the PMTCT program are both great achievements and they have contributed towards the great recovery in our lifespan and general quality of health. I believe that anything that threatens those achievements is criminal.

Before you claim that it’s not actually criminal, it’s just offensive, let me refer you to Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code. This describes “prohibited advertisements” that include offering treatments for a range of disorders, including “venereal diseases” which certainly includes HIV infection.

The majority of the members of our Facebook group were outraged by this charlatan’s offers. They posted messages like “he should be reported to the authorities”, that he should “be arrested”, “it's sad how gullible we are” and (my favourite), “why don't these guys go to Marina and Nyangabgwe and heal the sick there?”

The situation is actually very simple. People like “MajorProphet Richard Watatua” pose a danger to our nation’s health and they should be stopped before they cause serious damage. If just one person believes his lies and stops taking his or her anti-retroviral medication and suffers then he’ll have blood on his hands. He’s no different to a drug-dealer or mugger.

We also had a return visit from a previous star of the Facebook group. The self-styled
“Healer Nkunumbi” also made some extraordinary claims. His post said:


“lost lover, Marriage problems, stop your partner from cheating on you, Men and women who can’t have Babies. Breast, Hips, Bums, penis cream/. Business boost, Penis Enlargement and power in all sizes. Win court cases, promotion at work. Is your situation getting worse? Find us in Gaborone, Botswana Cell phone: +267 75988645”.

I contacted the “Healer” and asked him a few questions by SMS. I asked “Can you help my wife to have a baby?” His answer was simple: “Yes”. I asked if he could cure fertility problems. “Yes”. Finally I asked if he could cure cancer. “Yes”.

He’s yet another danger to our health, peddling miracle cures and remedies that are clearly nonsensical. What’s more I believe he’s a threat to women in particular.

The last time he was around we called "Healer Nkunumbi" to hear what he said. A colleague pretended to be having problems getting pregnant and asked if he could help. You can listen to the 4-minute call when he says he can assist if you visit our blog or Facebook group.

Of course this is all very silly. If you’re feeling charitable "Healer Nkunumbi" is a rather comical character with his preposterous claims and his ridiculous offers of miracle remedies.

But he’s not just funny. He’s also dangerous.

I worry about the vulnerable people who might, as a result of desperation and despair, resort to his offerings. A woman with fertility problems or an illness might be tempted to give him a try if everything else has failed. So where’s the harm in that, you might ask, if everything else has failed?

The first potential harm is doubt. Who actually is this guy? What are his qualifications? What skills does he actually have, if any? We have no real idea what and who he is.

Then there’s the chance that he might actually do something rather than just talking about it. When he sees a woman with fertility problems is he going to examine her? Is he going to touch her? Given the nature of her problems a real doctor would obviously do a detailed physical examination so he’s probably going to feel like he should do so too. How would you react if you heard that an unknown man had touched your mother, sister, daughter or partner in such a way? I know what my reaction would be.

Then there’s the risk that he’ll offer her some sort of treatment for her condition and who knows what that might be. Chances are it’s be some entirely useless herbal concoction but there’s a chance whatever he gives her might actually have an effect and that’s dangerous.

Unlike the Panado you buy from a pharmacy where you can be certain that every tablet contains exactly 500mg of paracetamol, you have no idea what so-called traditional healers are giving you or what effect it might have. That’s why the majority of people see no effect whatsoever and the rest often end up dead.

If we don’t stand up to these charlatans and their bogus treatments and medicines then we are likely to undo all of the progress we’ve made in the last few years in improving our nation’s health. It really is that serious.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I received an email from Mr Tim who offered me a loan. He said “Hi, My name is Mr Tim. I am a private lender who give out loan to private and corporate individuals. Have you been turned down by so many banks? Do you need finance to establish your business? Do you need finance for the expansion of you business? Or do you need a personal loan? My loan ranges from personal to business loan. My interest rate is very affordable and our loan process is very fast as well. I am very willing to make all your financial troubles a thing of the past.”

Do you think this can be trusted?


Certainly not!

This is the beginning of a scam. Let’s face it, genuine money lenders don’t approach total strangers offering them large amounts of money without having any idea who they are. Genuine lenders also aren’t usually very keen to lend to people who have been “turned down by so many banks”. They prefer safe investments. Genuine lenders also have better English that this guy.

More importantly there’s a simple rule about any financial service you might consider buying. You cannot trust anyone in the financial services industry who runs his to her business from a free email address. This guy “Mr Tim” emailed you from timrayloanhome@gmail.com. That’s hardly a sign of a reputable company, is it?

We’ve seen many of these emails before and we’ve often responded, pretending to be a potential borrower and every single time there is eventually a demand for us to pay the lender a fee in order to get the loan. In fact there is no loan, just as there is no “Mr Tim”. It’s all the beginning of an “advance fee” scam.

If you get an email like this please just delete it and don’t waste your time responding.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Someone close to me might get schemed. Please check for me if a company by the name TRACK WORLD COURIERS exist. She is saying she’s been expecting a shipment from over sees and now this company called her and told her that they have the parcel and she has to pay to clear it. Please check for us if this is a legitimate company and if indeed they have the Parcel.?


Here we go again. Another victim of a scam.

Let me guess what happened. Your friend met someone on Facebook, a man, probably in his 30s or 40s who was single and without children and who had a highly paid job that involved a lot of travel. Over a few weeks they chatted online, probably every day and because he was so appealing I bet she began to fall for him. He charmed her completely and offered her hope and romance

He then told her that he had to go on a long trip to a faraway country and would be out of touch for a couple of weeks. However he was going to send her a package containing a range of goodies. This package would arrive, he told her, while he was away. Then she received this message from this company claiming that there’s a payment she must make in order to receive the package.

The bad news is that there is no package and no courier company. There isn’t even a boyfriend she met on Facebook. Throughout this period she’s been communicating with a scammer. All he wants is that payment he’s demanding from her. Please make sure that she doesn’t send him any money, she’ll never see it again.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Another romantic advance fee scam

Here we go again. Another scam victim.

It's the same old story, a woman is befriended on Facebook by a guy who turns out not to be what he claims. She told us:
The stolen picture that the scammer used. 
"I have been dating this other guy from Bradford, UK we met on facebook so a few weeks passed. He told me he want to send me a necklace then on the 4th October he sent me mail telling me that he had sent me a package with jewellery, perfumes, handbags and some amounts of money. He even gave me the website for the courier company, invoice number and tracking number. I started tracking then I found out the package was now in Ghana from Uk. The lady called me to tell me that she is my agent so should send money through western union for clearing at customs then I sent after that she wanted me to send for insurance now she wants me to send for anti terourism certicate."
Unfortunately this was when she first became suspicious. Too late for her, she had already sent them P11,000.

This is the email she received from the "agent" who demanded the money from her:
SOCIAL DELIVERY COMPANY(SDC)
69 Dr. Isert Street, North Ridge
P.O. Box M.27, Accra Ghana

06 October 2014
Delivery Address: PO box [removed] Gaborone, Botswana.
Plot [removed], Gaborone.
ORDER NUMBER: HES/ WFD /2014 ( GHANA ).
Invoice no: 1009554
Tracking no: 122244460342
SENT BY: [removed]
AWAITING CLEARANCE IN GHANA CUSTOM
Attention: [removed]

With reference to the delivery of your package, I wish to bring to your notice that your package has been placed on hold by the Ghana customs for some reasons which happened to violates the shipping policies. As the goods arrived Ghana custom check point, the Ghana custom detected that currency were included in your parcel.Thereby, certain commissions must be paid as customs duty via us which is for the immediate clearance of your package.

For the main time reference of tracking on the "status" of your package is pending this is in accordance to the mode of operations in the Courier sector for financial delivery. We have already taken order number for this package from the custom. You are required to follow all instructions giving to you to facilitate the release of your package.

To do this, you are required to pay the required charges listed below for the immediate release of your package. Upon confirmation of payment, your package will be delivered to your designated address above under few hours.

Administrative ........................500
Clearance..............................1650
TOTAL = 2,150 usd

A total of 2,150 (Two thousand one hundred and fifty dollars). Only has been charge. In acknowledgment to this email, account details shall be provided to you for the payment as stated above for the release of your package.

Thank you, as I hope I have made myself clear to you by this notice as directed by the management. contact our head office For more inquiry call: +447034270671 FAX: +4472 2108789 067 Email: sdccurirserce@hotmail.co.uk [Click the link to send the scammer an email!]

Present your order number when calling so that we may honor your calls. We are glad to be of service to you.
Yours Faithfully.
Mrs.Grace Campbell
PS SOCIAL DELIVERY COMPANY(SDC)
Yes, the victim was naive and gullible and it's easy to dismiss her as foolish but let's not forget that she was lied to by an experienced scammer who exploited her feelings and abused her terribly.

It's too late for this particular victim because as you'll know, scammers don't ever offer refunds. The only thing we can do is spread the word and hope that other potential victims will be more skeptical than earlier victims.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

New rights?

For the last four weeks I’ve been describing the variety of protections that our Consumer Protection Regulations offer us. There might be cynics out there that think we’re not well protected consumer in Botswana but they’d be wrong. The protections that exist are comprehensive and powerful.

But are they good enough? Do they need to be updated?

Given that the Regulations were only published in 2001 I think it’s a tribute that they don’t need any major overhaul. They’re sufficiently well worded that they apply just as well today as they did 13 years ago but they would probably benefit from some minor updates.

There’s a theme that runs through several of the regulations that I think is important. Section 13 (1) (b) forbids a supplier from causing “a probability of confusion or misunderstanding as to (a product’s) source, sponsorship, approval, or certification”. Suppliers have to be very clear about where an item comes from and whether it’s approved or not. For instance a cellphone store that sells a “grey import” phone must be perfectly honest about it.

Section 17 (1) (c) forbids “causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding with respect to the authority of a salesperson, representative, or agent to negotiate the final terms
of a transaction”. So the phrase “My boss says I can’t give you a discount” might be forbidden if it’s not actually true.

One of my personal favorites, Section 17 (1) (d) forbids a store from “causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. A store must be 100% clear about payment terms, your consumer rights, their obligations to you and even what might happen if you stop paying your installments. Any lack of clarity is strictly forbidden.

Section 17 (1) (g) forbids a store from “taking advantage of a consumer's inability reasonably to protect his interests by reason of disability, illiteracy or inability to understand the language of an agreement”. In other words a store can’t use long words to confuse people. The language in an agreement must be simple and clear enough that anyone can understand it. More importantly it must also be in a language that the customer speaks and understands. English isn’t permitted if the customer only speaks Setswana for instance.

The theme that runs through all of these regulations is that causing confusion is forbidden. Anyone selling you something is forbidden from confusing you, or even of bringing about “a probability of confusion”.

I think that’s a brilliant concept. It just needs to be expanded a little bit.

Anyone reading the newspapers in the last couple of years will remember the Eurextrade scam that cost so many people in Botswana so much money. This scheme offered people the “opportunity” (always a warning word) to invest their money and earn “up to 2.9%” every day. Not each year, every day. Unfortunately the vast majority of people who were suckered into joining the scheme couldn’t do maths because if they could they would have realized how extraordinary that figure is. The facts are simple. If you invest P1,000 at 2.9% per day after a day you’ve earned P29, giving you a total of P1,029. Another 2.9% each day on top of the previous day’s balance gives you P1,187 after a week, P2,291 after a month, P13,103 after 3 months and after a whole year, the massive sum of P33 million.

Everyone knows that’s simply impossible, it must be a scam but thanks to a number of very persuasive recruiters many, MANY people willingly handed over their money, giving into greed, temptation and gullibility. In fact Eurextrade was a Ponzi scheme, where the “investments” each victim makes are split between the people running the scam and the previous person who joined. If I join on Monday and you join on Tuesday part of the money you pay in goes directly to me, and you get some of the money from the sucker who joins on Wednesday. It’s “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. It’s a scam.

We don’t know how many people lost money when the scheme eventually collapsed (as all Ponzi schemes eventually do) or how much money the scammers got away with but I know for a fact it was at least tens of millions.

But what could have been done to prevent people falling for it? Consumer Watchdog did its best to warn people as did NBFIRA, the regulator of financial services in Botswana but clearly that wasn’t enough.

That’s where I think an addition to the Consumer Protection Regulations might help. I think a new regulation should be added, saying that it would be “an unfair business practice” to “cause a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the origin, amount or likelihood of any income or profits from any business or investment mechanism”.

That would go some way to preventing the sort of lies and exaggerations that the recruiters for Eurextrade and all the other Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes and Get Rich Quick schemes tell us to part us from our money.

It might also go some way to curbing the excesses of the Multi Level Marketing industry with their promises of a new “lifestyle” when all the figures that the companies are forced to disclose show that it’s incredibly unlikely that any new recruit will make anything at all.

The only challenge would be enforcement but that’s where we consumers have a powerful weapon: the law. If we complain the Consumer Protection Unit in the Ministry of Trade and Industry is then required to investigate and establish whether the rules have been breached. I think would be worth the effort, don’t you?

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Is it ok for a business to charge a percentage of goods value when one returns them and asks for reimbursement? I bought an item and then found it was the wrong size. I took it back intact with its packaging and receipt. They said I could buy something for the value of the returned goods. I then requested for the right size which they told me they did not have. So I requested a cash refund as there was nothing I could get. I was told in that case I would have to forfeit about 5% of the refundable amount as it is their policy for cash refunds. As usual there was a small print on the invoice saying exactly this. But is it legal?


Yes, I’m afraid it is legal and what’s more it actually a very reasonable thing for them to do.

The 5% is the fee the store pays every time they swipe your credit or debit card. The critical issue is that if the store reverses the payment for whatever reason they do NOT get that 5% back from the bank, the bank keeps it.

If, when the store sold you the item, it was their fault that you were given the wrong one then clearly you shouldn’t be penalised by losing the 5%, it would be the responsibility of the store to cover that cost. However if it wasn’t their mistake, if it was you who made a mistake is it fair that they should pay?

Also they were open about the policy on their invoice so I doubt if you have any right to object to the deduction from your refund. I suspect that if the store explained this on the receipt there was probably a sign in the store as well to let everyone know. Sorry!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

One day I went to a certain shop in Phikwe to buy 1 litre of juice. When I checked the expiry date I found it was expired. I told one of the workers and to my surprise they didn’t have a clue. So my question is isn’t it the duty of the shop to check the expiry date of their products before the said date?


It most certainly IS the duty of the store to make sure everything is labeled correctly!


The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations are very clear. Section 4 of the Regulations says that “No person shall
… import, distribute, sell or offer for sale prepackaged food … whose expiry date has lapsed”. Can that be any simpler?

People are often confused by the variety of dates that appear on prepackaged food. They’re not sure of the difference between "Best Before", "Sell By" and "Expiry Date". In fact it’s quite simple. The “Best before” and “Expiry” or “Use by” dates are the dates before which the food should be in an edible condition. The “Sell by” date is the last day the store can sell the item.

You certainly shouldn’t buy anything that is at or beyond any of these dates. If you do see such an item it’s your right (and your duty) to tell the store manager immediately to help protect other consumers.

You should also think carefully about how long you’re likely to store something before consuming it. I wouldn't buy something that's expiring within a couple of days, particularly if it's a high-risk item because I don’t know how long it’s going to stay in my fridge before I eat it.

You should also use some common sense with these dates. It depends very much on what the food is. If it's meat, fish or poultry then be very careful about the dates. On the other hand if it's an apple then you can be less fussy.

It’s more complicated with things like your juice container because you can’t see inside it. That’s when you should absolutely rely on the expiry date that is shown.

Either way, use your eyes and your nose with ALL foodstuffs. Millions of years of evolution have given us senses that can often tell us when things we want to put inside our bodies are likely to harm us. Ask your partner, relative, housemate or whoever is standing close enough, "Does that smell OK to you?" before you cook or eat anything suspicious.

So read the dates and take care with them but above all trust your senses. If in doubt don’t eat it.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Yet more rights

For three weeks I’ve been describing the variety of protections that our Consumer Protection Regulations offer us. But there’s even more of them. Some that offer us enormous protection.

One of them deserves repeating.

Section 17 (1) (d) of the Regulations says that it is an “unfair business practice” if a vendor causes “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”.

What does that mean?
It means lots of things but above all it means that anyone selling you something has to be VERY careful not to confuse you about your rights. They’re simply not allowed to let you leave the store either not understanding or misunderstanding what you’re allowed to do if you have a problem. For instance they’re not allowed to let you think you can’t return an item if it’s faulty. They’re not allowed to tell you, when something does go wrong, that you have no right to a remedy. We heard from a customer last week who bought a P450 cellphone from a small store called “Xuan Xuan Shop” in the African Mall in Gaborone only for the phone to go wrong within days. She quickly returned it and the owner/manager was good enough to replace it with another one but that replacement also only lasted a couple of days before freezing just like the first one. When she then took it back a second time she was told by the now grumpy and impatient owner that yes, she could have a refund, but only after he’d deducted 20% of the price presumably because he felt he was entitled to do so.

Not so fast. You’ll remember that Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says very clearly that goods sold must be “of merchantable quality”. Clearly a phone that freezes isn’t. She’s entitled to as many repairs or replacements as are required to give her a phone that does what phones are meant to do. Applying bizarre, made-up conditions such as a 20% penalty for sticking up for your rights isn’t permitted and suggesting that it is would cause a probability of confusion about her rights.

If that wasn’t bad enough the owner then tore up the original receipt the customer had been given, destroying the proof of purchase she might have been able to use if she wanted to take action against the store.

When she’d had enough she contacted us for assistance and one of our team went back to the store with her to see if we could help explain her rights to the now very aggressive owner. No such luck. Clearly Xuan Xuan Shop is a store that likes to confuse its customers about their rights and doesn’t give a damn about their legal obligations.

Related to 17 (1) (d) is Section 17 (1) (g), a shamefully underused right. It’s worth quoting in full. It says that it’s an “unfair business practice” if a company takes “advantage of a consumer's inability reasonably to protect his interests by reason of disability, illiteracy or inability to understand the language of an agreement presented by the other party to the transaction who knows or reasonably should know of the consumer's inability”.

If you read that carefully the implications are really quite profound. A store can’t abuse disabled people and they aren’t allowed to take advantage of someone if it’s obvious that they can’t read an agreement they’re being asked to sign. It doesn’t matter if they’re blind or illiterate, a store can’t take advantage of their situation. However it also says something else. It says that a store can’t take advantage of a customer if they don’t understand the language of an agreement and that, in itself, means two different things. Language can simply mean the type of words you use. An agreement that is full of long words that very few people understand isn’t a fair agreement.

Some while ago I saw a letter from an insurance company that demanded that the victim of an accident in a supermarket “let us have your quantum of damages for consideration”. Apart from being incredibly pompous you have to ask why the company was using bizarre language. I think it was because they wanted to confuse people.

However the word “language” can mean the national or cultural language you choose to use. All business contracts you’ll see in Botswana are written in English because that’s the language of the legal system. So what should a store do when it’s obvious to them that a customer only speaks Setswana? How can they ask the customer to sign such an agreement? It would be like asking me to sign an agreement in Mandarin, it would be a silly idea. (Bizarrely I once DID sign a contract in China and guess what language it was written in? Yes, English.)

I think it’s quite clear that Section 17 (1) (g) of the Regulations places a clear responsibility on companies to make an extra effort in these circumstances. They should be going the extra mile to explain to non-English speakers what the contracts mean. Is it too much to ask that they write explanatory notes in Setswana that they can hand out in such situations?

Or maybe certain organizations actually rely on taking advantage of their customers? Or am I being far too cynical?

The good news is that we have these protections. The Consumer Protection Regulations are a very powerful tool that can be used to protect us. All you need is to know about them. So please, tell your family, your friends and everyone else who needs to know about them.