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.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Next year's mistakes

I’m not psychic, I can’t see into the future but I am certain that 2017 will have more than its fair share of scams. I’m certain of it because that’s the pattern. Scams aren’t going away. In fact they’re multiplying.

Despite the lessons we should have learned over the last few years, people continue to fall for the nonsense peddled by the proponents of various Get Rich Quick schemes. You might think that with the memory of Eurextrade fresh in our minds, people would now understand that any scheme they encounter that promises to quickly make them rich is a lie, wouldn’t you? But it’s not so.

Even within days of Eurextrade collapsing the same people who had been busy recruiting other victims had moved to an identical but short-lived scheme calling itself Oil of Asia and were doing their best to recruit other to that scheme instead. Not only hadn’t they learned their lesson but they thought they could recover some of the money they’d lost by joining another scam. These were serial scam victims.

And it’s still happening. In 2016 we’ve have a series of pyramid and Ponzi schemes. As with all scams, most of them failed to gain any momentum and quickly faded away. We were lucky enough to have seen some of them in time and warn people but a few gained some traction and managed to sucker in some victims.

The year began with MMM Global, a classic Ponzi scheme formed by a convicted Russian scammer called Sergei Mavrodi. In fact, Mavrodi spent time in a Russian prison for running Ponzi schemes so you’d think that would make people think twice before handing over their cash to a man like him. Not so. Thousands of South Africans, Zimbabweans, a few of us and many, many Nigerians signed up and handed over their money hoping to earn the 100% return the scheme promised every month. However, like all such schemes it collapsed firstly in South Africa and is now, as you read this, collapsing in Nigeria, leaving many people much poorer than when they joined. Our good luck was that our market was too small for MMM Global to thrive and unlike Eurextrade, this scam wasn’t targeted specifically at Botswana.

Image of Mavrodi being escorted to prison in Russia c/o Mail & Guardian
Then came called Amazing5 that offered 5% per day for a month, a deal that, if it was true, would have more than quadrupled your money. That one didn’t last very long at all.

Then came Pipcoin, the first example we saw of a new type of scam. These are the pretend Bitcoin scams. Bitcoin is a genuine digital currency that has the potential to change the future of money but these scams are just pale imitations of Bitcoin. In the case of Pipcoin there was no actual currency, digital or not, it was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. They claimed that a mere 35% profit per month but that wasn’t enough to persuade enough victims to hand over their money.

Pipcoin was very closely followed by its twin, Billcoin. This scam made a much more ambitious promise of 80% profit each month but this was also no more than a Ponzi scheme in which any “profits” people received were just taken from the initial contributions made by people joining after them. Billcoin still exists and there’s even a Facebook group devoted to promoting it in Botswana but I suspect it’s already about to fail very soon.

Helping Hands International came next. This was a pyramid scheme in which recruits were encouraged to recruit multiple levels of people beneath them and it was made very clear that there was “no buying of stock” and “no selling”, just the recruitment of other people. That’s the dictionary definition of a pyramid scheme.

But Helping Hands International was different. Their lies were extraordinary. For instance they claimed that their scheme was “supported” by companies such as Hyundai, Apple, HP and Lenovo but this was just a pack of lies. Companies like those don’t “support” pyramid schemes.


Then we went back to the pretend Bitcoin scams. It’s important to say again that there’s nothing inherently wrong or illegitimate about Bitcoin. It’s a real currency but it’s a really risky thing right now. It’s a real currency but it’s entirely unregulated and there are no rules to protect you if you buy and spend using Bitcoins. There’s absolutely nobody to complain to if things go wrong. Also, like any other currency, it’s value can go down as well as up and Bitcoin has crashed before.

But this time it wasn’t Bitcoin we met, it was a scheme surrounding the buying and selling of Bitcoins calling itself the Bitclub Network. Some clues about the real nature of this scheme can be found on their web site. They describe their scheme as “The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin” and they say they have “a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer”. It’s a pyramid scheme, nothing more than that.


My prediction is that there will be more and more schemes like this in 2017, particularly the ones surrounding Bitcoin. They’ll exploit our ignorance and they’ll continue to target us as a country. That’s because we have a reputation for being gullible. Eurextrade showed that. That was a scam specifically targeted at us. It didn’t try to recruit people in Namibia or South Africa, it was only recruits in Botswana they wanted and our reputation hasn’t changed over the subsequent years.

My hope is that in 2017 there’ll be a miraculous surge in skepticism in Botswana and that scammers will learn that we’re no longer the gullible nation of potential victims they currently perceive.

But I suspect I’ll be disappointed.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is my bank being fair?

My dad had a fixed deposit account and had an agreement of a stop order of P2,000 to the account monthly. His money was to be withdrawn at the end of the year. This was to be December 2015 but when the time came he didn’t find his monies. He had been to and fro with the bank to no avail. He was then told that a teller defrauded his account and is on suspension and they are still investigating and they will refund him shortly. To date he is being sent from pillar to post. The manager keeps giving empty promises of tomorrow never comes.

My question is who is at fault? The bank staff right? So should my dad suffer because of incompetence of a manager to conclude the matter? Why don’t they refund the customer and they will do their investigations on their own? Will they pay him interest? My father cannot really stand up for himself so he knows less of his rights. Can you assist him?


What a dreadful Christmas present for your Dad! For two years his bank has disappointed him and effectively stolen his money. Yes, I DO mean stolen. Even if the management didn’t steal the money, their member of staff did and they should stand up for their customer, the person who has done nothing wrong in this situation.

I can understand why the bank would want to conduct a thorough investigation of the situation and even to check whether your Dad was perhaps conspiring with the teller to defraud the bank. But that’s clearly not the case. It’s been a year and the police would have been round at his house by now if they had any suspicions. Lawyers will tell you that “justice delayed is justice denied” and clearly your father has been denied justice. And he’s been denied his money.

It really is unacceptable to take this long to deprive your Dad of his money. Rest assured that we’ve already contacted the MD of the bank and I suspect he’ll be getting his money very shortly.

Update: I received a message from the bank saying that they spoke to the father and his story isn't quite the same as the one the son told us. Also he hasn't responded to their invitation to discuss the issue. Maybe there's slightly more to this story than there seems?

What should I do to protect myself next year?

What lessons would you give us that can protect us against abuse in 2017?
  • Be a skeptic. Don’t believe anything anyone says to you until you have a good reason to do so. There are plenty of persuasive people out there who are doing their very best to steal your money from you. If anyone ever approaches you with a miraculous way to make money then ask yourself a simple question. How do they gain from recruiting me?
  • Never join any scheme that requires you to recruit layers of people beneath you. If you’re lucky it’ll just be a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme like Amway or Herbalife from which you will certainly make no money at all. If you’re unlucky it’ll be a pyramid scheme like World Ventures or Helping Hands International that will leave you frustrated, irritated and poorer.
  • Never join any scheme that is based on “donations”. It’ll almost certainly be a Ponzi scheme like MMM Global, Billcoin or the late and unlamented Eurextrade. Again you’ll end up embarrassed, angry and poor as a result.
  • A spending tip. Remember that what seems like the cheapest option is usually not actually the cheapest. The phone that has the cheapest purchase price probably comes with only a one or three month warranty so when it goes wrong after six months you’ll need to by another brand new phone to replace it. Spending a few hundred extra on a phone with a full warranty would have saved you lots of money.,
  • Save rather than spend. I know it’s boring but your Mum was right. It’s always better to save up for something and buy it for cash than to buy it on hire purchase. ALWAYS. You’ll thank me when you’ve done it.
Finally, enjoy Christmas and the New Year. Drive safely, eat and drink sensibly and love your friends and family like you were never going to see them again!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Evolving scams

Scams are like diseases. They very rarely disappear but occasionally there are success stories. Smallpox has been completely eradicated and with luck in the near future polio and malaria will disappear as well. We’re not doing as well with scams.

There are still people receiving the traditional “419” scam which usually starts with a plea for assistance from a young woman in West Africa who tells a sad story about being orphaned and alone, sometimes in a refugee camp, but who has a massive inheritance in a bank account in another country and that she needs assistance in liberating that money. In return for that help the victim is offered a share of the supposed fortune.

Of course, none of this is true. There is no fortune, there isn’t even an orphaned girl. It’s all about the money the scammers sending the emails will eventually demand from the victim. After announcing that there’s some fee to be paid to facilitate the payment, they’ll raise the pressure on the victim until they pay up, then demanding further payments until either the victim realises they’re being scammed or they simply run out of money.

Most of us know about these scams now but not all of us. That’s why the emails are still being sent and gullible victims are still handing over their money.

Bu why do people fall for it? In particular why do they fall for the ridiculous story about the fortune in the bank?

Cormac Herley, a researcher employed by Microsoft, wrote a paper in 2012 (link to pdf document) entitled “Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?” that examined these scams. He wrote:
“An email with tales of fabulous amounts of money and West African corruption will strike all but the most gullible as bizarre. It will be recognized and ignored by anyone who has been using the Internet long enough to have seen it several times. It will be figured out by anyone savvy enough to use a search engine […] It won’t be pursued by anyone who consults sensible family or friends, or who reads any of the advice banks and money transfer agencies make available.”
Given that the scammers send these ridiculous emails to thousands, perhaps even millions of potential victims, how can they ensure that the ones who respond are most likely to be the ones who will end up coughing up their cash? You might think that they could do this best by constructing a story that is believable as possible but that’s not correct. If they did that, Herley’s research shows, the scammers would have to manage an enormous number of responses. Most of the less gullible people would eventually realise that there was something suspicious going on.

In fact, the best way to maximise their successful response rate, to get the highest proportion of victims to cough up cash, is to make the story as stupid as possible. If they do that, then only the MOST gullible people will respond. The people likely to respond to those emails are the ones worth the scammer’s time. Make the first email as stupid as possible and the victims will select themselves.

As Herley said:
“The initial email is effectively the attacker’s classifier: it determines who responds, and thus who the scammer attacks (i.e., enters into email conversation with). The goal of the email is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the non-viable ones, who greatly outnumber them.”
It’s very easy to think that these scams don’t happen any more, that scammers have moved on to other ways of parting the gullible minority from their money. This is true to an extent, scammers have evolved, they’ve moved into recruitment and immigration scams, they’ve set up fake educational establishments, they’ve broadened their portfolio in the same way any successful business would. But they haven’t abandoned their roots, their core business remains the same, mainly because it can be so horribly profitable for them if they get it right.

The problem is that the organized crime organizations behind these scams are smart. They know that despite the few remaining gullible victims more and more of us are aware how these things work. So they’ve been forced to evolve. It’s therefore no surprise that the biggest risks these days are pyramid and Ponzi schemes.

We’ve warned people repeatedly about recent scams such as MMM Global, Helping Hands International, Monitec Society and the variety of schemes pretending to have some connection to the Bitcoin digital currency. Scams like Billcoin and Bitclub Network are actively trying to recruit people right now as you read this.

But there’s a constant stream of new scams emerging. Just days ago someone alerted us to another calling itself Cryptowealth. Their web site says that the scheme is
“the worlds first fully automated rotating donation social network marketing plan taking members into two platforms earning millions with only a once-off starting donation of $25 and four referrals”
You can see the clues there. Phrases like “rotating donation” suggests a Ponzi scheme and “four referrals” suggests a pyramid scheme. And it’s not $25 to join here in Botswana. Here they want more, P500 to be precise.


But do they even try to explain how they make new money? How you can make money if you’re gullible enough to pay your P500 to join? This is as close as they get:
"Unfortunately, the world is full of “parasites” who live off the ideas of other people. For that reason, the real method of how all will work will be held back".
Is it necessary for me to warn people about this? Cryptowealth is a scam and anyone foolish enough to pay to join it with hopes of making money from it will be sadly disappointed. And poorer.

We all need to keep ourselves thoroughly educated and aware of the risks posed by scams like Cryptowealth. It’s then the job of all of us to spread the word to the people we care about.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get a longer warranty?

Please advise me. I bought a machine from a shop in Gaborone, it has 2 months guarantee but within the 1st month the machine started having problems and was not working as it should be. I took it back to them and they worked on it, it is now working,

However I would prefer having my money back as I don’t trust it any more but they refused saying it is now working perfectly. My worry is that, they still insist that, the guarantee is only 2 months, I would like it to have at least 6 months guarantee or 1 year. I feel in 2 months maybe it will be worn out and I will have lost my money.

What do I do?


Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s much you can do. From what you said, there’s no suggestion that the store lied to you about the length of the warranty. It sounds like they told you from the beginning that the machine only came with the two-month warranty.

The bad news is that you accepted that. You don’t have a right to go back to a store and demand that they change the conditions of the sale you agreed to. It would be like going back to a car dealer and demanding that they give the car more power or change its colour. It seems that you accepted the two-month warranty and there’s nothing you can do to change that. It would only be if they deceived you somehow that you would have a right to change the deal. Put simply, you don’t have the power to force them to offer a decent warranty. You don’t have a right to force them to offer good service or to be a better business.

There are two lessons here. Firstly, the cheapest choice isn’t usually the cheapest thing to buy. The price of the cheapest item might be lower but the overall “cost of ownership” is often a lot higher because an item that comes with a warranty of only two month isn’t going to last long. If, like yours, it goes wrong after a few months you’re going to need to buy a replacement.

The other lesson is that you can judge the quality of an item by the length of the warranty you’re offered. For instance, a car that comes with a 5-year warranty is a better car than one that comes with a three-year warranty and a whole lot better than one with a one-year warranty. An item that has a two-month warranty is going to be rubbish.

Don’t buy from stores that play games with warranties.

Is Cryptowealth genuine?

Is this Cryptowealth a genuine company? Someone says you join with P500 and you get 4 people to join and they too get 4 people and make a chain for themselves until they make profit, isn't this one of the pyramid schemes?


Cryptowealth is a scam, there’s no doubt about it. It’s another Ponzi scheme like MMM Global or Helping Hands International. All the clues are there.


Their web site describes their scheme as “the worlds first fully automated rotating donation social network marketing plan taking members into two platforms earning millions with only a once-off starting donation of $25 and four referrals” and that’s the first clue. Any scheme that promises rapid wealth (“earning millions”) is being misleading. Only lotteries can offer you instant wealth and the odds of winning a lottery are so close to zero that you shouldn’t waste your time.

The next clue is that scams are always hesitant about where new money comes from. Are they investing in stocks and shares? Foreign currencies? Gold, diamonds or rare metals? Are they gambling the money on horse races? Cryptowealth are openly secretive. They say “the real method of how all will work will be held back” because “the world is full of parasites who live off the ideas of other people”. They’re hiding something.

Cryptowealth has all the signs of being a Ponzi scheme in which the small returns that are paid to recruits are taken from people who join later. The money they get comes only from other members of the group. The only growth comes from new members, not from any actual investment return. Like all Ponzi schemes Cryptowealth will collapse once it can’t find any new recruits or the existing ones realize the mistake they’ve made.

Please don’t waste your time, money and effort on yet another scam.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Facebook rules

I’ve been resisting it for years but the time has come to lay down a code of conduct for our Facebook group. My hesitation in defining these rules has partially been because I’d hoped that all members of the group would somehow just know how to conduct themselves. The vast majority of them do, but a few seem not to have realised how it’s meant to work. That’s my fault for not making it clear. Mea culpa.

Let’s start with one of the basics. Naming people.

Please don’t name individuals when you post a complaint. I have no problems at all with you naming a company, store or supplier, but don’t name the specific employee that offended or mistreated you. The reason is simple. In almost all cases they don’t have a right of reply. That might be because they’re not on Facebook or it might because they are but they haven’t joined our group but it’s more likely that their employer doesn’t permit them to comment in their personal capacity. That’s actually a reasonable rule. If you’re the MD or CEO of a company do you really want your employees posting on your company’s behalf? How will you control what they say? How will you keep them “on message”? How will you prevent them posting something inappropriate while drunk in a bar on a Friday night? How will you prevent them saying what they really think about their customers, colleagues or you, their boss? Most companies decide it’s simpler not to permit staff to say anything on Facebook about their work. They’re free to comment on football, Kardashian posteriors and the weather, just not work.

Some companies go even further and refuse to engage with Facebook altogether. Obviously that’s their decision but I think it’s a bit like not engaging with the telephone network. Whether you like it or not, it’s there and it’s not going anywhere. Those companies need to get with it and join the 21st century.

So don’t name specific individuals, it’s just not fair.

Meanwhile feel free to name people if you’re celebrating them. If you have a good news story to tell then feel free to name the person who delighted you. Even post their picture as well if you like. Celebrations are very different from complaints. They should be public so we can all learn who the service stars are and where they work.

Don’t post advertisements. None. Not even one. I don’t care how good you think the product is, don’t advertise it. Just don’t. There are plenty of very good Facebook groups devoted to advertising, buying and selling things but ours isn’t one of them. All advertisements will be deleted and a polite message sent to the person who posted it asking them not to do it again. If they later post another they’re gone from the group, simple as that.

The same goes for irrelevant material. Silly jokes, pictures and links to news stories that have nothing to do with consumer issues are banned. The same rule applies. Two strikes and you’re out.

Then there are the offensive posts. Of the more than 45,000 people currently in the group, the overwhelming majority are easy-going, tolerant and peaceful. They’re good neighbours. They get excitable sometimes but their hearts are in the right place. However, as hard as we try to prevent it, occasionally someone different slips through the net. Like the one who used “the k word” to describe people of a darker skin tone than hers. Like the one who wanted a particular minority group killed. Like all the people who have made sweeping generalizations about our Indian, Pakistani or Chinese neighbours.

I can’t police what’s in your head but I WILL judge you by what you write in our Facebook group. Hate speech will be deleted and you will be expelled and banned from ever returning. So if you have racist, bigoted or otherwise toxic views, keep them inside your head and out of our group.

Finally, there’s no space in the group for people trying to sell scams. Despite the nature of the group and its content we’ve often had people actively trying to recruit people into pyramid schemes like World Ventures (and their descendent, Dream Trips) and Ponzi schemes like Eurextrade. That’s simply unacceptable.

What’s more complicated is when people are more subtle. Recently someone was posting regular comments about Bitcoin, the fascinating new “cryptocurrency”. While I’ve no problem with people discussing Bitcoin, or even promoting it, what I object to is people exploiting the widespread public ignorance about it for their own gain. The person posting comments on Bitcoin, who suggested that people should “invest” in it, actually had another agenda. She was doing her best to promote a pyramid scheme called Bitclub Network which its proponents describe as "The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin", suggesting that getting involved in “Bitcoin mining” is a way to make money. They also say that "With BitClub Network you earn daily profits from our shared mining pools. We also have a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer."

Bitclub Network is nothing more than a mixture of Ponzi scheme with pyramid elements.

While Bitcoin and the technology it uses are fascinating, it's no more than a new currency. It's not an investment scheme and if anyone tells you otherwise and encourages you to start buying Bitcoins or to join a scheme like Bitclub Network, saying you can make lots of money, ask yourself this simple question. How do they benefit from me joining?

So that sort of thing isn’t permitted in the Facebook group either.

If you haven’t joined our group yet, please do. It’s full of interesting, caring people who do their best to help one another. Just play by the rules, OK?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can the job be real?

I saw an advertisement on Facebook that said I could stand a chance of being selected at random to go for training and work for a website. They said that no experience and qualification was need and that we just must be fluent in Setswana or English. The advertisement said that after training they would pay salaries of P7,000 per month and also bonuses and allowances. They said that only 16 lucky followers will be selected for training.

Can this be true?


I’m very sceptical about this. Firstly, real companies don’t recruit people at random like this. Real companies also don’t recruit people based who have “no experience and qualification”. Yes, of course come companies like to recruit people who are new and who can be trained but they only do that once they’ve been thoroughly assessed.

The post gives a web site for what they suggest is an online newspaper but that the web site doesn’t actually exist. I also disapprove of the way they’re undertaking this supposed recruitment exercise. They say that to be selected for training recruits must follow several steps. Firstly, you must like their Facebook page, then like the post advertising the supposed recruitment, then tag at least six friends and then (and they say this is very important) share the post in six other Facebook groups.

I suspect that these people are spamming Facebook with garbage in the hope of popularizing their so-called news site. There might be nothing more to this than that.

We all need to be very careful with any advertisements for jobs that we see online. This one is irritating but harmless but many others are the beginning of advance fee scams. They’ll claim they’re finding you a job in a far-flung, exotic location with an amazing salary and astounding benefits but in fact there’s no such job at all. Just before you think you’re finally getting the job they’ll spring a surprise on you, a legal or visa fee that you’ll have to pay them or one of their associates in order to get the job. That’s the “advance fee” they’re seeking.

Remember to be careful, particularly when something seems too good to be true. It always is.

Can I get my laptop fixed?

I need your advice. Ever since I bought my laptop at a store in Riverwalk last year September it has been giving me sound problems. It had a year warranty and I took it back 3 times to have it fixed within the year long warranty period. They said they only exchange if its to be fixed for the 4th time...now the thing is the same sound problems have started again but now the warranty period is over. It seems like my laptop is still having the same problem it always had from the beginning. Should i take it back again or give up coz my warranty is over?


No, you must NOT give up. Clearly this laptop has a major problem. You should tolerate a problem like this once but three times is going too far. Also the store’s excuse about only exchanging it if it goes wrong four times is just silly. There is obviously a problem that they can’t fix and the time has come to offer you a replacement laptop.

This is an area where we’re lagging behind other countries. In 2015 the UK updated their consumer protection laws to guarantee a right to completely reject an item and get a complete refund if it fails within the first 30 days. After 30 days you have to give the retailer one chance to either repair or replace the item but after that you can insist on either a repair or a replacement.

Their new laws have had a dramatic effect on the way stores in the UK treat their customers. Don’t you think we deserve the same level of protection?

I know that in your case the warranty period has expired but I still think the store has a moral obligation to help you somehow. They’ve had three opportunities to fix the thing and have failed each time. That’s simply not good enough. We’ve already contacted the store manager and he’s promised to look into your situation. I suspect they’ll do the decent thing.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Bitcoin abuse

Bitcoin. That's been the big issue for us in the last couple of weeks. Many people have been in touch asking is it a scam? Should they get involved? Is it risky?

The answers to those questions are No, Maybe and Yes, in that order.

So let’s start at the beginning. What is Bitcoin?

That's a simple question to answer but perhaps hard to understand. Bitcoin is a currency, but not like any currency we've known before. There are no coins or notes with Bitcoin, no bits of metal or paper. There’s nothing you can put in your wallet or purse. It exists purely in cyberspace. It's a digital currency, sometimes called a virtual currency or maybe a cryptocurrency.

And that confuses people. What confuses them more is the technology behind Bitcoin. Terms like "blockchain", "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining" are hard to understand unless you're an expert. There's also the simple confusion that your money is "out there" somewhere and not in your pocket. That's odd.

In fact the "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, which is a database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. The so-called Data Miners who run the computers on which the Blockchain is hosted can themselves earn Bitcoins by holding and verifying the transactions and that's all revolutionary.

Bitcoin mining farm in Iceland. Image c/o Wikipedia
However, it's important to know that the computing power required to be a profitable data miner is way beyond individuals like you and me and can only really be achieved by "mining farms" with enormous processing power and energy consumption.

Another key thing about Bitcoin is that it’s encypted and it’s currently extremely hard for banking and intelligence agencies to track the payments that are made using Bitcoin. They can't see that you're buying your kid's Christmas presents or a plane ticket with it, just like they can’t see that your neighbor is using it on the Dark web to buy drugs, guns or child pornography. That scares law enforcement agencies around the world.

Despite all these complicated issues I'm fairly certain that Bitcoin, or something like it, might be the future of money. Many of us already use international online payment systems such as Paypal and Apple Pay and local money transfer services like eWallet, MyZaka and Orange Money but they're all based on a currency that we know. Bitcoin is a step further. Not only is it an online payment mechanism but it's its own currency.

Bitcoin is real. It's legitimate. It's not a scam. But it's still highly risky.

Bitcoin is still so new that even financial experts have no idea of what it's future will be. Some are already saying its days may be numbered. What's more, and despite what some proponents are saying, its value can easily go down as well as up. If you bought Bitcoins in November 2013 you would have lost 78% of your "investment" by January 2015. Even today you would still be down by 24%. Before anyone criticizes me for using those figures I admit I chose the highest and lowest values but my point is that it's volatile. All currencies are volatile but Bitcoin is clearly even more volatile than most others.

Source: CoinDesk
Then there are security concerns. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin is highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is foolproof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be instantly worthless. Say bye-bye to your money.

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

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

I'm not saying that Bitcoin is a bad thing but it's risky and before anyone buys Bitcoins they need to remember that they should only ever invest speculatively with spare money, money they can afford to lose. Do not buy Bitcoins with the money you need to pay your home loan, rent, food bills or school fees.

Then there are the scams.

Because so few of us know much about Bitcoin we can easily be suckered by scammers trying to exploit is. Ponzi and pyramid schemes like MMM Global, Billcoin, Onecoin and Pipcoin have all pretended either to use Bitcoin or to be something like it but it's all been lies, designed to cheat you.

There are also schemes that are based on Bitcoin but are using scammer's tricks to get your money.

The Bitclub Network is a good example. They describe themselves as "The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin" and they suggest that Bitcoin mining (see the explanation above) is a way to make money.

They go on to say that:
"With BitClub Network you earn daily profits from our shared mining pools. We also have a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer."
In fact, Bitclub Network is a Ponzi scheme with pyramid elements.

Bitcoin and the technology it uses are fascinating. However, it's no more than a currency, it's not an investment scheme. If anyone tells you otherwise and encourages you to start buying Bitcoins or to join a scheme like Bitclub Network, saying you can make lots of money, ask yourself this simple question. How do they benefit from me joining?

The chances are that they're trying to make money from you, not promote the future of money.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Did they steal my phone?

So I took a phone to a cell repair shop in African mall to fix the on button, when I returned to collect it they tell me that the shop got robbed along with my phone but there is no police report and I have been reliably informed that they sold it at another shop in the main mall. I'm not some maverick vigilante so I would just like my things to get sorted out asap. I still have the receipt so what would be the quickest and best way to get my grievance sorted, it's been two weeks with these guys not telling me anything concrete. I have been advised by a friend to go to consumer affairs or something at a local police station.


I’m glad you’re not a vigilante because vigilantes, in fact anyone who takes the law in to their own hands, isn’t a vigilante, they’re a criminal. The law is there to protect us but in most cases the people empowered to enforce the law are those employed by legitimate law enforcement agencies such as the Police, DCEC and DIS. Other entities such as BURS, Bureau of Standards and Bank of Botswana have certain legal powers but that’s usually limited to writing angry letters, not kicking down doors, having car chases and handcuffing people.

Incidentally, there are certain exceptions. Both you and I have the legal power to detain someone if we feel they’ve committed a serious criminal offence but that’s all we can do. We can defend ourselves if they turn violent but we don’t have the right to beat them up and we certainly don’t have the right even to search them. Only our brothers and sisters in blue can do that. No, before you ask security guards don’t have special powers.

So, no, you mustn’t go all vigilante on them, instead you should go to the Police. Forget Consumer Affairs for now, go to the Police and say that you think the store has either stolen the items, colluded in them being stolen or is covering up a theft. Either way they need to explain themselves and the best people to make them do that are the people who CAN search their premises and who can apply the right level of “persuasion to the owners and managers of the store.

And before you ask, no I don’t wish I had that sort of power. It would be messy. A small but significant number of business people would very quickly be enjoying the hospitality of the nice people in the Department of Prisons.

Where’s my refund?

I kindly request your advice. I made a lay bye at a shop at Airport junction of P1000 cash on the 10th October. The condition on the receipt is 25% handling fee will be charged upon cancellation of Lay-bye.

On the 21st November I went to the shop to cancel the lay-bye, I was told the refund will be deposited in my account, the shop does not do refunds on cash only EFT. Since then I have not got my refund. I called the shop today I was told the Accountant is in South Africa and he is sick and as such I will not be getting my refund this week.

I asked to speak to the owner of the shop, he was very rude, upon expressing to him how unhappy I am that I have to be punished to cancel lay bye, I paid cash now I have to be sent from pillar to post to get my refund, they can’t even ascertain me of the date I will receive the refund. I asked where is stipulated that condition of refunds is done only via EFT, he told me he does not owe anyone condition of how he runs his shop. I have bought before at this shop and to get this treatment especially from the so called owner I feel my rights as a consumer were violated.


Let’s be fair. You sent your email to me on 25th November, only four days after you told the store you wanted to cancel the lay-bye. I’m not defending the alleged rudeness of the store owner but it was only four days after you tried to cancel the deal that you complained. I can’t say whether the story they told you about the accountant being sick is true or not but is there any reason not to believe it? Let’s be generous and assume it’s true.

As for their suggestion that the refund must be made by bank transfer, that’s normal practice with stores. Regardless of how you pay for the item, they don’t want to deal with cash. Cash is an expensive thing to manage and it’s also very, very risky. To get cash to and from the store and their bank requires a safe, secure transport and very careful, manual processes. The opportunities for crime, both inside the company and outside, are immense. It’s almost 2017 and cash is not something that many organizations want to handle.

Nevertheless, this company’s owner obviously has a very poor understanding of how to deal with customers but I think you should give them a few days longer to fix your situation. If, by the time you read this, it’s not sorted, let me know. Then we can get rough!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Is the cheapest really the cheapest?

We all love a bargain, a discount or a special deal. Anyone who doesn’t love a bargain clearly has too much money.

But what exactly is a bargain? Is the cheapest product always as cheap as you’d think?

Here’s an example. Whenever you’re buying a computer in a store, please don’t ever buy the cheapest. The cheapest is going to be that way because sacrifices have been made. It will lack power, storage, memory and a decent keyboard. By the way, that’s the most important thing with any laptop. They keyboard.

The same goes for wine, cars and cellphones. If you’re short of cash it’s better to wait a few weeks, save a little extra and buy the model one above the cheapest. You’ll be surprised how much extra you’ll get from spending just a little extra. You’ll also be surprised how much you’ll save in the long run.

Last week someone posted a celebration in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. They said:
“If you are looking to buy your phone from a company that does not give you a hassle over honouring the warranty, I recommend The Cellphone Warehouse. Fantastic service.”
That was nice but a later comment impressed me more. Another member of the group commented:
“But their prices though but i guess thats the cost of good service.”
That’s a remarkably important idea. Their prices might be higher than some of their competitors but it’s money well spent because of what that extra money buys. It buys better service, the assurance that a warranty is certainly going to be honored and the comfort that you’ll be treated with some respect. Those are things you don’t always get with other stores that sell things more cheaply.

Around the same time another member of the Facebook group commented about another cellphone store, one that doesn’t have quite the same reputation. Talking about the phone they’d bought cheaply and in which a factory fault soon emerged, they said they were told by the store that no refunds were possible and that “they kicked me out (physically)”. They heard later that the authorities have “a bunch of files” about the same store, who have apparently mistreated, short-changed and disrespected a number of other people. That’s often what you get when you buy the cheapest.

But is it even the cheapest? Like a number of stores this particular one doesn’t always offer the full manufacturer’s warranty that should come with any purchase, presumably because they’re selling “grey imports”. These are products that have been bought from another part of the world and brought to Botswana, a country where the manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t apply. That’s why you’ll often see products made by respectable companies such as Samsung but which are sold with only a three-month warranty when Samsung would normally offer a warranty for at least a year. That means that if you buy such a phone and it goes wrong after just four months, you’re not going to get any help from anyone, not even Samsung. You’ll need to buy a brand new phone.

That cheap phone isn’t so cheap any longer, is it?

Here’s a free tip for you. Instead of buying the cheapest possible cellphone from a potentially shady store, why not consider buying a second-hand cellphone instead? There are several Facebook groups dedicated specifically to exactly that business. Why not save yourself a lot of money and get a phone that’s maybe a year old but for a fraction of the price you’d pay from a store. And if you were tempted to get your new phone from a shady, grey import store anyway, what do you have to lose?

The same goes for cars. A number of organizations in Botswana have learned the hard way that buying cheap vehicles isn’t actually the cheapest way to supply their fleets. I know of two that decided to replenish their fleets by buying the cheapest possible vehicles. They saved some money that year but overlooked the fact that these vehicles came with just a one-year warranty, unlike the more expensive alternatives that came with warranties and maintenance plans that lasted five and sometimes seven years. Not only did those plans offer free maintenance, they also gave a clue about how long the vehicles might last. A warranty is also a statement of confidence in the solidity and reliability of a vehicle. A manufacturer that sells vehicles with a five-year warranty is presumably fairly certain that the vehicles will actually last that long. Those companies spent a lot of money but now have parking lots full of dead vehicles they can’t afford to repair.

If you do the maths with either cellphones or vehicles the lesson is quite clear. The cheapest to buy is rarely the cheapest to own. The difference is when you spend the money. The more expensive items are paid for up front, the cheaper ones you have to pay for over and over again.

Accountants describe this as “total cost of ownership” which Investopedia defines as follows:
“Total cost of ownership (TCO) is the purchase price of an asset plus the costs of operation. When choosing among alternatives in a purchasing decision, buyers should look not just at an item's short-term price, which is its purchase price, but also at its long-term price, which is its total cost of ownership. The item with the lower total cost of ownership is the better value in the long run.”
That’s what you should look at whenever you buy anything significant. What will it cost you over its entire lifespan, not just when you hand over the money.

So don’t be cheap. Being cheap is often really expensive.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Help me with my phone!

I bought a phone from a store at BBS last year in May and after 4 months it starts to freeze and is no longer working but I'm still paying. They gave me the other one but that isn’t working also. I need your help please.


Firstly, I celebrate you for continuing to pay your instalments. Many people in this sort of situation stop making the payments and trust me, that’s the worst possible thing you can do. If you stop paying the store is entitled to repossess your goods but don’t think that means you stop owing them money. After they auction the goods for a fraction of their original price you’ll find yourself still owing almost the same amount as well as penalties, interest and legal fees. Whatever you do, never stop paying your hire purchase payments, no matter how tempting it might be.

Meanwhile I’m not sure you shared the full story. I contacted the store management and they gave me some additional details you forgot to mention. Firstly, the store had replaced the original phone that went wrong with a brand new phone. It was that phone that later also went wrong. However, that second phone went wrong more than a year after you bought the first one, after the warranty had expired. Remember that the warranty on something like a phone lasts a year from the date you bought the phone, not from the date you were given a replacement. It means that if a store offers you a brand new replacement phone 364 days after you bought the original, the warranty only lasts for another day.

Also you didn’t mention that you’d taken the second phone to a “bush repairer” who tried to get it working again. Even if the phone had still been under warranty this would have invalidated the warranty.

Sorry that I don’t have better news for you but the store isn’t obliged to do anything for you this time.

Where’s my refund?

Recently I lodged in a certain lodge in Maun and paid for six days in advance as accommodation fees. I only happened to stay for four days and I have to go through a lot of torturing because the lodge is taking long to refund me. Its been a month and five days now as I am being tossed from one pillar to the next. To add salt to the injury, the monies belong to the government (imprest) and I was supposed to have retired it at least 14 days after the trip ended. As is procedure, the government will now resort to refunding herself using my own money and this will not put me in good light as I appear to have used the monies for other things.

The hotel manager had told me that I write a letter requesting for my refund which she kept for two weeks only to inform me that the letter could have been written by my bosses. I asked her why it took her long to inform me about that and only said she is sorry about what happened. Now I have a feeling that the lodge is not willing to refund the monies back.


You’re being thoroughly let down by this hotel manager and I think it has to stop. I think you need to contact the manager and give her a deadline. Make it a short one. I suggest you give her three days to refund you directly to your bank account in full. Point out to her that if she doesn’t do this you will take legal action against her without hesitation. In fact, you’ll need to allow her 14 days to make the payment but don’t tell her that. After that 14 day period you can go to the Small Claims Court for an order against the lodge.

You should also demand that she writes your employer a letter explaining that it’s not been your fault that you haven’t been able to retire your imprest as promptly as you should have done.

I think you should also write a formal letter of complaint to the lodge management and copy that to your employer, Consumer Watchdog and the Botswana Tourism Organisation. If the lodge suspects they might lose all that valuable government business they might reconsider their approach. You might even encourage them to improve the service they offer in future.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Bitcoin and the Bitclub Network - one is a scam

Bitcoin logo.svg
Bitcoin. That's been the big issue for us this week. So many people have been in touch asking if it's a scam, should they get involved, is it risky?

The simple answers are No, Maybe and Yes, in that order.

So what is Bitcoin?

That's simple to answer but perhaps hard to understand. Bitcoin is a currency, but not like any currency you've known before. It's a digital currency, other times called a virtual currency or a cryptocurrency. There are no coins or notes with Bitcoin, no bits of metal or paper. Nothing you can put in your wallet or purse. Bitcoins exist purely in cyberspace. It's online money.

And that confuses people. What confuses them more is the technology behind Bitcoin. Terms like "blockchain", "distributed ledger" and "Bitcoin mining" are hard to understand unless you're an expert. There's also the simple confusion that your money is "out there" somewhere and not in your pocket. That's odd.

The Blockchain and Bitcoin mining

A Bitcoin mining farm in Iceland. Source: Wikipedia
In fact the "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, which is a database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. The so-called Data Miners who run the computers on which the Blockchain is hosted can themselves earn Bitcoins by holding and verifying the transactions. That's something revolutionary.

However, it's important to know that the computing power required to do this is beyond individuals and can only really be achieved by "mining farms" with enormous processing power and energy consumption.

Confidentiality

It's also confidential. It's currently extremely hard for banking and intelligence agencies to track the payments that are made using Bitcoin. They can't see that you're using it on the Dark web to buy drugs, guns or child pornography just like they can't see that you're buying your kid's Christmas presents or a plane ticket with it.

Despite all this, I'm fairly certain that Bitcoin or something like it might be the future. Many of us already use international online payment systems such as Paypal and Apple Pay and local money transfer services like eWallet, MyZaka and Orange Money but they're all based on a currency that we know. Bitcoin is a step further. Not only is it an online payment mechanism but it's its own currency.

So it's real. It's legitimate. It's not a scam.

The risks

But it's still highly risky.

Bitcoin is still remarkably new and even financial experts have no idea of what it's future will be. Some are already saying its days may be numbered.

What's more, and despite what some proponents are saying, its value can easily go down as well as up. If you bought Bitcoins in November 2013 you would have lost 78% of your "investment" by January 2015. Even today you would still be down by 24%.

Source: CoinDesk
I admit I've chosen the highest and lowest values but my point is that it's volatile. Yes, all currencies are volatile but Bitcoin is clearly even more volatile than most others.

Then there are security concerns. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin is highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is foolproof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be valueless instantly. Say bye-bye to your money.

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

Another issue is that when you spend Bitcoins there are fewer payment protection mechanisms available to you. There are no rights to refunds and no chargeback mechanisms. In December 2013 the European Banking Authority warned consumers that:
"No specific regulatory protections exist that would cover you for losses if a platform that exchanges or holds your virtual currencies fails or goes out of business."
Should I buy Bitcoins?

I'm not saying that Bitcoin is a bad thing. On the contrary I'm very interested in it and think it's a sign of the future. But it's risky and before anyone buys Bitcoins they need to remember that they should only ever invest speculatively with spare money, money they can afford to lose. Do not buy Bitcoins with the money you need to pay your home loan, rent, food bills or school fees.

The scams

Then there are the scams.

Because so few of us know much about Bitcoin, but a lot of us have heard of it, we can easily be suckered by scammers trying to exploit is. Ponzi and pyramid schemes like MMM Global, Billcoin, Onecoin and Pipcoin have all pretended either to use Bitcoin or to be something like it. It's all been lies, designed to cheat you.

There are also schemes that are based on Bitcoin but are using scammer's tricks to get your money.

The Bitclub Network is a good example. They describe themselves as "The most innovative and lucrative way to earn Bitcoin" and they suggest that Bitcoin mining (see the explanation above) is a way to make money.

They go on to say that "With BitClub Network you earn daily profits from our shared mining pools. We also have a referral program so you can get paid for anyone you refer."

Various people have issued warnings that Bitclub Network is either a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme. One promoter of the scheme described the business model like this:


What does that look like to you?

The conclusion

Bitcoin and the technology it uses are fascinating. However it's no more than a currency, it's not an investment scheme. If anyone tells you otherwise and encourages you to start buying Bitcoins or to join a scheme like Bitclub Network, saying you can make lots of money, ask yourself this simple question. How do they benefit from me joining?

The chances are that they're trying to make money from you, not promote the future of money.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

More denial

I’ve warned people several times recently, both in the print press but also on the radio and on social media about a pyramid scheme calling itself Helping Hands International. They describe themselves as “an empowerment-based- membership program, a global opportunity born out of the passion for total human capacity development and for helping the less privileged”. They claim that joining their scheme will allow you to “achieve all your dreams” and receive “financial freedom”, “passive income, business grants, brand new cars, laptops/iPad, house of your own, all expenses paid trip abroad”, the list goes on and on, culminating in “residual income for life”.


Despite my best efforts, I can’t find any clue as to how any of these things can be achieved. Do they have any products to sell? Multi-Level Marketing companies like Amway sell household products and Herbalife sell “health” products (although it’s cheaper and healthier just to buy yourself some oranges) but with Helping Hands International there’s nothing. They sell nothing but illusions of wealth and prosperity. In fact, in a discussion on Facebook, one of their representatives offered a number of questions and answers that tell the whole story.

One of the questions was
“When I sign up, do I need to sell any goods like other MLM companies?”
The answer was very telling:
“No. We don’t sell any goods.”
Helping Hands International is a pyramid scheme. It has no products and the business model is entirely based on recruiting people beneath you and them recruiting people beneath them with the promise of money magically flowing up the pyramid in your direction. That’s a pyramid scheme.

Another of the questions that the representative posed was this: “Is there any reputable organization in support of” Helping Hands International? Their answer was remarkable. They claim that they’ve “been recognized by the United Nations for the incredible charity works they have been doing across the globe” and that they are sponsored by Apple, HP and Hyundai.

This a lie. A flagrant lie. It’s simply untrue. The UN and companies like Apple, HP and Hyundai don’t “sponsor” scams like Helping Hands International. They haven’t, they don’t and they never will.

I mentioned this on the radio as well as in Mmegi and on Facebook, doing my best to warn people before they committed themselves. Hopefully some people heard and will have contained their urge to throw away their money. But not everyone was convinced. Very quickly I started to get messages on Facebook from people who had already joined or were themselves actively trying to recruit others. One of them was very angry with me. He did his best to convince me that the scheme was legitimate, saying that if only I joined I’d see the benefits. So I asked him about his personal experience. Was he really making money? Yes, he said, he certainly was. How much had he made? Just how much was this fortune he said he was making from the scheme?

P80.

Yes, just eighty Pula. That’s all he’d made so far. And how much had he “invested” to earn this fortune?

P500.

We then had a lengthy online argument, with him convinced that he was now up by P80 and me suggesting that in fact he was down by P420. Obviously I’m going to say that I’m right and he’s wrong but I do think the evidence is on my side. Helping Hands International is a scheme with no products to buy or sell and several of the people involved have confirmed that new money comes just from other people joining the scheme in multiple layers beneath them. That’s the definition of a pyramid scheme. Sooner or later, like all other pyramid schemes, they’ll exhaust the supply of gullible victims and the new money will dry up. That’s when a whole lot of people will suddenly realise that they’ve given away their money and that the scammers who run pyramid schemes don’t offer refunds.

I had an almost identical conversation with someone during the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme. Someone who had “invested” in Eurextrade, hoping to earn the promised 2.9% interest per day that they offered. He was furious that I’d warned people not to join, saying that they would never earn such profits and they’d almost certainly lose everything they handed over. He told me the same story. He’d earned P3,000 from the scheme and was convinced he was going to make a lot more. I asked how much he’s paid them to get this money. P10,000, he said. Again we had a long discussion about whether he now had P13,000 or had just lost P7,000. As it turned out, I was right.

People like these are angry because anyone who tries to persuade people not to join a scheme like these is threatening their potential income. Deep down, they know that they can only make money when new people join their scheme and anyone who tries to stop this will threaten that. They’ll continue telling people that there’s some miraculous, magical thing happening behind the scenes to make more money but they know in their hearts that it’s a scam. They just can’t face the truth. If they did they’d have to admit that they’d done something obviously silly that is likely to cost them a lot of money.

The tragedy is that when people are experience that level of denial, there’s very little you can do to persuade them of the truth. That’s why so many otherwise rational, reasonable and intelligent people fell for Ponzi schemes like Eurextrade, Monitec Society and now Billcoin. It’s why others fell for pyramid schemes like TVI Express, World Ventures and now Helping Hands International.

It’s why we need to get to people before they join and before they enter the denial phase. It’s why we need to educate people enough so they don’t fall for them in the first place.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Hansford University legitimate?

I would like to know from your agency if you could help me to confirm that Hansford University is a fake or not. Thanks a lot.

I first looked at Hansford “University” in 2013 when another reader asked whether they were a legitimate university. It was very clear, very quickly that they weren’t. Not even slightly legit.

I visited their web site and had an online chat with one of the “advisors” who called himself Jason Brown. I said I was interested in getting a Bachelors degree in Nursing, or as they spell it, "NUSRSING". I told him that I needed to get the degree as quickly as possible in order to get a promotion and I asked how quickly I could get such a qualification. I told him that my only experience in a hospital had been five years as a cleaner.

“You can get in 2 weeks”, he said.

All I needed to do to get a degree in Nursing from this bogus university was to pay them $199. Do they have any idea how dangerous that is? That they’ll sell a fake degree in Nursing to a total stranger who may then get a job based on that qualification? Someone whose only experience was as a cleaner? Someone with no actual skills in nursing at all? Someone who might then end up in a hospital ward responsible for people’s health? Someone to whom we would entrust the welfare, health and life of our loved ones?

Hansford “University” is a criminally reckless, bogus and fake establishment that is selling illegal certificates that have precisely no value. Please don’t be tempted ever to buy one because you will then be as criminal as they are. Remember that if you get a job or a promotion based on a fake qualification you can not only be fired, but you can be prosecuted as well. Are the disgrace, embarrassment, unemployment and a prison sentence really worth the risk?

When will I get my refund?

On the 15 October 2016 I went to a hotel in Mogoditshane to book a venue for my daughter' s birthday. I paid P2,500 for the venue, and because my daughter liked the venue, I asked them not to change when somebody comes with more money. They promised that it is first come first serve basis. On the 3 Nov they called me and said they have changed the venue since they are renovating, and I asked if they didn't know when they took my money, and they said they thought they would have finished. On 6th November I took my daughter to go and see the new venue, she did not like it. I also learnt that they moved us so that they can host another client whose party cost more I believe. I demanded my money back and they promised to credit my account that day.

To my disappointment the hotel hasn't refunded me yet. I asked them what if it was me cancelling and they said there could be charges. I am now wondering if I should not sue them for inconvenience.

The other thing is I want to shame then on Facebook, is it ok to do so??

Firstly, let’s talk about Facebook. I’m not really a believer in “shaming” people or organizations. However there’s every reason to report the situation so that other people can learn from it. So long as what you say is 100% truthful, you have every right to do so. That’s what the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group is there for.

This hotel has obviously mistreated you badly and you clearly have a right to a complete refund as well as an apology. They broke their contract with you when they changed the venue so drastically that your daughter no longer liked it. They also broke their agreement with you when they moved you to another room.

Then there’s the Consumer Protection Regulations. The room you saw and agreed to hire was not the one they ended up offering you. The hotel therefore broke Section 13 (1) (a) of the Regulations when they offered you a room that “does not match any sample or description given to the consumer”. Then, by “failing to promptly restore to the consumer entitled to it a deposit” they’ve broken Section 15 (1) (e).

We’ll get in touch with the hotel for you and see if we can’t encourage them to speed up a little bit. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The science of service

I love science. It was science that rid the world of smallpox. Science helped us dramatically reduce avoidable deaths and disability from dreaded diseases such as polio, measles and TB. It was science that brought us anti-retroviral drugs and helped us reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV. It’s science that will soon rid the world of malaria.

It was also science that gave us the internet and the communications revolution. It gave us all greater access to information, knowledge and education. It allowed us to communicate with our friends and family no matter how far away they might be. It was the same progress that gave us the Kardashians, selfies and village sex tapes.

Ok, so it hasn’t all been good but that’s the nature of progress. Some of the things it brings are good, others not so good. Almost always, despite what the pessimists say, the good outweighs the negative.

One of the best aspects of science is the knowledge it bring us, knowledge that we can then use to make our lives or our businesses more successful.

We spoke to a company recently who have a wide range of products, all of a technological nature and the number of facts and figures they offer is astounding. Every option has a name, a price, amounts and timescales and if you count them all there must be at least a hundred different facts and figures that customers need to recollect and understand if they’re going to make a rational decision. But of course they can’t, nobody can remember that amount of detail, and that’s why their customers are often so confused and take the wrong decision. Then they get upset and angry when they realize they made a bad choice.

In 1956 an article by the psychologist George Miller was published in Psychological Review entitled “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information”. Put very simply the article suggested that based on Miller’s research, the evidence suggests that the human mind can hold roughly seven things in its working memory. Some of us can hold as many as nine, others perhaps just five but on average it’s seven. So how can this company expect their customers to process a hundred?

They can’t if they’re being realistic. What this means for the company is that their approach to selling their products must change. Instead of just listing all their products they need to understand their customer in much more detail. They need to assess their customers and their personal needs before they even start to mention the products they can offer. Only when they know what the customer needs should they start doing some “solution selling”, making sure that they don’t mention more than seven facts they need the customer to know. It means that instead of telling the customer about ten products they shouldn’t mention more than two. For each product they can mention its name, the price and the what it offers. There’s six things for them to remember. If they mention one more they’re running a risk.

Another more recent bit of research (272kB pdf download) conducted by Michael Lynn, showed how waiters can increase the tips they receive. While this sounds like it only benefits the waiters it also is a huge benefit to the restaurant that employs them. Customers pay good tips when they’re happy with the service they receive and they are much more likely to return to those places. A restaurant with well-tipped waiters is a restaurant that’s making money.

Some of the things Lynn suggested are simple and they increased the levels of tip just slightly, by 10% to 20%. They included writing the word “Thanks” on the bill or squatting down beside the customer as they spoke to them. Drawing a happy face on the bill increased the tip by 18% but only if the waiter was female. If a male waiter did it the tip actually went down by 14%.

Other ideas were even simpler. All a waiter had to do was introduce themselves and the tip would go up by 53%. If a waiter touched the customer on the shoulder for one and a half seconds the tip would increase by 42%, in particular when the customer is a woman.

That last one concerns me a bit. I don’t mind casual affection but there’s a very thin line between a polite contact and creepiness. I’m not sure I want restaurants telling their wait staff that it’s a good idea to go out there and start touching their customers. That way leads to waiters being taken away by the cops.

However, the single most effective thing a waiter can do to increase their tip is very simple indeed. Smile. The research showed that waiters who smiled at the customers increased their tips by 140%. So the secret to getting good tips is actually quite simple. Smile at your customers, crouch down so you’re at the same eye level as them, write thanks or a smiley face on the bill (if you’re a woman) and then smile some more and your tips will increase dramatically.

But it’s not just wait staff who can learn from this. Even if you’re in an industry where tipping doesn’t happen, such as in a bank, an insurance company or a government office, you can make your customers happier by doing all of these things. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? Remember that happiness is infectious.

Science is a wonderful thing but its astounding achievements in curing disease, extending our lives and making us happier aren’t the only ways it can help us. It can help us make more money by showing us how we can make happier, higher spending and more loyal customers.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Have I really won a P1 billion tender?

Please check for me if this is genuine. I'm dealing with people I have never met in South Sudan and they want to give me HUGE amount of money for a Government of South Sudan contract. The contract is to supply them with 500 Toyota vehicles.

I first saw their advert of open tender on internet and I applied later after three weeks they responded by sending some of the documents I have sent you on email. Please help as I want to know if this contract is real. So far I have not send any money to them as we agreed that they should register the company for me in South Sudan and I will pay them later when we sign contract in South Sudan.

There’s no doubt about it. This is a scam. The clues are all there if you look for them. Firstly, there’s the quality of the language they use. The official language of South Sudan is English so don’t you think officials there would either know how to spell “Associations” in official documents or that their computer’s spell checker would do that for them? Do you really think that the Director of Procurement in the South Sudanese President’s Office would write things like “There are no much procedure and condition attached”?

Then there are some practical issues. Why would the South Sudanese government want to buy Toyotas from Botswana instead of directly from Toyota in Japan? Or even from one of the existing Toyota dealers in neighboring countries like Uganda? Who would want to transport 500 vehicles an extra 4,500km from landlocked Botswana to South Sudan rather than 1,000km from the nearest port in Kenya?

Finally, and I don’t mean to be rude, but why on earth would they choose to give a deal they say is worth $88 million, almost P1 billion, to you? What qualifies you to take on a deal that enormous?

This is all part of an advance fee scam. Very soon, probably just before you think they’re going to send you the 70% up-front payment they promised, they’ll demand that you pay them some money in advance. They’ll probably say it’s a legal fee, a tax or the cost of establishing your company. Whatever it is, that’s what the whole deal is about, that “advance fee” they want you to pay them. Of course if you pay it they’ll know you’re a sucker and there will be a series of further payments they’ll demand from you. That will continue until you either realize you’ve being scammed or you run out of money.

Please just delete the emails and don’t waste any more of your time and effort.

What’s the difference?

Can you explain the difference between a pyramid scheme and a ponzi scheme?

That’s a very good question. Firstly, because they are often confused and secondly because there are so many of them out there trying to steal our money.

A Ponzi scheme is a scam where people are invited to join and often promised massive profits but the little amounts they actually receive are simply taken from the joining fees of the people who join later. If I pay to join on Monday and you pay to join on Tuesday, I’ll be given a small fraction of your joining fee. You’ll then receive a small amount from the person who joins on Wednesday and so on. Eurextrade was a Ponzi scheme that hit Botswana a few years ago. Another called Billcoin is doing its best to recruit people right now. They promise amazing profits but the only money recruits actually receive (if anything) are tiny fractions of what they pay to join.

A pyramid scheme is slightly different and relies on recruiting layers of people beneath you. You’ll be encouraged to recruit people who will in turn try to recruit people beneath them. You might be encouraged to recruit five people and they’ll each try to recruit five of their own. After just two generations there’ll be 25 people, 125 in the third, then 625and if it was to reach ten “generations” there would be over 12 million recruits in your pyramid. If every one of those recruits paid to join and you get paid for each of them, you’ll be rich. That’s clearly nonsense but that’s how these schemes entice people. They talk about “passive income”, implying that once you start the recruitment process you can just sit back and watch the money coming in. Most importantly, despite the claims of pyramid schemes like World Ventures, there’s either no actual products or there’s just worthless products at the heart of the business.

Then there are Multi-Level Marketing schemes. Imagine a pyramid scheme with some products and you’ll have MLMs like Amway and Herbalife. However, even though they have products their own figures show that the vast majority of MLM recruits make very small amounts, make nothing or even make a net loss. My advice? Avoid them all.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Consumer Alert: Helping Hands International

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

9th November 2016

Consumer Alert: Helping Hands International

Consumer Watchdog would like to alert consumers about Helping Hands International, a pyramid scheme actively trying to recruit victims in Botswana.

The proponents of Helping Hands International describe the scheme as a “non governmental organization” attempting to “empower the less privileged people and orphanage homes”. They also claim that joining the scheme will offer “passive income”, new cars, laptops, a “house of your own”, free trips abroad, loans of up to P500,000, scholarships and “residual income for life”.

However, their marketing material states very clearly that recruits are not required to buy or sell any products, saying that there is “no buying of stock” and “no selling”. All that is required is for new recruits to enlist multiple layers of people beneath them.

Helping Hands International is clearly a pyramid scheme. A pyramid scheme is defined as a mechanism in which any earnings come entirely or primarily from the recruitment of other people and not from the sale of products. This describes Helping Hands International perfectly.

They also claim that the scheme is “supported” by companies such as Hyundai, Apple, HP and Lenovo but there is no evidence of this whatsoever.

Like all pyramid and Ponzi schemes Helping Hands International will eventually collapse, leaving its victims disappointed, embarrassed and poorer.

Consumer Watchdog urges everyone not to waste their time, energy and money in this illegal pyramid scheme.

If consumers are in any doubt they should contact Consumer Watchdog for free advice. We can be reached by phone on 3904582, by email at watchdog@bes.bw or by joining our Facebook group, Consumer Watchdog Botswana.