Friday, 20 October 2017

It'll never go away! (Facebook I mean)

A relative once told me, when I was a child, “it is always better to think before you speak, than to speak before you think.”

It was true then and it’s true now but maybe it needs to be modified? It is better to think before you post, than to post before you think. Substitute the word “tweet” for “post” if Twitter is your preferred social media platform.

The problem with communication these days is that so much of it is done online. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with online communication. In fact, I think it’s one of the greatest developments in modern history. The ease with which we can converse, keep in touch with friends and relatives in faraway places, do business internationally and inform ourselves of global and local developments is wonderful. But it comes at a price.

Let’s take the example of Facebook. Much as I love Facebook and the way it allows us to communicate, learn and share information, Facebook is scary. It’s like a bar on a Friday night. Like most people in a bar, people on Facebook are a little noisier than in normal life, a lot more affectionate and flirty, a lot more likely to make fools of themselves and feel deep remorse the following morning. Also, there seems to be something about Facebook that produces a reaction in some people like a minority have to alcohol when they’re in a bar. They turn nasty. Most of us who’ve spent time in bars on Friday nights will have known someone who in normal life is the nicest, gentlest, kindest of characters but when they have their third drink, they turn into psychopathic monsters desperate to pick a fight. The same thing happens on Facebook. Nice people can turn nasty as soon as that blue and white screen appears, asking you to share “What’s on your mind?”

Another problem with Facebook and the internet in general is that everything you post is permanent. It doesn’t matter how quickly you delete the comment you posted that you realised was offensive or stupid, you can be certain that someone, somewhere will have taken a screen shot of it and either saved it or reposted it. You should always assume that everything you ever post on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet will be discoverable for the rest of human history.

Unfortunately, not every person or organisation understands this. I know of several individuals who have either been forced, or decided of their own volition, to leave Facebook completely after they posted something they later regretted. One young woman contacted us for advice when the rather embarrassing, very revealing picture she posted in what she thought was a private place on the internet turned out to be very public. Everyone who knows her now knows a great deal about her tattoos and where they can be found. All of them.

Another, much less sympathetically, posted a comment in our Facebook group that included “the K word”. Given that the person posting it was a white South African, not someone using the word ironically or in some way “reclaiming” the word, you can imagine how inappropriate it was. The firestorm that erupted was astonishing. By the time I’d seen the post, there were three hundred subsequent comments from other members of the group expressing their outrage. When the woman who had caused all the offence later apologised, she got more than 500 responses, not all of them sympathetic and supportive. Even though I deleted the post because of the rage it had caused, the bad news for the person who posted this inflammatory message is that it’s never going to go away. I know many members of the group took screenshots of the offending post and I took screenshots of every comment that was made, in case the issue ever reappears.

More recently we’ve seen a restaurant, just a matter of days after the tragedy at the National Stadium when a young woman was crushed to death and scores of people were injured, post an invitation to their restaurant to “everyone who managed to survive GIMC”. However, and to their credit, the management of the restaurant very quickly published a profound apology for the bad taste and promised that “an issue of this nature will never occur again”. But some damage was done and it will take a while for their reputation to fully recover.

Another example of how social media can escalate an issue out of control is when the leadership of a private school sent out advice on the school’s uniform code. This included various instructions on the length of skirts, shirts being tucked in and regarding the tidiness of hair, the words “No afros are allowed”.

Once most of us calmed down I think we could imagine what the principal of the school MEANT to say, probably something about length and tidiness but that’s not what DID say. He said that afros were banned. And that’s when Facebook as well as the conventional media exploded. But there’s a difference between the two channels that’s important to understand. I bet you don’t have a copy of the newspaper articles covered the story, do you? But the story is still available online and on Facebook and it always will be. Nothing online is ever lost. Not ever. Even when you delete it, someone somewhere will have a copy. A copy that will last forever.

The lessons are simple, but they are nevertheless serious. Don’t post things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Just don’t. Not until you’ve engaged your brain, checked that you haven’t consumed too much caffeine or alcohol, and that you’re not feeling over-excited, angry, depressed, excessively “romantic” or outraged. And then again, even after you’ve typed your message, take another moment before you press Post. Ask yourself what you might think of your post on Monday morning when you get to work. Ask yourself what your boss, your mother or your children would think about the comment you posted.

And then think again. Do you really want this post to remain associated with your name for the rest of your life?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Hotel Express International (yet again!)

I received a call on my landline phone from people who said they were from Hotel Express International,who told me that I have been offered a membership card for discount from some particular hotels.

I asked them repeatedly if I have to pay for it but I was told that is free. They had my 14 digits bank card number but they only wanted to confirm if they are true. Surprisingly, I asked where they got those numbers from and they told me that they got my details and recommendations from the previous hotel I used. I was later surprised to find that my money was missing.

I did not have any agreement of any sort with those people. What can I do to get my money back?

This is the seventeenth time we’ve written about Hotel Express International since 2010 and I doubt it will be the last time. Every single time the story has been the same.

Someone like you gets a call from one of their agents who explains their travel discount scheme, offering you discounts on hotels, car hires and flights. They normally explain that there’s a cost to join the scheme, usually just under R3,000. The experience in the past has been that they ask for your credit or debit card details telling you that this is to check either if you’re eligible to join or to see if you’re entitled to some special level of membership. Many of the victims who’ve contacted us have claimed that they didn’t give explicit permission for money to be deducted from their accounts but that’s exactly what happened. Without explicit permission they’ve been enrolled and their account is charged without, they claim, their consent.

Your story is different and even more worrying. The fact that they already had your card details worries me greatly. If what they said is true, someone in a hotel has given away, sold or perhaps even stolen your card details and that’s grossly improper, perhaps even illegal. I suggest that you call your bank immediately and explain that your card security has been compromised and your card was misused. Demand that they investigate.

Meanwhile there’s another issue. Why would anyone want to pay to join a scheme that offers discounts that you can get elsewhere for free? You don’t ever have to pay the full rate in a hotel. There are endless special offers and discounted rates available for you to choose from. Just a few weeks ago I stayed in a hotel in Johannesburg and do you think I paid the full rate? No, of course not. I saw a special offer online that gave me a luxury hotel room at about half of the normal rate. Did I need to pay to join a discount scheme to get this special rate? No.

We’ll get in touch with Hotel Express International in South Africa on your behalf and see what can be done. Don’t be optimistic though.

Given the number of times we’ve heard from Hotel Express International victims telling similar stories our advice is simple. If ever Hotel Express International call you, just hang up immediately. They can’t be trusted.

Must they reimburse me?

I’m writing about a problem I had with an air trip I recently undertook.

My plea is I want to be reimbursed for the over inflated air ticket I was forced to buy when I stopped over in Israel since I was not allowed to travel back home on allegations that I was told I needed to buy a connection flight from Johannesburg to Gaborone because I am not a citizen of South Africa! I ended up spending 3 extra days in Israel and I would like that money back from the airline. Can I get it back?

I suspect this might be more difficult than you might initially think. The first problem is that airlines are very anxious about flying people to countries in which they don’t have a right of residence, in your case South Africa. International flying regulations say that if a passenger is denied entry into a country for reasons that the airline could have anticipated then the airline is responsible for the cost of repatriating them. The airline would then be forced to pay for you to fly out of South Africa.

However, this doesn’t normally apply if you’re just in transit at the airport so I suspect you didn’t have a “connecting ticket”? That way the airline would have seen that you weren’t actually going to enter SA, just travel through it, not even leaving the airport. Even if it costs you a little more a connecting ticket is always a useful thing to have. Send us the details and we’ll investigate a bit further.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The current threats

What’s threatening the consumers of Botswana at the moment?

One calls itself Questra or alternatively Atlantic Global Asset Management, which they say is the company that represents Questra. One of their local representatives posted some photos of himself doing his best to recruit people into the scheme and a message which included the suggestion that you should “invest as little as P1300.00 to buy an annual package of €90 that will yield 4-7% interest every week, payable to ur account on Fridays for the whole year”.

There’s your first clue. “4-7% interest every week”? Those numbers might not seem terribly high to you. Aren’t they similar to the interest rates offered by banks? Well, that’s true, but with a bank you might get that sort of return after a year. This guy says you can earn it “every week”. Let’s assume for a moment that this is true. I’ve done the maths. If you give them the minimum of P1,300 that they suggest and you then get a €90 package (about P1,080) that will earn 4% per week, after a year your P1,080 will have grown to P7,222, a total return of 569% per year. If you were luckier and you get the 7% they suggest, your money will have grown to P36,423, an annual return of 3,273%.

That’s impossible and I hope everyone realises that. If you don’t, ask yourself this. If it was possible, don’t you think the Bank of Botswana will be investing? And all the commercial banks, pension funds and professional investors as well? I think it’s safe to assume that if they’re not doing so, then neither should we.

Another clue is something you often see with pyramid and Ponzi schemes. They very rarely give any clue about how you will earn the profits they promise. They don’t mention stocks and shares, derivatives, futures or any other mysterious financial terminology that sounds impressive.

A final clue came later in this guy’s claim. He said that there are “No Joining fees, No monthly payments, You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.”

So you can earn over 3,000% interest in a year without even lifting a finger? This is such an obvious scam, no other clues are needed.

But there are nevertheless several other clues. They’re the warnings that have been issued by the authorities in Belgium, Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Poland, Spain and the UK. The Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority said that Questra “clearly resembles that of a pyramid scheme or, at the very least, a Ponzi fraud."

There’s a final curiosity about Questra, or rather about the guy who was busily recruiting people. In 2010 the same person was trying to recruit people in to TVI Express, another pyramid scheme that collapsed leaving people poor. Then in 2015 he was again busy, this time recruiting people into the pyramid scheme selling Xtreme Fuel Treatment, a fake fuel efficiency enhancer. Clearly he’s a serial pyramid scheme recruiter.

Even busier than this guy are the hordes of Filipinos and their local recruits desperately trying to recruit people into AIM Global.

One of these recruiters posted that “We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone?”, “JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”.

Just like the evangelist selling Questra, at no point do the people desperately trying to seduce people into joining AIM Global say what the product that this scheme sells might be. They give no idea how you can earn that P3,200 every day. It must be magic.

In fact there is a product lurking behind AIM Global and it really does seem like a magical product. Their “C247” product can, so they claim, help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, heart diseases, hypertension, low sperm count, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”.

Any product that could do all these things truly would be magical. And just like all other magic tricks, it’s a deception, and an illegal one too. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code specifically forbid anyone from advertising such claims. So it’s a criminal product that has not, despite what many of the people selling the scheme claim, been “approved” by either the Ministry or Health of the Botswana Bureau of Standards. A criminal product sold by liars running a pyramid scheme.

But Questra and AIM Global aren’t the only threats. World Ventures, a pyramid scheme selling holiday discounts, is still going strong despite authorities around the world warning people that it’s nothing more than a pyramid scheme. Whether they call themselves World Ventures, or their new name, Dream Trips, it doesn’t matter. Their own figures from the USA for 2015 show clearly that more than three-quarters of their American recruits made no money at all from the scheme. Not a single cent. Of the small proportion that did make any money, more than two thirds of all the income is earned by the 3.7% at the top of the pyramid.

In fact, the median income level, the best illustration of what the typical American World Ventures recruits earned in 2015, was a meagre P1,500 per year. And that’s just income. It takes no account of the money the recruits must spend on travel, their phone and internet bills and the alcohol they probably need to drink to drown their sorrows when they finally realise that all their hard work has done is to feed the people at the top of the pyramid.

There’s also the TLC scheme, “Total Life Changes”, that sell a miracle tea that they claim can help you lose 2.5kg in weight in a week and can also “reduce stress, reduce the risk of cancer, prevent cardiovascular diseases”. It also “mitigates HIV”. “prevents high blood pressure” and protects against “poisoning”. The recruiters will also tell you that it’s possible to make money from TLC just by recruiting other people, just like any other pyramid scheme.

The lesson, as always, is simple. People desperate to recruit you into schemes like TLC, Questra, World Ventures or AIM Global are desperate to make money from you, not with you.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay the school?

I need advice on an issue concerning my contract with a school that my daughter used to attend in Phikwe. I was transferred from Phikwe as my employer was closing our office there and I had a contract a school which had a clause on serving notice if a student is transferred from their school.

I notified the principal verbally in March 2017 as soon as I was notified of the office closure, that I will be transferring my daughter to Gaborone as soon as I got a date for the indefinite closure. I was advised to write a letter by the school head, and I delayed, ultimately my moving date came and I failed to make time to go to the school. The school head called me and informed that I have to pay a full term notice to them. I tried to talk to her and make her understand that my relocation was not an intentional move by me, it was a decision taken by my employer and I had no control over it. She was adamant about this. I however moved to Gaborone without making a payment to the school.

In May the school head called me and threatened that I write a commitment letter to make payments and I did but failed to commit as per the letter. I have since been summoned to court in Phikwe to answer for a debt of the full term fees to the school. I need advice or a legal person you can refer me to as I feel I am being treated unfairly.

Firstly, I should state that I’m not an attorney so obviously I can’t offer legal advice. However, simply as a layperson I suspect you have no excuse. Firstly, you signed a contract with the school which explained what would happen if you withdraw your child. The contract includes a clause which says that you “understood that a full term written notice is required when withdrawing a child at any level from the school and that failure to do this will place me liable for an entire terms notice”. You admit that you didn’t do this.

Secondly you later signed a commitment letter saying that you would pay this fee and again you failed to do this. The school was within its rights then to go to court to get an order against you to pay the debt you’ve twice admitted in writing you owe but have still failed to pay.

I suggest that you contact the school and come to some agreement about paying the debt you owe them. However, given that you’ve twice failed to abide by such an agreement, don’t expect them to be very flexible!

Can they strip-search or punish me?

Sir does a security guard have the right to search me on suspicion of theft in a shop or do they have the right to order me to undress. Does the shop owner have permission to punish me even if they have caught me with a stolen item? 

No, they certainly do NOT have the right to search you. And they certainly don’t have the right to make you undress or to “punish” you, no matter what the situation. Any store or guard who does that has abused you and has grossly overstepped their powers.

The only right that a store has, and this includes security guards, is the same right that any private person has, and that’s to arrest someone that they believe has, or might have committed, a serious crime. That includes theft. But that’s all they can do. They can’t search you or your belongings regardless of the circumstances. Only a police officer can do that. All a store or an individual can do is detain you until the police arrive.

In a case a few years ago, a brave woman who had been forced to submit to a search of her bags as she was leaving a store took the security company who had abused her to court and won her case. She was then awarded P60,000 in compensation from the security company. The judge explained that she deserved this, ”considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society”.

It actually doesn’t matter whether you’re “an honest member of society” or a criminal, either way you have rights and those rights cannot be abused.

Friday, 6 October 2017

People power

We have good laws in Botswana. They’re not perfect, some of them need updating and there are certainly some gaps but we do rather well.

We’re always quoting the Consumer Protection Regulations but also the regulations covering packaged goods, food hygiene, the marking of goods and standards. We’re also often consulting one of the most important pieces of law we have. The Penal Code.

In particular, I’m very fond of Section 195 of the Penal Code which, while discussing defamation, says that a defamatory publication is not unlawful if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. That’s helped us considerably when companies have threatened to take us to court for saying bad (but true) things about them. All we’ve needed to do was remind them, or their extremely expensive attorneys, that what we said was true and that clearly the public needed to know it. Every single time they’ve then left us alone.

However, a much more important section of the Penal Code is at its very end. Sections 396-399 talk about what are called “prohibited advertisements”. It says that “Any person shall be guilty of an offence who as principal, agent or servant, publishes or causes or assists to be published any prohibited advertisement.”

So what exactly is a “prohibited advertisement”? The Penal Code says that it’s “any advertisement of any medicine … as being effective for any of the following purposes”.

Those purposes include
  • “the cure of venereal diseases”, 
  • “the prevention, relief or cure of cancer, tuberculosis, leprosy, diabetes, epilepsy”, “the cure of arteriosclerosis, septicaemia, diphtheria, gallstones, kidney stones and bladder stones, heart disease, tetanus, pleurisy, pneumonia, scarlet-fever, smallpox, amenorrhoea, hernia, blindness”, and
  • “the cure of any habit associated with sexual indulgence, or of any ailment associated with those habits or for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility or for the restoration or stimulation of the mental faculties”.
So why is this important? Are there really any people or companies advertising treatments for “the prevention, relief or cure of cancer”? Or for heart disease? Or sexually transmitted diseases, or as the law calls them using a rather old-fashioned term, “venereal diseases”?

Yes, unfortunately there are.

If you’re on Facebook (and I know many of you are), you will have seen messages recently from a variety of people offering a range of “opportunities”. One I saw recently, from an enterprising Filipino, said:
“HELLO BOTSWANA! We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone? DOING IT PART TIME and AT HOME. Just comment "HOW" below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. First 10 person will be prioritized!!!! HURRY!! Let Do this 7 heads INVESTMENT. JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”
Did you notice something curious about that advertisement? It doesn’t mention what the product is. What is it that can earn you up to P3,200 each day? That’s always a clue that you’ve met someone trying to recruit you into either a pyramid scheme or a Ponzi scheme. Any legitimate business will tell you immediately what products they sell. They’ll be proud of them. A company that seems to hide what their products might be clearly has something to hide.

If you dig deep enough you can discover the product the they’re selling. But first, who are they?

Their company is “Alliance in Motion Global”, a Filipino multi-level marketing scheme that sells nutritional supplements. I should point out that there’s nothing illegal or wrong about food supplements, they’re just entirely unnecessary for almost all of us. With very few exceptions none of us need to take them. A reasonably balanced diet involving plenty of fruit and vegetables will give us all the nutrients a normal person will ever need. Supplements are an expensive waste of money.

However, the supplement that AIM Global sell is a different matter. It’s not just a vitamin pill, it’s something dangerous. They call it C247 and they make some extraordinary claims. They claim that “C247” can help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, heart diseases, hypertension, low sperm count, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”.

We know what that last one means, don’t we? They mean that their product can help people with AIDS. Add to that their claim that the product can help with cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases and you have what is clearly a series of prohibited advertisements, don’t you think? Isn’t this exactly what Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code forbid?

You might be asking yourself whether this is actually a real concern. So what if some fools sign up for a pyramid scheme and lose some money or some other people buy their ridiculous product that they claim can treat every disease you can imagine? So what? It’s harmless, you might suggest.

I beg to differ. My fear is that someone who is unwell, perhaps battling cancer or fighting AIDS will be seduced by the claims of these peddlers of lies and will stop taking their real medication, perhaps throw away their ARVs and take AIM Global’s product instead. You might think this doesn’t happen but I can introduce you to doctors who’ve told me that it does. They can tell you about their patients, desperate for a miracle cure who have done exactly this and have paid the ultimate price. They died as a result of taking a product like C247 that they were promised could perform miracles.

Luckily, we have a weapon against them. The law. The question is who is prepared to use it?

Perhaps more effective is for people like you and me to take action to stop them peddling this dangerous product. Let’s comment every time we see their advertisements on Facebook, telling them that their advertisements are illegal and their scheme is too suspicious. Who needs the law when you have people power?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Double deductions?

I am emailing on behalf of my father who has an issue with a deduction made from his bank account for his car loan. He had a car loan through the bank and was in arrears by 2 months. He received a call from reminding him about the arrears and the week after the call, he cleared the outstanding balance.

1 or 2 weeks later he saw a deduction of P1900 from his account. When he made a query regarding this deduction, he was told it was done by the car loan division. He was charged P1900 for the telephonic reminder regarding his arrears from their legal department.

He contacted the bank branch manager and even the manager said it was not correct for them to make a deduction like this. He said he will try and sort out the matter but unfortunately till date we have not been able to get assistance. It's been more than a month.

What can be done in this situation? Your assistance would be highly appreciated.

Your father deserves to be given the facts. Yes, he was in arrears by 2 months and that was an obvious breach of his loan agreement. I’m sure we all agree that he shouldn’t have been in arrears. But that’s life. Bad things happen and when they do we should expect the people to whom we owe money to behave decently. Yes, there probably is a clause in the loan agreement saying that they could penalise him, charge him a penalty fee, record his debt with a credit reference agency and seize his children and sell them to recover their losses.

Ok, I admit I made up that last bit. I suggest you advise your father to contact the Managing Director of the bank and ask for a full statement of his account so he can check whether they can do arithmetic correctly. Please don’t contact anyone else about this, only the MD is sufficient. Please also advise your father that whatever the bank might say, he can ignore their official complaints procedure. It’s 2017, the age of Facebook and consumer power. He can complain to whoever he pleases. He’s in charge.

Where’s my leather?

I bought sofas at from a store last July after being told by the shop owner that they were made of leather. In May this year the sofas started cracking and I called and told the owner about the problem and he immediately sent his employees to go and fetch the sofas. He then changed his story that the sofas were coated with leatherette on the sides that is why they are cracking and I told him that if he could have told me the truth, I wouldn’t have bought the sofas. He then promised me that he will remove the leatherette and replace it with leather where the cracking was occurring. To my surprise he did only one sofa and I immediately called him that the other sofa was cracking and I sent him the pictures again. He did not respond and I went to see him in person. He again promised me that I should call again to check if the leather was available because he was expecting it soon. I checked him again about the issue and he told me that there is nothing he can assist me with because he can’t keep on fixing the sofas time and again and that their warranty has elapsed. I then told him that the problem started when the sofas were on warranty and he was unable to give a satisfying answer. 


The store owner has breached almost every one of the Consumer Protection Regulations as well as treating you with contempt. There’s no point in listing the regulations he’s broken, I think you should go back to him and give him a letter saying that he has comprehensively abused your rights as a consumer and demanding a solution within 14 days. List the various dates and feeble excuses he’s given you and tell him in the letter that if he fails to fix the sofas within the time you’ve given him you’ll take whatever form of legal action you think necessary against him and his store.

You must also make it very clear in your letter that he was informed of his failure to honour your rights within the warranty period and that his excuse about the warranty having now expired is nothing more than nonsense and a distraction. Let’s see how that works!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Will we ever learn?

Why do we keep falling for scams? Why, as a nation, are we serial victims to scammers?

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe people only ever fall for a scam once and then they learn their lesson. Maybe each scam that hits Botswana only affects people who have never seen a scam before. Maybe each time it’s a new set of victims?

If only it was that simple. Yes, each time a new scam arrives it finds some new victims but very often it’s the same people who fall for them over and over again. Some of us really are serial victims.

Anyone in our Facebook group or who listens to us on radio will have heard us warning people about what appeared to be a suspicious recruitment exercise being undertaken by a company calling itself Voxcom Voice and Data Solutions. A letter from this company started with the following bizarre statement: “The world has never been a place where peasants have held power”. It then continued to welcome each “Prospective Employee” “to the Voxcom family” and confirmed that the recipient had been successful in their “application for a weeks training”. So far so good, you might think.

But no, not good. The letter continued by asking people to “Kindly note that your training fee of P750 has been duly noted.”

And then it got even stranger. According to the letter there was a formal dress code for the training. It insisted that “during training full company uniform must be worn, ie, black pants/skirt and jacket paired with a white shirt/blouse.”

Stop and think about that. A company that is offering a job to people (“Prospective Employee”) demands that they pay to be trained how to do the job while wearing particular clothes? Is that normal? Is that how recruitment works?

No, it’s not. It most certainly is NOT how real businesses hire people.

But it’s stranger. The logo on this letter was quite distinctive and with just a few seconds work on Google I’d found a company called Voxcom Voice and Data Solutions with exactly the same logo based in Maryland, USA. So I called them and asked if they knew anything about a company running a recruitment exercise in Botswana using their name and logo. No, they told me, they knew nothing about this.

The real Voxcom's logo

So now there’s a very good reason to be suspicious.

After we posted and broadcast warnings several people got in touch to defend the program, saying that they had willingly paid the P750 because they were going to get jobs earning P2,500 in a call center that this company was establishing in Francistown. Some even sent pictures of the trainees proudly holding certificates they’d been given following the training. So was it perhaps genuine and just a bit strange? Was it all actually legitimate?


Let’s not forget the issue of theft. The people running this program had stolen the logo and name of a company in a foreign country and while that might seem like a minor thing I think it tells you a lot about someone.

But then the whistle-blowers got in touch.

The first said:
“I saw your post warning us about Voxcom and I am one of the affected. We have been conned out of our P750 with promises of jobs. We went there every morning till month end and now the company is dodging to pay us our salaries as per our agreement.”
Another told me:
“This is totally a scam and people are kept there with so many unfulfilled promises. There is nothing going on, no furniture, no permanent offices, people are there without contracts. The so called investor has long gone and made promises that he is coming back but they keep postponing his arrival. The company’s account is at zero while the investor is busy saying he is transferring millions.”
They went to say that:
“100 people paid during my time there and went through customer service training and I did hear they trained some batch. The 1st batch was trained and got certificates. The 2nd batch didn't get their certificate.”
Yet another whistle-blower was able to offer a wealth of insider information about the finances of this strange scheme, about the troubles the organiser was having crossing the border from South Africa, and even the politicians he was trying to seduce into endorsing his business. They also confirmed the story from the others that the organiser:
“had promised the employees that they will get paid but he kept postponing dates when they will be paid and up to this day they still haven't been paid. He lies all the time about him being on his way to Botswana everyday.”
This person said that the:
“most disheartening thing is that some of the people that were promised jobs are people who had other jobs only to quit hoping for greener pastures. And to this date they are still registering more people getting P750 from them. I am of the knowledge that 50 employees have since been fired because they are said to be under 21 but you wonder why it wasn't stated in the beginning that they are unemployable yet their P750s were still taken.”
They concluded by reporting that
“When employees complain or ask when they are getting paid they get threatened that they will be fired. All in all this is a scam and its continuing. I don't know how these people can be stopped.”
The good news is that this scam has already collapsed. The bad news is that the organiser appears to have stolen at least P75,000 from people, probably a lot more. The worst news is that we’ve fallen for a scam yet again and I don’t see an end to it any time soon.

So when will we learn to be less gullible? When will we truly understand that there are many people out there whose only objective is to steal our money? When will we become a nation of skeptics? It needs to be soon!

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

The knives are out for me!

I bought knives for a customer from a catering supplies company after seeing them in their catalogue and they then ordered them from South Africa. After they arrived I took them to my customer and they were rejected because it was not the one they wanted. On returning them to the catering supplies company they told me to pay the courier costs for them to take them and tax clearance for them to refund me. So I am asking whether this is the right thing to do?

This surely depends on the answer to a single, simple question. Who made the mistake?

If it was you who selected the wrong type of knives from the catalogue then yes, I think you are the one who should pay the cost of that mistake. However, if it was a mistake by the catering supplies company then no, you shouldn’t be forced to pay for their mistake. If they ordered the wrong item then the cost should be paid by them.

There’s also a third possibility. Was it your customer’s fault? Did they advise you incorrectly? In that case you could probably approach them and explain that they should pay the cost of their mistake but I’m not sure that’s the best idea. If it’s only a small amount, and they’re an important customer, do you want to run the risk of irritating them that much?

Must she keep the box?

A friend of mine bought a Huawei smart phone around March this year.  In less than a month after purchasing the phone, the phone began freezing and switching off on its own. She then took it back to the shop and they tried to fix it and when she collected it the mouth piece was damaged. They refused to fix the mouth piece. After a few days the phone began freezing and switching off on its own like before. She took it back and they tried to fix the phone but failed to fix it and then they agreed that they will give her a new phone since they failed to fix that one. Yesterday when she went to the shop they told her to bring the box of the phone. She told them she misplaced it and then they told her that they she won't be given a new phone because of the misplaced box and they can't help her anymore. 

I suspect that this store needs a quick lesson in the Consumer Protection Regulations. Firstly, Section 13 (1) (a) which requires companies to offer commodities and service that are “of merchantable quality” which means “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. A cellphone that doesn’t even last a month before going wrong is clearly not of merchantable quality. Then when they tried to repair the phone and only caused more damage to the mouthpiece, that would be a breach of section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations which requires a supplier to offer service “with reasonable care and skill”. They don’t seem either careful or skilful to me.

That bit about having to keep the box could well be a breach of Section 17 (1) (d) which forbids a company from “causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. By making up a rule that your friend must keep the box in which the phone was sold, I think they’re clearly causing confusion or misunderstanding. They’re also in breach of Section 17 (1) (e) by suggesting that they were disclaiming their obligations to offer a phone that was of merchantable quality, unless they made the condition very clear when she bought the device. Finally, I think they breached Section 17 (1) (f) by saying your friend waived her rights without her specifically consenting to doing so. To me, “specific consent” means a signature on a piece of paper saying she understood she needed to keep the box.

So there you go. Five different rights potentially abused in one sale and failure to fix a problem. Are they trying to break a record?

I suggest your friend goes back to the store with this edition of The Voice and reads this to them. See if that has any effect!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Staying safe online

We all know how to protect ourselves against infection, don’t we? We know to sneeze into our elbows, wash our hands after visiting the toilet and to use barrier methods when doing anything particularly intimate. We all know these things, even if not all of us follow the advice we’re being given. But we know.

Do we really know how to protect ourselves when we’re in front of a computer? Do we have any understanding of what the threats might be? Do you have any idea what the impact would be on you and your company if you fail to protect yourself?

We recently had a very useful lesson about cybersecurity. In May this year computers around the world were attacked by the so-called “WannaCry” ransomware. According to the BBC
“200,000 victims in 150 countries” had been infected including hospitals in the UK which “left hospitals and doctors unable to access patient data, and led to the cancellation of operations and medical appointments.” The attack also affected systems in several European countries and victims in Russia were hit hard.

WannaCry was an example of “ransomware”, a particularly vicious descendant of the old-fashioned computer virus. Once it got onto the victim’s computer all the documents on the computer would remain visible but could no longer be opened. Instead the victim was presented with a message saying that if they wanted to access their documents they need to pay the criminals behind the scheme the equivalent of P3,000 but not by any conventional means. Like all criminals who kidnap for ransom, they wanted payment in an untraceable form, in this case Bitcoin.

This particular example was focussed specifically on Windows computers and in particular those using older version of Windows, and those who haven’t been downloading the regular security updates that Microsoft releases. It also did its best to spread itself across any network in which it found itself so that once one computer was infected, all the other vulnerable computers on the network would likely be infected as well.

The worrying thing is that even though this attack targeted computers that were running very old versions of Windows, most notably Windows XP which became unsupported by Microsoft more then three years ago, there are still many businesses that persist in using it. Within a few days of the WannaCry attack I saw a computers running Windows XP at an airport check-in desk and, much more worryingly, in a hospital. I know my fellow techies will say that it’s often hard to upgrade certain “legacy” systems but I don’t care. Which is more important to you, saving money upgrading systems or the security of your customer and patient data?

What would happen to your business if all your files were suddenly inaccessible? Would you be able to continue? How would you sell anything? How many customers would you have left by the end of the week?

What’s more worrying to me is how risky some people’s behaviour can be. Just like in other areas of life, people are frighteningly careless, inserting memory sticks from unknown sources into their devices or visiting dubious web sites and allowing them to install software on their computers when they are offered something that’s either free or titillating. It’s just as worrying when I see people in coffee shops and restaurants using the free WiFi and doing some extremely reckless things.

Like online banking.

In case you don’t know this already, you should never, except in a national emergency, and probably not even then, go to your bank’s online banking service when using a public WiFi network. Just don’t, the risks are too high.

The biggest risk is that the WiFi network you join might not be real. You see a network called “CoffeeShop” and that’s the one you join, yes? But how do you know it’s for real? How do you know it’s not a fake network designed to lure you into connecting?

Even though it’s beyond the skills of most of us, a moderately skilled techie can set up a fake WiFi network very easily. I know this for a fact. Because that’s exactly what we did at the recent Consumer Watchdog conference.

Our technology partners, IT-IQ set up an unsecure WiFi access point at the conference center and conducted what they call a “man in the middle” attack. That allowed them to monitor the traffic that went through their network. During the session when the network was available 55 people connected to it and each one of them could pick up their email, surf the web and post pictures on Facebook. Not one of them realised that they’d been deceived.

Obviously on this occasion nothing unethical was done but it showed how easily smart, cyber-smart people could fall victim to such a fake network. The look on the faces of some of these people when IT-IQ held a cybersecurity workshop later that day when they were told what had happened was both funny and scary. When they were shown details of some of the web sites they had visited to prove what had been done people learned a very valuable lesson. If this is what good, ethical guys can do, what do you think the bad guys will do?

So here are some free tips to help you stay safe online.

Don’t use unsecured public WiFi networks for anything sensitive. You probably shouldn’t use them for anything but be particularly careful not to visit any online financial services such as banking and BURS when connected to one.

Don’t use out-dated and unsupported operating systems such as Windows XP. If your computer is too old and underpowered to use a later version of Windows then install a form of Unix such as Ubuntu or Linux. They’re free and come with almost everything most of us will ever need. Or use a Mac.

Use one of the free malware protection services. You don’t need to use the one that came with your computer that costs money, choose a free alternative, they’re just as good.

Above all, we must all educate ourselves. Don’t ever think you’re too unsophisticated or old to understand technology. Just because you don’t understand how a car works, does that mean you don’t wear a seatbelt?

The Voice - Consumer'a Voice

They’re confused!

I received a text message saying I owe some money at a private hospital lab, P1194 and that I was to settle the bill in 7 days. I then called the number that was at the end of the message to enquire and was told I owe P987.94 instead as my account had some credit which was used. On asking why then they sent P1194 I was told the person who sent messages was not looking at the system. Apparently my medical aid had not paid their portion. I later on called the medical aid which confirmed to me that they have paid the bill. The amount and service date of the bill was the same, except for the reference number I got from the hospital. The medical aid said the lab should call them if they need clarifications and they should correct their accounts. I finally called the lab and they said they would call medical aid and after a short while the lady from the lab called me and said now I don't owe anything. She said the reference number used by med aid is different but they are the same. I am so confused. Apparently each account has 2 reference numbers according to her. How can reference numbers be the different and be the "same"? And how can the amounts that I was supposed to pay in 7 days be different? I’m hoping u would maybe help me understand this.

Unfortunately, I don’t understand this at all. Like you, I’m as confused as the hospital lab and your medical aid. The difference is that you and me being confused is acceptable, your two service providers being confused is not. We pay companies like the medical aid and the hospital to be experts in their field and keeping accurate, timely and complete financial records is meant to be within their expertise.

My fear is that this is the sort of problem that will keep on occurring if they don’t get their records correct. I suggest that you write a letter to the CEOs of both the medical aid and hospital politely asking for a statement showing that you don’t owe either of them any money. Next time their systems have a meltdown you can wave those letters at them.

The lesson from this is whenever possible to get some form of evidence when you settle a debt or a debt is cancelled or corrected. Always insist that the letter confirms that no information regarding the false debt was ever passed to a credit reference bureau. Good luck!

I’ve waited 9 months!

I bought double bunk beds and sofas from a furniture store and reported some faults in December 2016 and up to today they haven't attended to them. Literally I go and raise the issue monthly. Please advice me on drafting a formal complaint letter. 

Assuming that the items you bought were still within the warranty period I think you should write a letter to the Managing Director or Country Manager of the furniture store chain, certainly not anyone less important. Ignore any complaints procedure they might have, remember that it’s 2017, we live in the era of Facebook. Customers are in charge now, not them. The letter should say something like this:

“Dear MD

On [purchase date] I bought a double bunk bed and sofas from your store at [location]. In December 2016 I informed the store of the following faults with the items [describe the faults]. These faults were clearly a breach of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which require a supplier to offer commodities that are “of merchantable quality” and that are “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. Since my original complaint and despite numerous reminders, your store has failed to honour this obligation, which I consider to be a breach of Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations which requires a supplier to offer services “with reasonable care and skill”. A failure to respond to a complaint for nine months is clearly not reasonable.

Please will you ensure that my complaint is resolved within the next 14 days. If not, I will be forced to escalate the matter to the authorities and to instigate legal action if it is not remedied.

Lots of love and kisses.”

You might want to leave out the last line.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Why are they here?

Why do people come to Botswana?

Obviously a lot of them come there because Botswana is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our landscape, our wilderness, our animals are exceptional. They come to see that and hopefully leave some of their lovely money behind when they leave.

Others come here to invest and make profits and there’s nothing wrong with that either. In fact we need a lot more of that. We need more foreign businesses coming here with their expertise and money. That can only help elevate the general quality and volume of business in Botswana and a bit of healthy competition is always useful.

But that’s not who I mean. I’m asking about the people who come to Botswana and try and steal our money.

If you’re on Facebook (and I know many of you are), you will have seen messages from a variety of people offering you a range of “opportunities”. One I saw recently, from an enterprising Filipino, said this:
“HELLO BOTSWANA! We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone? DOING IT PART TIME and AT HOME. Just comment "HOW" below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. First 10 person will be prioritized!!!! HURRY!! Let Do this 7 heads INVESTMENT. JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”

Let’s start with the first question. Who or what is “Aim Global”? Their full name is “Alliance in Motion Global”, a Filipino multi-level marketing scheme selling nutritional supplements. Of course there’s nothing illegal or improper about food supplements like the ones AIM Global sell, they’re just useless for almost everybody. With very few exceptions none of us need to take them. A reasonably balanced diet involving plenty of fruit and vegetables will give us all the nutrients a normal person will ever need. Expensive extras are just a waste of money.

However, and this is common among companies offering supplements, their distributors make some remarkable claims. I found one who claimed that AIM Global’s “C247” product could help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, beri-beri, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, hypertension, hepatitis, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”. We all know what that last claim means, don’t we?

Another headlined his blog post with the title “Cure For Cancer Is Possible!” before claiming that their products can offer such a cure.

These are all lies and the clue is obvious. If such a miraculous, magical product existed, someone would been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine by now, if not even the prize for Peace as well. And they haven’t. No single product could do any of those things, certainly not all of them. So it’s safe to assume they’re lying.

Like all similar schemes the important thing to note is that the products aren’t important. Look back at the Facebook post above and you’ll notice something interesting. They don’t mention the products. They give you no clue whether the products this company sells are nutritional supplements, dishwashers or saucepans. That’s because they don’t care. Like the other schemes the real attraction is making money. Phrases like “P200 to P3,200 daily”, “business opportunity” and “be the next Millionaire in your Country” tell you all you need to know.

Dig a little deeper into the into AIM Global and you find all the usual signs of a pyramid-structured business. No mention of products, instead just hints about opportunities to make lots of money and become a millionaire by doing your best to recruit multiple layers of people beneath you to build your own personal pyramid.

Let’s go back to the original question. Why are they visiting us (electronically) us in Botswana? Why would people in the Philippines try to get people in Botswana to join this business? If the business is so successful, why aren’t they trying to recruit people in their own neighbourhood? Why aren’t they recruiting Filipinos?

That one I can answer based on personal experience. As someone who worked and lived for a short period in the Philippines, I can tell you with some certainty that Filipinos are a skeptical nation. They lived through dictatorial oppression and they know to be skeptical about scams like AIM Global. I suspect AIM Global have emptied the pool of gullible victims over there and are now exploring new regions to exploit.

But why us?

I know I mention it often but it’s a fact that the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme that hit us hard five years ago was specifically targeted at us in Botswana. They didn’t have significant numbers of victims in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho or Swaziland. They just had victims in Botswana. That should tell us something. The problem is that we have a national reputation for gullibility. We’re known as a nation that is easily scammed. That’s one of the reasons companies like AIM Global are so busily trying to recruit people here. In the last week I’ve denied twenty AIM distributors entry into the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group but meanwhile they’re being allowed into many other Botswana-based Facebook groups and as soon as they’re admitted they’re actively recruiting people.

We have a choice. Are we going to allow companies like AIM Global to abuse us the way other schemes have done? Are we going to allow them to steal our money?

I think we need to be a bit more selective about the visitors we allow into our country. Yes, tourists and investors should be welcomed with open arms but we need to establish some stronger controls about people who want our money. The problem is that the internet and Facebook don’t know anything about national borders. What we need are skeptical border posts inside our heads and a much stronger mental passport control system.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is World Ventures legitimate?

Please help us understand. World Ventures is now talk of the town and many people are lured to fall into it. Meetings are held almost everyday. Personally I was enticed to join and I did not have cash amounting to $411 or P4,500. I asked the lady who wanted me to join to use her money from her account to help me join since I was skeptic and indeed she gladly did so. I later in the day asked her to ask the administrators to cancel my transaction since my skepticism grew by the day.

I humble request that your organization makes more and loud noise about this movement. it is very pathetic to see even poor workers falling into the bottomless pit.

I’m glad that you didn’t waste your own money joining this scheme. It was very smart of you to get the person recruiting you to spend her money instead!

World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. The Gaming Board in Norway announced a few years ago that following a lengthy investigation they were certain that World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. Their main criteria for deciding this was simple. 95% of all the money paid out to recruits in Norway was for the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things. That’s a pyramid scheme.

Like many other schemes that try to appear legitimate World Ventures have been forced by various countries to post income statements that illustrate what their distributors actually earn from their business. The latest figures showed that three-quarters of all people who join make nothing at all from the business. Of the quarter that had an income, almost all of the money was earned by the tiny proportion at the top of the pyramid. Everyone else had to share the small amount left over. But don’t forget that these statements only talk about income, they never mention profit. These figures exclude all the costs associated with running the business like transport, phone and internet bills. It’s likely that, with the exception of those very few people at the top, everyone else loses money.

So don’t waste your time on this scheme or any others like it. The rule is simple. Get Rich Quick schemes only make the crooks at the top rich, at the expense of you and me.

Where’s my insurance?

I insured my vehicle last year in May. This year in August I had an accident, and when I tried to lodge a claim the insurer told me that my policy had expired. This completely shocked me as I was NEVER informed by the insurer that my policy has expired even when I was in contact with them in throughout May for a claim that I was processing at the time. I appealed to the CEO, who informed me that they will only give me feedback on the appeal once they have assessed the vehicle (meaning that they needed to know the cost of the damage first before deciding on whether to cover or not). I have subsequently received a notification that the vehicle wont be covered.

They claim to have tried to call me once and failed, which I don't believe since I didn't get any missed calls from them; and I also feel that calling once was not enough! They could have sent email and or sms to actually inform that the policy had expired.

This I believe is very unfair business practice where the insurance company does not want to take responsibility for failure of the staff to inform a client that their policy has expired. 

Yes, I agree with you that the company should have made efforts to contact you to. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires a company that offers any service to do so “with reasonable care and skill”. I think that means they should have tried harder to let you know the policy had lapsed.

However, if the policy lapsed because your payments stopped for some reason, then there’s also an obligation on you, the consumer, to have noticed this. Yes, perhaps it was the bank’s fault but it’s still your job to ensure that the payments went through. You, after all, are the customer, not the bank.

Nevertheless, we’ll get in touch with the company and see if they can reconsider their decision.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

It's all about health

You want to be healthy. I want to be healthy. We both want our family members, our friends and the people we respect to be healthy, don’t we?

I want to suggest something to you. There’s another group of people that you want to be healthy. Your customers.

It might seem obvious but with the possible exception of funeral parlours and private hospitals, every industry benefits from having healthy customers. We want our customers to be healthy because the alternative is a threat to our business. Sick customers aren’t as able to get to your store or office as healthy ones. Sick customers are less likely to spend money on the fun things of life because they’re too busy suffering. Sick customers are too busy spending their money on medicines and transport to the clinic to spend money with you.

It gets worse. Those customers who are so sick that they die don’t spend any money at all and often leave their family members poorer after their departure, further reducing the chances of them visiting you and leaving their money with you.

As well as being morally good, it’s also in your selfish interests to help your customers to become healthier. I recently met a senior manager from an insurance company in another country that already rewards its own staff for being healthier. Every day that an employee takes more than 10,000 steps counts towards a bonus scheme that gives the staff discounts on their shopping (so long as it’s healthy stuff, not chocolate and wine), discounted holidays and even financial bonuses. And guess what? They’re thinking of rolling out the same idea to their customers. And who benefits from this? Everyone. There’s no downside. The staff, and soon the customers, will enjoy slightly better health and treats, the insurance company benefits because the average life expectancy of the customers will probably increase slightly, allowing them to pay their premiums for longer, society benefits from having slightly more healthy, happy people and the economy benefits from the increased tax these longer-living people will contribute.

Health is a comprehensive good.

But let’s not forget that health isn’t just about the physical things. Health is much more complicated than that. You can’t have a completely fulfilled life if your mind isn’t healthy as well and having a healthy mind is almost as difficult as having a healthy body because they’re both so complicated.

For instance I don’t think you can be fully mentally healthy unless you can manage your finances properly. Those of us who fall for financial scams such as Eurextrade, Helping Hands International or MMM are not only going to end up poorer as a result of the money we lose but we’re also going to end up despondent, miserable and desperate. There have been too many stories from Nigeria reporting on the people who have been driven so desperate by their losses in the MMM scam to doubt this.

On a more positive note, I genuinely believe that the development of a personal savings habit is one of the best things you can do to boost your mental health. Owning your own things makes you happier, it genuinely does. Not being crippled by debt is a very good medicine for your mind.

We also need to start thinking about healthy workplaces. Those of us lucky enough to be employed typically spend about a third of our lives at work and we need to think more carefully about staying mentally healthy there as well. As employees but also as managers we need to work harder to make sure our colleagues are getting along with each other as well as possible, that our managers aren’t bullying staff rather than leading them and that when conflict inevitably appears, we deal with it in a mature, sensible, rational and compassionate manner.

We did a very unscientific survey recently and asked people how stressed they felt at work. 77% of the people who answered said their stress levels were either high or very high. I’m not sure that’s entirely true because I doubt that proportion of people are in genuinely high-stress professions. Those of us sitting in offices and meeting rooms might think we’re stressed but have you considered how stressful it is to be a police officer, emergency room doctor or a paramedic? That’s where you’ll find genuinely high stress.

Nevertheless, if people are reporting such high levels of stress I think they need to be taken seriously. Our business culture needs to incorporate ways of helping people deal with the stress they experience. The good news is that the solutions are actually quite easy.

I also don’t think we can call ourselves healthy if we’re open to cyber-infection. It used to be rogue computer disks, then it changed to infected USB drives and now it’s email and shady web sites that are doing their best to infect our devices with malware. You might recall just a few months ago that computers around the world running older versions of Windows were victims to a ransomware attack. When infected the contents of the computer would be encrypted and only unlocked when the victim paid a Bitcoin ransom to the crooks who created the tool that did the damage. Can you imagine the effect to your mental wellness if the entire contents of your computer were taken away from you? How would you cope? How would your stress levels be? And can you imagine how you’d feel when you found that even after paying the ransom nothing happened?

The good news is that all of these issues are on the national agenda. I know this for a fact because I know some of the people in business, the public service and the media who are all very keen to raise these issues for public debate. I also know it because it was the theme of this year’s Consumer Watchdog conference. We had a range of experts speaking about the issues and running interactive workshops where participants could learn directly about the things they could do to address them. But this is just the beginning. Only when we all start taking health more seriously will our nation stand a chance of being a healthy one.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I want a refund!

On 31st of July I bought a phone at a store by the Gaborone station. Upon arriving home I realised it was not performing well and on the 2nd I took it back only to be told by the shop assistant that it only needs to be flashed and maybe it has virus. She did this and I went back home only to realize that following day the phone was still not performing, I went back again for the 3rd time and was told maybe it needs to be updated software and thy asked me if I don't have WiFi at work. I said I have and they showed me how to do it. When I get at work but it showed that the phone was updated in only 5 seconds but the problem was still there and I went back again and that time I only wanted them to give me a new phone or my money back of which they owner said the phone needs to be repaired. I was shocked that how can I buy something new and be told it needs repairs? I refused and decided I will look for help, I’m hoping you can be of help to me.

Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations states that goods and service must be “of merchantable quality” which means they should be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. In other words, a cellphone should make calls, send messages and do whatever smart things it says on the box. Clearly in this case the phone isn’t of merchantable quality.

In these situations the store is obliged to offer you one of the three Rs: a refund, a repair or a replacement. However, and here’s the difficult part, the store can decide which of these three Rs it chooses. The store is entitled to say that they’ll try and repair the phone, however much you would rather just get your money back. It’s only after they fail to repair it that I think you can demand a different solution, like a refund.

I suggest that you give the store the opportunity to repair the phone and then see what happens.

Meanwhile, we need a change to the law. We need to follow the other countries around the world that now allow consumers to demand a refund if something they buy fails within the first 7 or maybe 14 days. I think that’s a right that we deserve, don’t you?

Can I trust them?

Hi Mr Harriman, kindly assist and unpack another too good to be true scheme marketed by Men of God. It is called Atlantic Global Asset Management (AGAM) or Questra World. Is it a scam or not?

Atlantic Global Asset Management and Questra World are a scam. They make some remarkable claims, such as you making “4-7% interest every week”. One of the people trying his best to recruit victims posted on Facebook that “You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.” Isn’t that a very clear warning sign?

The same person, someone fairly well known as a religious leader, has been presenting on the supposed benefits of this scheme in various locations around the country recently. I think it’s interesting that in 2010 he was marketing TVI Express, a pyramid scheme that eventually collapsed, leaving many people poorer and desperate. In 2015 he was doing his best to recruit people into the Xtreme Fuel treatment scheme, selling a product that they claimed improved fuel efficiency but in fact did nothing of the sort. And now he’s recruiting people into a new Get Rich Quick Scheme. Looks like a pattern, don’t you think?

Rather than describe the Atlantic Global Asset Management and Questra World business, I’ll quote the Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority who expressed very clearly their feelings about Questra. They said that the scheme “clearly resembles that of a pyramid scheme or, at the very least, a Ponzi fraud." Similar warnings have been issued by the authorities in Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Poland, Spain and the UK.

I think the lesson is simple, don’t you? You can trust this new scheme as much as you can trust the other schemes this person has tried to sell people. They were scams and countries around the world think this one is a scam as well. Why should we think any differently?

Saturday, 2 September 2017

What's free?

You’ll have heard people say that nothing in life is free. Others might have told you that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The general consensus is that everything has a cost.

But is that true? Is there anything you can get for free?

Some technical nerds (like me) will tell you that even the things you think are for free aren’t. Facebook, for instance. Facebook is free, isn’t it? No, it’s not, even though it costs you nothing to register, you know that it‘ll use your precious data to post things and to wade through the inconsequential nonsense in your search for chrmesomething interesting, don’t you? Yes, there are image-free options that don’t use airtime and that certain network providers offer “for free” in the packages you buy but either way, even if you’re not paying for Facebook in money, airtime or data you’re certainly paying for it in another way. In return for access to their connections and your Facebook “friends”, you’re paying in a currency you probably didn’t ever consider. Privacy.

When you sign up for Facebook you “sign” an online agreement that says Facebook owns you. Not like a slave but they have the right to do almost anything they please with the photos you post, your friendship connections, the groups you join and the pages you like for their advantage. Of course they’re not going to use them for anything criminal or too dubious but they are going to mine them for nuggets of information they can use to exploit your use of their systems. Most importantly they’ll be targeting advertisements at you based on the understanding they, or rather their cleverly programmed computer systems, develop about you. If it’s obvious from your posts and the pages you like that you’re interested in financial matters then the ads you see will focus more on such things. If it appears that you’re very interested in sport then you’ll probably see more ads for sports news pages and online betting services. If they see that you like Donald Trump they can obviously market anti-psychotic drugs in your direction. It’s intelligence-based advertising that you permitted them to do. Yes, you did, in that agreement you signed electronically, you remember the one you chose not to read?

And no, before you ask, I didn’t read mine either. I found this out later.

And should you complain? Should you feel aggrieved or upset that you agreed to share your personal material with Facebook? No, I don’t think you should. They are, after all, giving you space on the largest global social media channel and the widest communication channel the world has ever known. It’s remarkable it’s even free, considering the amount of work that’s gone into developing it.

What else is free? What about education?

Yes, education can be free. No, I don’t mean qualifications, they always cost money, I mean a wider education. The source, however, is both the solution and the problem. The internet is a remarkable source of education. It’s also an enormous supply of misinformation, nonsense and deliberate deceptions. In a matter of seconds you can find “evidence” that the world is run by alien reptiles, that vaccines cause autism, that homeopathy has some beneficial effect and that the world is flat. Of course, all of these “facts” are nothing of the sort, every one of them is utter nonsense but if you’re even slightly gullible you might fall for them if you believe what you read on the internet. The good news is that despite the vast amount of rubbish on the web, there are sources of high-quality information and educational resources that you can use for free. I’ll post links in the online version of this article. (Udemy, University of Oxford, BBC, TED)

Those of us who own smartphones will also have access to some rather wonderful free things. Ignoring the data download costs, the Facebook and Messenger Apps, along with WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Google Maps, TripAdvisor and an enormous range of news, health, weather and productivity apps are all free. And genuinely useful.

And then there are sources of information. I know certain friends and colleagues will sigh when I mention Wikipedia but it’s not as bad as many people make out. Yes, the truly remarkable thing about Wikipedia is that it’s an encyclopedia, a body of knowledge, that is developed by the public. That does mean that any charlatan, crook of madman can go online and create a page of insane gibberish but it also means that you and I, the rational, (reasonably) sane ones can also go online and correct the lunacy. If you’re a registered user (which also costs precisely nothing) you can then go and see who edited it, when and what changes they made. It might be anarchy but it’s transparent anarchy. It’s what those of us old enough to remember the early days of the internet always hoped it would become. A democratic medium of information exchange. And like all other examples of democracy it’s flawed, slightly out of control and sometimes surprising.

And another thing that’s free. Consumer Watchdog.

Everything that Consumer Watchdog does for the consumers of Botswana has always been free. It’s still free and it always will be. The question we sometimes get from consumers, how much will it cost them for us to help them solve their problem is simple. Nothing. Zero. Not a single thebe.

And here’s one final thing that’s free. Something much more important than anything else I’ve mentioned. Something I firmly believe can change the world for the better. Something that can prevent, ease and settle arguments at a personal and an international level, one of the few things I’d describe as having miraculous properties. Kindness.

Next time you go into a store, a bank, or in fact any company you deal with, go in feeling kind. I know that it’s their job to greet you, their job to humble themselves to your needs, their job to greet you first but get there first. Why don’t you be the surprisingly nice one? You’ll be surprised what good it does to everyone’s life.

And that works for Facebook as well. Be nice. It’s free.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can’t they repair my broken TV?

I bought a television on high purchase from a furniture store in the Main Mall Gaborone last year. The selling price was P8,999 but through high purchase was P18,999 of which I managed to pay more than P10.000.

I happened to miss some installments due to financial problems which I alerted them about. Then my TV got damaged due to a power cut and I went to them to inform them about the television. To my surprise they told me that they can’t repair nor replace it because of my arrears and when I asked them to at least take it back because I can’t pay something that I am not using. Still they are refusing even though the television is still under guarantee. Please help!

Unfortunately you’re in a very bad situation. Let’s start at the beginning. It’s not “high purchase” although I can understand why anyone would think it is. It’s certainly a very high-priced way to buy something. Your own figures show this. You were buying something that was available for P8,999 cash but for more than double that price on HIRE purchase. That’s what it’s really called. The word is “hire” and it’s very important that you understand that. Until you pay the last instalment you’re only hiring the TV and only then will it becomes your property. The other thing to understand is that the hire purchase agreement that you signed certainly included a clause saying that their obligation to fix the TV if It went wrong was only valid if you were up-to-date with your instalments.

Finally, even if you weren’t in arrears, I suspect they wouldn’t have repaired anyway because it had been damaged due to a power cut or the power surge that followed it and these events are often excluded from the warranty. It wasn’t, after all, the store’s fault that there was a power cut.

A quick tip. Install a surge protector with every sensitive electrical item or on your main distribution board. It might prevent expensive items from exploding when there’s a power surge.

Probably the only thing you can do is to rapidly catch up with your instalments and then see if the store can then honour the warranty.

Must I keep the box?

I bought a Huawei smart phone around March this year. In less than a month after purchasing the phone, the phone began freezing and switching off on its own. I then took it back to the shop and they tried to fix it and when I collected it the mouth piece was damaged. They refused to fix the mouth piece. After a few days the phone began freezing and switching off on its own like before. I took it back and they tried to fix the phone but failed to fix it and then they agreed that they will give me a new phone since they failed to fix that one.

Yesterday when I went to the shop they told me to bring the box of the phone. I told them I misplaced it and then they told me that they I won't be given a new phone because of the misplaced box and they can't help me anymore. Is this right?

Who cares about the box? How does it matter?

Well, it DOES matter if you agreed when you bought the phone that the box was so important that you needed to keep it. But did you? Did you sign anything saying that you agreed to keep the box the phone came in? If you did NOT sign such an agreement then the store can’t demand it. Section 17 (1) (d) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids a company from causing “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. Making up a rule after a problem occurs that you must supply the original packaging is clearly causing such a confusion. Section 17 (1) (e) also forbids them from “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability” unless they made the requirement to keep the box very clear when you bought the phone.

I suggest you double check whether there is any evidence that you agreed to keep the box and if there isn’t, go and explain the law to them. See if they feel like obeying it before we escalate things further.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Is Bitcoin an investment?

Bitcoin doesn’t show any signs of going away. In fact, the growing hype about it just makes it more and more appealing to people. The problem is that most of us know so little about this new currency that we’re open to being exploited by those who see Bitcoin as an opportunity to make money from us rather than from Bitcoin itself.

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

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

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

In fact the "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, an online database of Bitcoin transactions that records and confirms every transaction ever performed between people using Bitcoin, is hosted all over the world, not in one place. There is no central repository of these transactions, they’re all over the place. That’s the “distributed ledger”.

Then there are the so-called Bitcoin Miners, the people who run the computers on which the Blockchain is hosted. These miners, using enormous computing resources, can earn themselves Bitcoins by holding and verifying the transactions but it's important to know that the required level of 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.

As I mentioned, one of the most important elements of Bitcoin is that it’s encrypted and as a result it’s currently extremely difficult for banking and intelligence agencies to track the payments that are made using Bitcoin. It’s effectively impossible to see what someone is buying or who they’re paying. Whether it’s you buying a plane ticket or your neighbour buying drugs, child pornography or explosives, the transactions are untraceable. For some that allows them some reasonable privacy, for others it’s a great way of hiding criminal and terrorist activities. This scares law enforcement agencies all over the world.

Despite all these issues I suspect that Bitcoin, or maybe 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 currencies that we know. Bitcoin is the next step along the monetary evolutionary staircase. Not only is it an online payment mechanism but it’s a currency of its own.

But it's 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. 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 others.

Today the value of a Bitcoin has increased dramatically again. At the time I’m writing this, the value of one Bitcoin is over $4,000, more than twice the value it had three months ago. Those of us who were considering buying a few months ago are probably kicking ourselves right now but does that mean we should buy into Bitcoin now? Just because the value has increased so much recently, that doesn’t mean that rise will continue any further. In fact, while many people are encouraging us to “invest” in Bitcoins, many others are warning against the same thing. There is absolutely no guarantee that Bitcoins will continue to increase in value, no guarantee that it won’t crash and burn.

The biggest complication that worries me is that Bitcoin is surrounded by scams and people desperate to exploit our ignorance. On Facebook you’ll see a number of advertisements for people making the most of the Bitcoin name. For example, I saw an advertisement announcing the “Bitcoin Revolution with BitClub Network” at a hotel in Francistown next month. The ad proudly displayed images of the three “Bitcoin Entrepreneurs” who would appear at this revolutionary event and that amused me. Is there such a thing as a Bitcoin Entrepreneur? Is there such a thing as a Pula entrepreneur? A Dollar entrepreneur? A Rand entrepreneur? Of course not.

You have to ask yourself this. If someone came to your town and advertised a seminar on making money from the US dollar, would you think of attending? You should also ask yourself this. How do these “Bitcoin entrepreneurs” benefit from you attending the workshop or joining their scheme? If they have a way of making money from Bitcoin, why are they offering to share it with you and me? Doesn’t this sound a bit suspicious to you? It certainly does to me. In fact, my view is that BitClub Network shows all the signs of being a pyramid scheme. The reason these people are trying to recruit other people is that they make money from new people joining rather than from the value of Bitcoins.

My recommendation is simple. If you’re tempted to “invest” in Bitcoins then do so but understand that it’s a very high risk place to put your money. Like any other such investment you should only invest money you can afford to lose. Don’t invest the rent or your loan repayments and don’t trust anyone who wants you to join their Bitcoin scheme.


Note: In the print version of this article I erroneously referred to "Data Miners" instead of "Bitcoin Miners".