Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

This week The Voice published our press release regarding the Vortex Profits Ponzi scheme.



Consumer Alert: Vortex Profits

Consumer Watchdog would like to alert consumers about Vortex Profits, an apparent Ponzi scheme currently trying to recruit victims in Botswana.

The people promoting Vortex Profits claim that the company is “a remarkable investment platform … with an outstanding track record of 2 years for delivering best of class investment solutions and endless income-generating opportunity”. They suggest that investors can earn returns of between 2.5% and 4% every day by investing through Vortex Profits in Bitcoin, gold or oil.

These suggested earnings are clearly impossible, given that 2.5% per day implies an annual equivalent of over 800,000%. Even more unbelievably, a 4% return per day equates to an annual return of over 158,000,000%.


The facts are that the company was only registered in the Republic of Ireland in September 2017, contradicting their claim of a “track record of 2 years”. Furthermore, the physical address they offer is an accommodation address shared by hundreds of other companies and the telephone number they offer is not even in the Republic of Ireland but is in Sweden.

They claim to have been founded by someone called Griffin Wrights who they describe as a "renowned Entrepreneur" with "countless years of experience being a financial Planner". However, no trace exists of this person before or outside of Vortex Profits.

Given the contradictions and the ridiculous claims about the profits that can be made by “investing” in their schemes Consumer Watchdog suspects that Vortex Profits is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme and we urge consumers to exercise extreme caution when engaging with them.

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.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Press Release - Vortex Profits

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

15th January 2018

Consumer Alert: Vortex Profits

Consumer Watchdog would like to alert consumers about Vortex Profits, an apparent Ponzi scheme currently trying to recruit victims in Botswana.

The people promoting Vortex Profits claim that the company is “a remarkable investment platform … with an outstanding track record of 2 years for delivering best of class investment solutions and endless income-generating opportunity”. They suggest that investors can earn returns of between 2.5% and 4% every day by investing through Vortex Profits in Bitcoin, gold or oil.

These suggested earnings are clearly impossible, given that 2.5% per day implies an annual equivalent of over 800,000%. Even more unbelievably, a 4% return per day equates to an annual return of over 158,000,000%.

The facts are that the company was only registered in the Republic of Ireland in September 2017, contradicting their claim of a “track record of 2 years”. Furthermore, the physical address they offer is an accommodation address shared by hundreds of other companies and the telephone number they offer is not even in the Republic of Ireland but is in Sweden.

They claim to have been founded by someone called Griffin Wrights who they describe as a "renowned Entrepreneur" with "countless years of experience being a financial Planner". However, no trace exists of this person before or outside of Vortex Profits.

Given the contradictions and the ridiculous claims about the profits that can be made by “investing” in their schemes Consumer Watchdog suspects that Vortex Profits is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme and we urge consumers to exercise extreme caution when engaging with them.

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.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is it her fault?

I have a friend who is having a hard time. She bought a mini laptop with Higher Purchase and she had been paying monthly and was supposed to have finished her payments by last year December. The problem is she told me yesterday that they called her some time last week telling her they hadn’t received money from her since August of 2017. My friend had gone to the bank to do a stop order for the installments and had for the first three months had issues with the payments going through because she would receive SMS’s notifying her that payments were unsuccessful. So she would call them to find out what the problem was but would be informed that no, the payments were in fact successful, so even after that time she would ignore the SMS prompts. So when they called her last week she asked why they hadn’t called her since August to ask why she wasn’t paying but waited for so many months, and she was informed that they tried calling her once but that they were unable to. The real problem is that she knows the outstanding balance is due and has to be paid either way, but she has a problem with the fact that she also has been informed that she has to pay penalty fees on top of the outstanding balance, and these penalties date back to August 2017. Should she have to pay these penalties when she has made efforts to make sure payments are made and is it upon her to call them every month to make sure that they have drawn their money?


Unfortunately, your friend is in a difficult situation. Although a stop order is a very convenient way to pay instalments like these, you can’t always rely on the bank to make sure it happens correctly. Here’s a secret that you might not know. Banks make mistakes. Quite often. However, whether the bank made a mistake or the store failed to warn your friend that she had fallen behind with her payments, the responsibility for making sure the payments are made remains with her. The stop order is just a convenience offered by the bank and if she checks the small print of her banking agreement, and also probably of the hire purchase agreement, shell see that it’s up to her to make sure payments are made.

I know it sounds incredibly irritating but it’s up to you, me and your friend to check every month that our payments go through. Frustrating, I know, but that’s how it is.

Meanwhile I suggest your friend speaks to the store to agree a plan to pay off the missing instalments. If you like we’ll contact the store to see if they can be a little charitable about the penalties.

Will I make money from AIM Global?

I need your help, Do you know anything about the company called AIM Global? We are struggling out there to try and come up with ways of earning extra cash but not willing to be scammed. Thanks in advance.


AIM Global is a pyramid scheme based in the Philippines. They claim that people joining can earn large amounts of money, simply by marketing the scheme to other potential recruits. One recruiter claimed that by paying P2,543 to join and then by recruiting just two people, each of whom recruited two more people and every month that was repeated, after a year you would have monthly earnings of over P1.6 million. It’s interesting to note that in this claim they don’t even mention whether there’s a product at the heart of their scheme. That’s clearly nonsense and it’s a very good example of a pyramid scheme, where earnings are made exclusively or mainly from the recruitment of other victims rather than the sale of products.

In fact they DO market a product and that’s even worse than the pyramid scheme. They call this “C247” and they say that this single product can treat 100 different 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”. These are illegal claims, forbidden by Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code of Botswana. Anyone making such claims is going to be in dep trouble when the authorities hear they’ve been made.


I’ve also seen AIM recruiters claim that this ridiculous C247 product has been approved by the authorities in Botswana, including the Ministry of Health and the Botswana Bureau of Standards. These claims are completely untrue.

I urge you not to waste your time, effort and money joining a pyramid scheme like AIM Global. You’ll lose it all!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Predictions for 2018

Here are some predictions for 2018 based on our experience of 2017 and the years preceding. I can’t guarantee any of these things will happen, but…

Multi Level Marketing schemes won’t go away

Multi Level Marketing schemes like Amway and Herbalife will continue to do their best to recruit people into their pyramids and when we warn people not to waste their time, effort and money we will be accused of being “haters”, “not wanting people to improve their lives”, and not “understanding passive income”.

Meanwhile the income statements that some countries force them to produce each year will continue to show that only the tiny handful at the top of the pyramid make any money, all at the expense of the multitudes beneath them.

Neither will pyramid schemes

Companies like AIM Global with their ridiculous (and also illegal) C247 product (that they claim can treat 100 diseases) will continue to do their best to recruit people into their bogus businesses. World Ventures will also continue to recruit people with their idea that you must pay to get hotel discounts when you can get those discounts for free elsewhere. Hopefully the forthcoming new consumer protection framework might help us combat them.

Ponzi schemes will continue to flourish

MMM Global has collapsed but there are already rumours that Sergei Mavrodi, its founder (and convicted criminal), is already working on a new Ponzi scam. People will fall for it all over again, even some of the gullible ones who fell for the original MMM scam. Their “serial victim” status will hurt them even more.

Bitcoin will continue to fascinate people

I admit it, it fascinates me. However, the exponential increase in value it experienced in 2017 came to a dramatic halt in late 2017, showing that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can ever increase that way indefinitely. All bubbles eventually burst. The blockchain technology underpinning Bitcoin is certainly something that will play a part in our future but so will gullibility and greed.

Bitcoin, like any conventional currency, wasn’t “an investment” in 2017 and it won’t be in 2018 either.

People won’t read things

In 2018 lots of people will again fail to read things before they sign them. Whether it’s a banking, hire purchase or tenancy agreement, lots people will just ask “Where do I sign” and put pen to paper. They’ll pay the price later on when they realise they can’t cancel the agreement when they want, they’re burdened with massive penalties for defaulting or they realised they signed a pact with the devil. And it will be way too late because once their signature hit the paper they were committed.

People won’t write things

The opposite will also be true. When they DO want a commitment from someone, maybe a tenancy or when they sell a car or lend money to a friend, they’ll forget to get the agreement, all of it, in writing. When things go wrong, they’ll then find they have nothing wave in front of the courts, the police or Consumer Watchdog. There’ll be no proof that the agreement ever even occurred.

Even if they DO sign an agreement they’ll forget “when a transaction has been reduced into writing, the writing is regarded as the exclusive memorial of the transaction and no evidence may be given to contradict, alter, add or vary its terms” (thanks Judge Dow!). So no verbal agreements after the written one. No “but we later agreed that…” arguments are permitted.

Companies will begin to understand Facebook has changed everything

I’ve spent the last year telling people that Facebook has changed everything. I’m not speaking figuratively and I’m not exaggerating for effect, I genuinely believed that every aspect of everyday life changed in 2017 because of Facebook. That is certainly the case in business. Whether companies like it or not (and almost all of them really hate it), we consumers are now in charge. We decide how we complain, we decide how we celebrate, we decide how we communicate to other people about our experiences. And no company can stop us.

And companies need to know that it’s only going to get worse (for them) in 2018. We live in the Consumer Anarchy Age. We’ll express ourselves however, whenever and wherever we feel like it! And there’s nothing they can do about it.

It’ll be artistic

Every year Consumer Watchdog has a theme. 2015 was Travel, 2016 was Education, 2017 was Health and the theme for 2018 is Art. We’ll be exploring the role art, creativity and performance play in customer service but also in problem solving, consumer education and enjoying life.

And we’ll be asking companies why they can’t make the experience of buying goods and services from them a beautiful one. Why can’t their premises be artistic? Why can’t they lift our spirits rather than quash them?

If we can do it, why can’t they?


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Farewell

This is the 605th and final Consumer Watchdog article in Mmegi. After twelve and a half years, we’re calling it a day.

Things change and there are some who don’t like that. They like things always to remain the same, never changing. They don’t enjoy new experiences, they don’t like innovation and they don’t welcome anything that forces them to think about things in new ways.

I’m not one of them.

I’m the exact opposite. I love novelty. I love the fact that almost every day we read of a new invention, a new discovery or learn about a new idea that helps us understand the world and its people in better ways. I loved it when Mmegi invited us to start writing a column in 2005. It was new challenge, it forced us to think differently about the way Consumer Watchdog spoke to consumers and it made us think very carefully about what Consumer Watchdog really was.

Not everyone liked what we did, that’s very clear. The threats of hellfire and damnation we got from certain suppliers after we criticised them were surprising and when some of them became formal legal threats we were shocked. Did they really think that engaging an attorney to threaten us for exposing their shady dealings, poor service delivery and questionable ethics would make us change our minds? Or apologise? Or retract what we’d said? Were they serious?

Some of them really were.

But we didn’t change our minds, retract or apologize and much of the thanks for that was the support we always got from Mmegi editors like Mesh Moeti and Gideon Nkala who saw every time that what we’d said was correct and justifiable. They had our backs and I’ll thank them for that over and over again.

Being with Mmegi also allowed to confront a number of issues that really were threatening our welfare. Before NBFIRA came along uncontrolled loan sharks were a big issue, some charging 30% or more interest every month. The failure of stores selling things on hire purchase to abide by the legal requirement on them to disclose the total cost of purchasing was universal. When we told them about it, some were remarkably cooperative, others less so. The South African chain of stores who told us that it wasn’t relevant to them because they were governed by South African law, even while operating in Botswana, was a surprise but that silliness didn’t last long when we explained that in Botswana our laws apply, not someone else’s.

Then there were perhaps the greatest threats to our safety, the so-called “traditional doctors” who advertised their preposterous potions in various newspapers (obviously never Mmegi though). They had products, or so they claimed, that could enlarge the parts you wanted enlarged, shrink the parts you wanted shrunk, find lost lovers, do away with business rivals and win you tenders. More worryingly, they also claimed that they could cure a variety of diseases, ranging from STIs to cancer, heart disease to epilepsy, hypertension to AIDS. It was one of the crooks selling a AIDS cure that prompted us to write an open letter to the Commissioner of Police about him, describing him as a “clear and present danger” to the health of the nation. I’m not sure whether it was addressing it to the Commissioner or copying it to the President that had him arrested and deported but either way that was a result worth waiting for.

Luckily you hardly see those adverts any longer. Partially it’s because newspaper editors took a lead from Mmegi and saw them as dangerous but it was also due to the most significant change to our lives after better healthcare and education. The rise of social media and the freedom it offered us all to say what we feel, whether it’s good or bad. Nobody knows exactly how many people use Facebook in Botswana but I’d place a bet on it being close to half of the population. And that has changed everything. Those people are now connected to the rest of the world in a way that none of them could have predicted and which many of them don’t even realise.

That’s had an obvious effect on communication, allowing us all to connect with the people that matter, wherever they might be in the world but it’s had an even more dramatic effect on the way business is done. Gone are the days of stores, banks, insurance companies being remote, hard to contact and unaccountable. Now, with a few clicks on your keyboard or your phone you can comment, criticise and celebrate a company for the way they’ve treated you.

And there’s nothing they can do to stop you. Nothing. For the first time in history, the power situation has completely reversed between the companies selling us things and us consumers. We are now the ones that are in charge. If a bank, a cellular network operator, a restaurant or even a government department disappoints or offends us, we can make our complaint public, available for the entire world to see immediately and for free.

That’s also changed the way Consumer Watchdog operates. We get hardly any letters or faxes these days and even the number of emails has dropped noticeably. Facebook is our primary way of communicating with the public. And that’s not going to change. There won’t be another Consumer Watchdog column in Mmegi but our social media presence is just getting bigger and bigger. If you haven’t already, come and join the group and continue the conversation.

So farewell, readers of Mmegi and fare well. Remember that consumers have rights but that those rights only matter, are only worth the paper they’re written on, if they are enforced. And the only way to have them enforced is to make noise when they are ignored or abused. It’s up to you and me to stand up for ourselves and for those we care about.

A luta continua.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

What price should I pay?

I want to bring up the subject of irregular pricing, where prices at the shelves are found to be different from prices at the till. I was in a supermarket and picked Extra Virgin Olive oil priced at P76.65. Upon paying at the counter, the price turned out to be P81.80.

When I discussed the issue with the store managers, they explained that the issue arises from price increases made in South Africa, and the manual labeling found at some of their shops isn’t updated. They explained that when this happens, price controllers are able to pick new price changes upon queries from customers, apart from price checks done twice a week.

Are shops in Botswana taking advantage of the loophole by delaying price adjustments at shelves to influence clients to buy? Would their Head Office still be unaware of this irregularity by this time, affecting shops with manually printed prices after so many complaints raised? What should clients do when they encounter these issues, apart from demanding to pay the price they see at the shelves?

Obviously noting price irregularities by clients is not entirely effective because we miss some of them; the store must solve the problem. With my case, I made the management give me the olive oil at the shelve price but this is not adequate.

You’re my Christmas hero! Well done to you for standing up for your rights and for refusing to allow a store to abuse you.

Section 13 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires a store like this one to sell goods as they are “advertised or represented”. If it says P76.65 on the shelf or in the advertisement then that’s the price you are entitled to pay. No arguments, no silly excuses about labels being printed in South Africa, nothing like that, just the price that was advertised or represented please. Like you I find it hard to believe that, in 2017, the expensive computer systems at their Head Office don’t notice that when an item is sold the price in the pricing system is not the same as the price that was printed. Either they’re ignoring the difference and keeping the extra money or they need to employ some better system architects.

What should we do about it? We should do exactly what you did. Stand firm, accept no excuses and demand to have our rights respected instead of ignored and abused. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Is it a pyramid scheme?

My girlfriend yesterday was called by a number and she was invited to a business seminar of some kind, so today I called the number just to find out what it's all about and had a chat with the chap but still didn't understand what their business is. It sounds to me like a pyramid scheme because you have to invite people to join in order to get paid. First he talked about travelling and when I asked what they will be selling or doing during the travel he changed the story and started talking about recruiting members. I'm not saying they are not legit, I'm just taking precautions. Apparently they are running business seminars.

I later found out that the company is named World Ventures and is said to be an international company. Do you know about it?

You’re right, it’s a pyramid scheme. The authorities in Norway announced a few years ago that they were certain that World Ventures is a pyramid scheme because 95% of all the money paid out to recruits was for the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things. That’s a pyramid scheme.

Like other schemes World Ventures are required by some countries to publish income statements that show what their distributors actually earn from their business. With World Ventures the latest figures show that three-quarters of all people who join make nothing from the business. Of the rest, almost all of the money was earned by the few people at the top of the pyramid. Everyone else had to share the minimal leftovers. And those figures were income, not profit. They exclude all the costs associated with running the business like transport, phone and internet bills. With the exception of those few people at the top, everyone else loses money.

So please warn your girlfriend not to waste her time on this pyramid scheme! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Everything has changed

Things have changed. Massively. Irreversibly.

Frankly it doesn’t matter whether you approve or not, the entire customer service landscape has been overturned by an earthquake. An earthquake called Facebook.

A member of our Facebook group recently commented that when consumers have a complaint about the service they have received, instead of posting their complaint on Facebook, they should:
“first consult people who are working in that place rather than rushing to this portal. How will we learn to correct our mistakes as service providers or as we serve you as customers? I have also realised that most people who rush to report, are those that are stressed with different stresses, eg money, being dumped. Know that where your rights end, someone’s rights start.”
To some extent I agree with this person. When we get bad service we probably should raise it with the people at the store, business or office where we feel we were abused or mistreated. But that’s not always possible, is it? If we bought a pizza or chicken meal and only realised it was sub-standard when we got home, must we really drive all the way back to the restaurant to complain? Must we really find the right phone number and stay on hold to speak to the right person to lodge our issue? Must someone who is naturally meek and reserved really summon up the courage to confront a store manager they find intimidating?

I don’t think so.

It surprises me that in 2017, almost in 2018, you still can enter a store, a government office or a bank and still see their framed complaints procedure nailed to the wall. While dictating how your customers were permitted to complain might have worked last century, perhaps even two or three years ago, it doesn’t work today. Complaints procedures have gone. Like carbon paper, floppy disks and smallpox, complaints procedures have been relegated to the past.

Despite this you can still see multiple-stage complaints policies being published. Recently a consumer sent us the complaints procedure she had seen in a public hospital. It had nine steps. The first person to receive your complaint should apparently be the Supervisor in Charge. If that didn’t resolve your problem you should then escalate your complaint to the PR Officer, the Hospital Manager, the Hospital Superintendent, the Ministry HQ toll-free number, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, the Minister and finally to the Office of the President.

My view is that any complaints procedure with nine steps has at least six steps too many. Until recently we suggested that instead of any complaints procedure like that one, consumers should; adopt the Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.
  1. Step 1. Complain to the individual who offended you. Whether it was the nurse who ignored your suffering, the rude waiter or the vanishing bank teller, that person is the person to whom you should first complain. If they refuse to accept your complaint or don’t show suitable humility and contrition, go to Step 2.
  2. Step 2. Complain to the most senior person in the building. Their title will be something like “Branch Manager”, “Hospital Manager” or “Restaurant Manager”. Don’t bother with supervisors, administrators or team leaders, only the most senior person will do. If they don’t fix the problem, go to Step 3.
  3. Step 3. Complain to the most senior person in the entire organization. Their job title will be something like “Managing Director”, “Chief Executive Officer” or “Minister”. It must be someone who has the capacity to frighten the person who originally offended you.
But that was in the past. The Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure is now also a thing of the past.

It has now been replaced with the Official Consumer Watchdog ONE Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.
  1. Step 1. Complain however you feel like complaining.
There is no Step 2.

That means if you want to complain on Facebook, you’re entitled to do so, despite what anyone else might tell you. Whether you or suppliers like it, whether you’ve joined or not, whether you think it’s a good or a bad thing, Facebook is here to stay and everyone had better get used to it and if a consumer chooses to post their complaint there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But there are still some people who are resistant. Some just have an aversion to technology while others seem to have a suspicion that Facebook brings with it threats to their way of life and that it offers nothing more than trivia, obscenity and offence.

I’ve got news for those people. That’s exactly what some people said about the internet. Before that people were saying it about the video recorder and television, before that about the telephone and the radio and going even further back in history, they said the same thing about newspapers, books and having holy books in the vernacular.

And they were right. All of those things did indeed bring greater levels of risk but more importantly they all also brought even greater levels of education, openness, communication and understanding. All progress comes with an upside and a downside. However, almost always the benefits of progress outweigh the risks and that’s particularly true of the internet and Facebook.

Facebook’s critics will say that the content is trivial, bizarre and offensive and again, that’s all true but that’s a bit like everyday life. Not every conversation we have is important. Most conversations are trivial, some are bizarre and others are occasionally offensive.

But think of what Facebook offers us. Never before have the majority of our population been able to converse with one another so easily. Never before has it been so easy to chat to friends, relatives and workmates when they’re far from us. Never before has it been so easy to meet and grow to understand people different from us.

So get on with it. I don’t know if Facebook will still be with us in ten years time but I know this. Something like Facebook will be. There will be an online conversation forum where your customers will be talking about you, sometimes saying nice things but much more often saying nasty things. Your choice is whether you want to listen to them or not. And perhaps even fix some problems and make yourself look good. Get used to it.