Monday, 28 March 2011

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I am a concerned consumer. I saw a ticket for a big show in Gaborone and the ticket had a clause that said that if the show is canceled there will be no refunds made. I wanted to know if this is legal?

Almost anything can be legal if you agree to it. But did you? Did you agree, before you handed over your money, that you were happy not to be given a refund if the show was cancelled? I bet you didn’t.

When you buy something you have certain rights. You have, for instance, a right to actually get what you are buying. If a shoe shop changes it’s mind about selling you some shoes after you’ve handed over your money you know you have a right to demand your money back, don’t you? Likewise if you refuse to hand over the money, the store can take back the goods you’ve taken. A deal, as they say, is a deal.

However… Here’s comes a BIG however. You CAN waive your rights if you agree to do so. A seller CAN agree with you that certain rights will be cancelled if both you and the seller agree. For instance, you can agree to ignore the warranty that comes with a cellphone, if you agree to do so before you hand over your money. And, very importantly, so long as you “specifically consent” to waiving that right.

Section 17 (1) (f) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that it’s an “unfair business practice” if a seller enters:
“into a transaction in which the consumer waives or purports to waive a right, benefit or immunity provided by law, unless the waiver is clearly stated and the consumer has specifically consented to it”
I believe that “specific consent” means that you signed something. Surely that’s how sellers would protect themselves? If you don’t sign something then how can they later prove that you signed away your legal rights?

Finding a comment on a ticket for a show that you can only read AFTER you’ve paid is clearly unfair.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I received an SMS stating: “Congratulations your mobile have won US$9.8m for World Bank Award. To claim contact Mrs Hahn Doyle via: wbaw01¡”

This isn’t an email address, is this a hoax?

It most certainly is! An obviously fake email address, a fake award, the terrible English and the overwhelming fact that you can’t win a lottery that you didn’t enter!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #3

I got an email inviting me to attend a conference on “Violence against women and children” hosted by the “Right for Women Foundation”. The conference is due to take place in May this year in Seattle in the USA and then later in Southampton in the UK. They say that they will pay for everything except the hotel bills in the UK and that they will process all the visas we need.

They say I must send them copies of my passport and confirmation that I’ve booked my hotel in the UK before they can proceed but this makes me suspicious. Can this be true?

I’m afraid that this is yet another scam.

I’ve seen many of these two-venue conference emails in the last few months. It’s one of the common email scams around these days. They all involve an invitation out of the blue to attend a pair of linked conferences in two totally different locations. They all also include an offer to pay all your costs, with the exception of one hotel bill that you are required to pay. That payment is what they’re after, that’s what the scam is all about.

It didn’t take long to confirm that there is no such conference, there is no such body as the “Right for Women Foundation” and that the hotels they demand you stay in don’t exist either. What’s more, the scammers don’t give any phone numbers that actually work, just a variety of free email addresses.

But actually I don’t think I needed to check these things to confirm that this is a scam. Let’s be realistic. Why would a genuine organization offer to pay for total strangers to fly to the opposite side of the planet for a conference? Why would they do such a thing? And why would they split a conference between two different continents? It’s just unbelievable.

Finally, why would they require you to pay for a hotel bill for one location in advance? Has any reader EVER paid for a hotel stay in advance, anywhere in the world? I know I never have.

I contacted the so-called organizers of this so-called conference pretending to be a potential victim, just to see how the scam progressed. Of course they didn’t notice that I hadn’t originally been on the invitation list, presumably because they’ve invited millions of potential victims.

Unsurprisingly I was required to get in touch with the hotels and pay them in advance using, you’ve guessed it, Western Union. All the clues are there, don’t waste your time responding to them unless you want to send them an incredibly rude email?

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