Friday, 19 April 2013


It’s not just the scammers from Eurextrade, Oil of Asia and Three Link Connection that talk nonsense. Reputable companies do it as well and they think that gives them some rights over us.

Furniture stores are a very good example. The contracts you sign when you buy things from them on credit contain some staggeringly nonsensical things. I once saw a contract that contained a clause saying that the goods had been inspected and had been found to be in perfect condition. The customer had to sign this in the store a week before the over-priced junk had even been delivered. So even if the goods were delivered smashed to pieces the victim, sorry, I meant customer, has already put in writing that they’re fine. They’re committed.

Of course no court would ever enforce this, the credit agreement would have been dated a week before the delivery receipt, it would be seen as nonsense but I bet the store would exploit the situation as much as possible, don’t you?

Another clause in the same contract said that the customer had read the contract in full, understood it completely and promised never to say anything to the contrary. And someone who actually didn’t understand the contract would be able to understand that bit?

It’s utter nonsense and clearly an attempt to abuse the person giving the store his or her money. Unfortunately that’s fairly typical of certain stores.

What’s worse is that most furniture stores don’t even allow their customers to see their contract before they sign it. Yes, that’s true. You’re not allowed to read the contract until the time you’re asked to sign it. Read this column next week for evidence of this.

We saw another case more recently, this time with a cellphone company. A reader had taken a cellphone back to the store to be repaired. It was still under warranty so the repair was going to be free but the company still wanted to make the customer’s life difficult. When she took the phone back they gave her a receipt. So far, so good. Then she noticed what it said at the bottom of the receipt.
“This document is the property of and is not to be shown outside Mascom Wireless. It is only valid for the date and time it was printed. It may on no account be reproduced, copied, divulged in part or in whole without prior consent, and such consent shall only be granted after full consideration of the circumstances at the time.”
That notice is profoundly silly. If a document is not to be shown outside of Mascom then why do they give it to their customers? Why do they even show it to them? What are they going to do to the customer who showed it to me? I think they should sue her, prosecute her for something, I have no idea what, perjury, treason, murder, something serious enough to reflect the gravity of her crime.

What exactly is so important about the document? Does it contain State secrets? Does it reveal who shot JFK? Does it show how much money cellphone companies make from prepaid customers?

The only possible thing on the receipt that might be controversial is one part where the customer agrees that an “Out of Warranty” repair will have “a minimal charge of P1380”? More nonsense.

Finally there are my personal favourite bits of nonsense. Email disclaimers. You know, those bits of text in tiny writing at the bottom of an email from a big company. Have you ever read them? I know most people haven’t but I’m a disclaimer nerd, I love them. They’re hilarious.

I received one recently from a bank. At the bottom it included this:
“Please notify the sender immediately if it has unintentionally reached you and do not read, disclose or use the content in any way.”
But this was at the END of the email, AFTER you’ve read it. This bank wants you to read the end of the email first, then read the content to decide if you are indeed the intended recipient and then, if it turns out you’re not, then somehow undo reading it. Nonsense.

Another, a parastatal, includes this statement: “You may not copy this message or disclose its contents to anyone else.” Why not? It’s mine and I can do whatever I like with it. You sent it to me, whether you did that deliberately or accidentally doesn’t matter, it’s now on my computer and it’s mine.

A couple of years ago Hyundai threatened to sue us for criticising their dealer in Rustenburg. I’d published part of the contents of one of their emails to me and their lawyer claimed that “this publication was unlawful as you ignored the disclaimer and confidentiality notice on the emails”.

I told the lawyer that their disclaimer was absurd. I also said that if Hyundai’s rep “wanted something to be kept confidential he should have sought my agreement in advance before sending it … What’s more, a retrospective requirement for confidentiality, which can only be seen AFTER reading an email is a silly concept.”

I didn’t hear from them again.

Finally, the most hilariously silly disclaimer comes from my bank. Their emails say that if you want to read their disclaimer you have to visit their web site. So I have to go out of my way to read some silly restrictions on what I can do with the email you sent me, the one that I now own?

I decided some years ago to opt out of the disclaimer business completely. All emails from Consumer Watchdog now include the following: “Disclaimers relating to email confidentiality will be ignored.”

I think you should do the same. Tell companies where they can stick their nonsense. And then take your money to a company that offers less of it.

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