Saturday, 9 December 2017

Progress?

It’s sometimes difficult to see progress. Often things change so slowly that we don’t see the change happening. Like biological evolution, the changes we see in business and customer service are most often very gradual and hardly noticeable from day to day, they only happen over much longer periods. It’s often surprising, if you look back in time at how much things have actually changed.

Many of us will remember those days in the past when things were very different. If you’re old enough, cast your mind back fifteen or twenty years and think of the number of loan sharks that were operating in Botswana. Do you remember how they were charging up to 30% interest per month? Do you remember how they were completely ignoring the “in duplum” rule, the rule that says that when a debt is settled the interest charged cannot exceed the remaining capital amount? Do you remember how they were routinely taking people’s ATM cards and sometimes even their Omang cards as insurance that they would repay their loans? Do you remember how there were loan sharks operating from car parks, fried chicken restaurants and in one case I personally witnessed, from a government office?

Today these offences are rare. That’s because the micro-lending industry is now regulated by NBFIRA, a regulator that actually seems to enjoy getting its hands a bit dirty and exercising the powers they’ve been given. These days hearing about a micro-lender misbehaving is a much rarer event. Not unheard of, but rare. It was a surprise when a few weeks ago we got a message from a consumer who asked:
“Are these cash loans allowed to keep our bank cards and keep on paying themselves every month? I’m shocked right now that my mother who is 70 years a pensioner has been without her bank card It's like it stay there for ever.”
We sent that consumer straight to NBFIRA who no doubt explained to the lender that their conduct was unacceptable and confined them in their dungeons.

Also in the past we had hire purchase. Yes, I know we still have it but we did have one minor success in making the cost of hire purchase easier to understand. You might remember that when items were advertised on “credit”, the stores just advertised how much the deposit would be, the number of instalments you needed to make and how much each one would cost you. The stores were ignoring the legal requirement, as expressed in the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 which says that when “goods are offered for sale on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale or on any other terms as to deferred payment” then the details shown must include “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”.

When we first discovered this rule we wrote to the Managing Directors of all the stores that sell things on credit or hire purchase and asked them if they knew about this. To their credit, they almost all came back to us apologetically, saying they weren’t aware of it and would change their advertising as soon as possible. One of them was a little bit less cooperative. It doesn’t matter, they said, we abide by South African law. That’s lovely, we told them, then go back to South Africa. In Botswana the laws of Botswana apply, not the laws of another country that you prefer. They eventually complied with the laws of the country that had welcomed them and allowed them to exploit its people.

Another thing that has changed, although not completely is the number of people with fake degrees. A number of highly publicised cases involving senior managers and academics who were exposed as having purchased degrees from unaccredited so-called “universities” has made us all a lot more aware of how skeptical we need to be about people’s qualifications. Over the last eight years we’ve warned readers about forty-five different establishments that claim to offer qualifications but none of which actually require their “students” to do any coursework, sit any exams, deliver any dissertations or do any actual work. All they’ve ever required is a credit card number and then, as if by magic (or Mrs Mugabe) a degree certificate is in the post.

Not all of these crooks have been pleased to be exposed. Several of them have threatened us with all sorts of consequences once they realised their scam was likely to dry up.

One of them, calling itself “Headway University” even created a web site for a fake law firm calling itself "Joyce & Nielsen" who sent us an email demanding that we retract the accusation that Head way was bogus. They accused us of spreading “defamatory, harmful and malicious content in violation of state, federal and international law … with the intent to harm, defame and cause financial damages to our client, Headway University”.

I wasn’t sure at the time how it is possible to defame a fake university that sells fake degrees to fake graduates. Defamation rests on the assumption that the victim has a reputation to protect. Peddlers of bogus qualifications are criminals. They had no reputation to lose.

It didn’t take too much detective work to discover that the law firm didn’t actually exist. The crooks behind the fake university had created an entirely fake web site to pretend that the law firm existed, even stealing the text on the web site from other, genuine law firms.

Unfortunately, despite the crooks behind almost all of those bogus establishments being shut down they seem to be reappearing. Just a couple of weeks ago I chatted online to an “advisor” from “Martinville University” who told me that for $500 I could get a degree in Nursing without sitting any exams. For $500 on top I could get a Masters degree as well and he said he would backdate the Bachelors degree to the pair of degrees looked more convincing to a potential employer.

So maybe things haven’t changed that much after all?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

He owns my car!

Afternoon! I need some advice. Lets say I sell my car to someone and he gives me deposit of P3,000 then I give him the car and change the blue book. Then after some weeks he comes back asking me to refund him so that he can give back the car.

The problem is that the windscreen is broken and the other door does not close properly. I told him that I wont refund him until he repairs every damage. I tried calling the police but they said they can’t help.

What can I do?


Firstly, I think you know that signing over ownership of your vehicle before you received full payment was a mistake, don’t you? You should never hand over the vehicle registration documents (the so-called “blue book”) until you’ve received all the money you’re owed. If that’s cash it’s easy (but make sure you count and check every banknote) and if it’s a cheque or bank transfer make sure you ask your bank to confirm when the money has been credited to your account irreversibly. I’ve heard of items being handed over but at the last minute a crook reverses the transaction leaving the victim without either the goods they bought or their money.

In your case I think you should change the demand you made to him. Tell the guy that he has two choices. Either he pays you everything he agreed to pay or he simply returns the blue book to you and you keep the P3,000. You can then use the P3,000 to repair the damage I assume he caused. If he fails to do either then you should tell him you’re going to the Police to lay a charge of “obtaining by false pretence” against him and that you’re also going to the Small Claims Court to seek an order against him for the outstanding amount he owes you.

You did both sign a written sale agreement, didn’t you? Please tell me you did…

Can’t they clear me?

I had a debt with a store last year and they took my name to ICT. I cleared with them last year December. To my surprise yesterday I applied for a loan but I couldn't get it because the store has not got my name off the ICT list. I need the money by Friday but the loan cannot be processed until they give me a letter which takes about 3 days. Can you help me please?


I’m sorry but that’s how things work. TransUnion (formerly known as ITC) keeps records of customer activity that are sent to them by the companies who pay their fees. So long as the facts they supply are truthful, there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s true, isn’t it, that you had a debt with the store and also that you failed to pay your instalments? The store is therefore within its rights to tell TransUnion that and it’s the right of stores and potential lenders to examine your history and see that you had problems repaying your debt. That way they can make a rational decision about the level of risk you might pose if they lend you their money. In fact, let me correct myself. It’s not THEIR money they’re lending you, it’s the money deposited by their other customers. I suspect they would want the lender to take every precaution before risking their money.

As I understand it, it’s the normal rule for TransUnion to hold such records for two years before removing them so you might be out of luck with the loan you are currently seeking. In the meantime I suggest you visit your nearest main Post Office where you can check your TransUnion record for a small fee just to ensure that the data they hold on you is correct. This is something that we should all do occasionally, just to make sure that the information potential lenders can see about us is as correct and up-to-date as possible. It’s in our interests to do that.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The psychology of groups

Nobody really understands Facebook. I don’t even believe that Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues who run Facebook understand it fully. Despite them owning and controlling and the technology underpinning it, they can’t accurately predict what direction Facebook will take next. That’s because all they produce is the vehicle, it’s Facebook users like you and me who drive it.

On a very small scale that’s the case with the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. Even though I’m one of the moderators of the group, we have no control over what’s posted. Yes, we can remove posts (and we frequently do) that are irrelevant, advertising a product or just hateful, but the direction the conversations go is entirely up to the members of the group, not us.

That’s one of the reasons it’s so wonderful. It’s unpredictable, some might even say chaotic or anarchic and that’s exciting. Even more exciting is that it’s “social” media. It’s not just about you or me posting something, it’s about the conversation that almost inevitably results from each post. A better term might even be “community media” because it’s not just about a two-person conversation, it’s an enormous group of people who can join in the conversation. It’s one of the reasons I describe Facebook as being like a bar on a Friday night. Everyone there is a little noisier than normal, a little bit less inhibited about expressing their thoughts and feelings and a lot more likely to tell someone else what they think of them. Also like a bar, it often happens that people who are normally very kind, charitable and forgiving can suddenly become out of control. Some even become monsters. The Facebook “atmosphere” is intoxicating, just like alcohol.

Another similarity with a bar is how conversations flow on Facebook. In the bar the conversation within a group will jump from sport to politics, from the latest gossip on those unlucky enough to be absent from the bar to former boyfriends and then back to sport, all within moments. The timetable on Facebook is a little longer but you see exactly the same effect.

Just a few weeks ago the most popular topic on the group was the misdemeanours happening at a local water park where it was alleged that some men were apparently molesting young girls, taking their photographs and acting very inappropriately. For a few days it seemed that this was the only subject worthy of discussion. But almost overnight the community moved forward, seemingly having exhausted their justifiable anger. I suspect some people have already completely forgotten their rage. So much for #IShallNotForget.

On another occasion, it was the fair-use policy that a local cellular network provider had adopted that limits the amount of data a user can download in a day. For a few days I wondered whether the company would survive the criticism they received. But they did because something else emerged to divert people’s attention.

More recently it was the turn of a bank to be the focus of everyone’s attention. This was the KYC fiasco. For those who don’t know about this, and I can’t imagine there’s many of us that don’t, the various authorities that have an interest in banking, most notably Bank of Botswana, are forcing all the banks and those companies that provide pseudo-banking products such as insurance companies and the cellular network providers to confirm that they know who their customers are. Hence the “Know Your Customer” exercises that all banks have undertaken. The problem is that this hasn’t always gone well. Despite having provided documentary proof of the three things the banks wanted, proof of identity, residence and source of income, lots of people had their accounts frozen. While this was a massive inconvenience to many of those people, it was a lot more troubling for a minority. People were stranded in filling stations, only discovering that their accounts were frozen after they’d filled their cars, other were trapped in hotels unable to pay their bills, we even heard from one who discovered her account was on hold as she tried to admit herself to hospital an
d was unable to pay her 10% of the treatment cost. Luckily her sister was with her and she was able to pay with cash instead.

The most recent “trending” issue was the ridiculous Black Friday we had last week. This entirely American invention, a day of discounts offered the day after their Thanksgiving holiday has now spread around the world and it hit us in Botswana very hard last week.

In particular it hit hard at Game in Gaborone where the store announced that it would open its doors at one minute after midnight. The results were, if the pictures and videos I’ve seen were to be believed, mayhem. Doors broken down, property stolen and queues that lasted hours, all just to get some discounts. My suspicion is that nobody at Game had any idea what was likely to happen when they combined the prospect of discounts with large crowds, tiredness and mob psychology. The danger is that in these situations, the moment a crowd becomes excited, reasonable individuals like you and me disappear and are replaced by “a singular mind”. As one theorist put it, an “individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s a crowd waiting for a bargain, bystanders administering “mob justice” to a thief or a peaceful demonstration that becomes violent, these are all predictable results of the group psychology of homo sapiens.

That’s where my observation comes full circle. Facebook is a bit like that crowd at Game. It’s wonderfully democratic in that anyone can be part of the excitement. These days someone with even the cheapest of phones can join the conversation and express their feelings. They too can join the crowd at the social media bar and either have a good time or go crazy. The real challenge is preventing that craziness turning nasty.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this how they should behave?

I need your assistance. I got money from a cash loan but failed to pay them for the first two months. I got a summons last month and I requested to pay half of the money I owed at month end of November as I had no money but before the agreed month end they came to me saying they needed to attach my property and if I fail to pay then they will have to take it. The first man who came had some documents that said my car was security. Later during the day another man came saying they came to collect my car until I pay the full amount I owe. He sent me bank details to deposit the money before end of that day or else in the morning they come for the car. The tricky part is the gentleman who came to collect the did not know about the one who came first but he had all my documents even the registration number for the car.

I owed the cash loan P3,500 but now it’s P7,000 plus P4,800 for legal fees and P2,200 for the sheriff, total around P14,000. I already paid them P6,000 but they still want to take car even though I offered to pay them P1,000 per month.

May I kindly request if this is the procedure if I have been summoned by a cash loan?


I suspect that this very much IS the procedure that a cash loan will follow in this situation. I also suspect that there’s very little you can do about this because you almost certainly agreed to all of this when you signed the loan agreement. A company is also entitled to go to court if someone owes them and to apply for an order to attach property to recover their money.

The starting point is that you do indeed owe them money. You borrowed P3,500 from them and agreed to their terms. This is all governed by the “in duplum” rule which says that the interest charged when a debt like yours is settled cannot exceed the capital amount that remains outstanding. For once this lender is obeying that rule, only demanding P7,000, twice the capital amount you borrowed. Unfortunately, the other costs of recovering the debt such as the attorney and debt collector fees are probably reasonable in the circumstances.

From what you say, it seems that the lender already went to court and was given a court order allowing them to instruct a deputy sheriff to seize your car and then, I assume, to sell it to get their money back. The good news is that any money left over from the sale of the car should be returned to you. However, so long as they get the money they’re owed I suspect they won’t care greatly how much money they sell it for. It’s possible you won’t get very much back from them so I really urge you to contact them one last time to see if you can agree a repayment plan.

Can they behave like this?


Hi Rich. Please help me out. Are these cash loans allowed to keep our bank cards and keep on paying themselves every month? I’m shocked right now that my mother who is 70 years a pensioner has been without her bank card It's like it stay there for ever.

And again if I want to report them where can I go and report.? Thank you.


No, they are certainly NOT allowed to do this. They never have been and they aren’t now either. Those of us who remember the days before the micro-lending industry was regulated can recall the tricks they got up to. They charged enormous levels of interest, took people’s ATM cards regularly and behaved like a bunch of crooks. Things are a lot better now that NBFIRA started to regulate the industry but clearly there are still some crooks out there.

One of the first things NBFIRA did with micro-lenders was to make it clear that it was illegal for them to take and hold someone’s ATM card so I suggest that you contact NBFIRA as soon as possible and register a complaint with them about this obviously very suspicious company. If they’ve taken your mother’s card I suspect they’ve taken other people’s cards as well and they need to be stopped. We need to stop this loan shark from doing this!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The things that matter

I was asked recently to speak to a group of young entrepreneurs about how they should succeed in business. Me? What do I know about that? Firstly, I’m not an expert on creating or running a business and secondly I don’t trust people who claim to be experts offering advice to people, just like I don’t trust the people whose only job is writing books on management and leadership when all they’ve ever done is write those books.

However, I did feel qualified to talk about what I’ve seen, the things that appear to have helped create success and avoid failure. So here goes, a list of rules that I think will increase your chances of being successful in business. And maybe even in life.

Be punctual.

Despite all the excuses people offer about being “on African time”, punctuality is critical. If you’re due to be with a client at 9am then don’t just be on time, be there early. In fact, make it a habit to be 10 minutes early for every appointment you have. Every single time. Lateness for meetings suggests to a client that you’ll be late delivering the things they’re buying from you. Nobody will pay you for that.

Look at the countries where time is seen as something valuable. Take Japan as an example. A few days ago the BBC reported on an incident that everyone thought was amusing but I thought was inspirational. The headline was “Apology after Japanese train departs 20 seconds early” and it reported that “Management on the Tsukuba Express line between Tokyo and the city of Tsukuba say they "sincerely apologise for the inconvenience" caused. In a statement, the company said the train had been scheduled to leave at 9:44:40 local time but left at 9:44:20.”

The story went on to report that even though “no customers had complained about the early departure”, the company felt it important to apologise for not keeping exactly to the timetable they had published.

Even though part of me suspects that this was a clever bit of marketing by this company, it nevertheless says something about the Japanese commitment to punctuality. You can be sure that if a Japanese company says something will be delivered on a particular day then it will be.

So why can’t we be like that? Why can’t you and your business have the same commitment? Even if your employer doesn’t have it, why can’t you? Why not stand out from the crowd of latecomers by being the individual that is always on time?

Here’s another piece of advice, a cousin of punctuality. Be precise. In fact, why not go one step further and be a perfectionist? Why should you or your customers accept second best? You can start with the small things. I don’t care what sort of technology you use, whether it’s your phone, a tablet or a computer and what software you use to write emails, documents and presentations but they all come with a spell-checker. Use it. There is simply no excuse for speeling mistaks. They make you look amateur and trust me, nobody wants to pay an amateur to do work for them. They want to engage a professional and professionals concentrate on the small things that distinguish them from all the others.

But it’s not just spelling that matters. It’s everything. Every picture on your office wall should be straight. There shouldn’t be dust or coffee stains on your desk, litter on the floor, or chewing gum in your mouth. No matter how modest your office might be, it should be somewhere your customers can see the standards you’ve set and how well you’ve met them.

Perhaps the most difficult tip it to be energetic. Work hard. Every successful person in business and in other areas of life got there through lots and lots of hard work. They got there by working hard, by sacrificing sleep, their social life and fooling around on Facebook. They’re the ones who didn’t go home at the normal time when a report was due in tomorrow morning, they’re the ones who worked through the night until it got done. They’re the ones who valued their annual leave entitlement less than their obligations.

Here’s another tip, one that might seem beyond your reach. Be lucky.

How, you probably think, can you create luck? Has he gone mad, has he been reading that great source of nonsense and gibberish, The Secret and thinking he can just wish himself good fortune? No, I haven’t been on the happy pills, but you CAN create good luck and it’s actually quite simple to do it. The real secret to good luck is to put yourself in places where lucky things happen.

Take every opportunity that comes your way to widen your circle of business acquaintances. Accept all invitations to training sessions, breakfast seminars and business gatherings. If your employer says there’s a new project that needs volunteers then be the first volunteer. It doesn’t matter whether it interrupts your Friday evening drinking session, your YouTube time or your time for doing nothing, put yourself in the way of opportunities for lucky things to happen. You don’t get lucky by staying in front of the TV.

Finally, and most importantly, be prepared to make mistakes. Every successful person in business has made mistakes. In fact, I suspect there’s a positive correlation between the number of mistakes made and success. That’s because mistakes often happen when successful people experiment. They had an idea, tried it out and sometimes they’ve been lucky, other times not so lucky. Look at a company like Apple who have had almost as many mistakes as successes, the important thing is that very few of us remember the failures because their successes have been so good. But they wouldn’t have had the successes without having made the mistakes first.

I’ll be the first to say that all of these ideas can be hard to do. But do you really think success comes easily?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

My lawyer lied to me!

I had engaged a lawyer and he said he had registered the case with High Court and I paid for case registration, paid for summons delivery and paid for his service a total of P4,600 and later discovered that he did not even register the case. Now he has my documents and is refusing to refund. I went to court to check and it was not there. What should I do?


I think we have a right to expect somewhat higher levels of service from certain industries, don’t you? I expect a bank, an insurance company and an airline to be highly professional, even if sometimes they don’t always do as well as we’d hope. This also applies to “the professions” such as medicine, accountancy and, in this case, the law. We have a right to expect the attorneys we consult to be experts in their fields. I’ve met a number of extremely skilled attorneys who have impressed me enormously but I’ve also met some attorneys I was surprised had made it out of secondary school, let alone law school. Just as worrying is that I’ve also met some attorneys who were distinctly shady characters that I wouldn’t have trusted with my legal affairs or my money.

I suspect your attorney might be in that last category. What he’s done isn’t just to offer poor customer service, I suspect he’s broken the basic rules of conduct that are expected of attorneys. He’s taken your money, not done what he was meant to do and, worst of all in a profession where honesty is so important, he’s lied to you.

I suggest you escalate this and speak to the Law Society of Botswana, the legal profession’s oversight authority who can investigate and take action against him if they establish that what you say is true. In extreme cases they can even close an attorney down if they find that their misconduct was serious. You can call them on 3900200 or email them at administration@lawsociety.org.bw.

Is Martinville University legit?

I received an email from Martinville University which they say is one of the top educational institutes providing campus based and online education based in California. They said I had been awarded a scholarship and could get a degree based on my prior life experience. Can this be true?


Martinville "University" is a fake, there’s no doubt about it. Here’s why.

On their web site is a link offering a Live Chat facility and I used it to have a conversation with one of their advisors. I told him that in order to get a position as a senior nurse I needed a degree in Nursing as quickly as possible. I made it clear that the only qualification I had was a diploma in health and safety. In case you’re wondering, this was all lies.

He told me that all I needed to get the degree was to send them my resume, showing that I had some experience and $500 and I would be sent a Bachelors degree in Nursing within 10-15 days. He told me that “this does not require a study, or to undergo an exam”.

Everyone knows this is fake, surely? Doesn’t everyone know that people only get degrees by studying, writing coursework and dissertations and sitting exams? We all know that people don’t get real qualification just with a credit card, don’t we?

My conversation with the advisor then became even more bizarre. He suggested that I could not only get a Bachelors degree but a Masters degree in Nursing as well, just by paying them $1,000, $500 for each degree. He told me that they would “need to backdate your bachelor's degree” if I wanted both.

Although this might seem surprising, perhaps even amusing, it’s actually very dangerous. I wasn’t asking for a degree in Marketing or HR Management where having an unqualified person in a job would probably cause little harm, they were offering me advanced qualification in Nursing. If a hospital HR department failed to check my qualifications, who knows what damage I could do. People could die.

So that’s why I say Martinville University is a fake. Just like the qualifications they sell. And just like anyone who buys one.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Consumer fallacies

My dictionary defines a fallacy as “a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments” and I think we all know life is full of them.

For instance, it’s a fallacy to believe that a company selling you products or services will always have your interests at heart. And nor should they. More than two centuries ago Adam Smith wrote that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Companies sell us things, whether it’s meat, beer or bread or a bank account, an insurance policy or a cellphone because they want to make a profit by doing so and there’s nothing wrong with that. The “profit motive” is a healthy thing, so long as it’s done in an open and honest manner. Hopefully we profit as well from the deal. We get our dinner, a loan, cover against disasters and a phone we can use to update our Facebook profile to tell the world what we think of the weather.

Just don’t think that a company is primarily interested in you. That would be a mistaken belief, one based on unsound arguments. A fallacy.

It’s also a fallacy, one of the biggest in customer service, to think that “the customer is always right”. Let me tell you a secret. The customer is NOT always right. In fact, the customer sometimes is a jerk. Other times the customer is an idiot and occasionally even a lying, cheating scumbag doing his best to steal your company’s products, services or money.

Of course you shouldn’t assume this to begin with. When you first meet a customer they obviously deserve courtesy, respect and attention. You start the encounter by assuming that both you as a service provider and the customer should benefit from the encounter and that the best way to do this is to engage with them like a professional and find a solution that their needs. It’s only later that you can change this approach.

Some years ago we heard from a restaurant manager who had a customer arrive, order food, eat most of it and then complain that the food wasn’t good enough. Being a polite and flexible guy, he said he wouldn’t charge her for the food. The following week she came again and exactly the same thing happened. Again, he waived the bill. The following week it happened again. This time he politely explained to the customer that perhaps she’d be happier eating the food offered by another restaurant where they could satisfy her needs and she left. When she arrived the following week, he refused to serve her and explained that she was no longer welcome in his restaurant.

When he contacted us he asked if we thought he’d done the right thing and our response was very simple. Yes, of course he was right. She had effectively stolen his food and he was perfectly right to “fire” her. We suggested that his other customers, the one who didn’t abuse him, would probably agree with him as well.

I could offer you a long list of stories we’ve heard of customers who are even worse than this. We’ve heard of customers who lie, cheat and even one, very recently, who asked a supplier to forge a document to help them defraud a manufacturer of the product they falsely claimed was faulty. Obviously these are extreme cases and it’s important to understand that most customers are decent people, not crooks but I do think it confirms the truth. They’re not always right.

Royal crown curvedWhat about the common suggest that “the customer is king”. Sorry, that’s another fallacy.

We’re not all kings. Or indeed queens. We’re just ordinary people, not royalty, not people with inherited wealth, position or power, not people that everyone has to stand up to greet, not people who deserve red carpets and impressive titles. We’re just people, people who deserve respect until we demonstrate that we no longer deserve it. Most importantly, I object to the suggestion that only royalty deserve good service. Everyone does, whether we’re of royal blood or the mortals required to serve them. Isn’t it the 21st century and haven’t we long put aristocracy behind us?

Then there’s the fallacy that service has to be the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in a bank, a filling station or a government office, we all deserve respect and courtesy but I believe that different levels of service aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s natural for service to vary. The quality of service I get at the filling station doesn’t need to match the service I get in a luxury hotel. It might seem uncomfortable but the more I’m paying for something, the better the service I expect. That’s certainly the case in restaurants. If I’m grabbing something quick for lunch then I don’t want a lengthy welcome and a conversation, I just want to hand over my money, get some food and a smile is the only other thing I want. However, if I’m spending a small fortune in a high-end restaurant I deserve excellent, not just adequate service.

It also depends where you are. For instance, certain industries need to offer a slightly different quality of service. If I’m in a bank I deserve service primarily with efficiency. If I’m in a restaurant, I want friendliness. Perhaps most importantly, if I’m in a hospital, I deserve service that is, above all other things, compassionate.

In healthcare compassion isn’t just a luxury, it’s an essential thing. When people are unwell or damaged they deserve more than the usual attention. They need more than just a smile, they need to know that the person serving them genuinely cares about them and understands that they are anxious, in pain or miserable. All very unlike the experience of someone who spoke to me a few days ago. With a few wonderful exceptions, their experience of healthcare was dismissive, uncaring, sometimes even brutal. In those situations we deserve something a lot better than the norm. That’s not a fallacy, it’s a humane truth.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I’m in a mess!

Am sending this email with pain in my heart. I took credit with a furniture store of which I could not settle in time. They then contracted a debt collector to collect money on their behalf. I paid money on 9th October 2017 to them then it took me 2 weeks to receive a settlement letter from the store. Now I have issue with ITC update. The problem is ITC now its still showing and I cannot be assisted at the bank.

I am owing someone so I wanted a loan to settle and now ITC is holding me. The person wants sheriffs to take to jail and I also owe some cash loans. How can you assist me am really desperate my job is on line now. Please assist me on this issue.

This is a real mess. I know this doesn’t help you get out of your situation but this is a very good example of what can happen when you buy things on credit, more accurately called hire purchase. Even if nothing goes wrong you’ll typically end up paying twice the cash price, probably three times the real value of the items you’re buying. And to make matters worse, you’ll have absolutely no legal protection against the store if things go wrong.

My understanding is that it can take up to 30 days for TransUnion (formerly ITC) to update their records once a debt is finally settled so with luck your record will show that you cleared the debt very soon.

Meanwhile, in your position, I think you should formally notify everyone to whom you owe money that you are unable to play them right now. That means something in writing, explaining that you simply don’t have the money to repay your debts. I get the impression from what you say that you’ve approached a bank, presumably for a loan to repay the various debts you have. However, while this seems like a good idea, you might be out of luck. I suspect a bank will look at your credit record and decide that you are a very poor risk for them to take on.

In the letter you write to all your creditors, I suggest that you say that you are seeking debt counselling and will be contacting them within 21 days with a proposed repayment plan. Meanwhile I’ll put you in touch with a debt counsellor that might be able to assist you.

Good luck!

My phone can’t be repaired!

Earlier this year I bought a STK phone from a store in Broadhurst. On 14th August I dropped the phone and broke the touch screen, I went to them seeking assistance and they referred me to a specialist repair shop for the repair at my cost (fine with that because it is not a factory fault), only to be told that they do not have parts for the phone. Now I am stuck with a phone that has no after sales service.

I talked to one of the store’s reps in South Africa when they wanted their money (I do not have a problem paying them) just because I missed one instalment date. I mentioned that whilst I am to service my account, I am not enjoying my purchase. She responded by saying that they did not have warranty on the screen, I told her that I know screens are not warranted but all I wanted assistance on where I can get a replacement at my own cost but she told me it was my choice of a phone. Yes I chose the phone but was not told that it is not serviceable which is very wrong. I cannot be held accountable for a withheld information. They did not let me make an informed decision by disclosing all the information. The Caveat Emptor rule I suppose.


Please help me because I am stuck with a product that does not have after sales service. Is the shop not responsible for selling products that they know have no after sales service? Will I be wrong to demand that they take back their phone and replace it with one that has after sales?

Yes, you’re right, the caveat emptor rule (“let the buyer beware”) probably applies but I suppose one important question is whether the store knew when they sold you the phone that its screen could not be repaired in Botswana. If so, then I think they sold you something that wasn’t “of merchantable quality”, as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations but it might be hard to prove they knew this. I suspect you might be out of luck and have learned a painful and expensive lesson about where to buy cellphones!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Who’s the fool?

Who’s the greater fool, the person who buys Bitcoins today or the person who does not?

As I write this, last Sunday, the value of one Bitcoin had just reached $7,443, over P78,000. A year ago, you would have been able to buy one Bitcoin for less than a tenth of that amount, just over $700. If you’d bought into it then, your money would have grown more than tenfold. Even if you’d bought some just six weeks ago, you still would have doubled your money.

[Update: As I post this, the price has dropped to $6,931 but that's the way of things like this, they fluctuate wildly.]

So does that mean you should buy Bitcoin today? If you do, will your money double again in the next six weeks? Will the exponential growth continue?

Image c/o Coindesk

Nobody knows. Honesty, nobody does. Despite what a lot of people will tell you, the future value of Bitcoin can’t be predicted but here are some things that we DO know about 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. That’s one of the reasons Bitcoin has been adopted by

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.

The "out there" element is very new and innovative. The blockchain, the 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” you’ll hear people talk about. That idea is truly revolutionary and will probably play a role in many new ideas in the near future, not just cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

An obvious major concern with Bitcoin is security. As we understand it now, the technology underpinning Bitcoin seems highly secure but anyone who says that a particular security protocol is fool-proof hasn't read their history books. All security technologies will be cracked or hacked sooner or later and if a flaw is ever discovered in Bitcoin's security mechanisms it would be instantly worthless. Say goodbye to your money.

But maybe you think this can’t happen with Bitcoin? Bad news. It already has. The “Mt Gox” Bitcoin exchange collapsed in 2014, losing 850,000, allegedly stolen by unknown criminals who had somehow managed to find a way around the security protocols built into the blockchain.

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

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

Perhaps more importantly there’s a very dangerous thing happening with Bitcoin right now as you read this. Hysteria.

If you get the chance, go to Wikipedia and look up “Tulip mania” and you’ll see a story of the absurd rise in prices of tulip bulbs in the Dutch Republic in 1637, one of the first examples of what economists call a “speculative bubble”, when the price of a commodity increases rapidly, far beyond what logic and reason suggest is a valid price. That’s what happening with Bitcoin right now. The price people are paying is utterly absurd and has no connection to reality.

[Yes, I DO know that much of the tulip mania story was an exaggeration but the point is nevertheless a good one.]

Economists also talk about an idea they call “greater fool theory”, which according to Wikipedia states that “the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants”. Unlike in normal circumstances, when investors and speculators know to “buy low, sell high”, sometimes they adopt a different, more high-risk approach. With Bitcoin, many people seem to think “I know I’m a fool to buy something at such a high price, but I’m hoping I’ll find an even greater fool in the future who’ll buy it from me”.

That’s what often happens in economic bubbles. It happened in the property market, it happened with tulip bulbs and it seems to be happening with Bitcoin and some of the other cryptocurrencies. There is simply no justification for their current value. It’s not connected with the value of any real commodity, the performance of any country’s economy or any share price index. Its value is solely determined by whatever the current “fools” will pay for it, hoping that there will be greater fools in the future when they choose to sell.

But there’s bad news about economic bubbles. Like their distant cousins, pyramid and Ponzi schemes, they all eventually burst leaving their investors depressed and poor. I’m certainly not qualified to predict when this will happen but I know that it will happen sooner or later. I doubt that Bitcoin will disappear soon but its value must eventually drop to a value that’s based on reason and genuine market pressures, not just hysteria.

The question is simple. Do you want to be the fool that invested in a bubble or the fool that didn’t but at least didn’t have their bubble burst?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Botswana Magic Land legit?

Please advise me. Botswana Magic Land are advertising on Facebook asking for people to invest in their water park. Is it legitimate?


I admit I’m very skeptical about this scheme. I’ve seen the advertisements on Facebook as well and it doesn’t look good to me.

They describe their scheme as “The Biggest Park Ever In Africa” and suggest that it will be based on a “50 Hectare Land with the Latest RIDES & GAMES”. They go on to suggest that we can “BE ONE OF THE OWNERS” and that “Shares are ready NOW For You To BUY”.

A member of our Facebook group did some investigation and reported that despite what the people behind this scheme claim, no 50-hectare plot has been allocated and that they can’t even say where this plot might be. Despite offering shares for sale there is no share prospectus, no company documentation and no evidence that any of this is genuine. When he requested some evidence from the organisers that the scheme was genuine his requests were unanswered. Given that there appears to be no registered company in Botswana and the organisers only offer a telephone line based in Lebanon, I think that we have good reason to be very suspicious.

Another member of the group found that the images the organisers showed of the possible park in Botswana were taken from another, presumably genuine, amusement park scheme.

Given all this, I suggest extreme caution. I’ll also be asking some questions but for now I think it’s safe to assume that this isn’t a genuine scheme and that your money is safer in your bank account. Or even under your pillow.

Are they penalizing me?

“Is it fair to be penalised for clearing up your loan before maturity time? I'm not black mailing this bank but I want to understand whether is lawfully financially?”


Let’s start by asking why banks lend us money. Do they do it because they’re feeling charitable? Are they lending us money because they’re nice people? Are they doing it because they’re kind? No. Banks lend us money so they can make money from doing so. The interest they charge us when we borrow money from them goes towards the salaries and bonuses of their staff, their electricity, water, internet and alcohol bills. It also goes towards their profits and the dividends they pay their shareholders.

When you take a loan from a bank, that loan becomes part of the business plan of the bank. They know they’ve given you or me some money and they expect that money to be repaid over the next few years. Their cash flow expects to see our monthly repayments coming in every month. They also expect to see profits every month. That’s what we agreed with the bank when we signed the agreement.

If we later go back and ask to change that plan we’ll be affecting their plans. Most importantly, we’ll probably be reducing their income over what they thought would be the duration of the loan. They expected two years of income and now they can expect slightly less. When you ask to settle the debt early the bank will calculate a “settlement amount” that is somewhere between the amount you borrowed and the total amount they expected to get back from you.

So to answer your question, no, the bank isn’t “penalising” you for settling your debt early, they’re actually being helpful to you and not demanding that you stick to the original loan agreement you both signed. They’re offering you a compromise that allows you to settle the debt early, not pay the full amount you agreed to pay and which still allows them to make the money their shareholders and their bar bills require.

Finally, I’m glad you’re trying to repay a debt ahead of schedule. That’s always the wisest thing you can do if you can afford it. If you ever have some extra money to spare, the very best thing you can do is firstly set aside an emergency fund, and then to repay debt. Don’t buy a car, don’t invest it, don’t spend it on beer. Create an emergency fund and pay off debt before you do anything else.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Exploitation or abuse?

Twelve and a half years and five-hundred and ninety-seven articles ago, the very first Consumer Watchdog article began with this:
“The consumers of Botswana are being exploited. This isn’t really news to any of us but perhaps the sheer scale of it might still be surprising.”
Has anything changed?

Yes, I think it has. In the last decade, things genuinely have improved a great deal. There’s more choice, greater competition, and I personally believe that the general quality of service has improved. Of course, those three things are all connected. The more companies we have offering services, the more competition there will be between those companies and that inevitably leads to better quality of service for you and me. Those of us old enough will remember the days when BTC was the only choice for making phone calls and then Mascom and Orange came along and even though they still aren’t perfect, look what happened to BTC. In the late 1990s they were universally despised and now they still offer landlines but also cellular and data services across the country. Yes, as I said they’re still not perfect but at least they’re doing their best to compete with the others and their service is far, far above the levels they showed in the past.

The issue that the article twelve years ago covered was store credit and the extraordinary cost of buying things on, what was then and remains, hire purchase. That certainly hasn’t changed but I do believe that more people now understand what a terrible way it can be to buy things. Expensive, risky and unregulated.

The bad news is that there are other areas that haven’t changed as well.

Store security is one of them. For years we’ve been trying to explain to Mmegi readers that there’s a very simple rule about store security and the guards who enforce it. Despite their uniforms and their attitude, security guards are only civilians and the rights they have are only those of civilians like you and me. But not all security guards know that.

In May 2011 a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store a security guard from Scorpion Security blocked her way and demanded to search through her handbag. Rather than asking nicely he just grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. Her later complaint to the security company about the way their guard had treated her was met with a promise of an apology but this never came.

So she dragged Scorpion Security to court. And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence in defence and told the judge that his “security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.”

Not true. Not even nearly true.

In his judgment the judge found that “indeed the Defendants searched the plaintiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] The Plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.” He went on to say that she had suffered “humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society” and that she deserved compensation for that. He ordered the security company to pay her P60,000 in compensation.

Just a few days ago a consumer contacted us with the following story. He said:
“I was insulted by a security guard in Maun because I refused to be searched, they wanted to search the things I had purchased from their shop and I found that whole exercise to be inhuman and degrading. I told them that instead of being searched I would rather be given my money back and the manager was called to address the situation and he also blamed me for refusing to be searched. I ended up getting my money back and I will never set foot in that wholesale again. Is it proper for customers to be searched at the door after purchasing goods?”
Of course, we all know the answer. It’s simply NOT proper to treat customers like this. It’s exploitation and the customer was quite right to decide never to visit the store again and to exercise his right to tell everyone he knows (and the 90,000 people in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group) about his experience and decision to take his money elsewhere.

Then there’s another form of exploitation. Perhaps a better word is “abuse”.

Many of you will have read and heard of a situation where a small girl was allegedly molested by a customer at a leisure resort outside Gaborone. The bad news is that this particular resort has a widespread reputation for such things. Many of us have heard stories for years that girls and young women ran the risk of being pestered by men, sometimes groups of men. The good news is that the management of the resort seem now to have taken the issue seriously and will be setting a higher standard of entrance and conduct for patrons visiting the place.

But the wider issue is how a business, whether it’s a bank, an insurance company, a supermarket or a leisure resort can offer its patrons a sense of security. I don’t mean being illegally searched by a guard with delusions of importance, I mean real security, the safety and welfare of the consumers who spend their money there. I mean a security guard who would take care to protect the customers, not just the store’s interests.

So things have changed for the better over the last twelve years, that’s true. But there’s still a long way to go until we’re free of exploitation and abuse.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Should I join Rain International?

I was invited to attend a meeting relating to Rain International in November. They say it costs between P200 and P1,000 to attend. Do you think its worth it?


So the organisers of this event want you to spend up to P1,000 just to attend a sales pitch to join their scheme? They’re confident, don’t you think? So what is it they are so confident about?

Rain International sell health products based on seeds. Yes, seeds. Of course there’s nothing wrong with seeds, they can be nutritious and tasty things. Like nuts they can be full of nutrients and they can be part of a healthy diet. But like nuts, while they can be good for you, they can’t perform miracles. They certainly can’t, by themselves, do some of the things that Rain International advocates say they can do. I contacted one of their local distributors who told me that “Our product are seed based nutrition. They help in body restoration. And there are lots of testimonies related to that.” He also told me, when I asked, they Rain products “do help” with heart problems and with high blood pressure”. He then sent me a document that claimed that their products could “strengthen the immune system”, “improve brain function”, “lower risk of cardiovascular disease”, “improve cardiovascular health”, ”protect genetic material”, “fight cancer”, “improve vision”, “help manage and prevent diabetes” and “raise the dead”.


Ok, I admit I made up that last claim but if it can do all those other things surely it’s only one step further to claim miracles?

But here’s the big thing. I asked this distributor whether, if I joined, I would make money by selling the product or by getting other people to join the scheme. I think his answer says everything you need to know: “I would say by getting other ppl to join.”


So there we have it. Their own distributor says you can make the most money by recruiting other people rather than selling the product. It’s yet another a pyramid-structured scheme and I urge you not to waste your time, effort and money on it.

Should I buy into this idea?

As a young ambitious lady, I am always on the look out of business opportunities that can earn me extra money as well create employment for others. This year I stumbled upon this 'opportunity' but I am reluctant to take the plunge because I am not so sure if it is real or it is a scam. The business goes by the name of I Quit Smoking (IQS) and they claim to assist smokers quit smoking through pain-free electrical stimulation in the auricles or ear. I have also received a prospectus from them after enquiring about franchising opportunities with them.

If this a legitimate business I would like to franchise it and avail it locally. Please advise. Your assistance would be very much appreciated.


Forgive me for being blunt but the whole concept behind this “auricular therapy” concept is ridiculous. It’s a bizarre combination of acupuncture and reflexology. Acupuncture is based on the idea that inserting needles into “meridians” that run through your body can control magical energy levels and reflexology suggests that there are spots on your feet that are connected to all the organs of your body and that manipulating these spots can improve the functioning of the organs they’re connected to.

The polite way to describe both these ideas is “hogwash” but if you speak to me informally I won’t be that polite. Every scientific examination of these theories has shown that they actually have no effect. None.

Also, you should know that offering such services in Botswana would contravene Section 15 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which forbids a supplier from quoting “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. That hasn’t stopped a number of people offering other magical health-related products but that’s no excuse in my view.

I urge you not to waste your time and, more importantly, money on this business.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Will World Ventures make me rich?

I’ve been asked many times by many people for my opinions about World Ventures and my answer is always the same. I believe it’s a pyramid scheme.

Let’s start at the beginning. Wikipedia provides a useful definition of a pyramid scheme. It’s
"an unsustainable business model that involves promising participants payment or services, primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, rather than supplying any real investment or sale of products or services to the public.”
So, for instance, Amway and Herbalife aren’t pyramid schemes because they have products. They’re Multi-Level Marketing schemes that just have a pyramid structure. With these two schemes you’re certainly actively encouraged to build multiple layers of people beneath you in the structure but there are actual products being shipped. The figures that Amway and Herbalife produce show that hardly anyone makes any profit from the schemes but they’re not pyramid schemes. Not quite.

But World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. So say the authorities in Norway who investigated them and discovered that most of the money people were making from World Ventures came from the recruitment of other people in the pyramid, not the sale of any product. Similar investigations around the world have also suggested the same conclusion. So it’s not just me.

But let’s, for a moment, assume that World Ventures is a legitimate business. Let’s assume it’s not a scam. Will you make money from joining?

Almost certainly not. And who can I thank for teaching me this? World Ventures themselves.

In the USA, World Ventures publish an "Income Disclosure Statement" every year and it makes interesting reading. Like all such schemes the majority of the money is earned by a very small proportion of the people, the ones at the top of the pyramid.

The 2015 statement declared very proudly that World Ventures has 238,684 Independent Sales Representatives (“IRs”) in the United States. However, they reported that only "22.24% of all IRs earned a commission or override, while 77.76% did not". In simpler terms, three quarters of all their American recruits made nothing from the scheme. Nothing at all. Zero.

Of the quarter of recruits who earned something, the news was very good but only if you were at the top of the pyramid. In fact, 84% of all the money generated was earned by the top 19%. Or, if you prefer it the other way round, 81% of the recruits who earn something have to share just 16% of the money.

It gets worse. Two thirds (actually 68.7%) of all the income earned in 2015 went to the 3.7% lucky enough to find themselves at the very top of the pyramid. In fact, the people at the very top of the pyramid are doing very well for themselves. The 1 in 20,000 people described as "National Marketing Director" level had an annual income of $238,645. The 1 in 14,000 at "International Marketing Director" level earned an average of $409,280.

Overall, if you include everyone who made some money from the scheme, the average income was $1,348 but that's not a good indication of what the average recruit will earn because the figures are distorted by those fat cats earning a fortune at the top of the pyramid. The median income level is a much better illustration of what you can expect to earn. That's a meagre $150 per year, about P1,500.

But don't forget two important things. Firstly, like I mentioned above, less than a quarter of all the people who join earn anything. These figures just refer to the quarter of victims who earned anything at all. If you include the three quarters who don’t earn anything, the average annual earnings are a meagre $300. The median earnings, the more realistic figure, drops to a pathetic $33. Just P330 per year.

Even more importantly, all these numbers refer to income, not profits. These figures are before you take account of all the money the victims had to spend on travel, accommodation, electricity, internet access and trying to recruit potential victims. If the evidence from legitimate schemes like Amway and Herbalife can be trusted then it’s probably fair to assume that the vast majority of people who join World Ventures either make nothing or actually lose money.

In fact, all they’re doing is earning lots money for the tiny number at the top of the pyramid.

It’s the same for all the other pyramid schemes, and their cousins, the Ponzi schemes that abound. Only the people at the top ever make money and that’s always at the expense of the poor suckers at the bottom, the ones doing all the work, not even earning a salary for their efforts. Whether it’s the silly AIM Global scheme selling their illegal magical health products, Total Life Changes with their apparently disease-curing tea, Tupperware with their kitchenware, BitClub Network with their claim that people can become Bitcoin miners, Questra or alternatively Atlantic Global Asset Management with their Get Rich Quick claims, the claims are always exactly the same. With minimal effort, you’ll make lots of money.

Sometimes they’re brazen about it. One of the recruiters for Questra, a well-known “Man of God”, posted on Facebook that with Questra, there were “No Joining fees, No monthly payments, You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.”

If only life was that simple. But it’s not. There are no quick ways to make money without effort unless you win the lottery. Even then it’s not the complete truth. A lottery can only afford to give the winner a million if the losers have lost more than a million in total. The losers pay the winner’s winnings.

Pyramid schemes like World Ventures are even worse than lotteries. Imagine a lottery where the person running the lottery fixed the results and was also the winner, every single week. That’s what a pyramid scheme is like, a conspiracy organised solely to take money from the people who lose every week and give it to the winners, who also are the people who created the scheme.

Do you want to be that loser?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay to return the bricks?

Kindly offer advice on the following matter.

About a month ago I made an order for some bricks from a supplier. He delivered when I was not around and the bricks are poor quality to me but he claims the quality is good. I saw the bricks and they are not up to standard. I wanted to return the bricks because of the poor quality and he says I will have to pay 33% handling fee to him.

What I my rights in the situation? I have not made any payments. I don’t have any signed agreement with him and have never seen his company policy.


Clearly this guy isn’t the smartest of people. He delivered bricks to your place without a payment in advance and then he wants to start fooling around with you? Doesn’t he realise that you are the one in control of this situation?

I suggest you write him a letter saying that the bricks he delivered failed to meet the requirements of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations that require goods to be "of merchantable quality" which is defined as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. You should also say that as a result of the sub-standard nature of the bricks, you are cancelling the deal completely and that he is welcome to collect his bricks from your property. Don’t even respond to his silly suggestion about the 33% fee for handling the bricks that still belong to him.

Should we join World Ventures?

Richard do u know anything about World Ventures? My wife wants us to join but the way she explained it to me I smell something wrong about it. She has to come with 4 people who will bring more people for her to earn points. Please advise.


World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. That’s my opinion but it’s an opinion shared by the authorities in Norway for instance, who declared it was a pyramid scheme after they discovered that 85% of the income its members made came from recruiting other people rather that selling products. That’s the definition of a pyramid scheme.

We’ve been warning people about World Ventures since 2009 when they took over an earlier pyramid scheme called Success University. World Ventures and their Dream Trips scheme promise fantastic holidays in exotic places but they’re rarely clear that none of these holidays are free. You have to pay to join the pyramid and then all you get are discounted holidays. You still have to buy the holidays, just at a slightly cheaper price. And here’s a thing. A discount isn’t a product, it’s a reduction in the price of a product. Like the Norwegian authorities discovered, World Ventures is really all about is paying to join a pyramid-structured scheme in which you do your best to recruit multiple layers of people beneath you, just like any other pyramid or Multi-Level Marketing scheme.

The interesting thing is that World Ventures publish an "Income Disclosure Statement" in the USA every year and it makes interesting reading. To begin with, more than three quarters of all their American recruits made nothing from the scheme. Nothing at all. Zero.

Of those that made any money, the vast majority of the money is earned by a very small proportion of the people, the ones at the top of the pyramid. Furthermore, more than two thirds of all the money is made by the 3.7% at the top of the pyramid. 84% is earned by the top 19%. To put it another way, 81% of the recruits who earn money have to share just 16% of the money.

And these amounts refer to income, not profits. They’re before the recruits took account of all the money they had to spend on travel, accommodation, electricity, internet access and all the other costs of trying to recruit other victims into the scheme. The evidence from other similar schemes is that most people earn less than they spend trying to make the money. They lose money.

I suggest you tell your wife there are many better ways of spending your money!

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 their miracle "Iaso 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.