Saturday, 25 March 2017

Be a cyber-skeptic

The world recently celebrated World Consumer Rights Day, a day recognised by Consumers International every year. According to CI the day is an annual “opportunity to promote the basic rights of all consumers, demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights”.

The theme for 2017 was “Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust” and that’s clearly something enormously important. That’s why we’ve been talking about it for years. And why we’re going to be speaking about it forever.

The fact that many of you are reading this article on a computer, a tablet or a phone is an indication of how far we’ve come even in the time since we formed Consumer Watchdog. When we started we were on one radio station and in just one newspaper but 13 years later we’ve expanded to two radio stations and two newspaper columns. We’ve published well over 1,000 newspaper articles containing over a million words but more importantly we also have a blog with over 1,500 posts that’s been visited over a million times and a Facebook group with over 61,000 members. New technology has transformed and improved the way we communicate with our readers.

I think that the change has been a great thing. The internet and its products, things like web pages, Google, blogs, Skype, Twitter and Facebook have changed almost everything we do. For the better. The fact that we can access this information from a cheap cellphone has transformed both the depth and breadth of access to information. It’s genuinely made access to information more democratic. Almost all of us now have immeasurably greater access to news, information and opinions and our lives and relationships are better informed and richer as a result.

But it’s not all good. Some of that news, some that information, some of those opinions are wrong. Others are misguided. A few are abusive, despicable and disgusting. Many of them are there solely to deceive you and steal your money. We’re truly in the world of “alternative facts” and that’s beginning to have an impact on everyone’s life.

Many experts have observed that there have been no new ideas in business since Henry Ford invented the production line in 1913. That’s true even now, despite everything the cyber-revolution has offered us. Emails are just modern letters, Instagram is just a photo album, Skype is just a phone, Twitter is today’s telegram and Facebook, well, Facebook is just a bar on a Friday night.

Even the lessons you need to know about the new inter-connected world are the same as the lessons our grandparents had to learn before the internet was even a fantasy:
  1. Don’t trust strangers, particularly if they offer you money, a business “opportunity” or love.
  2. Things that seem too good to be true ARE too good to be true.
  3. Miracle cures are not cures at all.
  4. The only way to become physically healthier or slimmer is to eat better and exercise more.
  5. If you want commitment, sign a written agreement.
  6. If you can’t commit to an agreement, don’t sign it.
  7. Never sign an agreement you haven’t read or don’t understand.
  8. Don’t trust a communication channel that isn’t secure.
  9. Degrees from institutions that want money and demand no exams or coursework aren't real degrees.
  10. Do the maths before deciding anything. I mean anything.
Ok, I’ll admit there are a few things you need to know that are specific to the modern age. Firstly, never enter any personal details, including your debit or credit card details, onto a web site that doesn’t start with “https” or that doesn’t have a padlock symbol in the address bar at the top. Secondly, never do any confidential transactions when connected to an open network in a bar, restaurant or public place, even if there IS a padlock or “https”. Never click on a link in an email unless you would trust the person who sent it with your wallet or purse. That includes your bank.

Finally, the simplest of all. Never, under any circumstances, disclose your ATM card PIN to anyone and cover your hand every time you enter it at the ATM or in a store. It’s not rude to do this, the cashier or person next in the queue will respect your good judgment and caution. They might even copy you.

The other thing that’s important is to spread this advice as far and as widely as possible. Pass on this advice to your friends, relatives, neighbours and co-workers. In particular, make sure you tell anyone who isn’t as technologically sophisticated as you about these basic rules. And then be the good friend who is skeptical when they’re told about miracle investment schemes, health products that cure every disease known to medicine and absolutely any business that encourages your friend to recruit multiple levels of people beneath you. Give them the guidance they need.

In short, be skeptical. Be a cyber-skeptical and a critical cyber-thinker. Question everything you hear and that someone seemingly impressive tells you. Don’t take anything at face value, and ask this question of anyone who wants you to join any scheme. “How do YOU benefit from ME joining?”

There’s one final thing you should know.

Consumer Watchdog is free to the consumers of Botswana. It always has been, it is now and it always will be, regardless of the technology we use to bring it to you.

Go now and enjoy your technology, whether it’s your cellphone, tablet or laptop. Explore the wonders that the internet offers you and learn as much as possible. Just don’t believe everything you see there. Trust nobody until you have an extraordinarily good reason to do so. And even then be a cyber-skeptic.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

I bought the wrong things!

I would like to ask for assistance. I bought two night creams and a face serum for my sister at one of the pharmacies. Barely one hour after the purchase I realised I bought a wrong brand. I tried to return the things which cost me around P500 but the shop won't accept giving me back cash. Rather they suggest I take something else worth that amount. The manager even suggested that it's his discretion and he will be doing me a favour to do an exchange.

If they have the brand I was looking for I would have gladly exchanged. But they don't have. And I don't need anything else from the pharmacy. All I need is money to go buy the right brand.

In the receipt there is nothing written regarding returns and exchanges. When I asked for that writing the manager showed me one paper at the medicine counter where only prescriptions are dispensed which says no refunds.

Please help me with the process to follow and what I can do.


Here’s a difficult truth that we all need to learn. We don’t have the right to change our minds when we buy something. We only have a right to return an item if there’s something wrong with it or if it was mis-sold. If the thing you bought doesn’t work, then the store is in breach of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations because they sold something that wasn’t “of merchantable quality”. In that situation you’re entitled to one of the three Rs: a refund, a repair or a replacement. Importantly it’s only reasonable to allow the store to decide which of those they offer you. For instance, if a store sells you a cellphone that doesn’t work or stops working it’s reasonable to allow them to try and fix it. Only if that fails can you demand a replacement or a refund.

You’re also entitled to some recourse if the item was mis-sold. If the store deceived you about a product and its properties or if they made a claim that wasn’t true then again you have the same rights, the three Rs.

In your case neither of those things happened. The store didn’t do anything wrong. The mistake was entirely yours. You might argue that you haven’t used the products and they could put them back on the shelf and sell them to someone else but you can’t force them to do that. In fact, because they’re now technically second-hand they can’t sell them as new again. At the very least the store has the minor bother of restocking the item.

Of course, a reasonable store might be a bit more accommodating but that’s not something you an insist upon. Why don’t you go back to the store again and see if they can be more helpful?

It smells of nothing!

Please assist. I bought a cologne for P875 from a store in Game City sometime in July last year at 50 percent discount. Only for me to spray on the cologne and then realise that it wears off after just 30 mins. I tried it on a second occasion and still got the same results. I thought maybe I just couldn't smell it and I would ask people around me if they could smell it but got a negative response. Mid September I went back to the store to raise my complaint and the manager told me he could not assist me because I had misplaced the receipt. When I probed further about him retrieving a copy from their system he said it was impossible and later changed to say it takes time. He then said though he could reprint the receipt he still could not assist me because I had admitted to using it twice or thrice and therefore they could not resell it. But then how was I supposed to know it wears off within minutes if not by trying it.

Enough. This is a very good example of how useful the “merchantable quality” requirement of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations can be. The Regulations define merchantable quality as referring to something “that is fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. People buy perfume to smell nice and perfume that doesn’t smell of anything is obviously not “of merchantable quality”.

The business about the receipt is a distraction and is not your concern. It should only take minutes to check their computer system and trace your purchase. And then the final point, the fact that you’d opened it and used it? You’re right. How on earth could you be expected to discover that the perfume is useless until you tried it. Do they expect you to be psychic?

I suggest that you go back to the store and explain to them that you know your rights!

Update: She got a full refund!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

A liar or a fool?

Or maybe just someone who’s been misinformed.

Those are the only three possible explanations when someone tells you something that’s not true. They’re deliberately lying, they’re foolishly talking on a subject about which they know little or nothing or they’ve just repeating a falsehood that someone else told them.

The nature of working with consumer rights is that we encounter all of these groups. A few consumers who come to us with a complaint sometimes turn out to have lied to us to get our support, sometimes they’ve even lied to themselves as well. Others can politely be called na├»ve, perhaps ignorant and that’s what gets them into trouble. The last group are the ones who lack scepticism, not questioning anything they hear.

So what do you think about this person?

A few days ago we were contacted by someone on Facebook who told us that they’d been approached by people representing the Holiday Club, a South African-based timeshare scheme. They asked if he was interested in joining the scheme.

Before continuing, you deserve some history about the “relationship” between Consumer Watchdog and The Holiday Club.

It started in 2007 when we commented on the contract people who join the Holiday Club were asked to sign. This contract was “Irrevocable” and what this meant, in theory and in practice, was that once their pitiably short cooling off period expired, you couldn’t change your mind without their permission. You were with them for life. For ever.

We didn’t think that was reasonable. Neither did the attorneys we spoke to. All other contracts either expire or can be terminated somehow. You can get out of a tenancy agreement, a banking agreement, even a marriage but you couldn’t leave the Holiday Club unless they were feeling generous towards you. We thought that was unreasonable.

We mentioned this in Mmegi and also on the radio and The Holiday Club weren’t at all happy about us talking about them. Their attorney wrote us a series of letters threatening us with hellfire and damnation if we didn’t retract what we’d said, apologise and beg forgiveness from them. I won’t bore you with the details of each of the letters but rest assured, we didn’t do any of those things because we’d done nothing wrong, we’d just reported what we felt was an unreasonable way of doing business. Ten years later we haven’t changed our minds.

So why am I mentioning this again, after all this time? The person who they approached and who then contacted us is a skeptic. He’s not easily persuaded by people trying to sell him things. He’s the type who’ll say things like “Is there any evidence for that?” or “Really? Can you prove that?”

When the person claiming to represent The Holiday Club got in touch he was his normal skeptical self. He told the rep that he’d heard that it was cheaper to get holidays in other ways and that he couldn’t see any advantage in paying to join a scheme that demanded he pay an enormous joining fee and then money every year regardless of whether he ever used the facilities they offered. He also mentioned the lifetime contract issue. The response the representative gave was remarkable:
“When u join this club, ALL these things are explained to you. Cancelations cannot be done yes, because of obvious reasons that you have wasted business time. U are told thoroughly about this… Everyone is out there to make money! U cannot waste peoples time making appointments n not keeping to them! U have to be well organized in life no matter where you go”.

So let me get this straight. According to this person, it’s inconvenient for them to meet potential recruits and then go through the process of signing them up. So they ask you to join a scheme you can never leave. Do you think that’s normal? How would you react if a bank told you that if you opened an account you could never close it? What if a filling station told you that once you filled your tank you’d be obliged to use that station for the rest of your life? What if a landlord asked you to sign a lease that would never end?

You’d just laugh at them, wouldn’t you? Please tell me you would?

But that’s not the most remarkable thing this Holiday Club representative said. This is what she said next:
“U will be shocked to realize that the Consumer Watchdog staff is one of our biggest corporate clients! No kidding”.

I should quickly admit something. She didn’t say “kidding”, she said something else, something rude that rhymes with “hitting”. But it means the same thing.

You can imagine our surprise. And then our amusement. And then our hysterical laughter. A representative of the company that once threatened to sue us for defamation because we discussed what we felt were their unreasonable contract terms is now going around telling potential recruits that we’re now one of their “biggest corporate clients”?

That’s a lie.

Or a foolish mistake. Or maybe she’s just been misled. Maybe someone else in The Holiday Club told her that. Why else would she be saying it?

The lesson is about trust. If someone important tells you something then you should probably consider believing them. If your boss or a colleague tells you that Consumer Watchdog is one of your company’s biggest clients, and you pass on that information to a prospective customer you’re not lying, you’re not an idiot, you’re just someone who’s been misinformed. It’s not your fault. Yes, some might say you should have been a bit more skeptical but the worst accusation they can really make is that you were either naive or too trusting. Either way you know in future not to trust your boss as much and to check out anything he or she says in future before spreading it around. I suspect the woman selling The Holiday Club will be in a difficult position when she reads this. She’ll know she was either lying, foolish or was herself the victim of someone else’s lie, foolishness or incorrect information.

And finally, a message to our friends at The Holiday Club. In the spirit of our last encounter, please stop spreading this untruth. We have a reputation to protect, one we’re very proud of. A reputation for not being liars or fools.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where’s my money?

In September 2016 I got in an agreement with a Debt Collector who charged me P800 for their services to help me collect money from 5 of my debtors. In October debtor 1 paid their money (P250) and in November debtor 2 paid 8% of what they owe and that was it. Whenever I ask the debtor collector for feedback they either reply late or they don’t reply at all and I was the one always asking for a follow-up after weeks without them making an effort to call me or give me feedback.

In January I went to their work place only to find out that it has been locked by the landlord since they could not pay for their rental. I then tried to call them more than 3 times but they never picked my calls and when I called with a different number they answered and told me they had moved to a different location which they will tell me in 2 days.

After 2 days I called them to ask for the new location so I can make a follow up about my debts and to my surprise I was told that the new location is by appointment which is chargeable and I had to bear the costs. So I told them I won’t pay for them and they should make a way for meeting with me since I am not happy with their service. I never got a reply from them for a month and last week I sent them a text telling them I want to end my contract with them since I am not happy with their service and they replied say I can come get my money from the 2 debtors.


So these people took your money, failed to do most of the work, got evicted for being financially useless and now they want you to pay them just to meet you? That’s pathetic.

I suspect there’s no point in trying to get your P800 back, it’ll probably cost you more than that in time and expenses to get it back. Probably the best thing you can do is to collect the money they retrieved so far and then forget you ever even heard of them.

Have they robbed me?

I had a policy with an insurance company for the past two years. This policy was for my son for long term until he reaches 21 years. I cancelled the policy on the 8th September 2015 and I was told that I will only receive P4,300 from the P10,564 that I had invested in the two years of the policy existence.

When I asked why the P6,264 was subtracted from my money and I was told that that's how its done. The P4,300 will be deposited in my account in seven working days. There is no way I could serve notice.

It is so stressing that more than half of what I had invested was taken from me with no reason. When I looked at the cancellation policy on the document that I was given there was no percentage of cancellation refunds.

I feel robbed. Please assist me as soon as possible.


You didn’t say which policy you bought so I can’t say for sure but I suspect you’re out of luck.

Many long-term investment plans involve the payment of commission to the company that offers the product. However, in a policy that can last for ten or twenty years the company doesn’t want to wait all that time for their income so they “front load” their earnings at the beginning of the policy period. In other words you pay the commission up front in the first couple of years. You only start to earn money after that period is concluded.

You’re certainly not the first person to fall victim to this. We’ve heard of similar things happening many times and it seems that very often the people selling these schemes either neglect to mention the front-loading of the commission or they deliberately hide it. Even if they do mention it they often do so using language that customers don’t understand and the result is simple. People don’t realise that if they cancel their policy in the first few years they’ll end up losing money, just like you have.

I think it’s time for companies to be a lot clearer about the terms and conditions of their policies and in particular about things like front-loading.

We’ll get in touch with the company for you and see if there’s anything they can do to help you but don’t be optimistic. I suspect you’re out of luck.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

World Consumer Rights Day 2017

Today is World Consumer Rights Day, a day recognised by Consumers International (with whom we have no connection) every year. CI says that the day is “an opportunity to promote the basic rights of all consumers, demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights”.

This year’s theme is “Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust” which is clearly something enormously important. That’s why we’ve been talking about it for years.

The fact that you’re reading this on a computer, tablet or a phone is an indication of how far we’ve come even since we formed Consumer Watchdog. When we started we were on one radio station and in just one newspaper but 13 years later we’ve expanded to two radio stations and two newspaper columns. We’ve published well over 1,000 newspaper articles containing over a million words but more importantly we also have a blog with over 1,500 posts that’s been visited over a million times and a Facebook group with over 61,000 members.

Things have obviously changed. And let’s be clear, that’s been a great thing. The internet and its products, things like web pages, Google, blogs, Skype, Twitter and Facebook have changed almost everything we do. For the better. We have immeasurably greater access to news, information and opinions and our lives and relationships are better informed and richer as a result.

But it’s not all good. Some of that news, some that information, some of those opinions are wrong. Others are misguided. A few are abusive, despicable and disgusting. Many of them are there solely to deceive you and steal your money. We’re truly in the world of “alternative facts” and that’s beginning to have an impact on everyone’s life.

Many experts have observed that there have been no new ideas in business since Henry Ford invented the production line in 1913. That’s true even now, despite everything the cyber-revolution has offered us. Emails are just modern letters, Instagram is just a photo album, Skype is just a phone, Twitter is today’s telegram and Facebook, well, Facebook is just a bar on a Friday night.

Even the lessons you need to know about the new inter-connected world are the same as the lessons our grandparents had to learn without the internet:
  • Don’t trust strangers, particularly if they offer you money, a business “opportunity” or love.
  • Things that seem too good to be true ARE too good to be true.
  • Miracle cures are not cures at all.
  • The only way to become physically healthier or slimmer is to eat better and exercise more.
  • If you want commitment, sign a written agreement.
  • If you can’t commit to an agreement, don’t sign it.
  • Never sign an agreement you haven’t read or don’t understand.
  • Don’t trust a communication channel that isn’t secure.
  • Degrees from web sites that want money and demand no exams or coursework aren't real degrees.
  • Do the maths before deciding anything. I mean anything.

Ok, I’ll admit there are a few things you need to know that are specific to the modern age. Firstly, never enter any personal details, including your debit or credit card details, onto a web site that doesn’t start with “https” or that doesn’t have a padlock symbol in the address bar at the top. Secondly, never do any confidential transactions when connected to an open network like in a bar, restaurant or public place, even if there IS a padlock or “https”. Never click on a link in an email unless you would trust the person who sent it with your wallet or purse. That includes your bank.

Finally, the simplest of all. NEVER, under any circumstances, disclose your ATM card PIN to anyone and cover your hand EVERY time you enter it at the ATM or in a store. It’s not rude to do this, the cashier or person next in the queue will respect your good judgment and caution. They might even copy you.

The other thing that’s important is to spread this advice as far and as widely as possible. Pass on this advice to your friends, relatives, neighbours and co-workers. In particular, make sure you tell anyone who isn’t as technologically sophisticated as you about these basic rules. And then be the good friend who is skeptical when they’re told about miracle investment schemes, health products that cure every disease known to medicine and absolutely any business that encourages your friend to recruit multiple levels of people beneath you. Give them the guidance they need.

In short, be skeptical. Be a critical thinker. Question everything you hear and that someone seemingly impressive tells you. Don’t take anything at face value, and ask this question of anyone who wants you to join any scheme. “How do YOU benefit from ME joining?”

There’s one final thing you should know.

Consumer Watchdog is free to the consumers of Botswana. It always has been, it is now and it always will be.

Go now and enjoy your technology, whether it’s your cellphone, tablet or laptop. Explore the wonders that the internet offers you and learn as much as possible. Just don’t believe everything you see there. Trust nobody until you have an extraordinarily good reason to do so. And even then be a skeptic.

Safe surfing!

P.S. Remember that our theme this year is health and that's going to include a lot of cyber-health discussion. Be prepared to learn along with us!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Another fake "university" - Creek Newfield "University"

It's been a while since we've found a new fake university. I sometimes wondered if the fake university industry might have moved on to better things. But no, they're still here.

An email came in from "Creek Newfield University". Their email said:
"Creek Newfield University is offering its popular Fast Track Graduate Program under which you can earn an Accredited Degree on the basis of your prior experience and knowledge within 15 Days!"
Just 15 days? I thought it was worth checking so I clicked on their Live Chat link and had the following conversation.
Dennis Taylor: Hi how can i assist you today ?..
[Me]: Hi. I need to get a Masters in Clinical Psychology as quickly as possible for a promotion.
Dennis Taylor: Alright
Dennis Taylor: How many years of Working Experience you have?
[Me]: 31 years
Dennis Taylor: Great.
Dennis Taylor: In which Field
[Me]: Working in HR.
Dennis Taylor: University will convert your Working Experience in to credit Hours and awarded you with a Degree
[Me]: That's great.
[Me]: Do I need to do any exams?
Dennis Taylor: No,
[Me]: Any coursework?
Dennis Taylor: No, University will be taking care of That,
Dennis Taylor: but you need to take care of the Thesis and Research WOrk.
[Me]: I must do a thesis and research?
Dennis Taylor: If you want, then Prof. will write a Thesis on your behalf
Dennis Taylor: and will send to you in email.
[Me]: How much will this cost me?
Dennis Taylor: Only $799 for the entire Process
[Me] So I just pay you $799 and I get a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology without doing any work?
Dennis Taylor: Yes.
A degree in return for money and nothing else? No exams, no coursework, no research, no dissertations, no work at all. They'll even write my thesis for me? Do you need to know anything else? I could tell you about how their domain was first registered only three weeks ago. I could talk about the fake accreditation bodies they claim approved them. I could mention that they don't appear to employ any lecturers. But I don't need to, all you need to know is that they sell degrees to people not entitled to them.

Creek Newfield "University" is yet another bogus establishment selling worthless degrees. Please don't waste your money and don't take the risk of being exposed as a fraud if you buy one of their fake qualifications.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Exploit Consumer Rights Day

Wednesday next week is World Consumer Rights Day. This day, 15th March, is used every year to highlight issues that are important to consumers all over the world and this year the theme is “Building a digital world consumers can trust”.

Although I’m not a big believer in having special days for particular issues the theme this year is an important one. There are very few of us, probably even fewer when you consider Mmegi readers, who aren’t somehow connected to what used to be called the information superhighway. Almost all of us have a phone that can surf the web, send emails and access Facebook. Almost all of us are therefore exploiting the benefits offered by the information age but we’re also exposed to the risks associated with it.

And those risks can be serious ones.

Most of us are now familiar with the advance fee scams that operated historically by email and now use Facebook as their primary channel for stealing people’s money. A message will arrive with what seems like attempting offer. Some will say the sender is an orphan with an enormous inheritance they want to share with you if you help them get it out of the country where they’re trapped. Others will offer you a job, a place at a prestigious conference or even romance. Regardless of the message, sooner or later they’ll ask you to send them money, either to secure your share of the money, a visa to the country where the fictitious job is located or the shipping costs of the package of goodies your beloved says he’s sent you. Whatever it might be, that’s what the whole business is about, the advance fee that gives the scam its name.

Most of us know about these scams by now but that doesn’t mean everyone else does. We still regularly hear of people new to the internet who believed the messages when they arrived and happily handed over their money to the scammers, never to see it again.

A risk that many people fall victim to is another type of email, the phishing attack. Just a few days ago I received an email that my laptop very kindly realised was risky and put directly in my Junk mail folder. It said: “Good afternoon. Please find attached stock sheets. Kind Regards Ahmed”.

I wasn’t expecting any stock sheets from anyone called Ahmed so I wasn’t likely to open it but who knows, someone not familiar with these things might easily have clicked on the attachment which looked at first sight to be a spreadsheet. In fact, it was a link to a web site that asked for my internet banking username and password. As it happens the fake banking site it showed wasn’t pretending to be my bank but even if just a few people happen to have an account with that bank and just a handful of them are gullible enough to enter their account details, the scammers will be in profit. Before the victims has a chance to realise what they’ve done the scammers will have signed on to the victims bank and sent any money they find their to somewhere far away and safe from the prying eyes of law enforcement agencies.

Luckily these days most anti-virus and anti-malware packages that come on most computers will alert you to these threats before you open them but not everyone keeps those protections up-to-date and alive. And those people like me who use a Mac or people using Linux aren’t immune to these attacks. They’re not viruses that run code on your computer, they’re links to web sites that any computer can visit. Even if you are effectively immune from viruses, you’re not immune to the “social engineering” that modern criminals exploit. When presented with what looks exactly like your bank’s internet banking screen it’s almost automatic just to type in the necessary details without doing the checks the banks and cybersecurity experts recommend. Have you checked the web address you’re visiting in the box at the top of the screen? Is it really your bank? Is there a little padlock symbol showing that the site is encrypted?

One good thing about the internet is the enormous availability of information. If you’re looking to buy a new car, laptop or cellphone you’ll find vast numbers of sites containing reviews of the models you’re considering and even comparisons of competing models. It’s almost certain that someone else in the world will have already faced the choice you’re considering and will have posted their thoughts on the web. When you finally get to the store to make your choice you can be well-equipped with the information needed to make a rational choice.

But with this information comes serious risk. The sheer size and the enormous volume of information it contains presents a new problem. Where can you find the truth? Recent events have highlighted the fact that serious geopolitical decisions have been based on fake news and “alternative facts” rather than objective truth.

Let me give an example. I went to Google and searched for “cancer cure” and I was given eighty-two million results to choose from. Being lazy I only checked the first three pages and found the results fell into three categories, all in roughly equal quantities: news stories, specialist cancer advice sites and dangerous nonsense.

Choosing which one to trust can be a challenge, particularly as many of the sites peddling dangerous nonsense are the ones advertising “the truth about cancer”. They’re often the sites selling conspiracy theories about the medical establishment, the pharmaceutical industry and strange powers that want to keep you controlled. They’re the sites selling fake cures and potions that are most likely to empty your bank balance and shorten your life. But how can someone who isn’t skeptical or scientifically literate tell the difference?

So maybe World Consumer Rights Day will play a small part in educating people about both the benefits and the risks presented by the modern information age. Consumer Watchdog will certainly be playing its part but you know what? It’s going to take a lot longer than a day to protect everyone. It’s going to be a full-time job.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why can’t they close my account?

I need your assistance.  I tried to get a residential loan from my bank. Upon my bank checking with CRB if I do not owe any bank they told me that I owe another bank the sum of P4,146.  I was surprised because I don’t know owing any bank.  I paid CRB P50 to enquire and they confirmed that I owe the money.

I told them that I have long closed my account but the man said there is nothing that he can do so I should go to the bank to enquire.

When I got to the bank I explained to them that I can’t get a loan because I am told that I owe them the money.  I explained that I have closed my account in December 2013 but they told me there is no how they can assist me and I need to see the person whom I closed the account with. 

That lady then checked my records and she found my account to be zero in December which was the time I closed my account.  Now because there was an error on their side because they didn’t close the account and incurred some charges to the amount of P4,146. Imagine since beginning of February until now they are still handling my issue which is disadvantaging me at my new bank.

I hope you do assist me in this query.

Clearly attention to detail is not the strong point of this bank. I understand that mistakes can be made, no person and no organisation is perfect but I expect banks to have systems in place to make sure mistakes happen as rarely as possible and they get fixed as soon as they’re identified.

So far you’ve done exactly what I would recommend. You’ve done your research and have asked the bank to investigate and report on the problem. All that’s left is for them to take responsibility for their mistake.

I understand that when an organisation updates or corrects the data held on their customers by credit reference bureaux it can take a little while to reflect but I think in this case they need to move a little faster. Their mistake is causing you financial problems and it’s not something they can take a relaxed attitude with. We’ve contacted the bank about this and I’m sure they’ll be in touch very shortly!

Is this enough?

My wife and I got married in December and engaged the services of a photographer from a company to capture the event. The wedding passed and when it was time to see the pictures before he makes an album, my gosh.. they were horrid. We sent emails back and forth with the guy and when I finally demanded a refund he said he would only give back P3,770 out of the P11,320 we paid him. Consumer Watchdog kindly advise on what to do.

I always ask this question whenever we get a complaint about wedding service providers like photographers, organisers and caterers. What is it with the wedding industry? Why are there so many crooks and incompetents?

I took a look at some of the photos you sent me and I agree they’re not very good. I’m certainly not a professional photographer but I think you and I could probably do as well as this guy if we had his equipment. Given that you paid him a large amount of money I think you have a right to something better. I suppose the only redeeming aspect of what he did is that he did take a LOT of pictures. The online album he created for you to examine contains 2,135 pictures but the ones I looked at were just rather ordinary.

Clearly there’s not much that can be done to make the pictures better. There’s a limit to what he can do to adjust the quality and it’s not exactly possible to hold your wedding again, is it?

I suggest you go back to him one last time and explain that Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires suppliers such as him to deliver products and services that are “of merchantable quality” and that Section 15 (1) (a) requires him to deliver services “with reasonable care and skill”. I think it’s reasonable to ask a professional photographer to be several levels above amateurs like you and me. See if he comes up with a better offer than a 33% refund.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

They’re threatening your health

Consumer Watchdog’s theme this year is health. Not just health in the obvious sense, our physical health, but also our financial, legal, health, cyber and even mental health. We’re looking at every aspect of health and the reason is simple. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, benefits from people being healthier. We benefit as individuals because none of us wants to be unwell or dead and we don’t want our friends and relatives to be unwell or dead either. But even the companies from which we buy things benefit as well. It benefits them just as much if their customers are healthy. In fact, it’s hard to think of an industry that doesn’t benefit from healthy customers except private hospitals and funeral parlours.

Unfortunately, there’s one other group that benefits from our ill-health and more specifically our ignorance and fear about health matters. The fake health industry.

We’ve encountered a number of them over the years. It started with those advertisements that used to be seen in our newspapers advertising a wide range of miracles including the enlargement or shrinkage of various body parts, liberation from curses, victory in court cases, protection from evil and successful businesses. Those ads don’t appear in the papers any longer, they’ve evolved into the advertisers you can still find on Facebook, often advertising pregnancy termination services across the border from South Africa.

We’ve also had a number of encounters with people advertising Herbalife products who’ve made astonishing claims about the products. They’ve suggested that Herbalife products can help improve your blood pressure, treat diabetes, improve arthritis and even cure cancer. I had a long conversation by SMS with one distributor who told me that Herbalife “provide scientifically produced nutrition that have helped many” and that the prostate cancer I claimed a friend was suffering was “a lifestyle and nutrition sickness” caused by “our food regimen of today”.

This is all complete nonsense of course. Obviously our diet is connected with our health but the diet most people have in 2017 is healthier than it’s been ever before. We’re living longer, healthier and even happier lives that any of our ancestors did. Quite the opposite of what a lot of Herbalife proponents would have you believe.

I should stress that these claims aren’t endorsed by Herbalife and when I contacted Herbalife in South Africa and described what their distributors had said, they gave the strongest impression that they were appalled and promised to put an end to it immediately.


Sadly, for every distributor that gets ejected from the Herbalife family, another appears. One of them advertised on Facebook that “if u want to loss weight, gain weight, conctipation, big belly, building body 4 sports, los of energy, need to relax ur nerves special 4 students, problem with blood circulation, back pain and joint, period pains and skin problem let herbalife help u”.

Clearly his typing skills could do with a health boost but I think that’s probably another area where Herbalife can’t actually help. However, he was ambitious. He wasn’t just trying to say that Herbalife products could treat all these problems, he went further. He later posted that their products were actually “approved through BOBS” which was a particularly shameless lie. The Bureau of Standards do not “approve” such products or endorse claims as ridiculous as these.

More recently, several people have asked about another product that can apparently perform miracles. Xango fruit juice is sold through a Multi-level marketing scheme operating from the USA. Their juice, which sells for P350 per bottle, apparently “helps to combat pain, viral infections, fungal infections, bacterial infections, tumors, cancer, inflammation, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, sclerosis, depression, fatigue, leukemia, allergies. Alzheimer’s and dementia, Parkinson’s disease, anemia” and “helps to improve sexual performance, energy, asthma, blood clots, high cholesterol, menstrual problems, menopause, joint problems, gum disease, migraines and headaches, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, HIV…”

These claims are deliberately trying to deceive the consumers of Botswana. The purveyors of this juice are telling lies. There is no product that can do all these things. If there was such a product, someone somewhere would have won the Nobel Prize for Medicine by now and probably the prize for Peace as well.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that fruit juices aren’t good for you but you’d be much better off if instead of spending P350 on a bottle of juice sold by people making preposterous claims about its health-giving properties you bought yourself some fresh fruit and vegetables. You’d also be a lot healthier if you didn’t join another pyramid-structured business that’s guaranteed not to make you wealthy but like all other such schemes, will actually make you poorer.

People often ask me why I’m so opposed to so-called health products such as silly fruit juices and pseudoscientific approaches such as homeopathy, reflexology and acupuncture. Yes, they say, the scientific evidence shows that these things offer precisely nothing beneficial but they don’t do any harm. So what’s the problem?

The problem is simple. Firstly, I believe in truth. People shouldn’t tell lies about health products and promise people false hope, particularly people who are unwell. That’s illegal as well as immoral.

Secondly, and much more importantly, people who are unwell and worried about their future are often desperate. They’ll do anything to find a cure or a treatment for what’s ailing them and that often means they’ll suspend their skepticism (if they had any to begin with) and swallow any treatment the first quack they meet offers them. Even worse than that, they often stop taking their real medication and stop making appointments with real doctors, the people that can really help them.

So that’s why I oppose companies that claim their fruit juice or their vitamins can help with all sorts of disorders and illnesses. It’s because they’re threatening our health rather than promoting it and the sooner they learn that in Botswana we don’t tolerate that sort of thing the better.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is Pipcoin legit?

I am looking too invest in forex trading and I checked out a dude by the name of Ref Wayne and his company that sells pip coins that you invest in. As u know, Forex exchange is a bit risky and tricky investment but pays out. Ref Wayne and his company promises a number of good thing, which is also suspicious.

I therefore ask if their trade is legit or if u know any other company that is legit and better than Ref Wayne's company. 


We mentioned Pipcoin a few times last year, warning people not to get involved.

Pipcoin’s web site describes it as “Africa’s first P2P Cryptocurrency” and they’re doing their very best to make it sound like they’re something like Bitcoin which genuinely is a currency, but not like one you and I have ever seen before. Bitcoin is entirely online, it’s not a currency that has notes and coins, it’s all virtual, stored in a ledger distributed around the world. But Pipcoin isn’t anything like this, in fact it’s nothing more than a scam. When I first encountered Pipcoin last year they were promising returns of 35% per month and I’m sure you know that there is no investment anywhere that can offer anything like that. A typical investment might get you a few percent every year. More recently I even found one claim on Facebook that Pipcoin experienced “over 99% growth in 24 hours”. That’s just silly.

The guy you mention, Ref Wayne is really Refilwe Nkele who, according to News24 in South Africa, has a long history of supposedly teaching people how to trade Forex and has made a lot of money from referring people to Forex brokers. Not content with making a lot of money he clearly wants to make a lot more by inventing a fake currency that covers up what is clearly either a pyramid or Ponzi scheme.

Please don’t waste your time on this scam. I also urge you to be very careful if you decide to venture into forex trading. Remember that Forex trading is competitive and you’ll be competing against the industry experts employed by banks, investment companies and people with advanced qualifications and decades of experience. Can you really win that battle?

Must he pay?

This is about my father and his bank in Maun. Its like someone used his account in South Africa last December and now it has an overdraft and now they’re making him to pay the money. All I gathered is he has a credit card with them. He discovered the instalment was high, and when he inquired why they said he used it in South Africa. He told them he doesn’t even have a passport. They said they will open a case but they never gave him a reference and in the mean time they insist he clear the P5,000 taken. His account is in negative and they take whatever being deposited.


I think the fact that your father doesn’t even have a passport is a good indication that he didn’t personally use his card but that might not be good enough for the bank. In this sort of situation the bank will likely say that your father could have given his card to a friend or relative and they used it in SA. We’ve probably all done that occasionally, haven’t we? But that doesn’t mean it’s something I advise. On the contrary, you immediately breach the agreement you signed with your bank when you do that.

However you are entitled to know what’s happening. The bank should be able to tell you where exactly the money was withdrawn and their security cameras can give some clue about who used the card. You’re entitled to that at least. Meanwhile we’ll contact the bank and see what they advise.

Update

The reader contacted us saying that after we contacted the bank they called her father. It seems that someone called her father last year pretending to be from the bank and asked for all his card details. They’d presumably already cloned his card at an ATM in Botswana and he then gave them his PIN over the phone. The bad news is that the bank isn’t liable, they’ve not done anything wrong so he’ll have to pay the price.

The lesson is a simple one. Don’t ever give away your personal or banking details to anyone who calls you. No matter how official they sound, never give away any personal facts to a stranger.