Consumer Watch

Wendy Knowler fights for your rights...

Wendy Knowler masthead
April 30 2012 at 10:13

So, this is a rather odd Monday, perched between Freedom Day and Workers’ Day – a working day for some, a “school holiday” for pupils and paid leave for others.

Sadly, while we’re all supposedly “free” these days, we’ve become more likely to fall victim to the cunning schemes of those whose “work” involves defrauding others.

I wonder how they celebrate Workers’ Day?

As if to prove my point, I’d barely written the above, when an MTN e-mail dropped into my inbox.

“Unsuspecting job seekers are being cheated out of vast amounts of money through job adverts in various newspapers, with promises of jobs at MTN.

“The modus operandi of the scams includes luring applicants to offices in Johannesburg for ‘an assessment’, where they are asked to pay a ‘placement fee’ of between R300 and R800, after a successful ‘interview’.

“After paying the fee, job seekers are reportedly left in the lurch.”

Genuine recruiters don’t ask for upfront fees from job seekers. Ever.

They get paid by the companies that have contracted them to fill positions with suitable candidates.

In the release of his office’s annual report for 2011 last week, Banking Ombud Clive Pillay revealed that increasing numbers of South Africans are falling prey to banking scams, with ATM-related fraud accounting for a third of all complaints.

Think about that – the biggest category of complaints to that office comprises those lodged by bank customers complaining that their banks failed to reimburse them their losses after fraudsters somehow accessed their bank details and codes and helped themselves to the money in their accounts.

Top tips: never let your ATM card out of your sight, to avoid cloning; always shield your hand as you’re keying in your PIN; and inform your bank the moment you realise you’ve been scammed.

Electronic bank fraud is also a massive problem.

Interestingly, cheque fraud has all but disappeared – cheque-related complaints accounted for just 1 percent of complaints to the ombud last year.

“The ombudsman has long and publicly cautioned against the use of cheques and their imminent demise is a great relief to the office,” Pillay said.

When I started out as a consumer journalist in 1998, cheque fraud was a huge issue. I attended seminars about the techniques fraudsters used to alter details on intercepted cheques so that the money was deposited into their accounts, and constantly warning consumers not to post cheques.

And then there’s identity fraud, a global phenomenon and a growing one in SA.

Between 2009 and last year, 5 940 South Africans were recorded as victims of impersonation on the database of the SA Fraud Protection Service (SAFPS) – 3 091 of them last year.

Having got hold of their victims’ ID number and other personal details through a variety of means, fraudsters open accounts in their names and run up huge debts in the name of their victims, who land up with tarnished credit records as a result, so they can’t open their own accounts.

People aged between 30 and 40 and living in Gauteng are most at risk, according to the SAFPS.

So, if you’ve recently applied for a job and submitted your payslip, copy of your ID and other details with your application; lost your ID or had it stolen from you, you’re strongly advised to do two things: check your profile at the credit bureaus – you are entitled to one free check a year – and register your details with the SAFPS.

And if you discover your ID has already been fraudulently used, and you’re listed on the credit bureaux as a result, file a police report at your nearest police station.

Ask for a copy of your signed affidavit and keep a record of the case number.

Take all your IDs, plus other relevant documents and information that you obtained from the SAPS and credit bureau, to the company where the fraudster opened an account in your name, to prove your real identity and innocence.

Ask the company to clear your name and bad payment profile at the credit bureaux.

Then contact SAFPS to apply for a Protective Registration, listing your name and ID number on its database, to trigger alerts for any subsequent attempts made to open accounts using your personal details.

To register with the service, call 0860 101 248 or e-mail [email protected]

Of course, it means you’re going to have to go to extra lengths to prove you’re really who you say you are when you try to apply for credit – carrying extra identification – but it’s a small price to pay.

Don’t make excuses, make good – and do it fast

We all make mistakes, companies and their employees, too.

But here’s the motto that should apply when mistakes happen: “Don’t make excuses, make good – and fast.”

But while companies demand payment when it’s due, and employ many punitive measures when this doesn’t happen, when the owing is the other way around, many don’t act with the same sense of urgency.

On Good Friday, April 6, Nontsie Magwaza had lunch with her family at McDonald’s Gateway. The bill came to R179 and she used her debit card to settle it.

“I swiped once and the woman serving told me it the transaction had declined, so I had to swipe again, and again…

“She told me their speedpoint machines sometimes failed to read customers’ cards, but it was nothing to worry about.”

But Magwaza did worry when she received three SMSs from her bank about the payment.

“I told the woman, and her manager, that they had charged me three times and the manager told me not to worry, the bank would return the other two amounts and that it takes anything between five seconds and 48 hours …

But while she received the one “correcting” SMS while still in the restaurant, the second didn’t come.

The next day she got a statement from her bank, confirming that she had in fact been charged twice for that meal.

So back to McDonald’s she went the next day.

“I explained my situation to a different manager, telling her that as it’s been well over 48 hours, I have come to collect my money.

No can do, said the manager, they still had to check their records, and they’d only know if they had, in fact, charged her twice, by the following day, and if they did, they’d call her…

“The manager showed me a book listing many other customers who had had the same problem, saying they also had to wait, because, she said, the customers don’t go back to them when their bank reverses the charge.

“The staff concerned were very dismissive, and one kept giggling,” she said.

“What if I didn’t have that service where my bank notifies me of transactions on my account?” she asked. “Where would that overpayment go?”

When no one had called Magwaza by the following Tuesday, she contacted Consumer Watch.

“When I called them on Tuesday, they said they had no answers for me yet,” she said.

“I asked why I hadn’t got a call the previous day, as promised, there was no answer. Why no courtesy call, just to let me know what was going on? No answer.

“At which point I was ready to explode!”

I took up the case with McDonalds SA’s head office and six days later I received a response from Nicoleen Jordaan, a senior manager in the “operations excellence department”.

Responding, she said that despite the fact that Magwaza had proof that her bank account was debited twice, “the restaurant is reflecting that only one payment has been processed”.

“This incident – both the double debit and the manner in which Ms Magwaza was dealt with, is being investigated internally to ensure that it does not recur,” she said.

As for the delay in getting back to Magwaza, Jordaan said the company’s IT department had been working with the bank to establish the cause of the problem.

“The restaurant has had other complaints, which they are dealing with,” she said.

On April 20, exactly two weeks after Magwaza was double-charged, the overpayment was refunded to her account.

And she received a R100 McDonald’s gift card last Thursday.

Moral of the story – if you can’t make good, fast, make regular contact.

I have no doubt that Magwaza would not |have contemplated contacting Consumer Watch had the management of that McDonald’s taken her complaint seriously and kept in contact with |her to let her know the progress of their investigation.

Going the extra mile

In January, Lesley Waddilove paid the Musgrave Post Office to redirect her mail for six months because she was getting married and relocating.

But no such relocation service was provided.

In mid-March she received a parcel slip, dated January, for collection at Musgrave.

But when she went in to collect the parcel, it wasn’t there any more.

Furious, she explained that she’d paid for her post to be redirected to her new address since January.

At that point branch manager Precious Nxasana swooped to the rescue. She made it her mission to track down the sender of that parcel, a magazine company, and to get the parcel |resent, at her cost.

She also kept Waddilove informed every two days regarding its progress.

When it arrived at the post office she called Waddilove herself and invited her to collect it from the post office, without standing in the queue.

“Definitely unusual service in this day and age, and a credit to her company,” Waddilove told Consumer Watch.

She is indeed.

It’s amazing how one employee’s personal effort and empathy can wipe out months of frustration a consumer has endured at the hands of an organisation.

[email protected]

 

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