When the offer is too good to be true

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Consumer Watch helps two consumers with cellphone problems...

CASE1: Cellphone wasn’t for free

Sipho Mbatha of Soweto was a Vodacom contract subscriber when he received a call late last year from Afrizon – the service provider’s outsourced call centre.

Mbatha says he was told that Vodacom was giving away cellphones to their customers.

Mbatha told Consumer Watch that he asked if the giveaway was a “contract cellphone” but the caller – identified as Sanele – insisted it was “free”.

Of course it wasn’t free.

Mbatha said he only found out the truth after the service on his existing contract was suspended. “When I called Vodacom, they referred me to Afrizon,” Mbatha said.

“Afrizon said the deal was done between me and the consultant, and the terms and conditions were read to me and I accepted the deal.

“I need them to prove that I agreed to the deal. Why would I agree to take two contracts? I don’t have money for two contracts.

“Those consultants must be trained to explain everything to their customers. Please help.”

I took up Mbatha’s case with Vodacom, asking for that call recording to be retrieved, and suggesting that if the contract terms were not clearly explained, the deal ought to be cancelled and any debt related to it written off.

A few days later, Mbatha got back to me. He told me that he’d had a call from Vodacom to say his contract was cancelled and the debt written off.

“They said they would send me a new SIM card for my phone and my phone would be connected immediately. Thank you.”

Vodacom spokesman Nomsa Thusi said: “We’ve listened to the call recording and decided to cancel the contract because this is clearly outside Vodacom’s business practice. We’ve also apologised to Mr Mbatha. The matter is under investigation.”

CASE2: Dodgy modem deal revoked

Last year Shelly Nel of Durban, a customer of iBurst, got a call from that company’s outsourced call centre, Velociti, regarding her contract.

At the time she was on a month-to-month contract, which means she could cancel it with a month’s notice.

During that call, from a “Ravesh”, she was offered a “free” portable modem and five times more data every month, for the same subscription as she was paying. What a deal! After some initial reluctance to proceed without first seeing the deal in writing, Nel agreed.

A few months later, when she tried to terminate the contract, she was told that she couldn’t because she’d committed to a 24-month contract.

Certain that Ravesh had made no mention of that major fact, Nel was outraged, and demanded to be sent a copy of the recording of the phone call in question.

She got it, transcribed it, and then pointed out to Ravesh that he hadn’t once mentioned the real purpose of the call – to convert her month-to-month contract to a 24-month one.

The modem came with that 24-month data contract in the same way a phone comes with a 24-month cellphone contract.

It is not free – its cost is built into the monthly subscription.

Naturally, Nel asked for the contract to be cancelled, on the grounds that she’d been misled, but that didn’t happen.

For several months she e-mailed Ravesh and the company’s “help desk”, to no avail.

And she was being billed in respect of that contract, which meant she had the schlep of going to her bank every month, to get the charges reversed.

At one point Nel was told the contract would be cancelled if she gave back the modem.

At first she couldn’t find it, having moved house, and even when she did, the problem persisted.

I took up the case with John Hawthorne, chief executive of Velociti, who immediately acknowledged that Ravesh had misled Nel during that telesales call and failed to have the contract cancelled, both initially and after she found the modem.

“The overall manner in which the query was handled – especially the e-mail correspondence after the sale – is completely unacceptable and the exact opposite of the high standard of customer experience we set in our business,” Hawthorne said.

He cancelled Nel’s contract, and will pay the money owing on it to iBurst.

Ravesh now faces disciplinary action. Hawthorne said that in March last year, Velociti added a compulsory disclosure section to the end of its sales scripts, stating exactly what the consumer is committing to in terms of that 24-month contract, and what it will cost.

Every call is now checked by a quality assurance person, as opposed to the previous policy of checking just three random calls made by each telesales agent.

But these consumer protections were introduced only after Nel had been signed up.

Hawthorne advised consumers who dispute what was disclosed or agreed to in their telesales deals to raise a dispute with the company they are contracted to, rather than the third-party telesales company.

The problem in this case was that Nel didn’t realise that Ravesh worked for a third-party telesales company, because that’s something else he didn’t disclose. - Pretoria News

WHAT TO DO

Before you agree to a deal being marketed to you over the phone, insist on seeing details of the offer, as well as the terms and conditions, in writing. Ask for this information to be e-mailed to you. If they fob you off – very likely – end the call, even if the offer sounds amazing and it’s about to expire.

* In terms of the Consumer Protection Act you have five business days to cancel a telesales deal – no reason. Check the terms and if you have doubts, get your cancellation in, in that time. It must be in writing.

* If you later find you’re committed to a contract which was not fully explained to you in the telesales call, contact the company and demand the recording be retrieved. If they say they have listened to the call, and insist there was no misrepresentation, ask them to make a copy for you to listen to. If they refuse, e-mail me on [email protected]


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