Risky entering into contract over phone

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Copy of CT_phone contract0 AP Keep records: Ideally, consumers should routinely be supplied with a copy of the call recording, in some form, as a matter of course, as with a written contract, rather than only on request.

Cape Town - As discussed in Monday’s column, it’s especially risky for consumers to enter into contracts over the phone, given that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) doesn’t compel companies to provide consumers with copies of call recordings, or even allow consumers to listen to them.

Some companies will begrudgingly allow their customers to listen to a recording, either in person or over the phone, if there is a dispute over what was disclosed or agreed to. But it’s done entirely on their terms, almost as a favour, in many cases.

If a consumer wants their own copy of the call recording which underpins their two-year contract, they are told to get a court interdict.

National Consumer Commissioner Ebrahim Mohammed told Consumer Watch that despite the fact that the Consumer Protection Act was silent on making call recordings available to consumers, the commission was of the view that the CPA rule which compelled companies to supply consumers with copies of written contracts should apply to telephonic contracts, too.

Mohammed added that the commission “is considering” approaching Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies to “clarify” the issue legally.

That would be a huge boon for consumers. Ideally, consumers should routinely be supplied with a copy of the call recording, in some form, as a matter of course – as with a written contract – rather than only on request.

In my experience, companies are usually quite willing to supply a call recording to a customer, or even a journalist such as myself, if it backs up the company’s case.

I recently investigated yet another complaint of unauthorised debit orders by Cape Town company Platinum Africa – also known as Platinum eProducts, or PlatinumC3 (Platinum Credit Card Corporation).

The company sells contracts for airtime, credit, medical, roadside assistance and other services.

As reported in a series of Consumer Watch columns last year, in June 2012 it mistakenly reinstated 62 old accounts “during an important system upgrade”.

The upshot was that 62 people suddenly had debit orders reinstated on their accounts, and not for small amounts.

As a result of Consumer Watch’s intervention in a few cases, they got their money refunded, after months of failed attempts to get this from the company themselves.

In an e-mail to Consumer Watch on May 15, Platinum’s client care manager, Elma Malan, said: “This system’s gremlin has been detected and rectified and we have refunded all clients erroneously billed.” As I continue to discover, the rogue debit orders continue.

Nathi Mthunzi told Consumer Watch that he’d discovered that Platinum had been “raiding” his bank account via debit order for the past eight years.

Between January 31 and May 2 this year, alone, he said, a total of R13 612 was whipped out of his account by Platinum.

Mthunzi said he’d been dealing with Platinum’s Malan for weeks, but despite supplying bank statements as requested, the timeline for feedback kept getting pushed out – a claim made by many others who have attempted to get Platinum to stop debiting their accounts.

“I was told to wait for seven to 21 working days, which I did, only to get a response telling me to wait another 21 days for confirmation,” Mthunzi said.

Needless to say, it shouldn’t take a company weeks or months to refund a customer money which it had no right to take in the first place. It should take a few days, at most.

Malan told Consumer Watch that Mthunzi registered for the company’s Telecash product in July 2006 and cancelled in September 2008.

“Unfortunately the cancellation was not captured successfully. This meant that Mr Mthunzi was still being billed for our services.

“He bought this to our attention on July 7, 2014 and we immediately started investigating the matter.

“Our system indicates that we owe Mr Mthunzi the amount of R13 246.75, which we will refund to him by August 8.”

Mthunzi contended that that amount related to only a three-month period this year – for which he had obtained bank statements – whereas Platinum had been debiting his account without authorisation since 2006.

And he has vowed to get those bank statements – at considerable cost – to prove it.

Mthunzi disputed ever having entered into a contract with Platinum.

That’s when Malan e-mailed Consumer Watch a copy of the call recording from 2006.

She claimed that Mthunzi made use of his account once, by borrowing R250, which was transferred into his account in January 2007.

Mthunzi confirmed it was his voice, but said he had no recollection of borrowing any money, and says he never got the card which he was promised by the telesales agent.

But even on Platinum’s version, Mthunzi’s account was being debited, despite his cancellation, as far back as 2008. So a far bigger refund is due to him.

To be continued…

Cape Times

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