OPINION: Lessons from a tough year
With a new president, “Ramaphoria” quickly turned into “Ramageddon” as reality hit home: the economy he was bequeathed was such a train wreck that South Africa veered into a recession. With Eskom unable to keep the lights on, the drought, hateful political parties vying for media space, and scandals galore, the year’s been brutal. It might be easy to slip into negativity, but what are the lessons consumers can take out of 2018?
* Think before you click. If you’re ordering online, ensure the retailer/agent is credible, well established and trusted. Search for their name online, see if there are complaints and be suspicious of “likes” on social media.
Rather pay by credit card, because if you don’t receive your goods, you can apply for a chargeback on your Visa or MasterCard. If you’re paying by EFT or debit card, you might as well have given cash.
Only shop securely, demonstrated by the “https” prefix in a retailer’s website and a padlock symbol in the browser.
And what about those “online loan providers” that promise instant cash, the black-listed welcome? Don’t even go there - you are never going to get a loan from them, no matter what their name implies. It’s a trap, a despicable scam.
* Terms and conditions. When entering into any contract, read the terms and conditions thoroughly so you know what you are signing up for.
* Right of return. The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act gives you the right to cancel any electronic transaction for goods within seven days from the date you receive those goods - and affords you the right to a full refund within 30 days of the date of cancellation, without penalty - the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does not. The CPA offers protection only in terms of defective goods.
The CPA requires that all goods are reasonably suitable for the purposes for which they are generally intended; that they are of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects; that they will last for at least six months; that they are safe; and that they are reasonably suitable for their intended purpose. If not, you are entitled to return them, at the supplier’s risk and expense and without penalty, and get to choose their remedy: repair, replacement or refund.
* Assume makes an ass out of * and me. Don’t assume online payment gateways offer buyer protection or hold your funds in escrow, meaning that they keep your money in safekeeping pending the completion of a transaction. Most don’t.
* Treat your personal information like gold. TransUnion Africa has warned that your ID number is “more than enough” for a fraudster to perpetrate identity theft. If you’ve inadvertently or deliberately given your personal information away and then became concerned, contact the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service, which offers a free service to consumers. Its database lists the details of victims of ID fraud and offer a service to consumers which enables it to list their information if they’ve lost their IDs but aren’t victims - yet.
The service warns that you should treat all unsolicited phone calls, SMSes and emails with suspicion, particularly if they ask for your ID number and full name and surname for “quality and security purposes”. You are not compelled to provide your information. When in doubt, call them back - and not on the number they provide, Google those contact details. You could also register with an identity theft protection service such a TrueIdentity, available through TransUnion.
* Contract cancellations. Any fixed-term contract can be cancelled, even if it’s with Telkom, a holiday club or a landlord who thinks he’s above the law.
If you’re not getting the service you wanted - or have any other reason - you always have an exit, according to the CPA. Section 14 of the Act says you may cancel fixed-term agreements on expiry, without penalty or charge or at any other time, “by giving the supplier 20 business days’ notice in writing or other recorded manner and form”. Bear in mind cancellation penalties may apply and if a device was thrown into the mix, you would still be liable for those costs but those penalties must be provable and fair to both parties.
Once the contract is cancelled, you remain liable for any money owed to the supplier in terms of that agreement up to the date of cancellation; and the supplier may charge a reasonable cancellation penalty with respect to any goods supplied, services provided, or discounts granted, to you.
* Don’t let her be an afterthought. South Africa has more than a million domestic workers, most of whom have no death and disability policies in place, or funeral cover. With an increased likelihood of accidents at this time of year, it’s never too soon to get some cover in place.
Some financial services providers are coming up with innovative products for this market. One, by Simply Financial Services, offers an easy-to-understand online life assurance product designed for domestic workers, which is available either as an individual benefit or as a life, disability and family funeral combo. Policies start at R59 a month.
* Load-shedding. Load-shedding means we’re more at risk of power surges or tripping when the power comes back on. Disconnect computers, TVs and other electronic equipment. Surge protection plugs are worth the investment. Make sure your security system is performing at its peak, and check that the gate and alarm batteries are charging.