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Squeaky bed woes, scam customer care agents on WhatsApp, fishy sales

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s ‘watch-outs of the week’

16 April 2021 - 14:52 By wendy knowler
Unauthorised use of a company's brand name, fraudsters on WhatsApp and the risk of buying from informal traders: Tips to shop with care. File image
Unauthorised use of a company's brand name, fraudsters on WhatsApp and the risk of buying from informal traders: Tips to shop with care. File image

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Beware the ‘let’s do this on WhatsApp’ line

What do you do if you have a gripe with a company you do business with, and you’re not getting any joy from their call centre or e-mail responders?

What many do is go onto their social media platforms and vent or plead as comments underneath the breezy marketing posts. Think MTN, Telkom, Edgars. That makes those platforms the perfect hunting ground for fraudsters — they slide in, pretending to be “customer care” agents for the company concerned, offer to help, and then suggest they take the conversation onto WhatsApp.

The fraudster talked her into providing three months’ bank statements, and used them to take out several loans 

Then they ask for all the person’s personal information, including bank statements, and the customer, utterly relieved and delighted at getting some help at last, willingly gives it up, and becomes a victim of identity impersonation.

Be extremely wary of the “let’s do this on WhatsApp” suggestion. It is the fraudster’s way of getting the would-be victim off the official company’s public platform and into a private conversation where they can dupe them undetected.

In the case I dealt with earlier this month, Lizelle, frustrated at not being able to sort out a double debit on her account by MTN, left a negative review on the network’s Facebook page.

“Natasha” reached out her, posing as an MTN agent, saying she’d help Lizelle resolve the problem.

“She then asked for proof of my ID, which I provided. She said because MTN had double debited me, she would need my banking details to refund me the money.

“And like an idiot, I obliged.”

The fraudster also talked her into providing three months’ bank statements, and she used them to take out several loans in Lizelle’s name.

Impersonation fraud is sadly not a rare occurrence.

According to the SA Fraud Prevention Service, the incidence of impersonation fraud increased by 337% in 2020 compared with 2019.

Always have your guard up.

Buying a bed? Don’t rest until you’ve done research

Never has it been more important to do your research on a company before doing business with it.

Check how they handle complaints on HelloPeter and on Twitter, if they have an account, and do a general Google search for complaints.

Had Cookie done that before buying a bed from Bed King in Chatsworth, she may well have decided to choose another bed retailer. If she’d Googled the store name she would have found a public service announcement posted by Bed King of Cape Town, warning: “If you are in KwaZulu-Natal and looking to find a Bed King in Durban, then please note the following stores are not authorised Bed King dealers and are using our trademark name illegally”, and listing five stores.

“We’ve received messages from unhappy customers mistaking us for them, but we are in no way associated with them, and any items sold by them are not covered by our product warranty or Bed King returns policy.”

Cookie did not see that online warning so she bought a R7,000 bed — an obscure brand — from Bed King in Chatsworth, and it proved to be faulty — it squeaked ridiculously loudly.

It was replaced when she complained, but the new one did the same, and she’s not been able to get any help since.

My attempts to engage with the store were thwarted by cut calls and claims by staffers they did not know the store’s e-mail address.

Carla Ewertse of Bed King’s head office in Cape Town said the KwaZulu-Natal stores operated as “franchises” from the main company called Natal Wholesalers, which only existed in name.

“Each store is owned by different individuals and operates independently.

“We sent them several legal notices since 2003 requesting them to stop using our trademark. However, the stores change ownership and physical addresses so often which makes our attempts ineffective.”

Entry requirements into the bedding retail industry were “very low”, Ewertse said, “which makes it easy for retailers to sell poor quality beds to customers at inflated retail selling prices”.

So there you have it — buyer beware!

No legal comebacks if you buy from hawkers

Many of us buy goods from hawkers or informal traders, but it’s not without risk on the buyer’s part.

They are exempt from the Consumer Protection Act’s requirement that they provide their customers with a sales records — commonly referred to as a slip — revealing the trading name, address, date of sale, description of goods, applicable taxes and total price paid. Without proof of purchase, you have no means of recourse.

Take Elizabeth’s experience: she bought fresh fish from “Solly” who had parked his bakkie outside a popular store in Tokai, Cape Town, with R1,000 worth of what she was told was Cape salmon, Norwegian salmon and yellowtail.

“But when we began defrosting items for cooking, we discovered none of the fish were what Solly had claimed them to be,” Elizabeth said.

“All four boxes turned out to contain strange fish we had never seen before. It wasn’t off, just not what he claimed them to be.”

She had Solly’s phone number so she called him about her discovery, and he promised to “bring you your fish as soon as it comes in”, but that never happened.

Support small, informal operators by all means, but know that it’s a risky business, especially as a first-time client.

Test the waters, so to speak, with a small purchase, and take it from there. Because no slip, no recourse.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer