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How to handle dodgy cellphone contracts, solar deal scams and DIY returns

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

22 July 2022 - 13:35
Don’t let dodgy online solar suppliers dim your shine. Stock photo.
Don’t let dodgy online solar suppliers dim your shine. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Diyana Dimitrova

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

Don’t let dodgy online solar suppliers dim your shine

Here’s what we know for sure — Eskom’s scheduled blackouts are here to stay and the sun will continue to shine. Many South Africans are putting those two together and investing in systems to harness the sun’s energy for water heating and, if budget or credit facilities allow, power up their entire house.

But, as always, when demand for a product spikes there will be those ready and willing to exploit it with an appealing online advert.

Reshen wrote: “I need some help please, there are two ladies selling solar geysers on Facebook Marketplace — I bought two for R12,000.

“Now they are telling me I need to get silicone and seal the glass tubes going into the geyser. All solar systems come with proper silicone seals and no proper plumber will do a temporary silicone gun seal on a geyser. Now they are avoiding me. Please help me get my money back. I worked hard for it.”

Choose your solar suppliers carefully — I daresay Marketplace is not the ideal place to go looking.

For starters, solar geysers need to be compliant with SANS codes. Ask for proof and then check to make sure it’s valid.

In some municipalities, such as Cape Town, it's a legal requirement that a home’s geyser is compliant and it is a prerequisite if you want to sell your house.

PS. Reshen got his money back, “after threatening them with lawyers — and you!”

Finally! A way for non-MTN customers to report fraudulent contracts

Like many others, Eunice Christians fell victim to MTN account fraud.

An account was opened using her identity and she discovered this when R1,423 was debited from her bank account by MTN last month.

She reported this to an MTN shop, submitted all the requested documents and thought that was the end of it. But when trying to buy a laptop on credit a week later, her application was rejected on the grounds that she was “blacklisted”.

“The MTN shop said I should call 083-135, MTN’s customer service number, but I can’t speak to anyone because you have to have an MTN number to do so.”

That’s because the fraudster opened the account in her name and she was issued with the MTN number, not Christians.

On taking up her case with MTN, the company cancelled the fraudulent line and asked the credit bureaus to remove Christians’ adverse listings.

“The fraud confirmation letter and the credit owed to the customer will be passed to her and we are working to get this done as quickly as possible,” said Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN’s corporate affairs executive.

And what of that 083-135 number which is of no help to fraud victims who aren’t MTN clients? I’ve raised this issue with MTN several times in recent months.

“We have noted that non-MTN customers are unable to report fraud on our customer care line 083-135,” O’Sullivan said.

“We are in a process of updating our IVR (interactive voice recording) to accommodate both MTN and non-MTN customers.

“In the meantime, we have created a fraud help e-mail address which can be used by MTN and non-MTN subscribers: fraudHELP@mtn.com.”

Good to know!

Before you make that DIY purchase, know this

It’s an issue which crops up a lot in my inbox in relation to the purchase of tiles, but it applies to every in-store purchase — unless the retailer states otherwise.

You are not legally entitled to a refund unless the goods are defective.

Fatima’s query is typical: “I returned an unopened box of tiles to a hardware store for a credit as they were not suitable — this was 10 days after I bought them. My question is, are they allowed to charge me a handling fee?”

Yes, they are, since they are not legally required to take back that box of perfect tiles at all.

If they do, they may impose whatever terms and conditions they see fit — leaving the customer with a “take it or leave it” choice. That’s because she would have had every opportunity in that hardware shop to look at, touch, measure and photograph those tiles to make sure they were suitable before buying them.

That also applies in cases where too many boxes of tiles — or any other product — are purchased and the customer wants to return the leftovers. It will be a lovely customer service if the retailer chooses to take them back — provided they are in a resaleable condition — and issues a credit note for the goods. But legally they don’t have to.

Contrast that scenario with one experienced by Neli: “I bought chairs from a second-hand shop in Kensington after seeing an online advert.

“I sent transport to collect them and on arrival I realised the chairs were torn and generally in a much worse condition than they looked in the photos.

“I immediately took them back to the store and asked for a refund, but the owner wants to charge me a handling fee of 20%.

“I took them back the same day and I have a right to a cooling-off period, don’t I?”

Yes, she does. She is entitled to a full refund because she bought them online.

Section 44 of the Electronic Communications Act entitles consumers to a cooling-off period of seven days from the date of purchase or delivery, which means you can return whatever you have bought — defective or not — for a full refund during that period.

According to the Act, “the only charge that may be levied on the consumer is the direct cost of returning the goods”.

There is a bit of a catch, though: the retailer has to make the refund within 30 days of date of cancellation, which is a fairly long time to wait if the retailer chooses to push it to the legal limit.

 GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.

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