WENDY KNOWLER | Gift vouchers, be wise for Black Friday sales & pre-Xmas insurance checks
Consumer watch-outs of the week
In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:
Gift vouchers — money or the product?
Back in the pre-CPA (Consumer Protection Act) days, companies that sold gift vouchers could make them valid for as long as they fancied. Usually they went for very short validity periods — six months, or in some cases, just three months. But for the past 12 years, the act required them to make all prepaid vouchers valid for at least three years.
That means the holder of a gift voucher is entitled to redeem its full value for up to three years.
Some industries adapted by issuing vouchers with a monetary value rather than a specific product, so that they didn’t lose out when someone redeemed their voucher in the third year, by which time the cost of the service had shot up.
So, in other words, a R500 voucher rather than a voucher for a facial.
But one hotel didn’t go that route, continuing to issue vouchers for their “high teas”.
When Arlene tried to redeem one issued in 2022, she was told she’d have to pay R280 for herself and her husband.
“Is this legal practice?” she asked. “Surely if the voucher is valid for a specified time, then the 'product' that has been purchased should be available, regardless of the increase in costs to the provider?”
The cost of that high tea may have increased in the two years since the hotel issued the voucher, but they should have foreseen that and informed the purchaser they are only prepared to issue a voucher with a monetary value.
As it is, the couple is entitled to exactly what’s written on that still-valid voucher: a high tea for two.
Will your insurance policy cover your road trip?
If your car insurance premium has been adapted to account for the fact that you work from home, will your car be covered should you take a long trip in the December holidays? Best you check.
“Every person with an insurance policy should look at least twice a year at their policy documents to check what they are specifically covered for, as well as the general terms and conditions being applied,” said Pamela Ramagaga, general manager of insurance risks at the SA Insurance Association.
Every person with an insurance policy should look at least twice a year at their policy documents to check what they are specifically covered for, as well as the general terms and conditions being appliedPamela Ramagaga, SA Insurance Association
“The majority of complaints after a claim relate to what the consumer thought was covered and what the policy document actually sets out,” she said. “Doing this check enables you to seek clarification from the insurer and to make changes.
“It’s mostly too late to dispute what is covered by the policy only after you submit a claim.
“Changes are certainly much easier to make now than the day before going on holiday in December.”
While you are at it, do some desktop research on whether your premium is market-related. If not, ask your insurer to lower your premium, or switch to a competitor.
How to do Black Friday
It’s that time of year again — the spendfest that began as Black Friday in the US, spread to South Africa a decade ago and is now billed as the month-long Black November sale, is upon us. (Woolworths got out of the starting blocks early with a “Black Friday” sale in the last week of October.)
There’s so much to know to get the most out of this sale season, and so much to watch out for, starting with outright scams.
“Black Friday brings a surge in online transactions, and with it, an escalated risk to your personal and sensitive information,” says Andrew Whitaker, MD of Altron Security.
“Modern browsers and apps excel at detecting scams in real-time, whether they’re phishing emails luring you to counterfeit shopping or banking sites or unauthorised logins on your accounts,” Whitaker says. “To maximise this built-in security, ensure all your software is up-to-date, including the latest security patches.”
If you’ve been postponing updates on your devices, now is the time to get them done.
“While there’s no foolproof way to avoid dodgy links entirely, you can minimise the risk by checking the authenticity of the sender’s social media account or email address.
“Even with up-to-date browsers, it’s wise to remain vigilant as you browse — no discount is worth exposing yourself to scammers,” Whitaker says.
“If you plan to shop at unfamiliar outlets, set up accounts in advance to avoid rushing when creating new passwords and entering sensitive information into your browser.”