WENDY KNOWLER | ‘Cooling off’ exclusions, Black Friday scams and cross-border travel tips

Consumer watch-outs of the week

24 November 2023 - 11:03
By Wendy Knowler
According to Budget Insurance, goods-in-transit claims shoot up by about 30% in the week that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday with courier companies at particularly high risk of being hijacked. File photo.
Image: VINCENT WEST/Reuters According to Budget Insurance, goods-in-transit claims shoot up by about 30% in the week that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday with courier companies at particularly high risk of being hijacked. File photo.

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

Online shopping 7-day cooling off period is great, but there are exceptions

Nikki asked me via X: “I ordered three books from Takealot to look at and decide between them, only to discover they are all non-returnable. Is this allowed as I ordered them online? Should I not have seven days in which to return them?”

The response she received from the country’s largest e-tailer reads: “Non returnable: No warranty at all, except for delivery damages, if applicable.”

That’s a bit confusing as the six-month Consumer Protection Act warranty against defects applies, but not the seven-day “change your mind” cooling-off period.

Online purchases are regulated by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, which gives us a cooling-off period of seven days in which to change our minds and return the goods (at our cost) for a full refund within 30 days.

However, there are exclusions, among them “newspapers, periodicals, magazines and books”. Also insurance products, goods bought on an online auction, fast-moving consumer goods meant for daily consumption (Sixty60, et al), lottery tickets, and “purchases for the provision of accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services and where the supplier undertakes, when the transaction is concluded, to provide these services on a specific date or within a specific period”.

So you can’t order a bunch of books and magazines online, binge-read for a week and then send them back.

What if your Black Friday bargains don’t make it to your door?

In the week that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday, courier companies are at particularly high risk of being hijacked. According to Budget Insurance, goods-in-transit claims shoot up by about 30%.

Most coveted by criminals over Black Friday are cellphones and electronic equipment, including TVs, gaming consoles and computers.

Where does that leave you if your online purchase is “redistributed” en route?

The online retailer and its third-party courier carry the risk for the goods until they are delivered to you, and only then does it pass to you. You’d be entitled to a refund from the retailer if the goods didn’t make it to your door. After that, it is advisable to have them insured immediately.

However, don’t assume all online retailers will respect your consumer right to a refund. I’ve heard from consumers who received damaged goods and were told by the retailer to seek recourse from the courier company, and vice versa. Make sure you check the online retailer’s policy on this before making a purchase.

Be wise to fake sites

If you receive an email advertising a special deal that is designed to look as though it comes from a reputable supplier, double-check the URL on the site you are directed to and compare it with the company’s authentic website address.

Scammers often disguise fake websites by making small, barely perceptible changes to the URL (such as switching a 1 for an I or leaving off or adding a letter)
Consumer Goods and Services Ombud 

Look at the address very closely because a cloned site could have only one missing or extra letter in the address.

“Scammers often disguise fake websites by making small, barely perceptible changes to the URL (such as switching a 1 for an I or leaving off or adding a letter), the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) warns.

“These tactics are often aimed at directing you to the fake site for the purpose of defrauding you.”

Also, take note of the website’s terms and conditions when buying online. Return or cancellation policies that are not clear and upfront are a big red flag. And pay attention to the expected delivery time when using online marketplaces.

“Many well-known online marketplaces also act as third-party sellers, meaning any dispute or delivery issues will be referred to the (often unknown) third-party seller, leaving consumers feeling abandoned,” the CGSO said.

I recently investigated a complaint against “Sia Cape Town”, an outfit advertising gorgeous-looking shoes at heavily discounted prices.

A woman bought a pair of “wool-lined leather boots” but instead received what she called “Chinese knock-offs made of synthetic materials”. When she tried to send them back for a refund, as was her right in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act's seven-day cooling-off period, she was given an address in China.

The cost of sending the knock-off boots back to China would have been several times what she paid for them.

The Sia Cape Town website has no physical address and no phone number only an email address. I did a reverse image search on some product photos on the site and discovered they belong to a company called Duckfeet, US. They sell the boots for $338, the equivalent of about R6,369.

Bogus bargains galore

We see a constant stream of “too good to be true” fake offers doing the rounds on social media, but that stream turns into a flood at this time of year.

Domestic airline FlySafair warned its customers about a profile named “FlySafair: South Africa’s Favourite Low-Cost Airline” which has been imitating the brand and editing official images to offer a six-month free flights “special”.

“It is unfortunate that our drive to open the skies to more people is being taken advantage of, especially during the festive season,” said the airline’s chief marketing officer, Kirby Gordon.

“We would like to ask all our consumers to help us stop these scams by reporting them directly to social media platforms when they see them.”

The scam sale, posted on Facebook, features FlySafair staffers holding cards claiming to offer the holder six months worth of free flights for a few rand, along with a caption pushing viewers to click a button, which, it is claimed, will redirect them to the official site.

“The images may look legit at a glance, but on closer inspection the poor Photoshopping and use of 'City of Derry airport' as a location are fairly good giveaways,” Gordon said.

His advice applies to all corporate accounts.

“The best way to verify is to check the name of the account that posted the advert. All the FlySafair social media accounts are verified, which means all our accounts have a little blue tick next to their name.

“If the posting account does not have that blue tick, it is not our official account and clicking any links could put you at risk of being scammed.”

Opinion & Analysis
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To report a Facebook page or profile, click on the three dots icon under the page or profile’s cover picture. From there, select “Find Support or Report Page/Profile” and follow the on-screen prompts. To report a post, the same icon is found on the top right of the post, giving you the option to “report post”.

Instagram is much the same: to report a post, click the three dots above the post and select “Report”.

Injury by airbag — how not to become a statistic

Airbags save a huge number of lives, but many motorists unwittingly reduce or destroy the ability of their car’s hidden airbags to protect them in a severe crash.

“To maximise airbag safety, drivers need to do their part too,” said Eugene Herbert, CEO of South African driver training organisation MasterDrive.

“It is imperative to understand how our behaviour can influence airbag efficiency.”

An airbag’s main job is to prevent vehicle occupants from colliding with interior vehicle components during an accident.

“Front airbags shield your head, neck, and chest from impact with the dashboard, steering wheel or windshield in a frontal collision, while side and curtain airbags safeguard occupants in side-impact collisions,” Herbert said.

Here’s what you need to do: Sit in an upright position with your spine flat against the seat. Your chest should be about 25cm away from the steering wheel where airbags are situated, and place your hands in the nine and three o’clock positions to prevent the airbag hitting your face when deploying.

Sadly, those anxious drivers who “hug” their steering wheels to feel more secure while driving are unwittingly placing themselves in grave danger of injury by an airbag deploying at 320km/h.

Children and infants must never sit in the front seat, Herbert said, nor be allowed to lean against side doors in the back.

Another no-no is the front passenger sitting with their legs on the dashboard on long trips.

“If the airbag deploys, rather than protecting the occupant, their legs will be pushed upwards, causing serious pelvis, leg and spinal injuries and even death.”

Planning a cross-border road trip? Get your paperwork in order

If you are planning a road trip beyond South Africa’s borders, make sure you do all the required vehicle admin before you set off.

Having the required cross-border documents will help you avoid unnecessary frustration at border posts, Wesbank has warned.

If your car is still financed, you need to get the required documents from the bank financing your car. For WesBank customers, for example, this can be done by logging into their WesBank vehicle finance account on the WesBank website or on the WesBank app and requesting the border letter.

Something else to be aware of: some finance contracts have a predetermined annual mileage limit that must be adhered to, so check the planned trip doesn’t push the mileage beyond the agreed limit.

If your vehicle is paid off, you aren’t off the hook when it comes to border post demands. You will need to present the vehicle’s original NaTIS document, also known as the vehicle registration certificate, accompanied by proof the vehicle is comprehensively insured for the country being visited.

If you are not the registered owner of the vehicle, you need a police affidavit and a letter of authority from the registered owner granting permission for the vehicle to cross the border.

Drivers of rental vehicles must have a letter from the rental company authorising the driver to take the vehicle across the border.

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