ECR Consumerwatch

Wendy Knowler is arguably South Africa’s most experienced consumer journalist. She’s helped more consumers over her 20 year career in consumer journalism than she could count. But while known as a champion of consumer rights, Wendy is also known and respected by corporates for her fair, accurate and balanced reporting. Want to be a more sussed consumer or corporate? Listen to Wendy's episodes here.

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22
JUL

Is there an unreasonable increase on the prices of goods after the looting in KZN?

It is called price gouging and if you can prove it if, here’s what to do

As the people of this province know all too well, last week’s extraordinary looting of not only supermarkets but their distribution centres, too, led to chronic food shortages, and in some cases, crazy prices.
I had people emailing me about tomatoes selling for R200 a pocket, toilet paper R180 for a six-pack, bread loaves selling for twice the normal price and more.
Without till receipts as proof of current prices versus previous prices there can be no investigation, and that’s what the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs will require if you lodge a price gouging complaint.
“Where wrongdoing is found we will not hesitate to take action which may include fines against those businesses,” said MEC Ravi Pillay.

“This cannot be a time for profit-making. Excessive profiteers are warned that the law provides for severe punishment. We will also publish offenders with the consequence of reputational risk.”

The National COnsumer Commission has also expressed its outrage at such allegations, because the Consumer Protection Act makes it a prohibited conduct for a supplier to increase their prices unconscionably, in a way "that does not correlate to an equivalent expense in the cost of providing that service or product".
A supplier who contravenes these regulations can face a fine of up to R1million or up to 10% of a firm’s annual turnover, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months.
Take a listen to what is considered "wrongdoing" in this instance.
15
JUL

How to - Insurance after looting

If you have car and household contents insurance cover, then a tiny part of your monthly premium is paid every month by your insurer to Sasria, a government-owned insurer providing cover against risks such as civil commotion, public disorder, strikes, riots and terrorism.
The good news is while Sasria’s (the South African Special Risks Insurance Association) policy wording states that looting in itself is not considered to be a Sasria event, Sasria accepts that it falls under civil commotion so all related losses are covered.
More good news is that Sasria MD Cedric Masondo says they have enough capital to cover what he currently estimates to be claims of between R3.5billion to R7billion.
About 85% of all commercial properties and government buildings in South Africa have Sasria cover, along with all privately mortgaged properties, and all insured cars. The two thirds of cars on our roads which aren’t insured, don’t have this civil commotion cover.
But there’s something you need to check about your household contents cover. Take a listen…
08
JUL

Critical online shopping advice by Wendy Knowler

Seeing is believing - but seeing on a computer screen can be tricky

When buying goods on line you always run the risk of being unpleasantly surprised when they are delivered.
Going by photos and descriptions can never come close to being able to see and interact with a product physically.
That’s why you get a “cooling off” period in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act when you buy something online.
That means you have a week, from date of delivery, to change your mind and send it back (at your expense, if the company chooses not to absorb that cost) for a refund.
It doesn’t have to be defective in any way, and legally you don’t have to provide a reason - you just say, within 7 days, that you don’t want it.
You don’t have that “out” when you buy something in a shop. Only if it breaks in some way, within 6 months of purchase, through no fault of yours, do you have the right to return it for a refund - or replacement or repair; your choice.
Tessa bought a few items from Weylandts Umhlanga recently - including a table, which was discounted in price to around R10 000 due to scratches.
She was happy with all the items when they were delivered to her, except for the table - it was smaller than she’d thought it would be.
Turns out the table wasn’t in the store the day she’d bought it - the store assistant showed it to her online.
ssentially an online one.

Take a listen to this lesson learnt
01
JUL

Get your full refund back as events are cancelled in alert level 4 lockdown

One hotel said it’s closing for two weeks and no, the family couldn’t get a refund of their deposit because they don’t have the money. Just like that. Now the crucial issue is that while last week someone cancelling a hotel booking or a wedding because of COVID-19 fears was entirely a voluntary decision, this week, if it’s a booking for an event in these two weeks, it's not.
And that means those who paid deposits for events that now cannot legally take place are legally entitled to a FULL refund - the CPA’s “reasonable cancelation penalty” no longer applies.
Ideally, as we keep saying, the consumer should consider accepting a postponement, but in the case of many wedding cancellations, the couple, exhausted from all the on-off uncertainty, and the impossibility of knowing whether guests, especially those travelling from overseas, will be able to attend, have given up on the idea of a wedding and have just had very small private marriage ceremonies.

So a postponement is not appropriate.

So what about “Force Majeure” - uncontrollable events such as war, political unrest, strikes, acts of God, national lockdowns?

Can companies play that card to avoid paying refunds for events that now can’t happen because of government restriction?
LISTEN here to find out…
10
JUN

Edgars accounts' chaos: A 'how to' checklist for the closure procedure

Never say die - those accounts that defy closure

In last week’s Consumerwatch we talked about the many Edgars account holders who’ve been battling for quite some time to close their accounts - in some cases those accounts suddenly came to life again last year with amounts for club membership, and service fees, when the account holders thought the account had been closed quite some time ago.
The account chaos is the result of a whole lot of dramatic change for the 92-year-old iconic South African retailer, behind the scenes.
Edgars has been sold by Edcon, which is currently in business rescue, to the Durban-based Retailability group, and its accounts management has been outsourced to RCS. As if that wasn’t enough fragmentation, Hollard underwrites the insurance policies which Edgars has sold many of its account holders, their monthly premiums being paid via their monthly accounts. All in all, for many accountholders, settling the amount owing in order to close their accounts seems like an impossible task.
That’s mainly because those extra monthly charges, which get added to their account whether they buy goods or not - service fee, club fee, insurance premiums - keep being added for as many months as it takes for the company to process their cancellation request. Many just don’t have the time or the energy to get to the closed account stage, and for many, especially the elderly, the stress and aggravation is dramatically affecting their quality of life.

The issues include:

Account was closed in store or via email, but not actioned

Club fee memberships not being cancelled, despite requests

Long delays in responding to account closure requests, with the result that the “value adds” keep on being added to their accounts”

Being sent “from pillar to post” in trying to get closure

So at the end of last week’s show, after recounting a particular bad case of an elderly woman who had been handed over to debt collectors for an Edgars account she closed at a store.
03
JUN

Edgars accountholders are among SA’s most frustrated consumers right now, says Wendy Knowler

The hardest goodbye
I continue to get a steady stream of complaints from Edgars customers, most about battling to close their accounts, and some about battling to stop the extra charges or interest being applied to their “six months’ interest free” accounts.
The Edgars accounts story is such a sad, complicated one, the bottom line being that for many, settling the amount owing in order to close their accounts seems like an impossible task.
That’s mainly because those extra monthly charges, which get added to their account whether they buy goods or not - service fee, club fee, insurance premiums - keep being added for as many months as it takes for the company to process their cancellation request.
Many just don’t have the time or the energy to get to the closed account stage, so I hear from quite a few sons and daughters of accountholders, or mothers of people too busy in their jobs for the time they need to devote to closing their accounts or settling a dispute.
A quick recap - Edgars has been sold by Edcon, currently in business rescue, to the Durban-based Retailabilty group, and its accounts management has been outsourced to RCS.
And Hollard underwrites the insurance policies which Edgars has sold many of its account holders, their monthly premiums being paid via their monthly accounts.
Sayon Pather wrote to me about this 79-year-old mother’s Edgars’ drama.
“She has always maintained an impeccable financial track record,” he began.
“At this stage in her life she should not have to deal with the stressful harassment proffered by Edgars, and now the debt collectors they have handed her over to, for R511,11, which in fact she should not owe.
“My mother's Edgars account was made paid-up in full and the account closed in January 2020. This was confirmed by the cashier and witnessed by family.
20
MAY

Easier cash deposits and all about car jamming.

Got quite a bit of cash to deposit? You’ll pay less in fees if you do it at the supermarket, says Consumerwatch’s Wendy Knowler.

That’s provided you’re depositing larger amounts - R1200 or more. For smaller amounts, your bank’s ATM deposit fee will probably be less than the supermarket’s standard R19,95 fee.

The Shoprite group has followed Pick n Pay in making it possible for customers to deposit cash directly into their own bank accounts at till points of its Shoprite, Checkers and USave stores.
All you need is your card and the cash, plus a transaction fee of R19,95 - the identical amount Pick n Pay charges for the service at its grocery, clothing and Boxer stores.
It’s a safer, more convenient cash deposit option than using a bank ATM - especially for those who get paid in cash and live in rural areas where ATMs are relatively scarce.
Shoprite caps its till-deposit amount at R3000, while PnP allows customers to deposit up to R5000 cash, still for that flat fee of R19,95.
I asked Pick n Pay how shoppers had responded to the service offering and what their average deposit amount is.
“Customers are absolutely loving it,” I was told. “We have seen a jump of 159% in the number of deposits from level 5 lockdown to level 1.”
The average deposit amount in the last financial year was R1600, so clearly most have cottoned on to the fee issue.

You pressed the lock button on your remote, but is your car really locked?
Are you in the habit of locking your car by pressing a button on your remote while walking away from your car parked in at a shopping mall?

Criminals use signal-blocking technology to effectively blocks a vehicle from locking properly - as you press that button on your remote, so they press their’s and the result is your car isn’t locked and they can help themselves to what you have stashed in your boot - often a laptop.
It’s not a new scam, but it’s still very prevalent.
13
MAY

Bank notification SMS: How to know when it's a scam

Could those SMS bank notifications be false security?

The Ombudsman for Banking Services of SA released its 2020 annual report yesterday, revealing that fraud cases dominated the five top complaints categories: current accounts, internet banking, personal loans, credit cards and ATMs.
Current account cases increased by a dramatic 7% from 2019, with complaints relating to fraud, bank fees and charges and banks not giving notice of account closures account for 80% of current account complaints.
The report features 15 case studies and they make for very compelling reading indeed.
“These cases are more relatable and engaging than a list of statistics,” Steyn said. “It’s in the telling of the stories that we succeed in our consumer awareness efforts and in changing banking practices, from time to time.”
Several case studies had the same theme - the bank’s failure to tell their customer about a very real risk of fraud.
In one of them, a bank customer complained to her bank that she wasn’t receiving SMS notifications regarding credit card payments.
She was told there had been a technical issue, but that her SMS notification system was operating again. Cool, she thought, all sorted.
When fraudulent transactions totalling R200 000 went through on her account, without her being notified, the bank told her that because her account had been accessed via her banking app, no SMS notifications were sent to her. That’s because she had failed to register specifically for banking app notifications.
Can you believe it??
The OBS said it was a reasonable assumption that the notifications applied to all notifications on her account - it was unreasonable for the bank to expect customers to explicitly request notifications on their banking app.
And so it was that the bank accepted responsibility for that R200 000.
Pity the bank isn’t named, but the story serves as a strong warning to make sure that your bank sends you SMS notifications about all activity on your account no matter what
06
MAY

"Minimum card swipe is a lie", Wendy Knowler explains why

Don’t let a retailer charge you extra for card payments, or dictate how much you must spend, says Wendy Knowler in this week’s Consumerwatch.

IT’S ILLEGAL!

Wendy also shares:
What your car colour choice tells your insurer about you
Did you know that the colour of your car has an impact on your insurance premium?

222 episodes

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