Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The VVM TV License Scam and How to Defeat It

Recently I received SMS messages, phone calls and finally an email from "VVM Debt Collectors" in Randburg. They claim to be collecting money on behalf of the SABC TV License department. Well, it's illegal. Firstly, they are breaking the ECT Act by sending me unsolicited SMS and eMail messages, and by making unsolicited phone calls to my wife and myself. What they didn't know is that I had recently logged in to the TV License website to check my balance. I have recently paid my license now that Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been fired.
When you sign in to the TV license website there is a link where you can give feedback on the "new payment site" which is dreadful because it doesn't show a statement or any info apart from the (incorrect) balance. So when I wrote to VVM I sent a copy of the email to these people.
Dear VVM
The matter of my TV license is between myself and the SABC. You have no right to interfere and you have violated the ECT act by sending me unsolicited messages without my permission.
Kindly cease and desist from further harassing my wife or myself.
Donn Edwards
I got an automated reply from VVM:
Due to us having to take instructions from our client, it could take up to 30 days for us to respond to your email. Please be guided accordingly.
I also got a reply from one of the people at the SABC, asking me if they could assist. I sent the following:
Dear SABC
You can assist as follows:
  1. Remove my details from the VVM database.
  2. Instruct VVM not to contact me in future, since they are in violation of the ECT Act and other privacy legislation.
  3. Fix up the TV License website so I can see my statement online
  4. Send me a receipt for the money already paid.
  5. Transfer the arrears penalties to the account of Mr Hlaudi Motsoeng and the other corrupt (former) officials at the SABC.
  6. Offer an amnesty to other TV License holders who refused to subsidise the maladministration and theft that has taken place at the SABC. You know it’s the right thing to do.
Best wishes
Donn Edwards
They replied:
Dear Mr. Edwards,
We have already instructed our service provider (VVM) to stop contacting you as we are dealing with this matter internally.
You can use our correct website indicated [below].
I trust you will find the above in order.
TV Licence Division
T: 011 330 9494
F: 011 330 9560/1
www.tvlic.co.za
At the beginning of October I paid the 2017 license (I had paid the 2016 license in June of 2017) but I refuse to pay the penalities and interest. In the reference number for the online payment I included the words "Full Final" and sent the "renewals@sabc.co.za" email address the following:
Dear SABC
Please find attached proof of full and final payment for the 2017 license.
I will not be paying the arrears penalties, since my taxes have been used to bail out the SABC. I suggest you contact Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the other corrupt officials at the SABC for further payments.
Kindly send me a receipt for both this and the previous payment.
Thanks in advance
Donn Edwards
I expected to hear nothing further, other than perhaps an automated reminder of the balance outstanding. I saved the receipts that arrived via SMS, in case I ever had to go to court. To my delight and surprise I received the following:
Good day,
We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your TV licence payment.
Please be informed that we have reversed all the penalties on your TV licence account and your account is valid until 30 June 2018. Attached please find your TV licence statement.
Please also note that your renewal month is July annually and payments should be made before the end of July to avoid penalties being loaded onto your TV licence account.
So I guess I must thank Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng for creating such a cash crisis for the SABC that they are willing to be reasonable. I wish them well, and hope they eventually get a competent board. I haven't heard a peep from VVM, partly because I have blocked their numbers: 0877401213, 0110621972 and 0110623650. My ESET Android antivirus software enables me to block these numbers.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bigger Leaner Stronger 2.1

Michael Matthews is a prolific writer, and in July last year he updated his book Bigger Leaner Stronger to version 2.1, introducing the concept of a "Strength Week" every 4 weeks. For those of you who don't know, I have made a series of spreadsheets that follow the Bigger Leaner Stronger Year One Challenge program. These can be found at http://www.fact-reviews.com/bls.
I have now finally updated my website with the new spreadsheets. They cover all 6 phases (each phase is 8 weeks, followed by 1 week rest) for each of the 5-day, 4-day and 3-day per week programs.
The idea is that you create a shared dropbox folder on your PC and your phone. Then you store the current phase spreadsheet in this folder, so you can update it on your phone while you are at they gym, between sets. On my Android phone I use WPS Office, a free program that is compatible with Microsoft Office. It uses the .xls format, not the newer (and larger) .xlsx format, so this reduces the file size, and the data usage when you update it on Dropbox. I'm sure there are IOS apps that can edit these files too.
Then when you get home from the gym you can print out the page of today's exercises, and keep a record of your progress. There is also space at the bottom of each page where you can keep track of your progress over the 8 week period. I find that this helps me monitor my improvements over time, which encourages me to improve, even by a small amount each week.
I started the Year One Challenge two years ago, and am now on phase 5 week 3. This is partly because I started over after recovering from a repetitive strain injury, and also because I go to gym 3 days a week but do the 4-day program, to ensure that each Tuesday I am on a different day with my personal trainer. He helps me make sure my form is correct, so I don't waste my time or do anything stupid that might cause an injury.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

This Video Should Make You Angry


I thought South Africa was a screwed up country, but the greatest hypocrites on the planet have to be the USA. They even have the audacity to call themselves "Americans" to the exclusion of the remaining population of two continents, including such countries as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and a dozen more. And every 16 years or so they elect a moron for 8 years, followed by a liar for another 8. And so it goes.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Happy 4th July, USA


In the supposed land of the free, visit https://www.battleforthenet.com for more information on how the USA is abusing the rights of its citizens.

Friday, June 23, 2017

What part of "Do Not Call" is it that MTN doesn't understand?


These are the people at MTN who are personally and collectively responsible for the failure of the company to observe even the most basic adherence to the concept of privacy or an understanding of what "Do Not Call" (for marketing purposes) means. Their names are:
  • PF Nhleko;
  • P Hanratty;
  • S Miller;
  • AF van Biljon;
  • NL Sowazi;
  • A Harper;
  • KP Kalyan;
  • NP Mageza;
  • MLD Marole;
  • AT Mikati;
  • KC Ramon;
  • J van Rooyen; and
  • S Kheradpir
To give you an example of how bad it is, yesterday I had to send the following email:
Dear Rishen, Kaveen and Bridget
You seem to have missed the point. I am assuming deliberately but will give you the benefit of the doubt and put it down to sheer bloody-minded incompetence.
I have *ALWAYS* been on your Do Not Call list. I made it clear when I first obtained my MTN number, and have repeated it every time I have renewed my contract. I have also complained to MTN before about this matter. Many times.
  • July 2011: http://donnedwards.openaccess.co.za/2011/07/mtn8-competition-greed.html
  • May 2009: http://donnedwards.openaccess.co.za/2009/05/another-mtn-disaster.html
  • Nov 2007: http://donnedwards.openaccess.co.za/2007/11/mtns-marketing-incompetence-again.html
  • June 2007: http://donnedwards.openaccess.co.za/2007/06/mtn-direct-breaks-law-again.html
  • Oct 2006: http://donnedwards.openaccess.co.za/2006/10/mtns-marketing-incompetence.html
  • Aug 2006: http://donnedwards.openaccess.co.za/2006/08/mtn-sends-sms-spam-and-breaks-law.html
Since your company has known since 2006 that I do not wish to receive marketing communications, the fact that you supplied my name for marketing purposes to a third party is a clear violation of the ECT Act, plus the more recent privacy laws.
So what is it going to take to get MTN and its affiliates, subsidiaries and third party call centres to get the message? You clearly don’t seem to think that the bad publicity from my blog is motivation enough, so what is it going to be?
I also fail to understand why it is so desperately important for MTN to get me to renew my contract. You only offer 24 month contracts, not monthly or annual ones. I have my own phone and I will stick to my monthly renewal until I decide otherwise. I know this makes MTN nervous, and so you should be.
I await a suitable explanation. MTN’s marketing division clearly do not understand the concept of privacy or the desire not to be interrupted during a busy day with trivial and annoying marketing messages.
Looking forward to your reply,
Donn
It all started earlier this year when my 24 month MTN contract came up for renewal. I have a working phone, which I bought separately, and I decided to let the contract continue on a month-to-month basis. I told the person who called me that I had no interest in talking to them and they should not call again. I also blocked the number 083-123-7355 on my phone. So they tried calling on a different number 083-011-0100 and leaving voice messages. I called back and told them to take me off their autodial list. I made it very clear that I was not in the mood to be called by their marketing people.
But they persisted. They started calling my land line too. Yesterday they called twice. I found out that the company making these calls uses a bogus number 083-123-7355 for their call centre. You cannot call them on that number. This bunch
of crooksis called CCI SA and they have another call centre number 0861-262-241. When I called this number and complained about unsolicited calls the call centre agent was completely clueless and had no idea how to remove me from their list. Her supervisor, naturally, was "in a meeting".
I call them crooks because they made no attempt whatsoever to comply with the ECT Act, and they are not members of the Direct Marketing Association. That tells me that they are unscrupulous and dishonest and not to be trusted. They called me (twice!) today from 031-830-7200 to apologize and tell me that they have removed me from their call list. I pointed out that my details need to be blocked, so they aren't added again. So much for marketing ethics.
Yesterday I sent them the following email, cc'd to MTN:
Dear CCI
Please confirm that you have removed my contact numbers from your call centre databases and that you will no longer call me for any reason whatsoever on my cell phone number [redacted], or my land line number [redacted]
I should point out that my details have been on the DMASA Do Not Contact database for 12 years or so.
I am sick and tired of being contacted by yourselves on behalf of MTN, who should know better, and who have clearly violated the DMASA’s code of conduct by providing you with my details without my permission, and without informing you of my DMASA Do Not Call status.
Thanks in advance
Donn Edwards
Needless to say I have not had a reply from their email. But I did get a response from Bridget Bhengu, Senior Manager: Public Relations & Internal Communications. She referred the matter to Rishendren Damodaram, who roped in Kaveen Kalicharran, who "manages CCI". Rishen notified their Marketing Department and my name "has been removed from MTN Marketing", whatever that means. Probably not much. Hence my email at the top of this post.
It turns out that MTN are not members of the DMASA.
This would explain their unethical and illegal behaviour. Why am I not surprised?
Update Friday 23 June: I made a mistake in claiming that MTN are not a member of DMASA. They are listed on this page as "MOBILE TELEPHONE NETWORKS (PTY) LTD - SOUTH AFRICA". In spite of that they seem confused about how the Doc Not Call list works. And they seem to be blissfully unaware (or willfully ignorant) of the provisions of the ECT Act. Section 45 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, no 25 of 2002. states the following:
45. (1) Any person who sends unsolicited commercial communications to consumers, must provide the consumer—­
(a) with the option to cancel his or her subscription to the mailing list of that person; and
(b) with the identifying particulars of the source from which that person obtained the consumer's personal information, on request of the consumer.
That implies that their call centre agents should be able to mark customers as "Do Not Call" by adding them to a do not call list maintained by the organisation. Clearly MTN doesn't know how to do this correctly. They should also be able to check their data against the DMA list before they hand over the data to third parties (it that is even legal any more). Clearly they failed to do this too. How convenient.
Update Friday 30 June: MTN called again, this time from 087-350-8555. They don't even have the ability to put my name on the do not call list, which is another clear violation of the ECT Act. Listen to the recording.
Update Thursday 10 August: My blocked call log shows that MTN called from 083-123-7355 again on 8th August and again today on the 10th August.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Sunday Independent's Persistent Online Lies


On Sunday 23rd April the Sunday Independent published an incorrect and misleading article about the "It's Time" prayer event near Bloemfontein. A million people showed up to pray for the country. Their freelance correspondent Sidwell Guduka wrote a piece that was published in the paper and online. The story was picked up and repeated by numerous other smaller online web sites.
I was not at the event, so I am not able to comment on the overall accuracy of the story, but there was one obvious and glaring inaccuracy that could and should have been fact-checked by the Sunday Independent newsroom. The sentence "He touched down in his private jet just a stone’s throw from the area where the event was held." Angus Buchan doesn't own a jet. How many farmers do?
The Cape Argus went a step further, combining two separate articles into a single mishmash and making out that Angus Buchan is a "bogus pastor".
So I wrote to the Press Council of South Africa to complain about both of them. It seems that Independent Newspapers has withdrawn from this august body, and has its own internal (but useless) complaints procedure. I forwarded two complaints to <complaints@inl.co.za> and have only received a reply to one of them from their "Group Ombudman". They clearly don't feel that correcting misleading information is any kind of priority, since after 5 weeks all they have done is publish this apology in the print edition of the Sunday Independent:
In my opinion, the line "This is not the case" doesn't clarify anything. It doesn't make it clear whether he didn't arrive in his private jet (but still has a private jet), or whether he arrived in a private jet belonging to someone else, or whether he arrived at all. Very sloppy writing. Their take is:
"This is not the case" means exactly that: that Buchan didn't arrive by private jet/ doesn't own a private jet/ didn't arrive by aircraft on the farm.
So which is it? They clearly don't know or don't care. But we know he was at the venue, along with a million other people.
My attempts to get in touch with Jovial Rantao, their current Group Ombudsman have largely failed. His landline 011-633-2180 voice mailbox is not set up so you can't leave a message. His emails (with one exception) go unanswered. I eventually called his cell phone number 082-446-6008 and he rambled on about how 5 weeks was a long time to deal with the complaint but there were "circumstances" that caused the delay. He claimed to be "unaware" of the fact that the online article was still not corrected. He claimed that someone else reads the emails to <complaints@inl.co.za> but when I challenged him on a mail sent directly to his own mailbox on Tuesday he was "unaware" of it.
Clearly the reputation of innocent parties is not a high priority for a newspaper group that produces 21% of South African print media (by circulation). They may claim that "the unflinching truth" is their quest, but accuracy and clarity of thought are obviously not part of the package.
The irony is that this article appeared right next to the sloppy "apology" they printed. Sad. In the meantime the "Bogus Pastor" accusation has still not been dealt with. It seems that no good deed will go unpunished by lacklustre and sloppy writers.

Update 23rd July 2017: Instead of correcting the online article, IOL just deleted it. So much for journalistic integrity. The Weekend Argus article has still not been corrected or apologized for. Sigh.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Julius vs The ANC

This documentary is from the same producer who did the documentary on Marikana that the SABC refused to broadcast. It paints a chilling picture of the years to come, and is well worth watching.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MTN Monitoring and Monetizing My Call Logs

This is part of a letter I have written to MTN (my mobile operator), following the events that happened after I made a call to my domestic worker's mobile phone. I recived a popup-style "alert SMS" message, followed by a standard spam SMS from the MTN short code 46163:
This morning I called my domestic worker from my MTN phone. Her phone is very basic. I can do SMS messages and not much more. She is illiterate, so she cannot read SMS messages.
When I had finished the call I got an annoying little popup message on my phone, followed by an SMS from 46163 claiming that my domestic’s phone number “just sent me a Caller Notify message.” [See screen shot above]
My first concern is that clearly my domestic does not have the capability to type out the message, let alone send it as an alert style SMS instead of a standard SMS message.
Secondly, she has no way of sending messages on behalf of 46163
Thirdly, 46163 is not a short code registered with WASPA.
But my biggest question is: who gave the operators of 46163 the network capability to monitor calls to and from my phone, and to and from her phone? I should also point out that I am the account holder of both phones and at no point do I recall permitting subscription services to be deducted from her phone, or have I given MTN permission to give calling metadata to anyone, and that it should only be used for the purposes of police investigations or billing.
So the privacy and compliance issues surrounding this “service” are of grave concern to me as a subscriber. Please would you explain what is going on?
Best wishes
Donn Edwards
I await their reply with interest, and will publish it as soon as it becomes available. I have called their call centre and discovered that the "service" deducts R2 per month R1 per day from the phone's account. Not much until you consider that she only gets R50 airtime a month. Then it's a big deal.
Update Friday 28 April: According to this tweet the call centre was lying. The cost for this "service" is R1 per day, or R5 per week. That's plain daylight robbery. My email has been passed from pillar to post at MTN, but still no one has actually replied. I guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

JoziBear 24/7: Customer Service Gone Wrong*

Earlier this week I became aware of a new startup in the taxi business, trying to compete with the likes of Uber and Zebra Cabs in Johannesburg. One of my gripes with Uber is they have no phone lines, so you have to reply on Twitter or email to talk to them.
Being cautious, I first asked if they had a phone number I could use. They replied and gave me the number 011-082-9825 which I duly added to my phone contacts, hoping I would never need to use it. How wrong I was.
I resolved to try using their service on my way home from gym on Tuesday. As it turned out I left gym early, and at 4.17pm I requested a ride from Victory Park Shopping Centre to my home.
Within seconds I got an SMS reply to say they would be finding a nearby driver. After that, nothing.
Bear in mind I'm sitting on the pavement outside the shopping centre, I've had a long day and I just want to go home. I check on the app and get this:
"Sorry, no trips to display". And a programmer's error message about a missing data id, or something. It was gone before I could get a screen shot. So at 4.23pm (after 5 minutes) I sent this tweet: No reply, even though they tweeted at 4.15pm and again at 4.30pm. Turns out that was a Twitter bot giving the illusion of human activity. Clearly no service via Twitter. So I tried the number on the SMS at 4.27pm (i.e after 10 minutes). No answer from 086-001-5666, just an automated message that says "The user you are trying to reach is unavailable". I have yet to get any kind of answer from that number. Presumably faulty.
So I try the landline number, 011-082-9825 hoping at least someone would answer. After all, this is a 24 hour a day operation. I get voicemail. I didn't leave a message. I was already waiting for them to "get back to me" with no results.
Instead, since I was trying out alternatives to Uber, I decided to give Zebra Cabs another go. The first time I installed their app I didn't get the SMS code they promised, and a call to their call centre wasn't particularly enlightening either. But this time I installed the app and it worked. By 4.33 I had requested a ride and by 4.57 I was home. My first trip with Zebra Cabs was a complete success.
At 9.09am this morning I gave twitter another try and decided to try calling again. The 086-001-5666 number still gave me "The user you are trying to reach is unavailable", but I did manage to speak to someone (I think it was Kampa) who said he had no idea what was going on because he had just got into the office. I pointed out that they advertise a 24/7 service and he promised to investigate.
At lunchtime I noticed another tweet from @JoziBear247 and wondered why they still hadn't replied. I decided to reply to every tweet they sent out until someone replied. It took several hours but by 3pm (23 hours after my first "help!" tweet) they finally replied, saying their "internet was down". SAY AGAIN!?. What was the social media person doing all day on his/her phone? Playing solitaire? Oh, wait. This is an internet startup. Of course they don't have smart phones. What was I thinking?
At 2.57 they send an email that reads:
From: Jozibear Sales&Marketing <jozibearjhb1@gmail.com>
Subject: Apology
Good day Donn.
I wish to convey my sincere apology on behalf of JoziBear for missing your trip yesterday.
I wish to advise that we are still adding drivers to our system to meet the demand. We could not get you a ride as all our drivers in your area were busy being the peak hour.
Furthermore, we could not reply to your messages on Twitter as our Internet was down since morning due to maintenance that just ended a while ago.
I wish to again apologise for the inconvenience cause you. We hope to serve you better next time should you give us a second chance.
Kind Regards,
So I get a "sincere apology" that turned out to be totally insincere when he blocked my Twitter account, and a load of lame excuses and justifications. No sense of concern or urgency. And this is the PR guy! The person who is supposed to put the customer first. Completely oblivious to how arrogant his "apology" sounds. He wasn't able to call me during the internet outage? Or send an SMS? He's obviously a very busy man. Can't answer his cell phone at 3.27 or his land line. Instead I get passed on to Mandla Zuma in "Operations" who was just as clueless as to why no one let me know they couldn't find a ride for me.
But wait, there's more! Read section 6 of their Privacy page:
6. Direct marketing
We only use your e-mail address and phone number for sharing our product related marketing messages if you have given consent via Jozibear 24/7 app during installation and registration. If you no longer wish to receive direct marketing messages, please email us at support@jozibear247.com
Nowhere in the installation or registration process was there any mention of providing consent for direct marketing. None. Nothing. Nor is there any mention of it on the app page in the Google Play store. There are some angry reviews about this, and I have written to support@jozibear247.com but not had a reply as yet. I doubt I'll get one either. I have CC'd Craig Geswindt, their CEO, so we'll see what happens.
All I want them to do is fix their systems so that other people don't get left stranded like I was. I'm certainly not going to put their app on my wife's phone until they do.
*Update Thursday 10am: The CEO called me personally. He understands the issues and is working to fix them. I don't envy these challenges, but if they are working on them I will cut them some slack. I'll try again in a month or so and see how things have improved.


Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.