Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is Genesis Capital using illegal databases?

I had never heard of Genesis Capital before today at 11h49 when someone from their 011-731-5000 call centre phoned me to sell me financial products. I told him I'd never heard of Genesis Capital and where did they get my number from? "From an FNB database" he replied. "Who at FNB?" He didn't know. When I told him he was breaking the law he rang off.
I called Genesis Capital on the same number and they didn't appear to be too interested in helping me. The Marketing Manager wasn't available, and someone else cut me off while trying to put me through to someone else. I have logged a query with FNB about the breach of privacy, but personally I doubt if my bank had anything to do with this database. I have also logged a query with Genesis Capital, but I doubt if these scumbags will respond.
People like this buy databases on the assumption that it is OK to use the information to run a credit check on me and then contact me if the credit check looks promising. What they don't realise is that I have told the credit check companies like TransUnionITC to put my name on their Do Not Call database. So when they call they are already breaking the law. Not that this kind of company has any business ethics to speak of, so that wouldn't bother them much.

Friday, June 24, 2011

WTF? Ducking and Diving from Oxygen8

Is there no end to the web of deception and deceit practised by Morvec, Opera Telecoms, Go Go Mobile and Oxygen8? Morvec are the guys with a domain and email address in the UK, and a box number in Hong Kong. Go Go Mobile have an 0800 number in South Africa but refuse to divulge their address. Trevor Louw, the "MD" of Opera Interactive is also the "Internal Account and Customer Services Manager" of Oxygen8 Communications with telephone number 011-218-5600. Between the three of them is an unhappy mix-up that has resulted in R70 being deducted from my phone account at MTN without my permission or prior knowledge.
On Wednesday Paul Barrat (Morvec) tried to get me to agree to a "full and final settlement" in exchange for a R100 refund. Today I complained to both Morvec and Trevor Louw that the promised refund had not been provided. They gave some feeble excuse about the refund only being sent on Monday. Clearly they are not taking this matter seriously, since it was promised on Thursday. When I pointed out all the ducking and diving going on, I got a heated and indignant reply from Trevor Louw:
With all due respect – we do not go around looking to pinch an odd R28 here and there – the matter of the fact is there are many south Africans out there who are not affected by this simply because they did not engage in any services. The mere fact that we know what model of handset you use proves that there was interaction between your handsets [sic] and the wap sites that Morvec run that is no co-incidence. We have no time changing dates and times – dates and times are recorded by machines that handle the interaction between your handset and the sites that are being visited. I would really like to think that you are a man of reasonable intellect, you have gone to many lengths to get this sorted – WASPA is the ultimate organization that can see us getting fined a lot of money if compliancy was at stake here, and in this light we take this very seriously especially as opera telecom. In the interim we have afforded you a refund; Morvec has a deadline that they were given by WASPA to respond to your complaint I believe they still are within that time period. In due course you will get your response and WASPA can make an informed decision looking at the evidence that is provided to them.
Of course this rant is only partially true, so I have taken the trouble to point out some of the discrepancies:
Had your company had taken my initial complaint seriously and given me the refund I demanded when I called on Friday 10 June, I would not have complained to WASPA. But your company refused the refund, and fobbed me off with a telephone number that doesn’t work. So much for customer service.
Instead, your company continued to bill me, in spite of my email to be added to your Do Not Contact list, and an Unsubscribe request from WASPA. All of these were “processed” by yourselves *before* the deductions of 18, 19 and 21 June.
Your technical information has changed several times:
From Ant Brooks:

According to our system, Morvec removed you from their systems on 2011-06-16 and also indicated that they have blocked your number from any further billing. They also provided us with proof of your subscription, with the following log entry
MSISDN: 27789389XX7 [not my number]
HANDSET: Samsung SGH-J700
DATE: 2011/05/23 00:01
Do these logs seem to have any validity to you? If not then we'll escalate this matter, since that indicates that you may have been subscribed without your consent.

From Morvec to your customer services:

Please see below opt in information and answers below




23/05/2011 00:01


Nokia 5130


From Morvec to me:
the below date and time must have got corrupted before they were sent, the actual date and time are as follows
21/05/2011 15:01:06

From you to Doris at MTN:

See response from the SP – I have asked for some screen shots as well, is there any way that you could collate this data with what you may have on your side to see if all makes sense?



Handset Details

Ip Address


21/05/2011 at 22:01:01

Nokia 5130


18/06/2011 at 18:43:35

Nokia 5130


19/06/2011 at 14:09:24

Nokia 5130


19/06/2011 at 18:27:38

Nokia 5130


21/06/2011 at 21:20:42

Nokia 5130


This user has entered into 4 campaigns in the last 3 days by clicking on WAP Banners or Text Adverts. We currently use 31801 and have also recently tested on 42977 for a new agency with seperate advertising campaigns so that we have one agency per code which is easier for me to keep track of results from each agency.

So please don’t tell me that you aren’t changing your minds. And where are all the confirmation SMS messages you are required to send? And where all my replies? There aren’t any.

I can confirm that On 18 and 19 June I displayed ads for “The Mob Club” on Cricinfo, but those URLs are, not, and I received an email from The Mob Club assuring me their ad campaign had nothing to do with the short codes mentioned above. Their short codes are 31927 and 31848. The full URL I recorded on my phone is:

This is all clearly documented in my blog post

In the interim you have refunded only the first two deductions, and tried to get me to send a “full and final settlement” for the remaining deduction. Presumably that is to avoid another R100,000 fine like you got for WASPA complaint #6868.

In the meantime I have had a meeting with MTN to try and prevent companies like yours from stealing money from my phone. They are being most helpful.

One other point I only noticed while writing this blog post: The last date of 21 June is clearly wrong, because the MTN call centre was able to tell me about the deduction before my lunchtime meeting with the MTN executives, a full 8 hours before I allegedly subscribed.
The initial “subscription” date has changed 4 times
23/05/2011 00:01 on a Samsung phone
23/05/2011 00:01 on a Nokia phone
21/05/2011 15:01:06 on a Nokia phone
21/05/2011 at 22:01:01 on a Nokia Phone
Update 3pm: Amazing how a "refund" payment that could only happen "on Monday" is suddenly sped up when I pointed out they were lying and not treating the matter seriously. I guess they hope this will make me shut up and go away. After all, it has only been two weeks since they ignored my first complaint.
Monday 27th, 4pm: I left a message for Andre Kruger (CEO, Oxygen8 South Africa) at 011-218-5600 to call me. Funny, he hasn't called. The call could have saved him a lot of trouble.
Update Thursday 30th June: Steven Hunt, Director of EMEA, Morvec Limited, writing from his WorkPC at (Bournemouth, UK) sent a long rambling response to my WASPA complaint. I'll have to pick my way through it and respond to WASPA. It contains many inaccuracies and misrepresentations, but I expected nothing less.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

MasterLists: another source of spam

Mathew at MasterLists just sent me spam of the worst type: selling lists of email addresses. And then he has the arrogance to say: "This email is not spam, it was manually sent by me, and the sole purpose being to introduce this offer to you with no obligation on your part. I handpicked your company as being one in the industry that would possibly find this offer useful. Your email address was therefore publicly available and it has not been added to any list." Actually Mathew, it is spam, because any form of unsolicited marketing message is spam. I tried calling his number, 071 273 6004, but its on voice mail. Why am I not surprised? The message reads:
Good Day,
Due to a change in direction we have elected to sell all our multi-use business directories.
Our portfolio consists of 22 directories as listed below.
To encourage quick sales, we have priced each one of the 22 directories on our portfolio at only R50, but there is a minimum order requirement of 4. Alternatively, you can purchase the lot for Only R499!!!
Our lists are 95% up to date and accurate, consist of no personal information and are populated from the public domain.
All info is presented in Excel spreadsheets, this means it’s like having the Yellow Pages in digital format!
This makes it an absolute pleasure for Salespersons needing to pull up specific records in specific areas!
Numbers are limited, so act fast to avoid disappointment!

1 Gauteng Business List (1)1219 records with 1123 emails Only R50!

2 Gauteng Business List (2) 2086 records with 1637 emails Only R50!

3 SA Business List 30 078 record with 8766 emails Only R50!

4 Cape Town Business List 2786 records with 1401 emails Only R50!

5 Brewers & Wine Cellars CT 294 Records with 208 emails Only R50!

6 Cape Town Directory 13000 Records with 5385 emails Only R50!

7 Clearing & Forwarding Agents CT 198 Records with 98 emails Only R50!

8 CT Business List 3768 Records with no emails Only R50!

9 National Directory 1076 Records with 867 emails Only R50!

10 SA Estate Agents National 285 Records with 244 emails Only R50!

11 Western Cape Corporate Business List (Our best list!) Only R50!
579 Companies with on average 3 contact people in different positions /company.
1887 unique email addresses

12 Travel Agents list 214 records all with emails Only R50!

13 Liquor Stores 5950 records Only R500!

14 Hospitality List (1) 8624 records (5000 with email) Only R50!
SA Resorts, Guesthouses, hotels, Caravan/camp Parks, Backpackers and self-catering establishments

15 Hospitality List (2) 7412 records with 7299 emails Only R50!
SA Resorts, Guesthouses, hotels, Caravan/camp Parks, Backpackers and self-catering establishments

16 Guest Houses 1009 Records with 945 emails Only R50!

17 Schools List 27151 records Only R50!

18 SA Doctors database (1) 2338 records with 2107 email addresses Only R50!

19 SA Doctors database (2) 12978 records Only R50!

20 Fax Numbers (landline) 20599 records Only R50!

21 Golf Enthusiasts 25474 email addresses only Only R50!

22 Gauteng Corporate Business List 9975 records with 8010 email addresses Only R50!

Payment after delivery, so no risk! -BARGAIN OF THE CENTURY!

This email is not spam, it was manually sent by me, and the sole purpose being to introduce this offer to you with no obligation on your part. I handpicked your company as being one in the industry that would possibly find this offer useful. Your email address was therefore publicly available and it has not been added to any list. We will not contact you again, but if you wish to unsubscribe anyway, just reply with the word “unsubscribe”, and I’ll keep a note in case we land up on your website again.

Cell: 071 273 6004

I hate to burst your greedy little bubble, Mathew, but my email address is not "publicly available" and if you had actually read anything on my web site you would have known that. So you get the "Lousy Spammer of the Month" award, you greedy little lowlife marketer. Try getting some ethics before you look for an honest job. You have just trashed your reputation.
Update: He obviously doesn't know much about email, because this information is included in the email header:
Received: from ([]:59157 helo=GlenPC)
So now I know who to complain to about the spam.
Friday 24th June: "Mathew" called me (from an unlisted number), and assured me my name isn't on their database. He then tried to tell me that I had given some other party "permission" to use my email address. I guess the "spamcop" part of the address didn't ring any bells. He then assured me that if anyone wanted their names removed from the list he would oblige, and let his customers know. But then in 3 weeks time the business will be closing, so what kind of promise is that? Can I believe anything he said? Not really. Scum like this lie like a cheap watch without even realising they are doing so. Get a grip on reality, Mathew or Glen or whatever your real name is!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

How to Steal from MTN Cell Phone Subscribers

How Admob, MTN, Nokia, Opera Telecom, Go Go Mobile and Morvec are stealing money from my phone account.
These telecoms guys have an interesting new definition of the word "permission"; and it violates all ethical norms and codes of conduct. But that never stopped these companies from making a quick buck before.
I have finally figured out how it works, and how they "caught" me before. I remember on the day of the IPL Cricket final going to, the mobile site for CricInfo, to see what time the match would start. The site was overloaded, and very slow. I vaguely remember clicking on a display ad by mistake. It's an easy enough mistake to make, given how slow the graphics were loading. It was right at the top of the page, and I had scrolled down further already, but the cursor obviously hadn't moved yet. When this advert page appeared, I selected "back" and continued.
It turns out that purely by viewing this page, R14 was deducted from my phone account every 3 days until I noticed. I did not have to click any buttons, or agree to any pricing, or even be aware of what they were selling, if anything. Think of it as the virus of Internet display ads.
Last night I decided to retrace my steps, and see what happened. Using the built-in browser on my Nokia phone, I loaded up and selected the "Live" cricket match. In this case it was England vs Sri Lanka. At the top and bottom of the page is a banner ad (from that says: "Fun Mobile Videos Click Here". There is no indication of any cost involved before you click, and once you have clicked on the link the web site gets the MSISDN (subscriber) number from the phone. I have no idea whether the privacy geniuses at Nokia or MTN decided to give away my identity online in this fashion, but there you have it: it gets used for fraud without the phone owner's knowledge or explicit permission.
Later on, you might get a message from the robbing party informing you how to cancel your subscription, but by then the first amount has already been deducted. If the MTN network doesn't deliver the SMS, then that's just too bad. On 21st May I got no such message, so Morvec just kept deducting money until 7th June, by which time all my airtime was exhausted.
Last night I got a message after I clicked on the ad, and sent the "STOP" message immediately, but not soon enough for the MTN call centre to tell me today that another R14 had been deducted from my phone. So much for telling Opera not to subscribe me ever again. I guess they just aren't prepared to listen. According to the Morvec email I got:
Your cell number clicked on one of our banners via the mobile Internet and then accepted the terms and conditions [of] our wap page. Your number is automatically passed to us when you click on our Join button by the Mobile Networks.
Never mind that there is no "Join button" on the ad to click on. The text of the ad reads:
Scroll down & CLICK THE BUTTON RIGHT NOW & join the FUN!!
Bringing u great Games, Videos and more & great value, wallpapers and Screensavers cost jusr R10, Videos R25, Mobile Games R28! This is a subscription service charged at a minimum of ONLY R14 every 3 days which you can use to buy EXTRA content EVERY TIME - CLICK NOW ....
If billing is unsuccessful, retries for this billing cycle will be retried at discounted amounts and potentially on different days, by joining the service you are providing your explicit permission for this to happen. Cellmates has requested that your mobile number be made available.
By clicking Enter Here you confirm that you are joining the CellMates Club
For HELP please call 0800982175 or email - sms STOP to 31927 or 31848 at any time to end
Terms [sic]
What is interesting is that even when you don't click on the graphic and link Opera still steal your money. I suspect this is because the "subscription server" also displays the graphic, and therefore gets the cell number without explicit permission.
Surely the legitimate, legal and ethical way is to actually have a "Join" button that you would have to click on, that would initiate an SMS message to my phone, which would then require me to send the word "JOIN" to their servers? Of course it would! But these guys aren't ethical or honest enough to do that. They deduct first, dodge questions later, knowing that they can rip off a large section of the public without their knowledge. It would also be great if MTN would allow me to block these deductions, but since they get a cut, why should they bother about minor details such as breaking the law?
Update Monday 20th June: This is getting weird. Even though I displayed the above ad 3 times on my phone, and within the hour thereafter had R14 deducted from my phone account, "The Mob Club" (how ironic) sent me the following message:
We understand your frustration, however, the Go Go Mobile service that you have been charged for is in no way associated with our company and service. We suggest that you contact the provider of the service directly on the 0800 number they have provided.
We do buy advertising through Admob so on some occasions you will see adverts for our service and on other occasions adverts for services unrelated to our company, which is clearly what has happened in this instance. Our service is fully compliant with all regulations - before you join the service it clearly states the price, it displays information on how to unsubscribe and it has our full contact details. If you DO NOT click on the 'Enter Here' button to confirm your subscription you will NEVER be charged by our service.
Please remove any reference to our service from this web page since we are not associated with the service you are complaining about. Please confirm when this will be done.
I checked the 31927 short code mentioned by The Mob Club and it is run by: Opera Telecoms. So perhaps Opera should fix up their clearly broken system.
Update Tues 21st June: After The Mob Club (what an unfortunate name) protested their innocence, I displayed their Admob ad again, and checked the balance on my phone. No deduction. Interesting. I am waiting for answers from them and Morvec and of course Opera, but I'm not holding my breath. Perhaps MTN can help. I'm due to meet with them at lunchtime. So far R70 has been deducted from my phone account this month, which is over 70% of my monthly airtime.
I also called "Go Go Mobile" on 0800992230 and the loser on the other end refused to tell me their address over the phone. They claim to be members of WASPA, but aren't listed as such on the WASPA web site. They weren't particularly helpful or forthcoming, although they did promise to investigate. What are they trying to hide?
Update 4pm: I had a 45 minute meeting with 5 helpful executives at the MTN Innovation Centre today. It seems that MTN is planning some tools in future to help customers deal with these annoyances. Many thanks to Bridget Bhengu for arranging things. MTN are investigating my "subscription woes" and will be in touch shortly.
Update 22nd June: Paul Barrat from Morvec phoned me to offer a R100 airtime voucher, but then tried to slip in a "full and final settlement" clause. I'm not that stupid. Just because you put the stolen cookies back in the cookie jar doesn't mean they weren't stolen in the first place.
Update Friday 24th June: That "refund" Paul offered me has still not arrived. And Opera is getting a lot of complaints on HelloPeter too: 233 unhappy customers in the last year. Opera didn't learn from WASPA complaint #6868 where they were fined heavily. I hope they are fined heavily again, because they could go to jail if charged with fraud and theft. Maybe that's why they tried the "full and final settlement" con.
Saturday 25th June: The Mob Club is getting jumpy about their name being associated with this post. Yet they continue to do business with the company that stole my money, and they refuse to proovide me with any details about who they (the Mob Club) are. Why? What are they hiding? Seems like they aren't much different from the rest after all.
We think it would be far better to remove all references to 'The Mob Club' from your blog, not just strike them out, all you have done is visit our service terms and conditions landing page, you have never been subscribed or billed by our service. Frankly we don't like our service named under a headline of 'stealing money'.
Content services use URLs whitelisted by the networks so you may well see many very similar URLs for different services despite the providers behind them having absolutely nothing to do with each other.
We generally have no problem sharing company details at all, but we've never billed you nor have you ever been a member of our services so have no reason to give out this information especially as your original complaint seems to be evolving, again we have absolutely no involvement in it all other than you navigated to one of our services terms and conditions landing pages via banner ads on the mobile Internet and we would rather be left alone and associations no longer made as there is nothing at all contentious relating to us.
So what would be really fair is for you to remove references to us as there is no reason for us to appear on your blog and then we can all move forward.
We hope you manage to resolve your complaint successfully.
Well, [un]Helpdesk, I think the best way you can disassociate yourself from the bad apples of the industry is to stop doing business with the likes of scum like Opera Interactive. Then maybe you won't be so embarassed about who you are. But with a name like "The Mob Club" you clearly have no idea.

Friday, June 17, 2011

WASPA: What's a "Do Not Contact" list?

The "Wireless Application Service Providers' Association" (WASPA) are a strange bunch. On the one hand they deal with complaints about their members, but on the other hand they don't have a central "Do Not Contact" database.
Many of their members don't seem to know what a "Do Not Contact" database is. Never mind the ECT Act or the newer Consumer Protection Act, which allows customers to specify whether they want to receive marketing communications from a given company. See Chapter 2.B.11.1 of the Consumer Protection Act. In particular, I have the right "... to pre-emptively block ..." approaches from a marketer.
So after my incident with the Morvec scam, I decided to write to all members of WASPA asking them to make sure that my number is added to their "Do Not Contact" list. Four of the email addresses supplied in the Full Member database don't work. About half of the respondents added my number to their list. The rest are just confused. Many denied that they were invoicing me anything, without adding me to their DNC list. Some are confused as to what a DNC list is. I have had to send 8 requests to the list of 89 email addresses repeating my request to be added to their DNC list. Why don't they just use the DMA's list, flawed as it is?

Monday, June 13, 2011

MTN's Parental Control might block subscription fraud too

Cellphone operators think nothing of playing fast and loose with the accounts of their customers. They allow random businesses to deduct money from these accounts without ever informing the customer or obtaining permission from the customer. It's called fraud; if not downright theft.
Recently Noseweek reported on MTN's efforts to stop a particularly large scale version of this problem, but only because their call centre was overloaded with complaints.
"... MTN call centres and stores had been flooded by thousands of subscribers complaining that they had never requested any content from T Mobile, so the company had decided to undertake an internal audit - which had revealed that the content provider had, in the space of 10 days, sent out debit requests worth more than R500,000."
What puzzles me is why MTN would hand over the money in the first place. Did they guarantee payment up front with no questions asked? Are they that stupid?
Last week my airtime suddenly vanished, and when I called MTN to find out why, I was told of two deductions from my account on 5th and 7th June. I had not authorised anyone to deduct anything. The call centre told me the money had been deducted by "Opera Telecom" and when I called them on 083-916-3089 they said they were unable to provide me with a refund. This is a violation of the WASPA code of conduct.
Today I tried a different approach, which seems to be working. I called Opera's other number, 084-194-2222 and asked for the name of the MD. It turns out his name is Trevor Louw but the company got somewhat alarmed when I asked for his ID number. Why did I need that? I explained that I needed it for the case of fraud I planned to file at the police station. I explained that since they had deducted the money from my account, and had refused to provide a refund, I was now taking the matter further.
They told me that they had done the deduction on behalf of Morvec Ltd, a company whose South African landline number 011-461-3294 is out of service, their postal address is in Hong Kong and their email contact address is in the UK. I told Opera that I wasn't prepared to wait for them to get the refund from Morvec (good luck with that) before they pass it on to me. They could refund me today, since they had made the deduction, and then obtain the refund from Morvec later.
Parental Control
After chatting to the MTN call centre again, I was told there is a "parental control" service that you can access by dialling *101# from an MTN phone. This allows you to block "Adult" content, "Gambling" and "Instant Messaging" services. It only blocks web access to these services. I also find it kind of insulting that they would call it "Parental" control when all I'm trying to do is protect my phone account from MTN's arrogance. Their billing system is the child out of control, not me. It doesn't even add correctly.
Nonetheless it's a start, albeit a pretty feeble one. Vodacom has something similar.
MMS Messages
What really burns me about these services is that they send unsolicited MMS messages to my phone. Since my phone isn't configured for MMS, how do they suppose I signed up for this service? When a MMS message comes to my phone, I get a notification to go to a particular URL to read the message. I just delete the notification. Now MTN's billing system says I "subscribed" via GPRS. That would require me to enter my cell phone number, which I did not do. In fact, I didn't even use GPRS on that day. MTN assumes that their customers are dumb enough to subscribe to these services. Maybe some are, but I'm not one of them. Now I am awaiting a call from Monwabisi Mabude, the account manager who just may be able to sort this out at MTN.
Update 4.30pm: I got to speak to Trevor Louw at Opera Interactive, who vacillated between being smug, officious and helpful. His company does the billing on behalf of scum like Morvec, and Opera's business ethics are such that they do NOT have a Do Not Contact list. Nonetheless he assures me that they are taking my complaint seriously and they are waiting for "proof" from Morvec that I signed up. How do I prove that I didn't sign up, or that I didn't receive anything from them to confirm my subscription?
I have a growing suspicion that they will say that they sent me a message telling me that I should OPT OUT if I don't want to subscribe, which is illegal.
Update Fri 17th: Opera Interactive have sent me a R30 "goodwill" airtime refund, in spite of Morvec's "proof" that I "visited a WAP website" on 23/5/2011 at midnight. Funny, I was asleep at the time. I checked the "Sent Items" on my phone and have send nothing between 16h26 on 21/05 and 9am on 23/05. So the confirmation SMS that Morvec should have sent wasn't sent. And I certainly didn't reply to one. And Opera have confirmed that they have added me to their "Do Not Contact" list. The one they said they don't have.
Update 5.30pm: Morvec has changed the date on which the subscription supposedly happened (how convenient), but still need to explain the following item in the WASPA Code of Conduct:
11.3.1. If a subscription service is initiated by entering a customer's mobile number on a web page or WAP site, then a separate confirmation message must be sent to the customer's mobile handset in order to prove that the number entered matches the customer's mobile handset number.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Cash for Bugs

I love my job. Part of what makes it interesting is finding and fixing bugs. What alarms me is how long it sometimes takes to find a bug. So recently I took a different approach with my biggest customer: for each new bug found and reported, the person who found the bug gets a R100 cash reward.
On Thursday I paid out R300 for bugs in a new module that I could swear I tested thoroughly. I guess not. But I was glad to be able to pay out the money, because they haven't found any problems since. And there are a few happy call centre operators who reported the problems.
I have now got a backlog of bugs to fix, many of them minor but annoying. I doubt if half of them would have come to my attention so soon without the reward. And certainly it gives me more confidence that next time I make changes to the program that I'll be hearing sooner rather than later about anything I overlooked or missed during testing.