Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Telkom's R500 per month ripoff on a R229 FreeMe mobile contract

On 31st August I went to the Telkom store in Cresta to get a new FreeMe 1GB cell phone contract. I had seen the advert in the City Press newspaper and noted the "Terms and Conditions" and "While Stocks Last" disclaimers. But a much bigger surprise was in store: R500 per month "extras" that are not mentioned in the Mobile Terms and Conditions or the Telkom Product Terms and Conditions for FreeMe Postpaid and TopUp or the Standard Terms and Conditions. But I digress.
Chad the helpful store assistant told me that he didn't have stock of the specific model, but he could offer me a similar deal on a Huawei P9 Lite black instead. That was fine, since it was only R10 per month more. He kept the phone aside for me and told me the credit check would take 72 hours. Since it was Thursday afternoon I figured that I would hear from them on Monday or Tuesday. Not a chance.
I tried calling the store. No answer. Do a google search for "Telkom Direct Cresta" and click on the Google Reviews. Most of the 67 reviews complain that they don't answer the phone. The manager of the store confirmed to me that it is company policy for them to not answer the phone. You have to go there in person. Never mind having to travel there and pay for parking. Imagine that: a telephone company that doesn't answer the phone! You can't make this s**t up.
So after getting no response from the store I contacted @TelkomZA on Twitter. The first time that didn't work. You have to put a hashtag in the Direct Message. Huh?

Finally I could go back to the store on Friday a week later. That's 72 hours if you only count the store opening hours, not the normal idea of 72 hours being 3 working days.
So now I'm back at the store and I figure that I've overcome the hurdles of getting a phone model I like and getting the credit check done. All we have to do is fill out the paperwork, sign it and take the phone home. I told Chad that I was only interested in the contract price, and wasn't prepared to pay for extra charges. No problem, we would set the credit limit to zero. He said nothing about a "Spend Limit" of R500 per month, nor did he say anything about the fact that the default is R500 for the first month and you can't change it for the first month. I only found that out in November.
Chad explained that the first invoice would be pro-rata for September and the full month of October. No problem, I said, that would be around R460. He printed out 4 pages for me, including an invoice for the handset with its serial number, and 3 pages of my credit application. He had transposed my name and surname, so we fixed that and I left with the phone.
By the end of October I hadn't received a bill from Telkom Mobile, so I called their automated enquiry line and was told that my invoice was R447, payable on 5th November. That sounded like the right ballpark figure so imagine my shock when on the night of 6th November they deducted R931.90!
I called Telkom at 7.30am to find out what was going on. That's when they told me about the R500 "Spend Limit" and I told them that I had insisted that it be set to zero. He also said that I would have to go back to the store to sort it out, because he couldn't help me with store matters on the phone. Surreal.

So I went to the store on Tuesday morning 7th November. The store opened late because they were too busy taking a group selfie inside than worrying about the queue of customers waiting outside.
Chad wasn't there (how convenient) but I spoke to another assistant and called the store manager over. I started by asking him why his store doesn't answer their phone. He mumbled something about it being company policy and gave me a different number to try. It doesn't work. I complained that I had still not received the October invoice via email, but the November invoice had arrived and it was for R1667.90. How was this possible on a contract for R229 per month. He tried to tell me about the R500 Spend Limit and I pointed out that I had specified a ZERO credit limit when I signed the contract. We opened case number 21643735 and I told them I wanted a refund. They also printed out the October and November invoices. They told me that they could only adjust the Spend Limit effective on 1st December, because it was now already November. I told them that I was not paying for any of the extra expenses because I had specifically instructed Chad to set the credit limit on ZERO, and the documents he gave me showed that this had been done.
So the first case number gets "resolved" but all they did was pass me a credit for R500. No refund, no explanation. I had to call them again to find out what was going on. That phone call took 20 minutes and achieved nothing. Basically the call centre's attitude is that you must go to the store. And the store's attitude is that you must contact the call centre. Imagine that. The "S" in Telkom definitely stands for Service.
Consider how the whole "deal" is structured: You sign up for a R229 per month contract, but you get a R500 "Spend Limit" that is in place from day 1 and you can't change it for the first month. It's not mentioned anywhere in the terms and conditions so if the salesperson doesn't tell you about it you get caught for the second month too. Invoices are issued dated 1st of each month, but my 1st October invoice wasn't ever sent. Even if I had seen it on the 1st October and realised that they were charging me for R500 usage that I didn't authorise, by then it's too late to stop it for October, you can only stop it for November.
In my case the first I knew about the R500 Spend Limit was on 6th November when it was rudely grabbed from my account. By then it was too late to do anything about September or October, and they could only stop it for 1st December. In onne of my many calls to their call centre I learnt that there is a default setting on their web site that would help reduce the extra charges. But it is turned off by default. That's because the whole scam is designed to catch the unwary or ignorant customer. It's been cleverly crafted by the crooks at Telkom to fleece their customers.
The "Out of Bundle Redirect" is switched off by default. If you switch it on then when the phone runs out of data, it redirects you to a page where you can buy more data. The default is "Never redirect, carry on browsing using my airtime. OOB rates apply", instead of "Always redirect service to OOB page". So when I found out about this page in November I was able to prevent the phone using additional data, but this didn't stop it from generating extra billing items by making calls. And it turns out that calls from Telkom Mobile to 1023 Directory Enquiries, are charged at R5 per call. That's a VAS rate call, but of course you don't find that out until the invoice arrives. Another part of their evil scheme.
Then they try the oldest trick in the book with mobile phones: you were using the phone so you are responsible for the charges. Or variations on the theme. What they fail to grasp is that I am not the user of the phone. The phone is used by a sales rep who works for commission only. I am merely the account holder. So I will not be held responsible for charges that I didn't authorize and are not part of the contract.
One other thing: unlike a Telkom land line contract, which you can pay in every month, the Telkom Mobile contract only works on a debit order, where they deduct the money from your account. And they think they can deduct whatever they like. And if you reverse a deduction they can claim that you have invalidated the contract. We'll see. I reversed the R931.90 amount because they were not authorized to deduct that amount. Let's see what they do next.
Today I went back to the Telkom Store in Cresta, and spoke to the manager again. I explained (again) that I wanted a refund of the remaining R510 charges that I had not authorized, and asked why they weren't refunded the first time. He wanted to blame the billing department but I was having none of it. So now we have another reference number and another round of waiting.
I also challenged him to produce the part of the terms and consitions that specify the R500 Spend Limit but he was unable and unwilling to do so. He said he would get the Telkom Legal Department to send it so me. This should be interesting.
In the meantime I am drafting a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority to put a stop to this nonsense. If they don't advertise the R500 Spend Limit, they should be forced to withdraw it, and refund all those who inadvertently got ripped off in the process.
Update 12th December: Logged case number 22057592 with the Manager of the Cresta branch
Update 13th December: I discovered two different versions of the Telkom Mobile Subscriber Terms and Conditions. Neither one uses the term "Spend Limit".
Update 22nd December: Case number 22057592 still not attended to. Got a demand to pay R1160.90 to avoid the service being suspended. @TelkomZA responds to inquiry:

Update 2 January 2018: You can't make this stuff up. I dialled their help line and this is what I get:
There's always a pleasnat surprise on my Telkom invoice. This month its the outrageous R200.94 debit order "Payment Rejection fee". They think they can just deduct whatever they like.

Update 2 Feb 2018: It turns out that I was given a postpaid contract instead of a TopUp contract, so I had to go back to the Telkom Cresta Shop for a third time to fix it. And "Chad" doesn't work there any more. Why am I not surprised?
Update 8 Feb 2018: If you reverse a debit order, or the debit order fails, they charge you R200.94, even though this amount is not listed on their Tariff Card. If you pay in the R200.94 during the month, the balance of that month's invoice isn't deducted by debit order at the end of the month as it is supposed to. Instead, nothing is deducted, but the balance is carried over to the following month. Of course the Terms and Conditions are silent about this too. Nothing makes sense with the Telkom Accounts department.

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:
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
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:
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,
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.