Few things match the joy and surprise of winning something, no matter how small the prize may be.  Many unscrupulous operators rely on this…

The Toastmasters club that I was a member of a few years back has a raffle at each meeting in order to bolster the club’s coffers.  The contribution is R5, and the prize is usually a bottle of wine.  In four years of membership, I won the wine twice, and the fact that I don’t even drink wine is irrelevant – the thrill of winning is undiminished.

Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous operators out there who play on this desire to win in order to part you from your hard-earned money.  Here are a couple to watch out for.

Timeshare

Timeshare has much in common with life insurance – an inherently good product with a tarnished reputation, due to the way that it is sold.  As a result, the people selling timeshare have resorted to increasingly dubious ways in which to push their product.

The most popular method is for a marketing company to contact people, under the pretext that they have won a prize.  However, in order to claim this prize, the “winner” has to attend a presentation.  Such presentations usually involve a video about amazing holidays in exotic locations, after which you are taken into a room with a consultant who then proceeds, using the most aggressive sales tactics known to man, to pressurise you into buying timeshare.

For the few who are resilient enough to resist the allure of endless days on a Caribbean beach, you are then (reluctantly) taken to claim your ‘prize’, which is invariably a so-called ‘free’ holiday in some location where you must (a) pay an ‘administration fee’ in order to confirm your booking, (b) pay your own airfares, and (c) agree to take all of your meals at the establishment concerned.

Winning the big prize, which can anything from washing machines, to R15 000 cash, to a car, is as likely as the (male) writer falling pregnant, so steep are the odds.  As for the ‘free’ holiday, most people end up tossing the voucher in the nearest dustbin.

Yet the ‘phone calls continue month after month, which means that there are enough suckers out there buying overpriced timeshare that they neither need, want, nor can afford.  Don’t let yourself become one of these.

Competitions

Inviting consumers to enter competitions is one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book.  In the old days, you would cut out a coupon from your favourite magazine and send it to the organisers, or you would have to collect five coupons from your favourite breakfast cereal in order to enter.

However, technology has allowed competition organisers to cash in handsomely, through the advent of SMS.  For those of you who have managed to avoid the continual bombardment from Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C, this is the text messaging service offered by the cell phone operators.

I cannot remember when last I saw a conventional competition – almost all of them invite you to send in your entry via SMS.  However, what many people miss is the information, provided in print so fine that one needs an electron microscope to read it, that each SMS costs R5 (or whatever amount the organiser chooses to charge).  Of course, free minutes or SMS’s included as part of a bundle cannot be used.

Whilst such practices may not necessarily be illegal, they can have the result of running up a rather sizeable bill on your cell phone account.  The fact that the cost of each SMS is buried deeper in the fine print than the gold at Western Deep Levels could be regarded as a deliberate attempt to disguise the true cost of entering these competitions.

Where can I report such schemes?

The Consumer Affairs (Unfair Business Practices) Act 71 of 1988 confers wide investigative powers on the Committee, and recommends corrective action to the Minister to ensure the discontinuance of unfair business practices.  If the Minister accepts the recommendation of the Committee, an order is published in the Government Gazette.

If you suspect or receive any offer or prize conditional upon the payment of a disguised charge, you can contact the Consumer Helpline at 0861 843 384, or via facsimile, (012) 394 2436.  Alternatively, you can write to the Department of Trade and Industry at:

the dti: Consumer Complaints
Consumer and Corporate Regulation Division
Private Bag X84
PRETORIA
0001