Dear Editor

Dial the Small Claims Court for satisfaction
I had a cellphone contract with MTN and noticed add-on charges on my bill. I went in to MTN Century City and demanded to see a supervisor to explain these “content” charges. I was told I must have subscribed, which I did not.

After not hearing from her when she’d promised to investigate, I simply issued summons out of the Magistrate’s Court for the charges plus R4,000 as my costs. MTN did not defend it and I obtained judgment. When the Sheriff went to execute, they paid him.

Then MTN called asking for “the customer’s” cell number, I told them I would revert, but [tit-for-tat] never did, and never heard from them again. Needless to say, I had cancelled my contract and have been happy with Cell C ever since.

I recommend everyone sue them out of the Small Claims Court and then see how quickly they stop these unauthorised charges.
Max Ahmen
By email

Wow, Max! Great move. We have previously suggested it. Congratulations on your success!
Now see below
"Vodacom’s compulsory subscriptions". – Ed.

Big banks, bunkum!
Your article “Why big banks love paying fines” (nose227) is full of inaccuracies and misleading statements.

To state that for Deutsche Bank a fine of $158 million is like an average American getting a $10 parking ticket, because “their assets are pushing $2 trillion” is inane.

Their total assets are actually $1.72 trillion, but the asset figure is irrelevant: as against those assets the bank, like any other financial institution, has significant third-party liabilities; which for Deutsche Bank last year totalled $1.64 trillion.

The more important figure is shareholders’ equity, as it is the shareholders, not the depositors, who effectively pay these fines, and that figure is $80 billion, far short of “trillions”.

The writer describes the $2bn fine levied on the bank in 2015 as having the same effect as an individual receiving a speeding ticket. I wonder if that would have been his comment if he received a speeding ticket for one fortieth of his net worth.

The article also states that these large fines have no impact on the bank because it “brings in tens of billions of dollars each year”. That is simply gross revenues, against which the bank has huge operating and other expenses. In fact last year Deutsche Bank made a loss of $0.8bn, in 2016 a loss of $1.6bn, and in 2015, the year it received the $2bn fine, a loss of $7.9bn! Clearly in those circumstances a $2bn fine has a huge impact on the bank and on its shareholders.

Either the writer of the article is financially illiterate, has not done his research, or chooses to ignore the facts in order to push his own left-wing ideology.
Lawrie Mackintosh
Cape Town

To be critical of a bank’s conduct is not inevitably to “push a left-wing ideology”. As we indicated, the article first appeared in a Libertarian publication, hardly what one would call a “left-wing ideology”. Its focus was the relationship between government and banks. It might be the shareholders who pay the fines, but it is the bank’s clients who suffer the impact of the misdeeds for which the bankers were fined. And considering the endless massive losses that you say Deutsche Bank has suffered in the US, year after year, how come they stay in business? For charity? Or are their profit centres perhaps “off balance sheet” or offshore? Just a thought. Ed.

Getting over the rainbow

Harold Strachan (nose227) is in good form as usual, exhorting us to “get over the rainbow” – presumably not just the blue, white and orange one.

The colours, lest we forget, are now black, yellow and green, at least since Madiba donned the number six jersey, circa 24 years ago.

Since then there’s been (genocidal) HIV/Aids denialism, the arms deal multi-billion-rand disgrace, and the unilateral state capture enterprise, to name but a few of the highlights – all of which found the new party rainbow a welcoming archway to a sustaining household.

There is much left undone, of course; not just what has been undone already. Notably, stamping out the landmines of racism, piece-meal, which exercise can only make for good relations all round.

Still, given our fanciful dreams thus far, I go with Strachan. We could do a lot worse than Judy Garland’s ethereal “Somewhere over the rainbow” as an anthem – if only for honesty’s sake.

Here’s to Garland’s iconic blue bird of happiness passing overhead without letting go.
Trevor Ruthenberg
Sunningdale, Cape Town

When a ‘free’ call is not free
I refer to Brian Utterson’s gripe about Freecall (Letters, nose227). Perhaps this may help him, and other readers.

First of all, all 08 numbers are Telkom numbers. If a number begins with 0800, and is called from a Telkom phone, it’s toll-free. That’s because the business with the 0800 number has a deal with Telkom for the entire cost of the call (the “toll”) to be reversed.

If a number begins with 0860 or 0861, then it’s not quite free. It’s a “Sharecall.” The business with that number has a contract with Telkom to bill the caller a small amount, and the balance of the call is reversed. But that’s if, and only if, the call is made from a Telkom line.

If you are calling any Telkom number from your cellphone, you will pay the standard rates.
Ron McGregor
Mowbray, Cape Town

Hats off to Bheki Cele
Re: Your breaking news about the Public Protector’s reprimand to Bheki Cele for his gross negligence (nose226), just this: I’m no expert in the hat-maker trade and unfortunately have no colleagues suitably qualified to make reliable fashion assessments, but the hats placed on Bheki Cele’s head just don’t seem to “fit”. Be it a police hat or fedora, they just look out of place.
Raymond Murray

Now we know why he’s been so grossly negligent!  Thanks. Ed.

Vodacom’s compulsory subscriptions

On 8 August, Noseweek reader (and well-known former city councillor) Arthur Wienburg of Cape Town wrote to Vodacom’s CEO and its customer services department:

“Here we go again.

“In May I wrote you a mail instructing you NEVER to accept that I have agreed to any subscription of whatsoever nature from any of your equally bent partners for any service where you have not obtained my written consent for it. I expect your acknowledgement of this BY RETURN.

“You still have not explained how I could have played games when my cell was switched off. Do so now. Nor did I play games ever as your invoice alleges.

“On 6 June 2018 you wrote: ‘We have unsubscribed you from all services.’ But on 19 July, 2018 at 16h43, I received an SMS from 082 007005225827 saying: ‘Welcome! Unlock TOP played games at http//za.playsocialgames.com! 1st game FREE! Subscribe R5/day 0112185618 for help or stop sms 44524 to cancel.’ At 18h58 I sent an SMS: ‘Stop’. And at 1h58 a.m. I received an SMS saying: ‘OK’.

“Do I need to spend my time stopping unsolicited attempts to entrap me by another one of your shark partners?

“You did not answer my point regarding the alleged usage of games when my cell phone is switched off. Do so now.

“Your latest invoice falsely claims I subscribed to and used entertainment services – games – and gives the times and dates of the usage claimed.

“In my previous mail to you, I told you never to include me in on any of your crooked partners’ nefarious attempts to solicit business from me.

* I have never subsequently requested you change this instruction.

* My cell phone is switched off every Friday from about 17h00 until Saturday to about 19h00. Some of the alleged dates I am supposed to have used the games on are Saturdays when my cell phone is switched off. How do you account for this?

“I demand you:

* Immediately refund me with all charges debited for games.

* If you allege I subscribed to the games, produce proof by return of my having done so.

* Give me the full name and contact details of your partner who has falsely alleged I subscribed to and played games.

* Produce proof where I have given permission to the games supplier to debit my Vodacom contract with so-called games usage.

* Produce the contract between yourselves and the games supplier that entitles them to solicit business from me and allows you to debit me with whatever they claim I used from them.

* Show me where I have allowed you to do so.

* Show me what checks and balances you have in place to prevent such fraud from taking place.

“All my rights are reserved.”

Arthur Wienburg

On 14 August Wienburg received the following reply:

“Good Day Mr Weinburg [sic],

“Thank you for your correspondence to the CEO’s office.

“With regards to you [sic] query, please note:

“Vodacom reiterates that it has a zero-tolerance approach to any type of illegal activity that happens on our network and we take a hard-line in the event that a third-party contravenes any agreement they may have with Vodacom or WASPA’s code of conduct. We have and continue to suspend and terminate the services of WASPs and their affiliate content aggregators and will continue to investigate reported transgressions and then ensure that we take appropriate action.

“We have checked and can confirm that you are currently not subscribed to any content services. Entertainment services can relate to either your subscriptions to applications such as Netflix or Showmax etc, however this is not certain, which is why a request to have the services cancelled on your account has been processed.

“In April this year, Vodacom put measures in place to curtail new activations by all WASPs until they provided us auditable validation regarding their security processes and tools. Additionally WASPs were required to implement a more robust network-initiated USSD mechanism whereby Vodacom directly receives confirmation of a subscription to a service from customers. Once a WASP is fully compliant with these measures, only then can they operate on our network. Previously, WASPs were required to prove that they had received a double opt-in from subscribers. We changed the system as criminal hackers found ways to make users unknowingly perform certain actions by clicking on buttons or links. This is better known as clickjacking.

“Please be advised that a credit of R391.47 has been processed to your Vodacom account for the content services/Vodafone Live/Entertainment services and the credit will reflect on your account within 2-3 working days.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that has been caused and I trust that you find the above in order.

“Kind Regards, Kagiso Mokou
Executive Client Liaison Office
Vodacom Commercial ParkMidrand”

Arthur Wienburg’s reply:

“Vodacom has a propensity for embarrassing itself. First you contradict yourself:  on one hand you say:  ‘We have checked and can confirm that you are currently not subscribed to any content services’, then you say: ‘a request to have the services cancelled on your account has been processed’.

“If I am not subscribed:

* How did your crooked partner manage to claim it rendered services to me at all?

* How was my phone used to play games, especially when switched off?

* What steps did you take before billing me for games to ensure I was subscribed to the service and used it?

“Your conjecture as to a possible use of Netflix and Showmax services is immaterial as I was billed for playing games.

 “Once again, I now demand you answer the following questions that you consistently try to ignore:

* Give me the full name and contact details of your partner who has falsely alleged I subscribed to and played games. I intend to lay criminal charges against them.

* Produce proof where I have given permission to the games supplier to debit my Vodacom contact with  so-called games usage.

* Produce the contract between yourselves and the games supplier which entitles them to solicit business from me and allows you to debit me with whatever they claim I used from them without giving you proof of this.

* Show me what checks and balances you have in place to prevent such fraud from taking place.

“If you do not supply me with this information within seven days, I will request the SAHA to obtain the information from you under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. Are you ashamed to give me the information to which I am entitled? What do you have to hide?

“Why is it that there are an overwhelming number of people complaining about the very things I am writing about? Are you not a bunch of ruthless crooks, cheats and liars?  Have you no shame? I want this matter dealt with in writing. Do not attempt to phone me in this regard.”
J Arthur Wienburg
Cape Town

At more or less the same time, Noseweek received this from Kate Farina:

“I do think that the moral high ground to be taken in any coordinated approach is that the cellphone companies are also defrauding the most vulnerable of their customers – pay-as-you go customers or those who can’t afford to pay for an itemised bill.

 “Although I received a credit, facilitated by the Cyber Intelligence Centre, to date I have not received any formal feedback on my complaint, nor details of which WASPs were involved. The lady from CIC who helped facilitate my ‘no questions asked’ credit – admitting telephonically in the process that the double opt-in/out procedure was not working. [It was never implemented or enforced, because it’s bad for business. – Ed.]

 “She said that a statement had been issued from Vodacom that: ‘Customers can request to block WASP services through call centres/customer care. As part of our digital transformation, we are currently working on additional ways in which customers can complete this request.’ But then she also referred me to an article in My Broadband on the 6 May 2018 to be found at this link:https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/258621-vodacoms-wasp-blocking-option-that-doesnt-exist.html.

“Yet another layer to the Vodacom fraud: the alleged ‘block all WASP services’, like the double opt-in/opt-out procedure, simply does not exist.

“I was certainly unable to do this, either via the call centre or through a Vodacom shop. This statement in any event begs the question why is it not being rolled out more proactively to customers?”
Kate Farina

Please, Mr Postman, look and see, is there a letter in your bag for me?

I was told – and Noseweek has since confirmed – that there is a go-slow at the South African Post Office, which would explain why I haven’t been receiving regular mail, in particular overseas magazines, since the last few weeks of May.

When we received the June issue of Noseweek via courier, I should have guessed there was a postal problem, as your publication knows things long before anyone else does.

On 20th June I emailed Mark Barnes but the email didn’t go through. Then I tried to email mthoko.mncwabe@postoffice.co.za who is their Chief Information Officer. This was also returned.

Really wanting my overseas magazines and never one to give up, on 29th June I emailed mail.delivery@postoffice.co.za . That too was returned. In desperation, on 2nd July I tried to send yet another email to: mark.barnes@postoffice.co.za and received this message as soon as I pressed send: “An error occurred while sending mail. The mail server responded: Upstream host returned user unknown for mark.barnes@postoffice.co.za. Please check the message recipient. Yet it is listed in my sent folder. I find this rather confusing.

Next I tried this email address which is listed on their web page: customer.services@postoffice.co.za – and received a similar message. Perhaps they haven’t paid their domain fees?

Last-minute update: Things haven’t improved at Northcliff Post Office. I received a letter on 1st September that was dated 30th April. It would seem that the main sorting hub [Witspos]  has no vehicles and so the individual suburban post offices are having to collect their own mail for distribution.

Emails to Mark Barnes still do not go through. How nice to be the person at the head of an organisation and yet remain “unavailable”. Perhaps Mr Barnes should have made sure his main business was in order before he spread his wings and took on paying out social grants?

I pay an annual fee for two post boxes both of which have been relatively empty since the end of May. Would Mr Barnes like to pay for a service that he does not receive? I am sure he wouldn’t.
Trisha Smith
Weltevreden Park, Johannesburg

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