Thursday, 20 January 2011

I can’t wait for the new consumer protection laws to kick in

In the four hours of this working morning alone, I have had to deal with the following:

• Three SMS spams: a ‘Direct Plus Loan invitation of up to R150 000’; someone who will clear my name from a credit blacklist (and throw in the offer of ‘a loan, cell contract or visa card’ too); and a ‘win a car by answering this easy question’ bit of nonsense;
• A phonecall from Margaret of Vodaphone, telling me I had been ‘specially pre-selected’ (ie, randomly chosen) for something or other involving a free phone and a 24-month no-one-gets-out-alive contract; and
• A person who knocked at my door to tell me that her company could save me ‘up to 25%’ on my electricity bills.

In between those six interruptions, I’ve also met two deadlines, done an interview, dealt with a few legal matters, scanned some pics (and then rescanned them – my life would undoubtedly be easier if I could learn how to work my scanner), answered over 40 emails, put on a load of laundry, mopped up when the rinse cycle decided it would be more comfortable on the kitchen floor, backwashed the pool, walked the dogs… you get the idea – I’m busy!

I’m definitely too busy to spend precious time dealing with entirely unsolicited invitations to spend my hard-earned money on stuff I don’t want and probably can’t afford.

The spam SMSs, which are always disappointing (not, then, an invitation to lunch or a bit of fabulous gossip?), are easily dealt with: press delete.

The phonecall had to be handled with a bit more aplomb: one of my New Year’s resolutions is not to be nasty to telesalespeople, who are, after all, only doing their job. ‘I’m sorry, Margaret,’ I said, ‘I know you’re only doing your job, but I’m absolutely not interested.’ But I still felt bad when she said, ‘Oh,’ in a small, sad voice.

But the knock-at-the-door woman!! Are you serious??!

First, I have the frenzied-dogs element to deal with. The young woman at the door, hearing the furious barking (my dogs always think that any stranger – they sniff them under the door, then decide on their strategy – must first be ripped to bits), was wise enough to swing closed the security gate. When I inched open the door, using my knees in Nadia Comaneci style to keep the hounds of hell at bay, while poking one ear through the small gap, she said, ‘Hi!’ brightly. I caught a glimpse of artfully highlighted hair and carefully applied makeup.

‘What do you want?’ I said. (I didn’t have to snarl, the dogs were doing that.) ‘Make it snappy, I’m having a bit of a problem here, in case you hadn’t noticed.’

She upped the volume to be heard over the dogs’ barking. ‘We can save you up to 25% on your electricity bill,’ she shouted. ‘I need a few moments with your husband.’

Now, there were so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. First, unless you’re bringing me wine, flowers or news that I’ve just won an all-expenses-paid trip to Tuscany with four of my closest friends, don’t knock at my door uninvited.

Second, am I really going to believe that you, as a third-party representative, are going to save me ‘up to 25%’ on my electricity bills? How, prey, are you going to make your money? Or do you just have a citizens’ concern that Eskom is ripping us off, and want to make life easier for us? (And pigs, flying, and all that.)

Third, if that’s really the case, please do me the favour of spamming me via email or cellphone – it’s so much kinder to our blood pressure to just press ‘delete’, and unfortunately it’s not yet legal to kill cold-callers.

And finally, what’s with this ‘your husband’ shit? If there’s anything that made me want to slam the door in her face (and there was plenty), that did the trick. I haven’t had a husband for 20 years and quite frankly that’s still not long enough.

‘Not interested,’ I said, and slammed the door.

Then I watched, with some interest, while this woman and her young male compatriot hit every house in our street – walking up to the door, knocking, and then very quickly being sent on their way. No-one was buying.

But I can’t see my neighbour T’s house from my kitchen window (alas!), so I SMSd her (like me, a very happily unmarried woman) a short while later. ‘Did the elec woman come to your house?’ I asked. ‘And did she ask to have a word with ‘‘your husband’’?

‘Yes,’ she SMSd back. ‘And I shouted, ‘‘HUSBAND?? I DON’T HAVE A HUSBAND!’’ and slammed the door in her face. She’s probably thinking, Gosh, I’m not surprised that these women can’t find husbands!’

Which at least gave us reason to laugh in a very raucous and unwifely manner.

But here’s the thing – do you know that the Protection of Personal Information Bill, which was passed by Cabinet in August 2009, states that if you don’t specifically agree (for instance, check a box to say that you’re willing to receive marketing materials, ie, ‘opt in’), the enquiring company may not contact you again? And, if you’re already receiving info (and this very much includes spam of any kind) without your consent that you don’t want, you have the option to ‘opt out’ – that is, request that the company stop contacting you.

We’ve all got a bit leery of doing the ‘unsubscribe’ thing in response to spam, because in the past all this did was confirm your details for the bastards who were sending you the stuff. But if this Bill gets passed into Law, you will have the law on your side: be specific about not wanting further communication (tick the box, click the ‘unsub’ option, tell the cold-caller you don’t want them to call you again), and if they do, sue the buggers.

Also, the new Bill says that consumers be allowed to ask cold callers where and how they got your information - and they can't fob you off with some 'specially pre-selected' crap: not only do they have to tell you exactly where and how, they also have to send you all the records they have on you if you ask for them. Seriously, read the Bill summary - knowledge is power, after all.

Incidentally, there’s also a new Consumer Protection Act that takes effect in April this year that is going to make South African consumers the most protected in the world. No more ‘caveat emptor’ (‘buyer beware’) – at long last, the seller is going to have to take responsibility for what you end up with in exchange for your hard-earned bucks.

Cool, hey?

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Claudine said...

About f'ing time! (I can swear can't I?) Pisses me off no end when you get these damn callers who just won't take no for an answer! Now if only the government will do something about everybody wanting to know my ID number then I might actually vote for them next time round!

ali g said...

Opened the door to one here and first words were...'Did you know that Jesus died on the cross for you?'
On their very hurried departure they reversed into my cattle electric fence..hooked it then drove off down the driveway with it in tow. When I rang the chap in charge of the church involved to complain about the damage and cost to repair, a week later received a letter of apology saying 'I'm sorry for bending your little piece of wire'....
anyway they haven't been back since..
No woman has ever come to the door here asking for a few moments with the husband..these days a few moments would probably do me.

We husbands are a sorry lot.....unwanted, unloved and only good for taking the rubbish out.