Keep calm and know your consumer rights

The other day I saw a tweet asking people to tell them the one lie they've told in their lives. The one tweet that was RTed a lot was a person admitting that they've never read terms and conditions of their contracts. I've done it too so many times. Those contracts are seriously long and companies make sure they use big words and terms to catch consumers off guard.

Then the news about the Refilwe Boingotlo Mooketsi, popularly known as Fifi Cooper, broke. According to reports, Fifi left her record label, Ambitiouz in February 2017  after a contractual dispute with the label. Ambitiouz later issued a statement announcing that the matter would be going to court. In March, the artists responded to this claiming that the label never owned their work. On Monday,  Ambitiouz announced they had secured a court interdict against the rapper.

Fifi was interdicted from performing or claiming ownership of any song recorded while under the record label. Fifi was also ordered to pay damages and royalties to Ambitiouz Entertainment, as well as the record company's legal fees.

This was a lot and social media went crazy with this. People were moved by the injustice of it all and basically calling the record labels "vultures". Through social media, Fifi might just get the help that she needs. Let's hope it's soon and that this won't put off other record companies from taking her in.

Fifi's story reminded me of when the late Luther Vandross, at the height of his carry, had to fight off a big record label. Luther wanted out of the record company, also sighting the same reasons as Fifi of not being paid his dues. He had to settle for something like two dollars for every song he sold to be a free man. It was crazy. And clearly the crazy doesn't stop.

But as consumers, there are things we can do to save ourselves some major headaches from vultures. Consumer journalist from East Coast Radio, Wendy Knowler offers her knowledge of how we can be savvy consumers:

1. Social media gives you enormous power as a consumer. If you’re not getting a fair deal, get posting. If it’s true and in the public interest you can’t be sued for defamation.

2. Get into the habit of using your smartphone as an evidence gatherer. Take photos of dodgy products, bad workmanship and any document you put your signature to, if you aren’t given a copy.

3. Check if an online shopping site is secure by looking for a small padlock symbol in the address bar or elsewhere in your browser window and a web address beginning with https:// The s stands for ‘secure’.

4. If you pay for goods or a service with your credit card and you don’t get them, lodge a chargeback dispute with the bank which issued your Visa or Mastercard and provided you can prove your loss, you’ll be refunded. Best reason to pay by credit card.

5. The large print gives and the small print takes away. Read the small print. Always. All of it.

6. It’s illegal for stores to charge you extra if you pay by card.

ALSO READ: What junk status means

7. Never buy a car with a balloon payment deal. If you can’t afford a monthly installment without shaving off tens of thousands as a massive final payment still owing after six years of payments, you can’t afford that car. Choose a cheaper one.

8. When buying a car, shop around for your own finance - don’t assume the finance woman based in the dealership is going to get you the lowest interest rate.

9. Leather lounge suites haven’t become more affordable - they’ve become less leathery. Unless it’s full grain leather with a hefty price rag to match, you’re better off buying a fabric suite. It won’t crack or peel three or four years down the line.

10. One size doesn’t fit all. And if you buy such a garment without trying it on, you aren’t legally entitled to take it back for a refund because it’s not defective.

11. More affordable doesn’t mean better value. It usually means you’re paying less but getting less.

12. If someone tries to sell you something over the phone, and you’re tempted, refuse to agree to anything until they’ve emailed you the offer with all its terms and conditions. If they refuse or they agree and then don’t do it - know you’ve had a lucky escape.

13. When shopping around, don’t stop at comparing prices. Research the respective company’s returns policies - a generous, customer-friendly policy adds huge value to the products they sell.

ALSO READ: A woman's guide to surviving recession

14. Over-the-counter weight loss products don’t work. Cutting down on your food intake and moving your body more does.

15. Haddock sold in South Africa is not a species of fish. It’s plain old hake which has been smoked and coloured.

16. Read car hire agreements carefully before hiring a car especially the exclusions. Always take the super waiver but be aware of the scenarios which will leave you footing the entire bill in the case of a car accident or loss, despite that waiver.

17. Multichoice has stopped posting its DSTV magazine with all the TV listings to all subscribers. But if you’re over 55 and you have an account in your name - you’re entitled to one despite what the call centre agent may tell you. Escalate your request.

18. When joining a gym, especially if it’s for the first time or after a long break, sign up for the shortest period - not more than a year - and make sure you know what the cancellation policy is. Ideally it shouldn't be for more than 30% of remaining subscriptions for the contract term.

19. If you're negotiating to buy a used car and the dealership can’t show you the car’s service book and spare key, walk away. Don’t fall for the “we’ll get it to you later” line.

20. Never, never buy a house without paying for a professional inspection before the deal is finalised.

21. Invest in a rain tank or two. We’re being charged outrageous sums for water and unlike the poor Capetonians, we have it falling free from the skies. Such a waste to have it wash away down our drains.

When things do go wrong and you experience a consumer problem you should contact the correct organisation. The  Ombudsman for Consumer Goods & Services offers an excellent, free service to disgruntled consumers:

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