IN YOUR CORNER
In a hurry for a loan? Still read the fine print
Desperation works well for a company using trade names such as Loan Picker, Loan Quest, Loan Scout and Loan Tracer
The World Wide Web is full of pretenders.
People pretending their lives are fabulous on Facebook are annoying, but companies wreak havoc and misery with the unwary when pretending to offer something they don’t.
Being both unwary and desperate for a loan is a combination that works well for a company using trade names such as Loan Picker, Loan Quest, Loan Scout and Loan Tracer – any combination that suggests someone is loan shopping.
It dupes people into committing to a 12-month “service mandate agreement” in terms of which phone advice is offered – all sorts of legal advice (ironically), motor vehicle accident claim advice, that sort of thing, by “third-party contractors” – at a cost of R429 for the first month, and R99 a month for the remaining 11 months.
After a year, the contract rolls over to a month-to-month basis until the client cancels in writing.
What about the loan?
The terms and conditions state the company will “submit a loan application on the applicant’s behalf to various financial institutions that they may see fit”.
Yes, well, the “applicant” could have done that themselves, free of charge.
And here’s the kicker, the reason it’s crazy not to seek out any deal’s terms and conditions: “All applicants who apply [on the website] are required to tick a box after completing the online application, prior to clicking the Submit Application button, which confirms that they irrevocably agree to the policies and procedures of Loan Picker SA, which they have thoroughly read and understood.
“On submitting the online application to purchase the convenient service package via the Loan Picker SA website, a digital legally binding and enforceable service mandate and agreement is automatically generated …”
That answers the “but I didn’t sign anything!” protests from the victims, who then start receiving demands for payment of subscription fees owing on that year’s contract.
Yes, consumers really should get into the habit of seeking out and digesting the terms and conditions of any offer, but the deviousness of this operation is staggering.
The word “loan” has no business being in the name, for starters.
Clearly, none of the victims would have responded to an offer of “a 12-month contract for a third-party-run phone advice service, at a total cost of R1,530”.
The demands those victims get come with threats of blacklisting and legal action from Lifestyle Legal of Century City, Cape Town, followed by draft summonses.
Those undated, unstamped draft summonses are a threat, and not court documents, and they’re best ignored in this case.
I’ve followed up with many people who received such demands and threats of legal action two or more years ago – the harassment continues, but no legal action has been taken.
“Don’t pay!” is the National Consumer Commission’s advice to the victims of “Loan Picker” and similar services.
Commission spokesperson Trevor Hattingh advised those being harassed by those companies or Lifestyle Legal to e-mail a complaint to the commission: firstname.lastname@example.org and copy that e-mail to him at email@example.com
“We will respond with a reference number, which they must e-mail to the company making the demand for payment,” Hattingh said.
It has to be said I’ve heard this before.
In the consumer goods & services ombudsman’s 2015 annual report, then ombud Neville Melville said among the issues his office had referred to the NCC for investigation was “Loan Tracker SA, a company which advertises that it assists consumers in obtaining loans, whereas it subscribes consumers for all sorts of different things for a monthly fee”.
In February 2017, Hattingh told me the NCC had already completed an investigation into the activities of Lifestyle Legal and other similar businesses.
“The investigation report is currently with our director responsible for prosecutions to consider the findings and recommendations,” he said.
“Ordinarily he would’ve done made an application to the Tribunal by now, but he would like to first engage the NCR because he has reason to believe that this matter actually falls within their jurisdiction in terms of Section 163 of the NCA.”
The matter is now back with the NCC. There have been recent developments in the investigation that Hattingh did not wish to divulge.
For now, though, the advice is to not pay.
And while we wait for justice to finally – please, please! – take its course, force yourself to click through or scroll down to the terms and conditions on websites. Every time.
The dubious operators have built their entire operation around the fact that most consumers don’t bother to wade through the Ts and Cs, so foil them by doing just that.
Know that you can become bound to a contract in ways other than putting your signature to a piece of paper – by saying “yes” during a telesales call, or, as in these “loan” cases, “submitting the online application”.