A new year stretches out before us and most of us are hoping for better things, but with the possible exception of winning the lottery, positive change only comes when we consciously change our habits.
I asked the various ombuds for their “if you do nothing else, do this” advice.
Magauta Mphahlele, acting ombudsman, consumer goods and services ombudsman:
“Don’t be pressured or enticed into entering into fixed-term contracts for gym or cellular phone services as the cancellation penalties are high if you want to cancel before the expiry of the term, either due to lack of affordability or because you aren’t using the service.
“When you make a purchase, keep your proof of purchase, and only use or install goods according to manufacturer instructions, otherwise your right to a refund, repair or replacement of a defective products might be compromised.
“When ordering from catalogues or making a special order, keep a record of the product specifications in case the incorrect goods are delivered and you want to return them. You have a right to claim a refund or replacement within 10 business days of receiving the product.”
Reana Steyn, ombudsman for banking services:
“Be wise to the ATM scam. I witnessed it two weeks ago when I went to withdraw some cash.
“The machine accepted my card and pin – and then none of the buttons seemed to work. So I cancelled the transaction and took my card.
“Then I noticed a couple standing at the machine next to me, obviously distressed. The woman said when they used the ‘stuck’ ATM I had just used, a man came to help and together they went to the other machine.
“And now all her money had been withdrawn from her account.
“The scammers obviously do something to one ATM, then offer to ‘help’ people, before skimming or swopping the card, and having seen them enter their pin several times, they quickly go and withdraw the money from an ATM at the bank next door.
“If you are new to internet banking, be very wary of the phishing scam – it’s the modern way to ‘steal’. They send the phishing e-mail (posing as a genuine e-mail from your bank, for example) to millions, knowing they will catch a few unsuspecting victims. Most are ‘older’ .
“Get into the habit of reading and understanding all your statements – bank statements, bond statements, loan accounts, credit cards, etc.
“Query charges which are not correct, query the interest rate and charges; look at what you owe and for how long you still have to pay, then find out what impact your paying a little extra every month would have.”
Jennifer Preiss, deputy long-term insurance ombudsman:
“Remember to update your beneficiary nominations under both individual and group policies, and ensure that the updated nomination is recorded by your insurer. This is particularly important when there is a change in someone’s personal circumstances such as a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child and the death of a beneficiary.
“The insurer will pay the death benefit according to the beneficiary nomination.
“A beneficiary nomination has benefits – payment can be made soon, there is no need to wait for the estate to be wound up and, because the proceeds do not fall into the estate, there are no executor fees payable on the proceeds.
“When you take out a new policy or apply for new or increased cover, an insurer will ask you questions. It is extremely important to disclose accurate and complete information, because if you don’t, the insurer could repudiate the policy by relying on non-disclosure and any claim may then be declined.
“The duty of disclosure is an onerous one particularly for older applicants who may have forgotten some medical incidents. Rather disclose too much than too little.
“The non-disclosure also does not need to be linked to the cause of the claim, as is often mistakenly thought.
“Read all the exclusions in your policy. We have many complaints where claims are declined because of exclusion clauses, particularly the pre-existing conditions exclusion clauses which often come as a nasty surprise to claimants.
“Claims are then excluded if they are linked to a medical condition which existed prior to the inception of the policy.”