Bogus deals ‘using Eskom’

2014-04-07 00:00

A DURBAN company — accused of using Eskom’s name to get in customers’ doors — is selling an energy-saving device, which could cost you a dollar (R10,60) on the Internet, for R2 200 per unit.

Aside from the allegation that the company’s representatives claim to be associated with Eskom, there are also questions over whether the device really does enable consumers to save up to 30% on energy use as claimed.

An Internet search for the product, known as an intellisaver unit, revealed it is manufactured in China by Ubridge Technology. The manufacturer offers the unit from $1 each for 200 units, to $5 each for 50 units.

Over the past weeks, direct marketing company United Thermal Technology, based in Durban, has been carrying out an aggressive marketing campaign of its product in Pietermaritzburg.

The Witness received several complaints from residents concerned about the number of calls they were receiving, pestering them to have an energy analysis done. Some were allegedly told that an electrical energy survey was being conducted in their area.

On March 31, The Witness reported the case of an elderly resident, who did not want to be named, who felt she had been scammed by people purporting to be Eskom employees.

Then there was Rob Scott, who bought a device and then had a change of heart, but struggled to return it. He said there were lengthy delays during two phone calls, and the receptionist refused to give him the company’s fax number or e-mail address.

Scott travelled to Durban to give the device back, and alleged he did not get a pleasant reception. The person he spoke to, who identified himself as “Mr James”, refused to allow Scott into the premises, saying he did not have an appointment, and refused to take back the device or sign for it.

The Witness visited United Thermal Energy’s offices on Durban’s Berea to hear its side of the story.

Company manager James Naicker vehemently denied using Eskom’s name to sell the device. He said it was not the company’s responsibility if people assumed they were from Eskom.

The sales person visits customers with an identity badge containing the company’s name, and which says that United Thermal Energy is a member of the Eskom-endorsed Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (Sessa).

When told The Witness had received 12 complaints, Naicker retrieved information on the company’s marketing campaign in Pietermaritzburg and counted the names of 159 customers. He said the complaints represented a fraction of their customers in the area and that there would always be a handful of disgruntled customers in the sales business.

Naicker denied meeting Scott, and added that they would not have taken the product back because Scott had arrived six days after the installation, whereas the Consumer Protection Act allowed a five-day cooling-off period.

The Witness later informed Naicker that we had ascertained that such devices save a very small amount of electricity, and only when coupled across an inductive load such as a motor in a refrigerator.

This particular intellisaver unit would have no effect at all on household electrical devices that have resistive loads, such as stoves, geysers, kettles, toasters and heaters.

The device is also rendered redundant by most modern class A and AA refrigerators, as nearly all modern electrical motors are designed to be efficient with or without a cap across the mains.

Concerns were also expressed over the safety of the device, as it had no earth wire, having just a two-pin plug.

Naicker responded, “We are a sales company that distributes a product on the information given to us by the supplier. We are not electrical engineers, nor are we manufacturers. We also sell solar geysers and we are given manufacturing specs by the supplier. An example is that the tank is made of first grade steel and has a thickness of 58 mm. Do you expect us to go and cut open each tank and verify that?”

Naicker said he was of the opinion that the claims being made by complainants were unfounded.

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