Nightmare of trying to reverse credit card debits

2014-07-15 00:00

A PIETERMARITZBURG pensioner who was sold an expensive solar energy saving system by United Thermal Technology, and who then struggled for months to reverse credit-card debits, finally obtained a victory.

Robert Hurst (84) said a company, which turned out to be United Thermal Technology, had called him regarding his electricity bill and then sent a salesperson to his home to discuss how to save money. He only learnt later that it was the same company that had featured recently in the media after consumers complained about its alleged high-pressure sales techniques and faulty products.

“He asked to see my bill, which was R1 100, and he plugged a gadget into my kitchen and jiggled the gadget and said you should be paying R300 instead of R1 100,” Hurst said.

“He had a sheath of papers in his file and he said it [the device] will cost R430 a month for three years and then the whole thing will be mine.

“He pushed my card through the machine twice and got the slips out for me to sign. He folded them so I couldn’t see the amount. I thought it a bit strange,” Hurst said.

He said the salesperson then took a photograph of him smiling while holding the devices.

As the salesperson left his home, Hurst felt uneasy about the deal and realised he should not have signed the slips without checking the amounts.

He immediately called FNB, and discovered the salesperson had debited his card for R5 700 and R12 000.

He alleged that the salesperson had not left an invoice or contact details, and he could not recall the company’s name.

Hurst asked the bank to reverse the debits and the money was returned to his account. However, weeks later, his card was again debited for R12 700 and the bank said it couldn’t accept liability because he had signed the slips.

It was only later, when Hurst mentioned the problem to a friend who had seen the media reports, that he discovered the company’s name.

When I contacted United Thermal Technology last week, which operates from 261 Che Guevara Road in Durban, manager Rajen Chetty said that owner Raymond Moodley was away. Chetty said the complaint was “confusing”.

“The speedpoint displays an amount and they ask you to put in your pin. I am not going to say he saw the amount or not. The machine prints a voucher with the amount. Mr Hurst signed the voucher knowing it was R17 700,” Chetty said.

“And if he signed both vouchers he knew what he was signing for,” Chetty said. “Why is it always ‘the rep told me’, ‘the rep pushed me’,” Chetty said.

“We take photographs of all our cases because we have been bitten before, because journalists twist the story and publish what they want to publish,” Chetty said.

I told Chetty that despite the fact that Hurst had signed the slips, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, which allows consumers a five-day “cooling off” period following a direct-marketing deal, he was entitled to cancel the transaction. I explained that Hurst claimed he had not been able to cancel the deal directly as he didn’t have the company’s details and had relied on the bank.

Chetty was adamant that his sales representative had provided an invoice and that the company would have cancelled the deal within five days if Hurst had advised it in writing. “The bank has no authority to reverse the transaction,” he said.

However, when I raised the issue with FNB credit card fraud head Athaly Khan, he said the bank had decided to reverse the transactions and replace Hurst’s credit card to prevent further debits. He said the bank had initially been unable to reverse the transaction with the company’s bank because Hurst signed the slips. “FNB Credit Card investigates every dispute on its merits, regardless of the merchant, as there are always extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account before a reversal can be made,” he said.

Deon van Blommestein, ombudsman of the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa, which Chetty told me the company was approved by, said the society has received at least 10 complaints about United Thermal Technology this year. He said the company was suspended in January.

He advised consumers to contact him at for information about energy companies.

How to prevent unwanted account debits

• Check your statements every month.

• Contact your bank if you spot an unfamiliar debit and the bank will refer you to the debit-order service provider.

• Call the debit-order service provider call centre and request proof of the transaction.

• If the call centre does not refund you, go back to the debit-order service provider and ask for a refund.

• If the call centre can’t provide proof, report it to the Payment Association of South Africa, which will investigate, and if necessary warn banks and debit-order providers against doing business with the centre.

• Sign up for an SMS banking notification service.

• Ask for any reversal within 40 days of receiving your statement.

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