Listen closely before accepting telesales offers

Elena Fedele appealed to me for help when she started getting calls from Netstar demanding payment for a tracking device which was installed in her vehicle as part of an insurance package from 1st For Women (FFW).

The Plumstead resident said she had a policy for car insurance for two years but cancelled when she found a company that didn’t charge excess.

“As part of the package FFW offered the tracking device which was installed without any issues. Two months after leaving FFW, I started getting calls from Netstar demanding that I pay them money. I asked why I owed anything as the policy was cancelled and the insurer should have notified them to turn off the tracker.

“I emailed FFW with no response, of course. Now Netstar is threatening legal action if I don’t pay the R400 odd bill as it seems they are still billing me and haven’t disconnected the tracker either. Please investigate. I did not have to inform Netstar, surely FFW should have done that. I refuse to pay for someone else’s mess-up at FFW who instructed Netstar to install the device,” Ms Fedele said.

Nothing’s ever as cut and dried as it seems.

Seugnette van Wyngaard, head of 1st For Women Insurance, said that customers are advised at inception of a policy that if they cancel at any time they will be responsible for the bill.

“After the sales conversation Netstar also contacted Ms Fedele,” said Ms Van Wyngaard, who sent a transcript of the recording.

Consultant: Your fees for the tracking device is included in your premium with 1st For Women, so they will be paying us for the tracking device. The only time that you are going to be paying us directly is if you were to leave your insurance.

Customer: Yes, I remember they said, because it is a 36-month contract.

Consultant: Correct.

Customer: Yes, then I will be paying you.

Consultant: Directly.

Customer: Directly, yes. Understand. Okay.

Consultant: So it is a 3-year contact and your fees are included in your insurance premium.

Customer: Yes, I was told.

Consultant: If you were to cancel with your insurance you will be billed directly by Altech Netstar for the remaining months left in your contract with an annual increase in fees between six to 10 percent.

Customer: Okay. Alright.

Consultant: Okay, and then, if you were to cancel the contract with Altech Netstar then you will pay a once off settlement fee of R800.

Customer: Okay. Alright. Got it.

Ms Van Wyngaard said that Netstar contacts a customer after the 1st For Women policy is underwritten to make installation arrangements and to further advise a customer of their policy terms and conditions.

“We have checked our records for correspondence sent by the customer and we can confirm that no correspondence has been received from her about her Netstar contract.

“She advises that correspondence was sent to:claims@telesure.co.za but the 1st For Women contact details are noted in the customer’s policy schedule, this could be the reason that we did not receive her correspondence,” Ms Van Wyngaard said.

Lesson 101 in consumer awareness: if it’s a telephone sales pitch and you accept the offer, listen carefully and make notes if you can. Otherwise it will come back to bite you as most companies keep recordings. And if it’s a paper contract read it carefully before you add your “John Hancock” to it.

Dictionary.com said John Hancock was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed.

He is primarily remembered by Americans for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration, so much so that “John Hancock” became, in the United States, an informal synonym for signature.

The phone call was a legitimate way of signing a contract. And by saying, “I understand. Ok. Alright. Got it,” Ms Fedele agreed to the terms and conditions,

However, Ms Fedele disputed FFW’s version of events. She forwarded a copy of a letter she sent to them to prove her point. But she addressed her complaint to the Telesure claims department. Not FFW.

“I have a very good memory and do not ever recall speaking those sentences to any consultant that they sent you the supposed transcribed version. It is pure fabrication. I would like to know if I can get a copy to hear my own supposed voice agreeing to all those terms and complicated issues, to which I would surely have asked for more information on and clarification of various things.

“Thank you for your assistance in this matter. This disappointing outcome further justifies my decision to leave FFW. I feel they are a rip- off and I can say very clearly: They did not tell me I was liable for the tracking device if I left.”

So back to the underwriters. FFW may not have explained the terms and conditions to Ms Fedele, but Netstar did.

They sent a recording of the conversation to me which I passed on to Ms Fedele.

While I have no reason to believe the voice is not that of Ms Fedele, you can hear her confirming on the recording that the agent is speaking to the correct person in the beginning of the conversation. The agreement is confirmed about eight minutes in to the conversation.

Ms Fedele didn’t question the veracity of the recording despite her earlier remarks that it “was pure fabrication”.

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