Wednesday 5 November 2014

Sim Lim Square seeks help to tackle 'black sheep'

Mall wants the authorities to step up action against recalcitrant retailers
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

IN A bid to save its reputation, Sim Lim Square, a go-to place for electronic gadgets also known for the dubious sales tactics of some of its shops, has issued an unusual "appeal for urgent help".

In particular, its management has appealed to the authorities to "take a tough stand against the recalcitrant retailers", saying it has been "disappointed with the apparent lack of measures which the authorities are able to take against these incorrigible retailers".

The appeal issued yesterday comes after the mall at Rochor Canal was criticised in recent weeks after a spate of media reports about cheating and overcharging involving shops there.

This included a case involving a retailer which tried to give a customer more than $1,000 in coins after it was ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal to give a refund.

In a statement yesterday, the retail complex's management said errant shops have not been deterred despite "countless police reports" as well as complaints to others like the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE).

"Law enforcement officers can be sighted in Sim Lim Square almost every day. However, the errant retailers are completely undeterred as the authorities appear to lack 'teeth' to take them to task," it added.

It said it had tried its "utmost" to save its name. For example, it recognises good retailers and has worked with CASE to put up posters to warn people of errant ones.

The moves have paid off somewhat: The number of complaints has gone down, with CASE receiving fewer complaints involving Sim Lim Square.

The number fell from 104 complaints in 2012 to 83 last year. There were 78 cases from January to October this year, mainly about misrepresentation, defective goods and sales tactics.

But Sim Lim said the problem remained common. "Business is still as usual for the 'black sheep' in Sim Lim Square and the use of scams and other dishonest practices are still common," it said.

"Instances of unethical business practices, such as cheating, over-charging and taunting customers are almost a daily sight, affecting the shoppers, especially tourists," it added.

When contacted, a spokesman for Sim Lim told The Straits Times that complaints are mainly against six to seven mobile shops in the mall - about 2 per cent of its 480 shops. Most other stores run an "honest business".

But there is nothing much that the management can do, he said. "As Sim Lim Square is a strata title building, we are not the landlord; we are only the managing agent, so we are not able to kick the tenants out."

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of CASE, agreed that the "questionable practices" of a few retailers have tarnished the mall's reputation. He also supported the mall's call for the authorities to take action.

"We stand by the management and will support their appeal for the authorities to look into this issue," he said.

In July, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) filed an injunction application in court against electronics wholesale company Cyber Maestro in Sim Lim Square, after many complaints against it for things like over-charging.

While the store can continue operations, should the company continue to engage in unfair practices, the STB can report it for "contempt of court".

In a media advisory yesterday, the STB said it takes a "serious view of errant retailers who besmirch the reputation of Singapore as a premier tourist destination". It said it encourages consumers to report them.

Mr Michael Tan, director of Convergent Systems which distributes products to shops in Sim Lim Square, said: "The problem comes from an isolated segment in the mall. Its IT sector has a very good reputation. People from all over the world come here to buy stuff. Computer enthusiasts treat Sim Lim Square like a pilgrimage, a mecca."

Mobile Air saga: Vietnamese tourist declines iPhone from crowdfunding campaign
Despite saying no to an iPhone, Mr Pham Van Thoai did accept an assortment of food from Mr Gabriel Kang, the man who started a crowdfunding campaign for Mr Pham.
Channel NewsAsia, 7 Nov 2014

The saga of the Vietnamese tourist whose attempt to buy an iPhone at Sim Lim Square’s Mobile Air sparked an uproar over the mall’s allegedly unethical retailers has reached a happy ending of sorts.

A crowdfunding campaign was started by Singaporean entrepreneur Gabriel Kang to raise money to buy Mr Pham Van Thoai an iPhone earlier this week. On Thursday night, Mr Kang finally managed to get the details of Mr Pham’s departure flight from Singapore, from the Singapore Tourism Board. He then spent over S$1,500 buying an 64GB iPhone 6 Plus, and around S$200 on Singapore goodies such as kaya, bak kwa, chili crab sauces, and chicken rice mixes.

He finally met Mr Pham on Friday morning at the airport, before the latter boarded his flight to Vietnam. “I had to give it a shot, and he seemed quite happy to see me,” said Mr Kang of the encounter. “He knew who I was because apparently, this news has gone viral in Vietnam, and everybody had been reading about it. So he was also curious and keen to meet me.”

Mr Kang told Channel NewsAsia he spent most of the conversation trying to persuade Mr Pham to accept the iPhone.

Mr Pham ultimately declined the gift, as he had earlier accepted a donation from someone else and had already purchased a phone. He did accept the food goodies though.

“I think it was a matter of pride for him,” Mr Kang said of Mr Pham, who was with his girlfriend and other friends. “They were really nice people and invited me to visit them in Vietnam. He thanked me for starting the campaign and said he was quite surprised people would do such a thing for a total stranger. He was very gracious and very nice, and I am glad we tried to help. He did not deserve to be treated that way.”

As for what he is going to do with the more than S$15,000 raised, Mr Kang explained that the online campaign will still end on Nov 12, as the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo does not permit campaigns to end before their original stipulated dates.

He had earlier offered to divert the funds to help other consumers who had been scammed at Sim Lim Square, and said that he has since received a few emails from people regarding this. “I am trying to substantiate these claims, they should have police reports or CASE reports, real evidence, because we need to be transparent to account to all the people who donated money,” said Mr Kang.

“I also offered to bring Mr Pham back to Singapore for another holiday, since this one must not have been very pleasant for him because of what happened. He didn’t give any answer. Maybe we will discuss this later.”

Exercise your rights against errant shops, shoppers told
Take precautions and stand firm against pressure sales tactics: CASE
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2014

SHOPPERS should exercise their rights to prevent errant shopkeepers from bullying them into transactions, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE).

While the dishonest and aggressive sales tactics of some stores in electronics mall Sim Lim Square have been in the media spotlight and flamed online over the past week, consumers should themselves take precautions to ensure they do not fall prey to them.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case, said: "We hope that consumers will be able to stand firm and say 'no' to pressure sales tactics. Their money is in their wallet, and they can choose not to sign the sales agreement and pay the money."

Existing laws may have to be reviewed to deal with such cases, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin. In a Facebook post yesterday, he said the authorities should see how they can "strengthen or adjust" laws to deal with cases where individuals face hurdles to recourse.

"In some instances, the laws do not provide for particular actions and even if we may not like it, we can't go beyond the remits of the laws. So in these instances, we may have to review (them)."

Some incidents of overcharging occurred partly because shopkeepers concealed certain figures on receipts with their hands when showing them to customers, or added extra charges on invoices.

But the responsibility is also on customers to ensure that these invoices are clearly marked with the right figures, said Mr Seah.

For instance, they should examine their receipts closely by holding them in their own hands, instead of letting shopkeepers hold them or place them on a counter.

It is good practice to ask questions about what is printed on invoices - such as mathematical symbols like the multiplication sign - and what it represents.

Mr Seah said: "Consumers should exercise their rights to ensure all the costs are broken down before accepting the transaction. If you do not have the invoice, it is your word against the retailer's and it is very difficult for organisations like Case to arbitrate."

According to Ms Kala Anandarajah, head of competition and anti-trust and trade for law firm Rajah and Tann, the onus falls on the consumer to ensure that he reads a contract in its entirety before signing, because once it is signed, it tends to be binding on both parties.

The Singapore Tourism Board also advised consumers to do the necessary to protect their interests, such as researching products and checking return policies and coverage of warranties, before agreeing to purchases.

Some consumers feel that while taking measures to prevent cheating is important, dishonest practices should be curtailed.

Mr Ng Jian Min, 25, an engineer who does his research before shopping at Sim Lim Square, said: "Singapore should be a safe environment for everyone to shop in. I find it quite ridiculous that I should have to check my receipts so closely. There should be more severe laws to punish (errant) shops."

Sim Lim case: Citizen action may be against the law
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 7 Nov 2014

As the netizen-led campaign against Sim Lim Square shop owner Jover Chew continues, lawyers warned that such tactics — in part driven by frustration over ineffectual action on unscrupulous retail practices — put perpetrators at risk of running afoul of the law.

There are provisions under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act which could apply in the case of Mr Chew, whose identity card number, address and mobile number have been dredged up and shared online by members of the public over the past few days.

Lawyers also pointed out that online anonymity could pose a challenge to police investigations.

Mr Chew’s troubles began following reports that he had attempted to pay a S$1,010 refund ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal in coins, and that Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai had gone down on his knees to beg for a refund. His shop, Mobile Air, which had 25 complaints lodged against it with Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) between August and October, quickly became a symbol of the seedier side of Sim Lim Square.

Yesterday, a T-shirt printed with a Hokkien vulgarity was placed outside his shop, which was closed. Mr Chew’s particulars were also reportedly used to order three large pizzas to his home on Wednesday.

Mobile Air has also been served the Voluntary Compliance Agreement by CASE.

Lawyer Raj Mannar of Peter Low LLC said Mr Chew could take legal action against the source of harassment, especially if the online postings prove to be emotionally harassing and damaging to his business.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan, partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP, pointed to existing provisions under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act which could apply in this scenario. This would require a person to make a police report — Mr Chew’s wife is said to have filed one — followed by possible action by the Attorney-General’s Chambers after weighing the merits of the case.

However, little can be done if the person behind the harassment is not identified, Mr Raj pointed out.

While the Protection From Harassment Act — which is meant to better tackle harassment online — was passed in March, TODAY understands it is not fully in force yet.

Under this Act, action can be taken depending on whether the affected person feels harassed, whether the prosecution feels there is a case to be made and whether the person behind the harassment can be found, said Mr Sunil.

However, he added: “You can’t find who is behind the (online anonymous) post unless you go to the telco and find the IP address, but even that is not conclusive.”

While there have been calls for tougher consumer laws, Shook Lin & Bok LLP partner Robson Lee suggested more robust enforcement of the existing laws instead. For example, CASE could be given additional powers to administer fines to errant businesses.

The fines could be collected in a fund, which could be used to compensate victims of such practices and pay for foreign customers who have been affected to return to Singapore to assist with investigations, Mr Lee added.

In a Facebook post, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin expressed shock at the behaviour shown in the Sim Lim case and said the Government should explore ways to “strengthen or adjust” the laws to deal with cases where individuals face hurdles in seeking resolution.

“Some are disputes that may fall short of violating any laws or regulations, but they clearly assault our sensibilities!” he wrote.

Vietnamese tourist kneels and begs for refund of iPhone 6 at Sim Lim Square
By Chew Hui Min, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

A Vietnamese tourist walked away from Sim Lim Square poorer by about three months' salary, and without the iPhone 6 he had hoped to get for his girlfriend.

The incident is the latest dispute involving a mobile phone shop that made headlines earlier after it reportedly refunded a customer in coins.

Mr Pham Van Thoai, a factory worker, was so desperate he knelt down to beg the shop employees to return his hard-earned cash, but only got refunded less than half of what he paid.

On holiday here with his girlfriend, Mr Pham wanted to get her the latest iPhone as a birthday gift.

He forked out $950 for the smartphone at Mobile Air, and was going to leave when he was asked to pay an additional $1,500 as warranty fees.

Mr Pham, 30, broke down as he spoke to a reporter from local Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao, on Monday.

"I'm only a factory worker, earning about $200 a month, $950 is a few months' pay. It's a large sum for me, I'm really very sad," he said.

He had been asked to sign an agreement, but did not scrutinise it as his English was not fluent, and he thought Singapore was a safe place to shop.

"When they asked me if I wanted one year or two years' warranty, I assumed that the one-year warranty was complimentary, so I said one year. He didn't say I have to pay," he told Zaobao.

He was told that if he did not pay up for the warranty, he could not leave without the phone.

They finally agreed to return $600 to him, but his girlfriend refused to leave without the rest of the money and called the police.

When police arrived, staff at Mobile Air said Mr Pham had signed an agreement with them, and offered to refund him just $70.

After intervention from the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), he got a refund of $400, but was still short of $550.

"I am going home in two days, and I don't want any trouble, so I decided to accept the partial refund." Mr Pham said, adding that he was not sure CASE would be able to get him a full refund.

CASE says Mobile Air has 14 consumer complaints lodged against it from July to September, one of the highest among retailers here.

It made headlines last week for paying back $1,010 in coins to a woman who had won a claim against them in the Small Claims Tribunal.

Mall gets 2 to 3 complaints daily
Trouble seems to come from just 6 or 7 shops out of 480: Management
By Cheryl Faith Wee And Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2014

HELPING customers and shopkeepers settle disputes is a daily job for the management of electronics mall Sim Lim Square.

Two to three complaints are made every day about problems such as overcharging. Sometimes customers call the police for help.

Discussions can last up to an hour and they can sometimes get tense and heated, with either side turning defensive, said a spokesman for the management of Sim Lim Square.

He said: "Sometimes the customer or shopkeeper gets angry, and we will try our best to talk to them." He added that the job of the management was to maintain the facilities and undertake advertising and promotions.

"It is not really the scope of the management to deal with such conflicts, which is why we have appealed to the authorities for help," he said.

On Monday, the beleaguered management issued an appeal for help, saying that despite its efforts, the problem of errant tenants has not been solved. It urged the authorities to intervene and take a tough stand against them.

Sim Lim Square is owned by multiple landlords, who have control over their respective tenants and shop rentals.

Foot traffic in the mall has fallen by about 50 per cent in the last two years, due partly to its tarnished reputation - broadcast in media reports and online forums - as well as competition from online stores, said the management.

However, the trouble seems to come from just six or seven shops out of 480 in the mall, it noted.

These shops are usually the focus of complaints about overcharging or cheating, and engaging in bad practices such as changing their names on signboards so that customers do not realise the shops have been blacklisted.

Last week, mobile phone store Mobile Air worsened the mall's negative image when it tried to give a customer a refund of more than $1,000, on the order of the Small Claims Tribunal,in coins.

To warn customers, the management began putting up posters last year, blacklisting tenants with the most complaints about them.

Some were torn down. Now, the lists can be found in plastic boxes at the lifts and carpark, among other places.

Both the Singapore Tourism Board and Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) are closely monitoring complaints, said Ms Choo Huei Miin, STB's director for visitor information and experience. She said: "Should there be evidence of unfair practices, appropriate actions that STB can take under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act will be adopted to curb these practices."

CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon said the organisation asked Mobile Air yesterday to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement to stop its unfair practices.

If it refuses, CASE can file a court order against it. Once this is granted, the retailer could face a fine and/or jail term if it disobeys the court order.

Several shopkeepers said they hope the authorities would be able to help rein in the recalcitrant shops in the mall. Mr Tom Tan, a manager at camera store Alan Photo, which has been in the mall for nearly three decades, said: "The mall management is already trying its best. We do not get involved; we just do our own business with integrity."

18 complaints against Sim Lim Square's Mobile Air this year: CASE
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia4 Nov 2014

Sim Lim Square mobile phone shop Mobile Air was served with a letter by the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) on Tuesday (Nov 4), which invited the store to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA).

Mobile Air has been in the news for trying to force a Vietnamese tourist who bought an iPhone 6 to fork out an additional sum for a warranty package. The store had also been ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal to refund S$1,010 to a customer, which it then tried to do by giving her 18kg worth of coins.

CASE Executive Director Seah Seng Choon, told Channel NewsAsia about the latest action taken against the store during an interview on Singapore Tonight. He revealed that CASE had received 18 complaints about Mobile Air from Jan to Oct this year, although the store had attracted no complaints in 2012, and only two complaints last year. “If they sign the VCA, they have to stop the unfair practices,” said Mr Seah. “Otherwise we can proceed with an injunction.”

If retailers continue with unfair practices after an injunction is granted against them, they can be charged with contempt of court, and be jailed or fined. On Monday, the High Court granted a permanent injunction against Cyber Maestro, also a Sim Lim Square retailer, after numerous complaints were filed regarding issues like misleading consumers about prices.

Shopkeepers at Sim Lim Square say little can be done about the unethical business practices of a small number of retailers at the mall, and are concerned that they might suffer retribution from the errant retailers if they voice their concerns publicly.

One tenant, who declined to be named, said: "On Levels One to Three, all those dealing with mobiles phones and cameras, they have very bad reputations. Every now and then you can see police cars coming every week, visiting the shop because most of the time it's the shopkeepers having conflicts with the customers.”

But he said he was resigned to the situation. “Even if I were to say something, I would not know what is the response I am going to get, whether the black sheep will take revenge on me. There is nothing much I can do. At the end of the day, the landlord will just say: 'Who's going to pay my rent? Are you going to rent my shop?’”

Lawyer Steven Lam agreed that the management has little power to take the problem retailers to task. "To change the by-laws of the Management Corporation Strata Title, you need the owners to agree. That is a big issue, because if I am a landlord and I am getting a good rental return on my unit, I really will not care what my tenant is doing provided they are not breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement or breaking any law. The interests of the customers may be of no relevance to that."

The shopowners of Sim Lim Square have collaborated with CASE to put out an alert list on errant retailers, said Mr Seah. “There were over 100 cases some years back, this has been reduced to about 80 this year up to Oct. The number has gone down, but obviously it is not sufficient and we need to look at other measures.”

Still, he believes the current regulations - namely the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, and how consumers can seek redress at the Small Claims Tribunal – are sufficient. Consumers also need to play their part, and do their due diligence,” he said.

The Singapore Tourism Board on Tuesday said it takes a serious view of retailers who besmirch the name of Singapore as a premier tourist destination. It said it was "aware of the situation at Sim Lim Square", and said it will take appropriate actions if there is evidence of unfair practices.

High Court grants permanent injunction against electronics wholesaler Cyber Maestro in Sim Lim Square
The Straits Times, 3 Nov 2014

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has announced on Monday that a permanent injunction has been granted by the High Court of Singapore against an electronics wholesale company, Cyber Maestro Pte Ltd, in Sim Lim Square.

The injunction restrains the company and its employees and agents from engaging in several unfair practices within the meaning of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (Cap 52A) ("CPFTA").

The injunction application was filed by STB in response to the numerous complaints against the company's trade practices.

The complaints against Cyber Maestro included overcharging, exerting undue pressure to enter into a transaction and misleading consumers about prices and availability of goods.

The company continued with these practices despite repeated warnings from the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), and requests from STB.

"STB takes a serious view of errant retailers who besmirch the reputation of Singapore as a premier tourist destination," it said in a statement, adding that it encourages consumers to report unfair practices.

Sim Lim Square retailers speak up against bad reputation -RazorTV

Mall landlords seek change in laws to oust errant tenants
Sim Lim management council can then act to end rental agreements
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2014

LANDLORDS at Sim Lim Square are hoping for changes in the law so they can set up their own rules to allow them to reject undesirable tenants.

This was one of the issues raised at a press conference yesterday, held by the electronics mall's management council, which is made up of 13 people who own units there.

The electronics mall, which has come under scrutiny for a small number of shops there practising questionable sales tactics, has about 480 shops owned by a few hundred landlords.

Most rental agreements are negotiated between landlords and tenants, and the management is currently not able to kick out recalcitrant shops.

Thus, they hope the laws will change so that Sim Lim Square's management council could possibly pass a by-law to terminate the tenancy agreements of unscrupulous retailers.

Said Mr Kwek Theng Swee, vice-chairman of the council: "The information technology sector has grown more competitive now with a lot of trade fairs and constant product launches. This has put high pressure on retailers and made them resort to such unscrupulous methods."

He added that this is limited to around 10 shops which have been blacklisted by the Consumers Association of Singapore for having a high number of complaints made against them.

The owners of these units have been informed of the unfair practices of their tenants, said Mr Kwek. But he did not say if they will throw these tenants out of the mall.

Said Mr Sunny Chew, the council's assistant secretary: "We need the authorities to take action so that we can weed out these shops. In the last five years, we have not been able to find a permanent solution."

The black sheep, while a minority, have affected the reputation of the mall, leading to lower footfalls.

Competition from electronics malls such as Funan as well as online retailers Lazada and Amazon have also hit business there.

Mr Vikas Gupta, 27, the manager of the group Sim City, which owns around 40 shop units in Sim Lim Square, said: "When such incidents happen, the effect is that shops here become emptier. The IT sector is also gradually fading."

In the spotlight: Other malls with rogue retailers
By Olivia Ho And Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2014

THE recent antics of rogue retailers in Sim Lim Square have cast the spotlight on other malls such as People's Park Complex in Chinatown and Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road, which are also no strangers to complaints.

People's Park Complex may not have racked up as many reports of rip-offs as Sim Lim, but it has more than its fair share of cases involving mobile phone shops preying on customers.

A sales executive at a tourism agency there said he sees disputes between phone retailers and upset customers almost weekly, sometimes every two or three days.

"Affected customers are mostly tourists and migrant workers from China," said the 30-year- old, who declined to be named as he feared repercussions from the retailers in question.

"Human traffic has dropped quite a lot since these shops started operating around 2011."

Mr Gunasekaran, 54, a senior security officer at People's Park who goes by one name, said of the disputes: "Some customers cry, some quarrel, some get violent.

"We help them call the police, but there is nothing much the management can do as these are all private shops."

A 25-year-old shop assistant at Mobile Alliance in People's Park Complex, who declined to be named, estimated business has fallen by 70 per cent following reports of Sim Lim's errant dealers.

Mobile Alliance has had five complaints in the past three months, according to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Two others, Tele Infinity and S Team Mobile, have had seven and four complaints, respectively.

Asked about Mobile Alliance's blacklisting by Case, the assistant said: "Sometimes there is miscommunication between cultures when we deal with foreign customers."

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon thinks malls can do more to warn customers about unfair practices. At People's Park, notices of shops blacklisted by Case are put up at entrances.

He cited Lucky Plaza, which was "problematic" 11/2 years ago, as a mall which cleaned up its act. "So far, we have not had complaints for them this year," he said. Shop owners at Lucky Plaza's basement, where most of the unsavoury tenants used to operate, say it is quieter now that these shops have closed down.

A 52-year-old shop owner who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, said the rogue shops closed as they could not do business.

"I think their Visa machines got confiscated because they had too many complaints - they tried to borrow ours,"he said.

Measures to protect consumers being considered: Iswaran
By Aw Cheng Wei and David Ee, The Sunday Times, 9 Nov 2014

Measures to protect customers are being looked into, revealed Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday in the wake of public anger over Sim Lim Square businessman Jover Chew's mistreatment of his customers.

But it may take some time, "especially if we need changes to our laws", Mr Iswaran said as he urged people not to take matters into their own hands.

Last month, it was reported that Mr Chew had refunded a customer $1,010 in coins. Then last Monday, a Vietnamese visitor was videotaped getting down on his knees and crying as he begged for a refund at the shop.

Among those who reacted was Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who wrote on his Facebook page last Thursday that changes to the law can be made to "better protect the vulnerable".

But some have engaged in an online campaign against Mr Chew, revealing his personal information.

Mr Iswaran wrote on his Facebook page that police are not just looking into reports regarding the Sim Lim Square case, but also a related report on harassment. The latter is believed to concern the online vigilantism against Mr Chew.

"We should allow due process to take its course," Mr Iswaran said.

Calling Mr Chew's actions "completely unacceptable", Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said "bad conduct should be dealt with strictly". Speaking on the sidelines of an event, he noted the advisory issued by China warning its nationals to be careful in Singapore. He said: "Anytime people behave badly, even one incident, it can impact on the image of Singapore."

Referring to laws on cheating, he added: "My own view is that there are laws which can deal with that kind of conduct. I know the police are looking into it, and I know AGC is working with the police."

Last Friday, landlords at Sim Lim Square called for changes in the law so they can set up their own rules to allow them to reject undesirable tenants. But Mr Shanmugam said this needs to be studied carefully.

"There are hundreds of thousands of tenants in Singapore - and if it becomes easier for landlords to move them out on a variety of grounds, that could have substantial implications."

Lawyers whom The Sunday Times spoke to said the laws are largely sufficient. The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act empowers consumers to take civil action against companies that have unfair trading practices.

Disgruntled buyers can go to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for mediation and, if that fails, turn to the Small Claims Tribunal. There is a need for both buyer and seller to be heard because there are errant parties on both sides, lawyers said.

But time, cost and stress can dissuade some from seeking justice, said Mr Justin Chan, a partner at Tito Isaac and Co. One change could be to allow tourists, who are often the target of shop scams, to be put on a fast track when seeking help from the Small Claims Tribunal, said Mr Sunil Singh Panoo, a lawyer at Dhillon and Partners.

Another is for powers to be given to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority to "suspend businesses... found guilty of profiteering or deceitful conduct", said Ms Yasmeen J. Marican, a partner at Harry Elias.

Mr Iswaran yesterday said the more immediate action for the Government was to work with Case to educate consumers on their rights.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, who is a lawyer, yesterday posted on Facebook of his shock at what Mr Chew allegedly did to the Vietnamese tourist. He wondered if Case should be given more bite by being able to issue fines.

Sick of scams: but what is the cure?
Consumers need greater protection, but what is the answer? Insight looks at the situation now, and what could make for a better deal
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2014

HORROR stories of consumers falling for too-good-to-be-true deals in Sim Lim Square are not new. But when a long-haired cellphone shop owner by the name of Jover Chew made headlines - not once, but twice - for his alleged bullying antics towards aggrieved purchasers, public outcry erupted with a newfound vengeance.

Late last month, Mr Chew's shop, Mobile Air, made headlines for a case in September, when it asked a customer to pay $2,400 for an iPhone 6 warranty that she did not want. He later grudgingly refunded her $1,010 - in coins.

Less than a week later, a video of Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai begging for his money back over a similar plight at the same shop went viral.

As news made its way to Vietnam, Britain and China, the rest of Singapore cringed. China even issued a travel advisory to warn its citizens of electronics scams in Singapore.

The Straits Times Forum has received at least 15 letters about the matter, while netizens left feedback on unrelated Facebook posts of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, criticising the inadequacy of consumer protection laws.

Anonymous operators of satirical group SMRT Ltd (Feedback) dug up Mr Chew's addresses and contact numbers and put them online. Some even sent pizzas to his last known addresses.

Social media helped galvanise citizens, thanks to "the drama of (Mr Thoai's) video, the unreasonableness of the contract, and the helplessness most people feel from consumer laws that do not seem to give enough protection to the small person", Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Tan Tarn How told Insight.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who is president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), has filed in Parliament two questions on how errant retailers and such cases can be better dealt with. Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran assured that measures to protect consumers are being looked into. But it may take some time, "especially if we need changes to our laws".

With Parliament adjourned most likely to next year, it may be a while before concerns of disgruntled consumers are assuaged.

Woes of the current system

WHAT happens if you find that you have unwittingly paid more than you bargained for?

Even as the non-profit, non-governmental Case argues for stronger consumer legislation, it also trots out its usual line - caveat emptor, Latin for buyer beware - as the public's first line of defence.

But that has its limitations. Dodgy sales tactics, which are not just confined to Sim Lim Square, include adding a zero to credit- card bills or placing a finger over dubious clauses as the hapless consumer signs on the dotted line.

Negotiation with errant retailers is not easy either, going by anecdotal evidence that they resort to intimidation to quash complaints.

An aggrieved consumer can also turn to Case for a resolution. The consumer watchdog dispenses advice on whether consumers have a legitimate case in seeking refunds or exchanges. For a fee, it can also represent members and help negotiate more complicated cases. But if a party does not abide by its recommendations, the penalties are light.

On Case not having enforcement powers, its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, said: "We are as effective as the current laws allow us to be."

Of the 30,000 cases that Case received last year, about 90 per cent were settled directly by the consumers, after receiving free advice from Case. A small number did not pursue the matter as their cases do not have any legitimacy.

Of the rest, about half opted for a letter from Case stating its opinion. Consumers took that letter to the retailer and saw the issue through to the end on their own. Each letter costs $10.

The others sought Case's help in negotiating with the retailer directly. For this, they were required to become a member for a $25 annual fee , "to establish a legal relationship so we can represent them", said Mr Seah.

While there were some full refunds, most were partial. "It's the consumer's word against the business," said Mr Seah. "We find the spot where both parties can settle - that's often between zero dollars and a full refund."

Most complaints are resolved at the negotiation stage but a small number - about 150 - go for mediation each year. This requires another $15.

Consumers who are still unhappy can seek recourse in the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT), constituted as a Subordinate Court - now known as State Courts - in 1985. This gives complainants a chance to settle the dispute in a civil proceeding instead of through a more costly civil suit.

Claims are for sums under $10,000 (or $20,000 if both parties agree to this in writing). Lawyers are not permitted to represent either party. It costs $10, $20 or up to $200 to lodge a claim, depending on its size.

There is then a 10- to 14-day wait before a mandatory mediation session. If that does not work out, there is another seven- to 10-day wait for a hearing.

Tourists can get a case heard within 24 hours. If that is too long, Case is the Singapore Tourism Board's appointed agent to mediate with the retailer or represent the tourist at the SCT.

After all that, getting back cash or assets from the errant party is difficult if they refuse to pay. Victims can file a writ of seizure and sale, but this requires more time and higher costs, as the bailiff charges for expenses. They might also wish to hire a lawyer to enforce the order.

Worse is if the other party has nothing to seize, said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP and lawyer Alvin Yeo. "That's why people sometimes give up and don't bother with civil recourse."

What about going to the police and getting criminal charges laid? Lawyers say that some of the tactics employed by retail scam artists could amount to cheating under Section 415 of the Penal Code. But the police will probably advise consumers to go to the SCT or Case, they point out.

"Our boys in blue are overstretched," says Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair, a lawyer who also chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law.

"There are so many disputes of small amounts, do we want our police to spend limited resources chasing these things?"

What about the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act then? Under this law, Case can invite errant retailers to sign an agreement to not engage in unfair trade practices, and to agree to give refunds to aggrieved consumers.

Since March 2004, it has served 22 such agreements, which were signed by 17 retailers, some in the beauty, medical and electronics industries. Mobile Air was among these.

The problem is these agreements are purely voluntary, and there are no criminal penalties if merchants later refuse to follow the terms of the agreement.

When companies refuse to sign these agreements, Case can file an injunction - a court order for the merchant to stop engaging in unfair practices.

But the injunction usually applies to a company name, not an individual's. As a result, it is a costly and ineffective measure, admitted Case's president, Mr Lim.

"I have to get witnesses to give statement, engage a lawyer, seek approval from the Injunction Proposals Review Panel, go to court. And then after the litigation process, all it takes is for the owner of the business to get a family member to set up another company and we're back to square one."

Of the five injunctions since 2004 - six, if Case succeeds in its current case against Mobile Air - Mr Lim said most of those involved have opened similar firms.

What should be changed

WHICH is why Mr Lim wants the laws changed to target recalcitrant individuals.

"Civil action seems limited in its effectiveness, which is why I prefer criminal action where there is evidence of wrongdoing... Go after the errant director directly. The threat of criminal prosecution usually deters business owners from dishonest behaviour."

He suggested having the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority - with whom businesses must be registered - impose a time-bar on errant retailers from opening up another shop, similar to that imposed on fraudsters and those declared bankrupt.

This would curtail individuals who operate and shut down fly- by-night companies, only to open them under a different name.

It would also require amendments to the Companies Act, and possibly revisions to penalties under the Penal Code. Mr Seah thinks the Attorney-General's Chambers might want to relook the definition of cheating to include "this sort of unacceptable, repeat behaviour".

With a more obvious definition that captures recalcitrant offenders, police are more likely to take action, he said. This would send out a strong deterrent message.

But Mr Yeo thinks any changes should come in the form of enforcement powers. "We should distinguish between hard-sell tactics and outright dishonesty - existing criminal laws are wide enough to cover the latter."

Other MPs have called for a body with statutory powers. A separate body could be created or powers could be appended to Case.

Several lawyers and MPs Insight spoke to pointed to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). A government champion of consumer laws, ACCC has successfully sued Apple for failing to live up to promises to repair faulty computers, phones and iPods. It can also impose fines on errant companies.

Having consumer protection laws like a mandatory warranty for a certain period gives peace of mind, said ChrisChong and CT Ho lawyer Richard Tan. But while Australia can afford to impose such laws due to its sizeable domestic market, it might be harder in Singapore, he warned.

Meanwhile, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa wants Case to have powers to slap fines on businesses with unfair practices.

Mr Nair said that besides penalties, there should be speedier avenues to seek recourse, especially if tourists are affected.

He favours appointing neutral adjudicators to resolve complaints on unethical business conduct, similar to how building disputes are settled at the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore under its Conciliation Panel.

Unlike mediation, the adjudicator is not there to negotiate, but to provide "rough and ready justice" in the form of a binding payout, he added.

"I'm not in favour of mediation where the 'bad hat' can gain something from the process because of technicalities," Mr Nair said.

If the party in the wrong is unhappy with the ruling, they can still lodge a complaint with the SCT, after paying the complainant. But, as long as the adjudicator has "sufficient common sense", Mr Nair thinks most cases would be resolved quickly.

"If he comes across any case of dishonesty, he can refer that to the police. That will be an effective filter for cases the police will have to look into."

But these new powers would require changes to the law. Association of Small and Medium Enterprises head Kurt Wee welcomes giving a consumer body more bite - but only if it does not cause businesses to incur more costs.

The Do Not Call Registry, for example, requires small and medium-sized enterprises to update databases, which adds another layer of compliance, he said.

"Looking at the full spectrum of the retail trade, I don't think errant retailers are rampant. Would having a statutory board focused on tackling these retailers be overdoing it?"

A faster and cheaper solution is better consumer education.

One criticism directed at Sim Lim Square management is that signs which name and shame retailers with high numbers of Case complaints are too small and only in English. Some Chinese tourists have mistaken the signs as advertisements for top retailers, said Case vice-president Ang Peng Hwa in a recent TV debate.

To deal with this, there will be new signs in about two weeks. Those at the centre's entrance will be at least A2 in size, and in English and Chinese, mall spokesman Sean Chia told Insight.

Mr Iswaran also said the Government will work with Case to better educate consumers on their rights. The body currently gives frequent consumer education talks. But consumers must do their bit. Case's president, Mr Lim, said: "Everyone has to take some responsibility - make sure you do your due diligence and shop around. If something is too good to be true, it might be."

How consumers are protected elsewhere
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2014


AUSTRALIA'S consumer law certainly has teeth. Products and services come with automatic guarantees that they will work and do what a consumer expects.

For example, products must match descriptions made by the sales staff, on packing and labels, or in advertisements. They must also not carry any hidden charges.

If the product or service does not work, a consumer is entitled to a free repair, replacement or refund.

However, consumer guarantees do not apply if a customer got what he asked for but changed his mind, found it cheaper elsewhere, or decided he did not like the purchase.

Errant companies that do not comply with consumer protection provisions can be fined up to A$1.1 million (S$1.24 million), and individuals, A$220,000.

The laws are enforced and administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), an independent authority of the federal government, together with each state's consumer agency. In cases involving financial services, a separate commission might step in.

The ACCC admits on its website it cannot pursue all the complaints it receives, and "rarely becomes involved in resolving individual consumer or small business disputes".

Instead, it prioritises certain areas, like consumer protection in the telecommunications sector or tackling cartels involving Australians, as handling such matters is likely to "provide the greatest overall benefit" for all.

California, United States

CALIFORNIA has one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the United States, thanks to the power wielded by several advocacy groups, such as the Utility Consumers' Action Network.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs licenses and certifies more than 100 types of businesses and 200 types of professionals - including doctors, contractors and vehicle repair facilities - through 41 regulatory bodies.

These entities - semi-autonomous bodies whose members are appointed by the governor and the legislature - establish minimum qualifications for these professions, as well as investigate complaints and discipline violators.

Service representatives in the department can also answer consumer and licensee-related questions in 140 different languages.

The state encourages consumers to seek recourse through its Consumers Legal Remedies Act. Any consumer who suffers damage as a result of what is deemed unlawful can bring an action to recover damages, for restitution of property, or for punitive damages. Consumers can also apply to the courts to take out a court order.


IF A product is faulty or does not match the description given, a consumer has the right to return the product and get his money back, including the cost of postage and packing.

And while not mandated, most retailers provide a returns policy out of goodwill, and even extend the return-by date during special shopping seasons, like Christmas.

Laws cover not only brick- and-mortar shops, but also those that reside in the digital sphere. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, customers have the right to cancel their order, up to seven working days from the day after they receive their goods.

Police conduct raid at Mobile Air in Sim Lim Square, documents seized
Officers visit store to follow up on reports lodged against it
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2014

THE police carried out investigations at mobile phone shop Mobile Air in Sim Lim Square on Sunday.

The store has been under fire in recent weeks over its questionable sales tactics and the police said their officers were there to follow up on reports lodged against it. They said that investigations are ongoing and declined to comment further.

According to reports in the Chinese newspapers Shin Min Daily News and Lianhe Wanbao yesterday, the police spent more than two hours in the store and took four boxes of documents and products as well as three computer monitors with them.

Mr Ricky Lee, 33, who claimed last week to have bought over Mobile Air, including all its stock, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He had told the Chinese newspapers that he would consider opening the business after sorting out some legal proceedings with his lawyer. The shop was not open yesterday.

The authorities appear to be stepping up their efforts against errant retailers, with the management of Sim Lim Square meeting Mr Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, yesterday to discuss how to tackle the problem.

Mr Teo said in a media statement that unfair business practices "cannot be allowed to continue unheeded".

He added that the Government is looking to enhance laws and strengthen enforcement.

Meanwhile, Mr Teo urged Sim Lim Square's management to take a strong stand against errant shops and implement measures to prevent unfair business practices.

Sim Lim Square's management told him it hoped for harsher penalties for recalcitrant shops and is planning to boost efforts to warn consumers against errant retailers. For instance, it will be putting up big posters in both English and Chinese around the mall that tell people which shops to be wary of.

The current police investigation into Mobile Air will help to send a signal to other errant shops, said Mr Lim Biow Chuan, president of the Consumers Association of Singapore.

He added: "Dishonest retailers may want to take advantage of consumers, but when faced with the threat of being charged with a criminal offence... a good number of them will toe the line."

Other businesses in Sim Lim Square are glad that the authorities are intervening. "The police and minister stepping in will certainly help the situation," said Mr Gary Ong, 52, owner of IT shop Fuwell International.

He added that sales have been slightly hit by the coverage of recent incidents, but that customers are now also more aware of the dishonest shops.

Customers staying away from Sim Lim
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2014

IT IS the same sight in almost every electronics shop at Sim Lim Square - salesmen hunched over glass counters, staring listlessly into the distance.

Businesses there say consumers have been staying away since news about errant retailers made headlines since last month.

Some shops told The Straits Times that sales have dropped by as much as 90 per cent.

A salesman at Focuspoint Electronics, which is located just across the now infamous shop Mobile Air, said foot traffic has dropped by almost 90 per cent.

"Nowadays you have only locals who come by and take pictures (of Mobile Air)," said the salesman, who wanted to be known as Mr Yeo, 50. "This place has become like a museum."

And it is not just shops on the first floor that are feeling the heat, with consumers shying away from shops on all levels. When The Straits Times was at the mall yesterday afternoon, corridors on the higher levels were deserted. Business has also not been as brisk on the weekends, said Mr Vijay Sevugan, who runs PC World on the mall's fifth floor.

The 35-year-old said both local and foreign customers have been staying away from the mall.

"There have been so many complaints, customers think all the businesses are like (Mobile Air). But there are good businesses here, too," he said.

On Sunday, police raided Mobile Air, carting away boxes of documents, products and three computer monitors. They are investigating the retailer, which used questionable sales tactics on a Vietnamese tourist and reduced him to tears earlier this month.

A man who gave his name as Ricky Lee, 33, claimed to have bought over the shop from its previous owner Jover Chew, 32, and renamed it HJ Mobile. But some Chinese newspapers yesterday reported that Mr Lee is, in fact, Mr Edmund Lim, one of Mr Chew's former employees.

Checks with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority showed that HJ Mobile has been registered, but calls to Mr Lim went unanswered.

Meanwhile, Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) president Lim Biow Chuan said he hoped the Government would amend the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, to give Case more muscle to tackle recalcitrant retailers like Mobile Air.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck told The Straits Times that the Government was looking into this. "Whatever laws we want to change, we still need to ensure good retailers can operate. We have to keep a balance; at the end of the day, we want to promote fair trade," said Mr Teo.

Ensure fair deals, CASE tells two malls
Watchdog sends letters to malls in the news recently
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 2 Dec 2014

TWO malls in the news recently for having retailers with unethical practices have been asked to ensure their landlords enforce stricter rental agreements.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) sent letters to the managements of Sim Lim Square and People's Park Complex asking them to change their rules and by-laws, making it mandatory for landlords to ensure retailers run their businesses fairly.

In particular, it said rental agreements should state that retailers must conduct their business according to the fair practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA).

Under the Act, unfair practices include taking advantage of a consumer by exerting undue pressure and making false claims about goods.

"If the retailers or landlords breach the CPFTA in their rental agreements, the MCST should have the authority to compel the landlords to terminate the rental agreement and, if necessary, impose severe penalties on the landlords and/or retailers that are in breach of the Act," said CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon in a statement yesterday.

The Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) should also have the power to force a landlord to sell his property if he runs a dishonest business or allows his tenant to do so, he added.

The move by CASE comes after several shops in Sim Lim Square and People's Park Complex came under fire last month for using unsavoury sales tactics. One case in particular - where a Vietnamese tourist was seen on his knees begging for a refund after he was allegedly overcharged for an iPhone by a shop owner in Sim Lim Square - was widely publicised online. From January to last month, 106 complaints were made against stores in Sim Lim Square while 156 complaints were made against shops in People's Park Complex, the highest for a mall here.

Mr Seah called on the managements of both malls to "do their part to strengthen the enforcement process against recalcitrant offenders".

The management of Sim Lim Square said it received the letter yesterday and is seeking legal advice about some of CASE's suggestions. The management of People's Park Complex could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, some businesses feel that while the intention of the measures is good, it would be difficult to enforce them. "The management does not have the power to enforce such rules between landlords and tenants and, at the end of the day, any rule that is not properly enforced will have no value," said Mr Vinod Wadhwa, 54, director of IT business Costronic Technologies, which has been in Sim Lim Square for 17 years.

CCTVs will soon be watching you
Customers will also be warned about shops that have had complaints lodged against them
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 22 May 2015

ERRANT retailers at Sim Lim Square will soon face very close surveillance if they engage in questionable sales behaviour.

The management of the IT and electronics mall recently passed a by-law which gives it the authority to install CCTV cameras, an audio recording device and stickers in the common areas in front of shops that have had many complaints made against them.

The stickers would tell consumers to be wary of these stores.

A spokesman for the mall's management said: "Our council members suggested this and it got unanimous approval during our annual general meeting last month. We are still working out the details."

He added that the new by-law is likely to apply to stores that have had at least three complaints lodged against them with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Tourism Board.

The latest measures are a further step in ongoing efforts to rein in errant retailers at the Rochor Canal Road mall which has been dogged by a poor reputation over the years.

Last November, the unfair sales tactics of several shops at the mall - including the now-defunct Mobile Air and its owner Jover Chew - came under fire, after a video of a Vietnamese tourist begging for a refund at Mobile Air went viral in Singapore and abroad.

Since then, the Government has said it is reviewing laws to strengthen consumer protection.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said: "This new by-law will certainly send a strong signal to errant retailers that they would be visibly highlighted at their shop front if they engage in unfair trade practices."

Chinese evening newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported about a recent disagreement between a shop at the mall and a customer that resulted in the police being called. The customer had accused the shop staff of hitting him, but the staff claimed it was an accident and that the customer had been unreasonable.

On the whole, the situation at the mall has improved. From January to last month, Case handled an estimated 12 customer complaints against electronics retailers. Case estimated that there were 32 complaints in the same period last year.

The consumer watchdog used to come up with a blacklist of recalcitrant retailers at the mall, but there was no such list for January to March as the complaints were "few and isolated" during those months, said Mr Seah.

Despite the improvement, foot traffic from January to this month is still down by 50 to 60 per cent, compared with the same period last year, said the mall's management. It added that sales have continued to slide for many businesses, by up to about 50 per cent.

While most consumers welcome the latest measures to deter errant retailers, some question their effectiveness. Trainee lawyer Jeremiah Tan, 30, who frequents the mall for computer parts, said: "I believe if you install such a system, the misbehaving tenants will simply move out to avoid getting caught. Or they will find ways to evade the cameras and voice recorders."

Still, some of the mall's retailers feel that the new by-law will help to boost consumer confidence.

Mr Tom Tan, 59, manager of camera store Alan Photo, said: "There should be some warnings first before going to the extreme of putting up CCTV cameras, but I am not against the idea. It deters people from wrongdoing and is a good preventive measure."

JUST IN: Jover Chew, the owner of now-defunct Mobile Air, faces 25 charges for cheating offences and one criminal intimidation charge in court today.
Posted by The Straits Times on Thursday, May 28, 2015

* Jover Chew, former boss of Mobile Air, jailed 33 months for conning customers, also fined $2,000
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2015

The boss of a now-defunct electronics firm was jailed 33 months on Monday (Nov 30) for cheating his customers.

Jover Chew Chiew Loon, 33, was also fined $2,000 for a charge of insulting behaviour.

Chew, the "brains and architect" behind Mobile Air, had earlier pleaded guilty to 12 of 28 charges - including abetment by conspiracy to cheat and criminal intimidation.

The prosecution had called for a three-year jail sentence for Chew.

Jover Chew, who has been jailed for 33 months, was the "brains and architect" behind Mobile Air at Sim Lim Square. more about the case here:
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, November 30, 2015

Chew has paid back the losses of $12,199 suffered by his 26 victims.

On one occasion, when ordered by a Small Claims Tribunal to reimburse a customer $1,010, Chew gave her a bag containing $547 of the sum in coins, and filmed her aunt picking up the coins when they fell to the floor of his shop.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eunice Lim said that on Sept 24 last year, Chinese national Zou Jing Tong, 22, and her aunt, Ms Liu Jinhui, wanted to buy an iPhone 6 Plus for $1,600 at the Sim Lim Square shop.

Chew's salesman Kam Kok Keong, 31, made her sign the invoice and other documents after she had paid $1,600.

She was then told she had to pay $2,376 extra, plus $99 a month for a two-year warranty. When she said she did not want to buy the phone, Kam said he would refund her only $600 and she had to "compensate Mobile Air $872 for breach of contract".

She called the police, who advised her to lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore. She left with the phone after paying a further $1,400. She extended her stay here to seek recourse.

The tribunal ordered that she be refunded $1,010. She and her aunt returned to Mobile Air a month later, on Oct 28, to collect the money.

Chew went to the rear of the shop, then handed Ms Zou a big bag of coins, asking her to check if the amount was correct.

"Ms Liu remarked that the accused was not sincere in returning the money and accidentally dropped the bag of coins on the floor,'' said DPP Lim.

Chew told Ms Zou to pick up the coins, then filmed Ms Liu doing so, saying he wanted to be sure that she was counting the money.

Kam and three others are now serving four to 14 months for their role in the scam.

In another incident, a Vietnamese tourist had begged, knelt and cried after Chew and his staff overcharged him for an iPhone 6.

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