Sim Lim's nightmare

Sim Lim's nightmare
Mobile Air in Sim Lim Square and its owner, Mr Jover Chew, became notorious for unfair trade practices, including coercing mobile phone customers to buy inhouse warranties at inflated prices.

Meet Mr Jover Chew.

He made two women go down on their knees and he made a grown man cry.

And all they wanted was to buy the latest iPhones from his shop, Mobile Air, in Sim Lim Square.

Just when they thought the deal was sealed, they got a nasty surprise. To get the iPhones they had just paid for, they had to stump out a hefty four-figure sum for the warranties.

Refuse and leave empty-handed, with their initial payment forfeited.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) says that such unfair practices are a breach of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. (See report above.)

Yet, Mobile Air and other errant retailers have been getting away with it despite being "blacklisted" by Case.

Ms Zhou, a Chinese national studying in Singapore, was forced to pay $1,400 for the warranty on top of the $1,600 she had paid for an iPhone 6 Plus.

She took her case to the Small Claims Tribunal, which ordered Mobile Air to refund her $1,010.

When Ms Zhou and her aunt went to collect the refund on Oct 28, Mr Chew's staff gave her the money in coins.

She said they threw the bag of coins on the floor and forced the two women to kneel down to count the coins while taunting them.

Then, on Monday, a Vietnamese tourist who wanted to buy an iPhone 6 for his girlfriend as a gift fell prey to Mobile Air's illegal sales tactics.

After paying $950 for the phone, Mr Pham Van Thoai, 30, was told to pay another $1,500 for the warranty.

Mr Pham, a factory worker who earns the equivalent of $200 a month, asked for a refund. When the staff refused, he burst into tears and went down on his knees to plead with them, but to no avail.

Mr Pham and his girlfriend, who arrived in Singapore for a holiday last Sunday, were looking high and low for the iPhone 6, which is not available in Vietnam, reported Lianhe Zaobao.

They ended up at Sim Lim Square after being turned away by three retailers who had no stock.

Mr Pham claimed to know nothing about the warranty and wanted a full refund of the money he had saved for months.

But after the police and Case intervened, Mr Pham accepted a $400 refund as he wanted to settle the matter before returning home.

This is just the latest in a series of incidents that has tarred the name of Sim Lim Square, which is often touted as the go-to place for bargain electronics and gadgets.

On Monday, the Singapore Tourism Board announced that a permanent injunction has been granted by the High Court of Singapore against electronics wholesale company Cyber Maestro.

The shop no longer operates at Sim Lim Square, according to the current tenant, who wanted to be known only as Alex.

When asked about Mr Pham's case, Mobile Air's Mr Chew declined to comment, saying that he was not in the shop at the time.

"I'm not going to say any more because I don't want to sully this incident any more," he told The New Paper over the phone.

But netizens have started exacting their own brand of justice on Mr Chew, with many comments on Facebook criticising him and Mobile Air over its treatment of Mr Pham.

A post on the SMRT Ltd (Feedback) Facebook page also revealed his personal details. By 9.50pm, the post had 1,337 likes, 108 shares and 151 comments.

Case received 14 complaints about Mobile Air between July and September this year.

Mobile Air is not the only mobile phone shop to come under scrutiny. Other shops on the first two levels, such as Gadget Terminal and Mobile 22, have been accused of similar trading practices.

Case received nine complaints from customers about Mobile 22 between July and September.

But shop staff were reticent about the way they operate.

At Mobile 22, an employee would say only that business has dipped drastically in recent days after the bad press.

When asked about allegations of overcharging and other dishonest practices, he said quietly: "This is our rice bowl, after all." Even shops on the higher floors of the mall are feeling the heat.

Weekend crowds have stopped streaming into the complex since last year, said Mr Gary Ong, the managing director of computer shop Fuwell International.

"Luckily, we have a regular customer base and some corporate customers. This is why we can still survive. If we didn't have them, we would be in deep trouble."

Infinity Computer's sales manager, Mr Chen Wenxie, agreed, but said there were other factors for the significantly smaller crowds.

"There are so many smart devices in the market today, like iPhones and iPads. All the electronics shops here are affected," he said. Despite the drop in business, both men say they have no plans to leave.

"Those who know their stuff will still come back here to buy what they need. The complaints are mostly about the mobile phone shops on the first two levels," said Mr Chen.

tnp@sph.com.sg

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