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 at electronics mall Sim Lim Square have been in the media spotlight and flamed online over the past week, consumers should take precautions to ensure they do not fall prey to them, Case said.
Said Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case: "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."
Some incidents of overcharging occurred partly because shopkeepers concealed certain figures on receipts with their hands when showing it 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 it in their hands, instead of letting shopkeepers hold it or place it 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 they represent.
They can insist that retailers print the total amount instead of using mathematical formulas so that shopkeepers cannot make claims later that they mean something different. After examining the receipt, cross off all empty spaces so that no further modifications can be made. Get the shopkeeper to sign it to show his agreement with the transacted amount.
Said Mr Seah: "Consumers should exercise their rights to ensure that all the costs are broken down before accepting the transaction. If you do not have the invoice, it is your word against the retailer and it is very difficult for organisations like Case to arbitrate."
If extra costs are charged to credit cards without consumers' authorisation, Case advises them to call their banks immediately to ask for a chargeback to be issued.
According to Kala Anandarajah, the head of competition and anti-trust and trade for law firm Rajah & Tann, the onus falls on the consumer to ensure that he reads a contract, which is binding, in its entirety before signing.
The Singapore Tourism Board, which deals with complaints from tourists, also advised consumers to do what is necessary to protect their interests, such as researching products, checking return policies and coverage of warranties before agreeing to purchases.
Still, some consumers feel that, while taking measures to prevent cheating is important, dishonest practices should be curtailed.
Said engineer Ng Jian Min, 25, who does his research online before he shops at Sim Lim Square: "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 these shops."
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