When 75-year old Madam Susan Koo Moi walked into a Beijing 101 outlet last month, she simply wanted to use a $50 voucher.
Instead, she left the Funan Mall shop $4,000 poorer - the sum being a deposit on $15,600 worth of hair treatments.
Insisting that she was pressured into the deal, Madam Koo told The Straits Times that she has so far been unable to get a refund for the deposit.
She has lodged a police report, complained to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and even gone to the Small Claims Tribunal. But she was told her only recourse was a civil suit, as the value of her contract was above the tribunal's $10,000 limit.
The Straits Times tried to contact Beijing 101 - its management as well as its staff at Funan Mall - but the people it spoke to over the phone said they were not in a position to comment, and did not know whom to refer the media to.
When ST visited Beijing 101's Funan outlet on Wednesday morning, its manager would only say that Madam Koo had signed a contract and that her representatives had called multiple times to ask for a refund. She added that Beijing 101's management was handling the matter.
Later that same day, Madam Koo's family said a representative from the hair treatment firm had called to say it would be willing to offer a complete refund but this involved signing certain documents which would be e-mailed over. No more details were given.
Case had earlier sent a letter on behalf of Madam Koo to Beijing 101, cautioning the company, well known for its use of traditional Chinese medicine to treat hair and scalp problems, that it may have infringed certain sections of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.
These relate to taking advantage of a consumer not in a position to protect his or her own interest, and of exerting undue pressure or influence.
Madam Koo, speaking at her Lakeview Estate condo home in Upper Thomson which she shares with her retiree husband, said she blamed herself.
"I wondered how could I sign so blindly. I'm not that stupid right?" the former office administrator, who has three children in their 50s said in halting English.
She said she went to the Beijing 101 outlet at Funan alone, after calling for an appointment the day before.
She wanted to use a promotional voucher she had been persuaded to buy from a Beijing 101 exhibition booth at Junction 8.
While undergoing the treatment that her voucher entitled her to - she could not remember what exactly it was for - Madam Koo said the consultant who attended to her repeatedly tried to convince her to purchase a treatment package, as it would be cheaper in the long run.
When she finally relented and signed the contract, she said a staff member asked for her ATM card and made a NETS transaction. She was then told to draw more money from an ATM to pay for the package, but could only draw out $2,000 more.
She was not given a receipt, or a copy of the contract, said Madam Koo. She also claimed that she did not know the package she had signed for cost $15,000.
It was only the next day, when she checked her bank account, that she realised she had paid $4,000 in all. After the Hari Raya Haji holiday, Madam Koo visited the outlet with her son and a family friend. Madam Koo said she apologised for "mistakenly" signing up for the package, but staff members did not budge.
Beijing 101 employees told her they would only accede to her request if she provided a doctor's letter stating that she was suffering from dementia, she said.
She eventually received a copy of the contract she signed in late October, after the family friend requested it.
Madam Koo hopes her case would serve as an example to others in a similar situation.
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon told ST he was aware of the case and that the association is working to help her reach a settlement with Beijing 101.
Case runs the CaseTrust accreditation scheme, which nearly 500 spa and wellness companies have signed up to. Under this scheme, firms offer a five-day cooling-off period during which consumers can ask for a full refund. "This allows consumers time to think over the contract," Mr Seah said.
Beijing 101 is not on the list of CaseTrust companies.
This article was first published on Nov 14, 2014.
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