Mailbox: No help for S'poreans short-changed abroad

My family booked a Europe tour that was to depart from London in July via a London-based agency, and placed a 50 per cent deposit.

After we bought our flight tickets, we were told the tour was to be cancelled and were promised a refund.

However, to date, only a fraction of the deposit has been returned. We are still owed a few thousand dollars.

The tour operator stopped replying to our e-mail and calls, so I contacted the British Consumers Association but was told it dealt only with local clients. I was referred to the European Consumer Watchdog, but it assisted in cases only within Europe.

I called the Action Fraud department of the British police, which handles scams, but was told the matter was contractual. They refused to investigate.

The British High Commission in Singapore said it deals only with visa application matters.

The Ministry of Law in Singapore referred me to the Small Claims Tribunals, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Police Feedback Unit.

The tribunals said they did not deal with cases outside Singapore, while Case said it did not have a memorandum of understanding with Britain and could not act.

The Police Feedback Unit advised me to make a police report, but suggested it might not act on the case as it was "non-criminal".

They suggested that I take up a private legal suit against the culprit, but it did not make sense for me to spend thousands of dollars on legal proceedings over a few thousand dollars.

To maintain its international image, Singapore has been very helpful to foreigners and tourists who were short-changed here.

However, it does little to protect its citizens against fraudulent practices elsewhere.

This is worrisome as Singaporeans go abroad more often now, and travel insurance policies do not cover agency defaults.

Jimmy Ho Kwok Hoong

This article was published on Sept 8 in The Straits Times.

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