$18 massage becomes $40,000 package: Elderly woman claims she was misled by Chinatown wellness centre

Wang claims she was misled by a wellness centre in Chinatown to pay $40,000 for various packages.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

Thinking she had gotten a good deal, an elderly woman agreed to go for an $18 massage, only to end up spending a whopping $40,000 there. 

The 70-year-old woman surnamed Wang told Shin Min Daily News recently that she first visited the wellness centre at People's Park Centre in April this year. 

While shopping at that building, she received a flyer from a staff there promoting a one-hour massage for $18. 

"I checked with her thrice whether it was $18, and she said yes," said the hawker assistant in Mandarin, sharing that she only earns $1,500 a month. 

However, Wang got more than what she bargained for.

She said that she was served by three staff members who gave her a facial, a body massage and a foot massage — services which she claimed she never requested. 

Wang ended up paying $180 for the session with a staff member explaining that it was because multiple people were serving her at once, and they had also used an expensive herbal oil for her massage. 

"But I didn't request for any of these things, and they didn't inform me beforehand," she said. 

Following that, this hawker assistant said the staff members then asked her to sign up for a $2,000 massage package which included 20 sessions.

"They added that they would only charge me $100 instead of $180 for the first session," she added. 

Thinking $2,000 was a reasonable amount, Wang agreed. 

'Breast ducts were blocked'

However, more trouble was to come when the elderly woman returned to the wellness centre for her subsequent sessions.

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"Every time I came for a massage, the masseuse would find a chance to tell me there was something wrong with me. They said my meridians and breast ducts were blocked, and if I didn't clear them I would develop cancer in a few years." 

Rattled by the masseuse's 'advice', Wang forked out $8,000 for a breast care package.

When she returned to the centre in June, the masseuse allegedly claimed Wang has blood circulation issues which could potentially lead to a stroke, convincing her to sign up for a herbal treatment for $12,000.

The following month, they allegedly said her spine was crooked and that she could be paralysed, leading her to pay another $18,000 for a fourth package. 

Within a span of three months, Wang said almost all her hard-earned money was spent on the various packages. 

Wang divulged that the masseuses at the wellness centre had very glib tongues, and would address her endearingly. 

"They're very good with words, and would always talk about how their customers include teachers and lawyers. They're also very good at telling stories." 

The masseuse would also accompany her to withdraw money whenever Wang did not have enough cash on hand. 

Wang said they had initially wanted to charge her $80,000 for one of the packages, but reduced the price to $18,000 after she told them she had no more money. 

Recovered $20,000 

Shortly after signing up for the fourth package, Wang said she felt that something was amiss.

Heeding her friend's advice, she complained to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) last month. 

"After I made the report, the boss called me to resolve the issue. I thought that since I'd already used up more than 20 sessions, I decided to let the matter rest after they refunded me $20,000," said Wang. 

Shin Min also spoke to the person-in-charge of the wellness centre, a man surnamed Gu, who explained that they charged Wang $40,000 because her sessions are lengthy and require more than one staff to attend to her.

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Gu stressed that he has been running his business for more than 20 years and does not charge customers arbitrarily, claiming that he has told his staff not to hard sell packages to customers. 

"I believe [Wang] was satisfied with our services, that's why she kept signing up for packages. We can't force customers to sign packages.

"Sometimes customers feel the pinch after spending money [on the packages], so they report us. It's quite unfair to us." 

Earlier this year, an elderly man also landed himself in a similar predicament where he wound up paying $1,771 for three different packages after visiting a hair salon along Yishun St 71

The 61-year-old told Shin Min then that he only meant to get his hair cut and dyed at the salon. However, the staff managed to convince him to sign up for three packages which included 15 haircuts, 15 hair colouring sessions and 10 scalp treatments. 

claudiatan@asiaone.com