Nine nabbed for HDB renovation scam

Police have arrested nine people from a renovation firm, who are suspected of having passed themselves off as government representatives so as to get business.

The seven men and two women are believed to have entered homes by pretending to be from the Housing Board, town councils and other government agencies.

They would then try to get home owners to agree to renovation or repair works.

In response to queries, the police said they are investigating 90 reports in relation to these suspects. The majority of the cases involved elderly victims.

One such victim, a 62-year-old retiree who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, was alone in his three-room flat in Race Course Road when a contractor came knocking early last year.

The contractor, from Shinden General Contractor, claimed to be from HDB and had an official-looking pass. At the time, the HDB was indeed doing renovation works involving toilets in that block.

"We were waiting for the HDB contractor to come, so we didn't know that person was not from the HDB," said Mr Lim's niece, a 26-year-old housewife who wished to be known as Mrs Tan.

She lives in the same flat with her husband, their two children, her brother and Mr Lim.

The contractor even produced a stack of receipts to show that other residents had already paid for such work. Mr Lim, who speaks mainly Hokkien, was eventually persuaded by the Mandarin-speaking contractor to pay $300 to patch the toilet ceiling.

The patching was carried out, but it was only later that the family realised that this was separate from what HDB was doing.

When they tried to get their money back, the contractor refused. Said Mrs Tan: "It's a big amount to us."

The Straits Times understands that the firm has had many names, including Second Team General Contractor, Teamwork Renovation, Homework General Contractor and - most recently - Upgrading General Contractor.

The suspects were arrested in an operation by officers from Tanglin Police Division on Jan 28.

Receipt books, company passes and mobile phones were seized.

Anyone found guilty of "cheating by personation" - cheating by pretending to be someone they are not - may be jailed for up to five years, fined, or both.

In a joint statement, the police and HDB cautioned the public against bogus contractors, who might use pressure tactics such as claiming that HDB will take action if the work is not done.

Home owners should ask for identification documents if a contractor claims to be appointed by HDB. If in doubt, they can call the HDB Branch service line at 1800-225-5432 to verify a contractor is on official business.

In a post on its My Nice Home website last week, HDB warned of bogus contractors taking advantage of the Chinese New Year season when families may want to spruce up their homes.

One tip is to check what the contractor is wearing. HDB-appointed contractors must wear uniforms with their company name and display their identification card.

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