People's Park Complex: The next rip-off central

SINGAPORE - People's Park Complex is fast becoming the next mall that is associated with errant retailers ripping off consumers.

The number of complaints made against retailers in the strata-titled mall has jumped from 11 in 2006 to 41 last year.

This year's number is set to surpass that of last year, with the Consumers Association of Singapore logging 40 complaints from January to August.

Typically, errant retailers reel in unsuspecting consumers by displaying ultra-low prices for mobile phones.

These customers hand over their cash or credit cards, but are then told that they have to fork out more for warranties or to unlock the phones.

The retailers refuse to hand over the phones until the additional amount is paid.

In contrast, complaints against shops at two other malls - Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square - where many tenants are long associated with such scams, look set to fall this year.

But this trend could be linked to the rising scams at People's Park Complex.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said there is a "merry-go-round" of rogue retailers moving between the three malls.

"Errant business owners are new tenants and formerly from other troublesome malls," said Mr Seah, adding that the tougher stance taken by management in Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square may be pushing these retailers to People's Park Complex.

Case has met People's Park Complex's management committee twice over the past month. The committee is considering putting up blacklists of errant retailers on the mall's premises.

When approached by The Straits Times, staff at two of these shops claimed their bosses were not around.

"I'm new here and I can't talk," said one.

But electrician Lu Hu told of how he was lured by a $736 price tag for a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 at Mobile Sensation on the first floor of the mall.

After browsing, the 25-year-old handed over $780 in cash for the phone, including taxes. When he asked for the phone, the store assistant told him to pay $39.90 to unlock the phone for two years "so that it could be used in Singapore".

Mr Lu agreed and signed an invoice. The storekeeper disappeared and returned later to say the phone had been unlocked and that he had charged a staff's credit card for an additional $1,024. He asked Mr Lu to pay up that amount.

"I was stunned and I asked why it was for so much," said the Chinese national, who added that the shopkeeper then showed him the invoice he had signed.

To his dismay, he realised that the invoice stated in small print that the $39.90 unlocking fee was for each month for two years.

He eventually paid a total of $1,804 for the phone.

The phone is currently retailing at $798 at authorised telecoms shops, a price that includes a warranty.

Such scams are affecting above-board businesses in the mall. Sales, they said, have dropped by up to 30 per cent over the past year.

The shopowners declined to be named as they do not want to risk being harassed by the errant shop owners, but five of them told The Straits Times they have approached the mall's management committee with their concerns.

Several described seeing customers being intimidated by the scammers or crying after being fleeced.

A 27-year-old sales executive at a mobile phone store said: "Customers just look at the phone price and go to these crooks instead. We lose customers as we cannot match their prices."

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