Tourists, don't fall prey to shady shops

Shady mobile-phone stores in Singapore have won themselves dubious honours abroad, even as reports emerge that sales assistants at these shops can earn $20,000 a month in commissions if sales are good.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned travellers from the country about buying mobile phones and electronic products here.

It said on its website on Wednesday that last year, many Chinese tourists were cheated in Singapore when buying gadgets.

Addressing this issue, the ministry reminded Chinese travellers to be on the lookout for stores that have received complaints and avoid making purchases at such shops.

Vietnamese newspapers have also urged people to be wary of the dubious tactics of some shops here, The Straits Times reported yesterday.

This comes after news of errant stores here, such as a mobile-phone shop at Sim Lim Square - Mobile Air - which gave a customer a refund of more than $1,000 in coins last week.

The same shop also scammed a Vietnamese tourist this week, reducing him to tears.

And it can be good business for some shops to cheat customers. On Wednesday, a former employee of one such shop decided to expose the underhand tactics of the likes of his former employer.

"It's very good money," said the man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chen, 26, Lianhe Wanbao reported. "But I didn't want to cheat people any more."

He quit after six months because his conscience was troubling him.

From his experience, selling a mobile phone can net a few hundred dollars in profit.

"The shop could sell a few sets a day and earn thousands a day," Mr Chen said. "I've heard of some assistants earning $10,000 to $20,000 a month," he added.

The targets of such rogue shops? Tourists, maids, foreign workers and senior citizens.

Tourists with luggage are hot favourites because they are often rushing to the airport and are unlikely to return, so they are less hassle for the shops.

Mr Chen said the stores would also frighten maids and foreign workers who made a fuss by warning them that calls to their bosses and agencies would be made to send them back to their home countries, so they could not continue working here.

Senior citizens and "uncles" with young female partners are also easy targets "because their hearing isn't very good, so it's possible to fudge things and dupe them". Those with female partners are unlikely to make a scene if their partners are their mistresses.

Most of the phones sold by these shops are second-hand handsets repackaged to look new, said Mr Chen.

Scam tactics include:

Listing phone prices below market rate.

Not allowing customers to examine goods unless they pay first.

Selling international warranty that is not valid.

Not being upfront about the costs for the "warranty" and tricking customers into thinking that the prices are low.

Selling customers who opt out of the warranty package high-quality counterfeit phones.

Charging high prices for "high-quality, imported" accessories.

Selling "newer" models of a phone at a "discounted" rate.

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