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Luxury handbag seller: I did not pocket $500k in deposits

Ex-stewardess accused of pocketing $500,000 from luxury bag buyers

When she thought she could land an Hermes Birkin bag at a big discount, she jumped at the chance.

Such bags are hard to come by as they are often out of stock and need to be reserved.

The 41-year-old administrator, who wanted to be known only as Jasmine, said her desire to own the bag led to her losing $5,500 to an acquaintance of her sister-in-law.

She had paid the money as deposit for the Birkin bag. After waiting for eight weeks, she neither received the bag nor got her money back.

It turned out that Ms Jasmine was just one of several women who paid thousands of dollars in deposits and never received the designer bags they ordered from former Singapore Airlines stewardess Serene Zhao.

A number of them went online to complain about Miss Zhao, 30, and it is believed that at least four police reports were made.

In Ms Jasmine's case, she went to the Small Claims Tribunal to try to get her money back.

Just how much was involved?

Reports by Lianhe Wanbao suggest Miss Zhao could have taken more than $500,000 from her customers.

In an exclusive e-mail interview with The New Paper yesterday, Miss Zhao said the total sum is bigger than the reported $500,000 and that she had also lost money.

She claimed on her Facebook page that she lost nearly $300,000 of her own money to her supplier.

Miss Zhao told TNP: "Total sum of losses are way more than what was reported on the papers. As much as I am very upset of the mishap involving my own investment too, I have to fully focus on the logic (rather) than emotions."

She said she had gone silent as desperate customers tried to get in touch with her because of threatening messages and stress from online postings.

Some of her customers posted her pictures and personal details online, along with their accusations.

She has had to refer her customers to her lawyer for updates on the case because her supplier had not been able to fulfil her orders, Miss Zhao said.

Her business started last year in partnership with a Singaporean supplier who had contacts in Europe, she told TNP, describing the venture as "testing the waters".

When TNP asked for more details on her supplier, Miss Zhao said her lawyer advised her against it because she was taking legal action against the supplier.

The deals went smoothly at first, she said, and her customers soon spread the word about her online shop.

Miss Zhao added that all deposits collected were transferred fully to the supplier's local bank account to purchase the goods her customers ordered.

But when the demand for her cheap luxury bags grew, she started to experience delays and unfulfilled orders from her supplier, which caused some of her customers to "panic".

She claimed that most of her customers were happy with her services and she denied pocketing the deposits.

However, she acknowledged her customers' losses and said that she is working with her lawyer to address their concerns.

LICENCE EXPIRED

Records from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority show that Miss Zhao's company, Yuniquely, was registered in June last year and its licence expired earlier this month when it was not renewed.

TNP found that apart from upsetting locals, Miss Zhao had also angered at least one overseas buyer.

Mrs Michelle Berk, founder of US-based online luxury bag reseller Privé Porter, posted Miss Zhao's photos on Tumblr in October last year, calling her a "scam artist".

When TNP contacted her, she claimed that Miss Zhao owes her more than $50,000.

"One time she sent me a used bag," she said. "I sent it back. I wish I had kept it, though, because I never got my money back."


Total sum of losses are way more than what was reported on the papers. As much as I am very upset of the mishap involving my own investment too, I have to fully focus on the logic (rather) than emotions.

- Miss Serene Zhao, who claims that she, too, has lost money in the venture

'It's a very expensive lesson'

FRIENDLY: A screenshot of the initial messages between Ms Jasmine and bag seller Serene Zhao. PHOTO: INTERNET

When the administrator told her sister-in-law last July that she was looking to buy an Hermes Birkin bag, the latter set her up with someone she knew.

The sister-in-law had bought a few bags through Miss Serene Zhao without any hiccups.

Miss Zhao told the administrator, who wanted to be known only as Ms Jasmine, she could get the bag for $19,000 - it was priced at $23,000 by other online sellers - but needed $5,500 as deposit first.

Ms Jasmine told The New Paper that their chats were friendly.

She transferred the deposit to Miss Zhao's bank account and got a reply.

"She messaged me and said that she received the money. (Miss Zhao) seemed like she had a procedure and nothing seemed amiss then," Ms Jasmine said.

After eight weeks and repeated messages from Ms Jasmine, Miss Zhao finally replied that she needed more time to "check out the Europe market" and would get back to her at a later date.

After this, Miss Zhao would only respond when Ms Jasmine pestered her for updates.

"Even so, she would reply only after one or two days and gave excuses to delay further," she said.

REPLIED TO 'BUYER'

Ms Jasmine then contacted Miss Zhao using her husband's mobile phone in October last year.

"My husband pretended to be an interested buyer and she replied immediately, asking to meet up. That was when we suspected something was wrong," she said.

Ms Jasmine made a police report and went to the Small Claims Tribunal, but said Miss Zhao did not turn up in court on two occasions.

In her absence, the Tribunal ordered her to pay Ms Jasmine $5,526 as compensation, court documents showed.

Another woman, who wanted to be known only as Ms Cheryl, said she had known Miss Zhao for seven years.

"We used to be very close. She would tell me about her bag reselling business and that her supplier had run away.

"I tried to advise her to return the deposits that she collected, but she claimed she had her ways," said Ms Cheryl, who is in her 30s.

Sometime last year, Miss Zhao claimed that she could sell Ms Cheryl's Hermes Birkin bag for $18,000.

As she trusted her, she passed Miss Zhao the designer bag.

But she never got any money and later found out the bag had been sold. Ms Cheryl said she tracked down the buyer who told her she had paid for it.

"But I never received the $18,000 from (Miss Zhao). There have been no updates from her since then.

"I never expected her to be so shameless. We're talking about thousands of dollars here. She is really too much," she said.

Ms Cheryl, who is currently unemployed, said she is in contact with other women who had been allegedly cheated by Miss Zhao. At least four police reports have been made, reported Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao.

Said Ms Jasmine: "We don't want to spend any more money hiring lawyers for this case. It's just not worth it. We just have to treat this as a very expensive lesson."


My husband pretended to be an interested buyer and she replied immediately, asking to meet up. That was when we suspected something was wrong.

- Ms Jasmine, who said that Miss Serene Zhao often delayed answering her messages.