Sim Lim Square police raid start of crackdown on rogue traders?
The heat has been turned up on the Sim Lim Square shop formerly known as Mobile Air after the police raided it on Sunday.
The shop and its owner, Mr Jover Chew, had become notorious for unfair trade practices, including coercing mobile phone customers to buy in-house warranties at inflated prices.
Mr Chew had apparently sold his business, which reopened last Friday supposedly under the name HJ Mobile, under new management.
But that did not stop police officers from spending several hours there going through documents before carting away four large boxes.
When The New Paper went there yesterday, the shop was closed.
An employee of a shop a few doors away said he saw at least five police officers in civilian clothes entering HJ Mobile on Sunday afternoon.
The middle-aged man, who declined to be named, said: "The shutters were closed but through the transparent glass wall at the side, I could see them looking through several documents.
"They were inside for a very long time - about five hours. When they came out, I saw them taking away four large boxes containing items such as documents, mobile phones and tablets."
When contacted, a police spokesman confirmed that their officers were at Sim Lim Square on Sunday afternoon.
She said they were following up on reports lodged against Mobile Air and that it would be inappropriate for the police to comment further pending ongoing investigations.
A man, who on Friday said he was one of HJ Mobile's partners, was present when the officers showed up.
The man, who gave his name as Mr Ricky Lee, 33, told Chinese language daily Lianhe Wanbao on Sunday that the police investigation involved Mobile Air and had nothing to do with him.
He told TNP on Friday that he had paid Mr Chew "below market price" to take over the lease of the shop and Mobile Air's inventory.
He said he had not had time to put up the HJ Mobile name on the signboard or to register the business with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. The HJ Mobile name was still not up yesterday.
Employees of shops in the mall approached by TNP said they could not remember a police raid taking place there.
Only one, Mr Albert Choo, 56, a sales executive at Software Discount Store on the third storey, said he had witnessed a raid in his 13 years working at Sim Lim Square.
"That took place about seven years ago at a mobile phone shop that I think was selling counterfeit products," he said. "I remember the authorities seizing many things like mobile phones."
GOT AWAY FOR YEARS
Sunday's raid could be the start of a crackdown on unscrupulous retailers in malls like Sim Lim Square and People's Park Complex who have for years got away with unfair practices that were not seen as criminal.
As a lawyer told TNP, while the rogue practices may contravene the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, they are considered civil offences, which means an aggrieved consumer must take up a civil suit against the errant shop.
But things could change soon.
Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck signalled as much yesterday when he said that unfair business practices "cannot be allowed to continue unheeded" and the Government is looking at enhancing laws and strengthening enforcement.
Mr Choo said that such police raids could help keep errant businesses in check to ensure they do not continue scamming innocent customers.
Other sales assistants were not as optimistic.
One of them, who declined to be named, said these businesses would "behave themselves" only for a short while.
"They will return to their 'monkey business' again when the dust settles. Some errant shops here just pretend to close down. They will reopen at the same spot, selling the same goods, with the same staff, but with a different name. I've seen this happen many times."
Whether this remains the case once the law has more teeth to put the fear into these rogue traders remains to be seen.
- Additional reporting by Lee Joon Lei
The shutters were closed but through the transparent glass wall at the side, I could see them looking through several documents.
- An employee of a shop a few doors away from the shop formerly known as Mobile Air, on the police raid
Sign fair practice agreement? No, thanks
CLOSED: Tele Infinity is one of the three blacklisted People’s Park Complex retailers that has shut. ST FILE PHOTO
Three errant retailers at People's Park Complex seem to have closed down after two of them were asked to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) last Friday.
The shops are Tele Infinity, Mobile Alliance and S Team, who have consistently been on the errant retailers list compiled by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Tourism Board for the past year.
Tele Infinity and Mobile Alliance were given a deadline to sign the VCA by this Saturday or possibly face an injunction.
The signboards of all three shops have been removed and "For Rent" posters pasted on the shuttered doors.
The contact number on the posters of all three shops is the same. But no one answered when The New Paper called yesterday evening.
Neighbouring shop owners said the shops had been closed since Saturday and the shop assistants had been clearing stock over the weekend.
Yesterday morning, they were seen to be removing documents, said a shop owner who declined to be named.
The manager of the SingTel exclusive retailer at the mall, who wanted to be known as Mr Lau, believed that this is the first time an errant retailer at People's Park Complex has actually shut down a shop.
He said: "Previously, they would just change their signboards but it would be the same boss.
"Obviously, they won't sign the VCA because of the way that they have been operating their business."
The VCA is aimed at stopping retailers from engaging in unfair practices in line with the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.
Mr Lau was hopeful the errant retailers would not return.
"They might not dare to return here now that they know that action (referring to the Mobile Air incident) will be taken against them," he said.
Another retailer is not as optimistic.
The boss of Cyber 3GS, who wanted to be known only as Steven, said: "This problem has been going on for years. They could just change their signboards again."
His employee, who declined to be named, added: "We run an honest business and struggle to pay the rent. Some of my relatives have even asked if I'm associated with these errant retailers after all the news reports. It's embarrassing."
Errant retailers could be charged under criminal law
Police action in the case of dishonest retailers like Mobile Air is a positive step forward and acts as a strong deterrent, said Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) president Lim Biow Chuan.
He said: "Previously, the police would refer the consumer to Case whenever there was a dispute.
"But I think the police should investigate when there is strong evidence that the retailer has been dishonest. For instance, when there are many complaints against the same retailer."
Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck said in a statement yesterday after meeting the management of Sim Lim Square: "While the police are investigating the case, we are also looking at enhancing our laws, strengthening the enforcement process and continuing with our engagement efforts."
Mr Lim, a partner at law firm Derrick Wong & Lim BC LLP, thinks such errant retailers could possibly be charged under criminal law.
For instance, they can be charged for misappropriation if they retain the goods after payment has been made, or charged for cheating if they ask for extra payment for warranty when the phone already comes with a warranty.
But Mr Lim, who is also MP for Mountbatten, noted that any change in the law would require time and clear guidelines on when the police can take action.
"Not every consumer dispute involves a dishonest retailer.
"Often, when the police arrive at a dispute, it's not a straightforward case. It's the customer's word against the retailer's."
How about targeting the "big boss" of such retailers?
Checks on these retailers reveal that they are often registered under the same person or parties related to him.
This would be a challenge because it requires changes to corporate law, said Mr Lim.
Most retailers are registered under a limited liability entity, which allows the business to operate and function as a separate legal entity.
This means the individual behind the entity cannot be sued in a civil action suit.
While the police are investigating the case, we are also looking at enhancing our laws, strengthening the enforcement process and continuing with our engagement efforts.
- Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck