Welcome to Singapore, where the streets are free of touts, prices are the same for everyone, and taxi drivers always use the meter! So is Singapore truly scam-free? I’d have to say the answer is almost, but not quite. Tourists do occasionally get ripped off and nine times out of ten it happens at Sim Lim Square, Singapore's largest IT mall, located between Little India and Bugis. According to the Singapore Tourism Board, 37% of all complaints they receive are from tourists who were ripped-off buying electronics at Sim Lim.
Acting on the false belief that Singapore has extremely low prices on electronics, tourists flock to Sim Lim Square to snatch up the latest cameras and computers but some unscrupulous salespeople take advantage of tourists who assume they’re getting a great deal. While many of Sim Lim’s vendors are reputable, you can defend yourself from the rip-off artists by following these tips:
Before you make a major purchase it’s a smart idea to check the price at other local shops and even in your home country. Prices on new brand-name electronics really don’t vary that much and Singapore is definitely not the cheapest place to shop. I got a much better deal on my DLSR camera in Canada and the warranty is longer!
Special offers, especially during any of the four major annual IT/electronics fairs that coincide with the March, June, September and December school holidays, can also be found on sites like VR Zone ana local online forums/discussion boards like hardwarezone.com.sg. There’s even an iPhone app. All these can help you to be better informed about prices.
Information is power
It’s easy to use the internet to check a product’s suggested retail price and even print out information about what you plan to buy. S$400 may seem like a great price for a digital camera with accessories, but not when you later discover it’s an old model and suggested retail price is now S$300.
Confirm the total price
One of the most common complaints is salespeople who add surprise "unlocking fees" to the bill for phones and video games. These fees are often a scam.
Be wary of fakes
I don’t recall Apple launching an iPhone nano, but I have seen one at Sim Lim Square! Though police raids have made them rare, fakes do exist.
Don’t be charmed
The shops on the first floor are known for specifically targeting tourists. Anyone who shouts at you across the mall about special deals ‘just for you’ probably doesn’t have good intentions.
If you think you’ve been ripped-off buying electronics in Singapore, here’s what you can do:
While the rip-off is happening
You’re at an electronics store and just paid for a new smartphone using your credit card. Then the salesman asks how you’d like to pay for the additional S$300 unlocking fee so you can use it overseas. What should you do?
Call the police. It may sound extreme, but in Singapore it’s normal to get police involved in consumer disputes. If the additional fee is phoney (as they usually are), odds are it will disappear before the cops arrive. Otherwise, the police will take both sides of the story, try to resolve the conflict and assist you with filing a police report if needed.
After you’ve been ripped off
Of course, most people are happy with their purchase until they see the same item being sold everywhere else for a lot less. Here are some actions you could take:
Go back to the store: There’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back, but it might make you feel better to confront them (in a calm, cool manner, of course). Ask the salesman the retail recommended price of the item you purchased, and why you were charged more. At Sim Lim Square, any shop bearing the “STARetailer” logo is obligated to refund you any amount over the recommended price. Visit the Sim Lim Square Information Counter for advice.
File a formal complaint: In cooperation with the Consumers Association of Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) handles consumer rights complaints made by tourists. If you file a formal complaint, they will provide mediation and represent you in small claims court (if it gets to that point). Ensure you keep the receipts and the name-card of the store or salesperson who served you. You can contact the STB by calling 1-800-736-2000.
Report the store on STOMP: Stomp.com.sg is an online “citizen’s newspaper” where people report things like a fruit vendor that sold them a rotten durian or which restaurant had a rude waitress. It won’t help you get your money back, but posting your story and the name of the store will serve as negative publicity and a warning to others.
We repeat, the best way to avoid getting ripped-off is to be an informed consumer. Always know the suggested price for the item you’re interested in buying, even if this means finding a nearby internet café and looking it up.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 15th November, 2014.