Beware of super online deal from airport shop

Fashion and beauty shops at Changi Airport.
Fashion and beauty shops at Changi Airport. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

It could be an Internet scam; some of the cheats even use the name of a real business

A 26-year-old freelancer thought she found a good deal when she saw an online offer for an iPad Air 2 at just $400, when this can cost about $900 at Apple's online store.

But she ended up forking out a total of $1,000, including payments for various "fees", for a gadget that was never delivered, after falling prey to an online seller who claimed his shop was in Changi Airport.

This was just one of a number of online purchase scams involving electronics stores at Changi Airport. Some sellers claim that their stores are in the airport's transit area, with their inaccessibility making home deliveries of orders necessary. They usually ask for payment upfront, but do not deliver the goods.

Mr Leong Chang Woei, operations manager of electronics retailer Sprint-Cass, estimates that there have been 20 cases of such online scams since last October. Sprint-Cass, which runs six electronics outlets under different names in the airport's public and transit areas, does not sell its goods online.

Cheats show fake IDs to gain victims' trust

A recent bogus site, www.e-gadgetmini.com, used the name of its Terminal 2 shop.

"In April or May, there was a spike (in cases), and we updated our Web page with a notice warning consumers to be alert," said Mr Leong.

  • Online shopping fraud on the rise

  • Online purchase scams have been on the rise, increasing from 846 in the first half of last year to 995 in the same period this year.

    From 2014 to last year, scams involving e-commerce rose as well, by around 30 per cent, with more than 2,100 victims cheated of some $1.76 million in total.

    Victims are often told to pay in advance for an attractively priced item. They are sometimes asked to make further payments for Customs duties, delivery charges and taxes for their purchase - which is never delivered.

    Online crimes have been a concern for the police, with their rise over the past few years pushing up annual crime statistics.

    The Ministry of Home Affairs said earlier the police would fight such crimes through tough enforcement, community partnership and public education.

    In a public education exercise last month, the Marine Parade Neighbourhood Police Centre installed vending machines that offered power banks and charging cables for $1 each - what came out held scam advisories instead.

    Seow Bei Yi

The trend of online purchase scams involving airport shops is part of a rise in online purchase scams in general.

Overall, they increased from 846 cases in the first half of last year to 995 in the same period this year.

Mr Leong said online advertisements linked to his shop started appearing on online marketplace Gumtree last October.

He said the conmen would show consumers "identity cards" and "documents" to back their claims that they were from Sprint-Cass.

"People trust them, and a few actually pay them."

Changi Airport Group said it is aware of such scams and has received feedback from a member of public.

A spokesman said: "We work closely with tenants and the police in investigations and would advise customers to exercise prudence in making purchases online."

In the case of the freelancer, who gave her name only as Hui Xian, the seller claimed his shop was on the second floor of Changi Airport's Terminal 3. He asked her to pay an "insurance and Value-Added Tax fee" totalling $250 on top of the $400 for the iPad Air 2. The $250 was supposedly refundable upon delivery.

She told The Straits Times that she transferred money to the seller, and asked for a receipt and tracking number, but received neither.

She became suspicious when the seller went on to ask for a "yellow card fee"of $150 for delivery and a $200 "clearance fee" for Customs.

She eventually made a police report. His supposed shop in Changi Airport - "Vertu Gadget Store"- did not exist.

She said there are other electronics sellers online claiming to operate from the airport's transit area and one even sent her photos, supposedly of his identity card and passport, to prove his trustworthiness.

A check by The Straits Times showed that the seller does not live at the address on the IC he showed. The unit appears to have been rented out, and his number was "not available" when ST called.

Last week, the seller to whom Hui Xian paid $1,000 challenged her to make a police report, claiming that she lost the money as she had not followed his instructions.

His original post is no longer online.

When ST called the seller's number, it was not in use.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2016, with the headline 'Beware of super online deal from airport shop'. Print Edition | Subscribe