iPhone 6 incident at Sim Lim Square goes viral in Vietnam, makes international headlines

The Straits Times found at least 10 Vietnamese news sites, including the websites of prominant newspapers like Thanh Nien News (above), and Tuoi Tre, reporting on the plight of Mr Pham Van Thoai. -- SCREENGRAB: THANHNIEN.COM.VN
The Straits Times found at least 10 Vietnamese news sites, including the websites of prominant newspapers like Thanh Nien News (above), and Tuoi Tre, reporting on the plight of Mr Pham Van Thoai. -- SCREENGRAB: THANHNIEN.COM.VN

SINGAPORE - The story of a Vietnamese tourist who was allegedly scammed in Singapore while buying an iPhone 6 has made international headlines and gone viral in Vietnam.

The Straits Times found at least 10 Vietnamese news sites, including the websites of prominant newspapers like Thanh Nien News, and Tuoi Tre, reporting on the plight of Mr Pham Van Thoai.

Mr Pham had gone to Mobile Air in Sim Lim Square to buy his girlfriend an iPhone 6 on Monday. After paying S$950 for the phone, he unknowingly signed an agreement to pay the shop an additional $1,500 for a one-year warranty for it. In a video, he was seen crying and begging on his knees for a full refund of the phone.

He eventually got back $400, but was still short of $550 - more than two months' salary for the factory worker.

Many have since stepped forward to offer assistance to Mr Pham. Singaporean entrepreneur Gabriel Kang started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for Mr Pham, which has raised close to US$12,000 (S$15,000).

While most stories in the Vietnamese media were critical of the shady business practices of the mobile phone shop at Sim Lim Square, many also highlighted the efforts by Singaporeans to help Mr Pham.

A piece in Thanh Nien News even compared the reactions of Singaporeans and Vietnamese towards the incident, and asked readers to stop making fun of their own countryman.

According to the report, some Vietnamese netizens called Mr Pham a coward for tearfully begging for his money back. Netizens there were apparently also laughing at him for wanting to buy an iPhone on his meagre salary.

An article on ngoisao.net quoted another Vietnamese tourist who was allegedly conned when buying an iPad for his girlfriend at Sim Lim Square.

Major news websites from Britain, Australia and China also reported on the incident, with most carrying a version from the wire agency Agence France-Presse.

The BBC, with its own report, said that "Singapore has been gripped by the plight of a holidaying Vietnamese factory worker scammed of two months' wages when trying to buy an iPhone 6."

AFP reported that "the incident has touched a raw nerve in wealthy, tech-savvy Singapore, which depends heavily on tourism revenues", and also wrote extensively about Singaporeans' fundraising efforts to help Mr Pham.

chuimin@sph.com.sg