SINGAPORE – Sim Lim Square retailer Mobile Air and its owner Jover Chew have achieved notoriety overnight for allegedly scamming their customers. The story of how Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai went on his knees to beg for his money back, and how the shop refunded a woman more than $1,000 in coins has set the Internet abuzz.
Most netizens decry Mr Chew's actions, but some netizens also questioned if the authorities could have done more to lick the issue of such scams.
Many have also pointed out that the incident has tarnished Singapore's reputation as a shopping destination.
But not all the comments were negative. Some Vietnamese lauded Singaporeans for coming to the aid of tourist Pham Van Thoai.
The Internet vs Mobile Air
His photos and personal details have been exposed online; his actions, and even his figure have been derided. Here are some comments about Mobile Air and Jover Chew:
#MobileAir you reap what you sow!
— Maurice A. Phillips. (@MoorTalk46) November 5, 2014
If #MobileAir Jover Chew is to go Jiak Hong in Vietnam, I bet he'll get arrested & sent to crawl the 121km long Củ Chi Tunnels as punishment
— Jack Chee (@jackchee11) November 5, 2014
"Tarnish the country's image. Feeling like giving him two tight slaps across the face," Homingming said on citizen journalism site, Stomp
Funnyleh wrote on Stomp: "Everyone buy 1 lock everyday lock his house gate and wait for police come open lock can already. If locksmith come charge him $10,000."
Singapore's reputation tarnished
Many were worried about the damage to Singapore's reputation as a tourist destination:
Commenting on The Straits Times' website, Audi Khalid wrote: "Congratulations, Mobile Air, for bringing Singapore's international consumer trust levels to even lower than that of China."
Stomper runtime88 wrote: "I hope the authorities will step in to prevent more victims at Sim Lim. My suggestions is that not only should they post their shop name in the blacklisting.... they should also put the unit number in case the name has been changed. And likewise... ACRA should not allowed the owner of the shop to change their name more then ONCE in a year else doesn't it make sense that there might be fraudulent transactions going on? I think let's step up to make our country reputation not tarnished by all these bastards. SG50 coming.... let's make it better!"
"Now that China (who has millions of potential tourists to Singapore) has alerted their citizens to these recent episodes at Sim Lim Square, I am sure the relevant Singapore tourism authorities will now kicked awake to take some action. It seems to me that Singapore has been remiss in nipping the problem in the bud," Tay Soon Nam remarked on The Straits TImes website.
But it wasn't all vitriol - people lauded those who raised money for Mr Pham:
"I'm a Vietnamese and thank you for your action to help our people. (heart icon) Singapore," a July Pham commented on Facebook.
"Thanks for helping him to get back the Justice," Nguyen Ngoc Ha wrote on Facebook.
Angler Zul also wrote on Facebook saying: "A Salute to Singaporean's who had done their parts to help our friend in needs."
There were also the sceptics who questioned the fundraising efforts of Mr Gabriel Kang, who started a donation drive on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to help Mr Pham:
Thao Luong wrote on Facebook: "As a Vietnamese, I dont like the idea of raising money for this guy. There's nothing wrong with his behavior because he was scared and didn't know how to handle this situation. He worked hard and he had the right to enjoy and buy luxury thing. However, i think the right way is putting pressure on the owner, making him pay back in the right way and learning a lesson never ever cheating, or robbing again."
Ngoc Ân questioned: "Come on guys. What's wrong with you people.. He looked expensive and well off... why donate to him... there are millions of people can't afford to buy food or make ends meet... and you guys donate to this show off person to his girlfriend... while other can't put a meal on the table... let think for a second... he can afford holidays and IPhone 6... come on..."
And even the occasional person asking "what's the big deal?"
M Wen Bin wrote on Facebook: "To be honest... I'm Not siding w our local hp sellers, I despise them too but every country has these kinda ppl. China is a very good place on the same street , a person can mark up a sell a luggage tag for sgd$40 whereas walking down you can find one for $1.50 and my mum's friend angrily went back demanding a refund but owner said never see her before lol"
We were victims too
A few netizens even came forward with their own stories:
Rith Noreak wrote on The Straits Times' website, "I'm from Cambodia, lost S$250 in first floor of Sim Lim in exactly the same of this case. Shame On Singapore for still letting this to happen."
Reader PerformanceCycles Sin remarked: "To avoid cheated, don't visit Sim Lim Square as it is not worth it for a little saving. I was cheated 20+ years back and the history said it all. I believe there are more untold stories and cheating cases that are not reveal. Since than never visit Sim Lim Square."
Writing on The Straits Times's website, Rosa Young said the problem of scamming tourist is not confined to Sim Lim Square. She said: "It's not only at Sim Lim, lucky plaza shop is also the same model of scammers. I have experienced helping my friend, Indonesian, who has been cheated the same way, about warranty when he wanted to buy Ipad. We fought with the shop owners and got the full refund, they insisted him to buy accessories to compensate. What a shame !"
Look on the bright side
Finally, there were people who found a silver lining in all of this.
— Nizam (@nizamsg) November 6, 2014
Allan Connall Tham wrote on Facebook: "The world, humanity.... good or bad. Everyone serves their karma back. appreciate life but not adding salt to the wound. Not all 'humans' are like that. People cheat, scam etc etc throughout the world. In viet either. I travel alot to Ho chi minh city and I know. So please... understand. make love no war. dont curse a swear and just Let god do the rest. peace."