The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has flagged a car rental company for a spate of conspicuously similar complaints.
Case said it received six complaints against Ace Drive, a rental company located in Ubi Avenue 3, in the first seven months of this year, and five of them had to do with customers who made payments which the company later said it did not receive.
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said a staff member from the company would claim that she had paid the rental on behalf of the customer so as to secure a car which another party was interested in. She would then ask the customer to pay the amount into her bank account.
Later, Ace would inform the customer that no rental booking had been made, and that the staff concerned had left the country.
"It's an alarming situation," Mr Seah said.
Case said it tried to negotiate for a refund for one customer, but the company denied liability.
Other consumers sought redress at the Small Claims Tribunals, but Ace's management refused to budge.
When contacted by The Straits Times, Ace Drive director Tan Boon Yeong claimed "we didn't know until customers came to us to collect their cars".
He said: "The consumer has a fair share of responsibility here. They made payment to this person's private bank account, outside our premises. What can we do?"
But Mr Chan Hwang, one of the affected customers, said: "We received the tax invoice (for our payment) in their shop and in the presence of the sales manager and other colleagues."
The 35-year-old acoustic engineer booked a Porsche Boxster in March for his wedding in November. He paid $1,146 to an Ace employee named Audrey Teo, who is now uncontactable.
He has made a police report, and has sought legal advice.
"It has dragged on for so long, I've almost given up," he said.
Responding to a spate of complaints on wedding portal singaporebrides.com, Ace Drive claimed that it, too, was "a victim".
Despite that, it was offering affected customers a 50 per cent discount on their next rental "out of our goodwill".
However, Mr Seah of Case said Ace Drive cannot absolve itself of responsibility so easily.
"Even if the consumer paid directly to the ex-employee's account outside shop premises, the company is still liable as the employee was part of the company at that point of time," he said. "The consumers only agreed to rent the car because they believed that the salesperson was an actual employee of the company. The company should not be saying that they are not liable."
Police said they have classified the case as "criminal breach of trust as a servant", and investigations are ongoing.