Better protection against errant retailers

Shoppers walking in Orchard Road on June 21, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Changes to consumer laws were introduced in Parliament yesterday to better protect people from errant retailers.

Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Amendment) Bill, errant retailers ordered to close their shops, but who later secretly reopen them under a different name, can be charged with a criminal offence. Such retailers can also be ordered to publicise the fact that they have been told to cease their unfair practices, so that consumers will not be misled.

Another proposed change will give statutory board Spring Singapore powers to investigate and take enforcement action against retailers who persist in their unfair practices.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said it had consulted industry players, including the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and Sim Lim Square Management Committee, on the Bill. It also held a public consultation from May 16 to June 15, which yielded feedback on unfair practices.

The proposed amendments come in the wake of the saga involving mobile phone shop owner Jover Chew, who shot to infamy after overcharging a Vietnamese tourist for a phone. A video of the tourist begging for his money went viral online. Chew and four of his former employees were jailed last year for cheating.

The case prompted calls for stronger consumer protection laws. Currently, business owners can get around the rules by closing their shops and reopening them under a different name.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who is president of Case, welcomed the Bill. But he pointed out that it does not address the issue of companies taking advance payments, then leaving consumers in the lurch when they subsequently cease operations.

He said Case will continue discussions with MTI on how to minimise the risk consumers face.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline Better protection against errant retailers. Subscribe