Beware extra credit-card charges for 'fees and taxes'

Some retailers swipe cards for amounts larger than agreed upon

Unscrupulous retailers may have found a new way to fleece shoppers - by swiping their credit cards for larger amounts than what was agreed upon.

They then refuse to budge, and claim the extra amount is for transaction fees or taxes.

Such tactics are new, according to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), which put an alert out last month urging shoppers to double check the total amount they will be charged before handing their cards over to a retailer.

Last year, 78 consumers approached Case to assist them with such disputes involving electronic products and mobile phones, the first time the association received such complaints. Of these, 73 were tourists.

Mr Roseller Villagracia, 33, was one of the victims.

The Singapore resident agreed to pay $700 for an iPhone 4S at a shop in Lucky Plaza last November. His credit card was swiped and he was given the charge slip to sign.

To his horror, he had been charged $889. The extra amount, the shopkeeper told him, was for taxes.

His credit card, which had not been returned yet, was then swiped again, this time for $498 to unlock the phone.

"The shopkeeper didn't even tell me he was going to swipe my card again," said the Filipino. "I was so angry. I told him I didn't want the phone any more."

But his request for a refund was declined. He caved in and signed both credit-card slips.

"The shopkeeper told me it was too late. The card had been charged," said the accountant, who received a full refund in January this year after taking the matter to the Small Claims Tribunals.

Meanwhile, Case has written to the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) to alert them to the issue, which is more prevalent among tourists buying electronics and mobile phones here.

Most of the cases involved shops in Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square, which have also attracted a large number of complaints about other dubious business practices in recent years.

The new tactic, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon, takes advantage of the current system which allows cardholders to be charged even if they do not sign the charge slips.

"This should not be the case. Banks should not be approving such transactions as they have not been authorised by the buyer," he said.

When contacted, ABS said that retailers are able to void a transaction immediately. In the instance that a retailer refuses to do so, the consumer may seek redress with their card-issuing banks.

Retailers who spoke to The Straits Times said they check the total amount with customers before charging their cards.

Mrs Katherine Chow, 48, owner of On Tai Ginseng Traditional Medical Hall, said: "No one should be doing this. It spoils the reputation of shops. It's true that even if the customer doesn't sign the charge slip, the amount is debited already... But if it is wrong, the shop can easily void the transaction."

Consumers like Ms Lisabeth Ong, 32, said the current system puts buyers at a disadvantage.

"The shopkeeper can just charge any amount and the transaction just goes through," said the accountant. "Is that fair? The charge should not go through unless I authorise it."

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