SINGAPORE - Car importer SG Vehicles and its director were on Thursday (April 18) ordered by the court to stop engaging in unfair trade practices, after Singapore's competition watchdog filed an injunction application against them in December 2017.
The order, which takes effect from Thursday, comes after the importer faced many consumer complaints since 2015 and was blackmarked twice by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
In a statement on Friday, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) said that SG Vehicles did not dispute its investigations of the complaints, which revealed evidence of unfair trade practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA).
Case received a total of 92 complaints against SG Vehicles from January 2015 to November 2017, with the figure rising over the years despite its initial efforts to resolve the complaints through negotiation and mediation.
Consumers claimed that SG Vehicles had misrepresented the terms and conditions of the sale agreement, mainly over the delivery dates of the motor vehicles and the bidding for Certificates of Entitlement (COEs).
In several cases, consumers said that they were required to make additional payments due to a change of circumstances beyond their control.
Case had requested SG Vehicles to sign a voluntary compliance agreement in July 2017, but it had refused to do so.
The agreement is a non-litigious alternative to an injunction application to the court, which allows an errant retailer to agree in writing to stop the unfair practice and possibly offer compensation to affected consumers.
With Thursday's court order, SG Vehicles and its director Juliet Tan Whye Peck are prohibited from the following:
- Engaging in unfair practices under the CPFTA;
- Doing or saying anything or omitting to do or say anything that would lead a consumer to be deceived into believing that the purchase price or COE are fixed or guaranteed;
- Making any false claim to a consumer on the guaranteed delivery date of a motor vehicle;
- And taking advantage of a consumer if it knows or ought reasonably to know that the consumer is not reasonably able to understand the character, nature, language or effect of the transaction or any matter related to the transaction.
The court order also requires SG Vehicles to install a prominent sign outside its shopfront stating the full text of the order for six months from Thursday.
SG Vehicles should also notify CCCS of any changes related to its businesses, including changes to the premises or number of premises they operate, and corporate changes such as the conversion from a firm or company to a limited liability partnership.
It also should also notify CCCS of changes to Ms Tan's employment, directorship and partnerships statuses.
SG Vehicles is, however, not required to cease its business operations.
All its existing sales agreements made with their customers remain valid and legal binding, and must be honoured, CCCS said.
If it fails to do so, affected consumers may contact Case for assistance on 6100-0315 or www.case.org.sg.
Consumers can also take civil action through the Small Claims Tribunal.
In 2017, Case received the highest number of consumer complaints of 2,335 from the motoring industry.
But this figure dropped by 20 per cent to 1,802 last year, with the beauty industry overtaking motoring with the most number of complaints.
There were 1,829 complaints against the beauty industry last year, which was a 31 per cent increase from 2017.
Of the 1,829 complaints, 44 per cent were related to the loss of consumers' prepayments due to abrupt business closures, as well as aggressive sales tactics used on consumers, such as coercing consumers for the payment of services.
CCCS said that it is monitoring the beauty industry closely.
In its statement, it also reminded businesses in the beauty industry that it should not exert undue pressure or influence on a consumer to enter into a transaction, or charge a price that is substantially higher than the estimate earlier provided to the consumer, unless the consumer has expressly agreed to the higher price in advance.
It is also an unfair trade practice to omit disclosing a material fact to a consumer or mislead a consumer on a material fact, such as price.
Businesses should also not demand payment for the supply of unsolicited goods or services.
CCCS added that it is also investigating consumer complaints of other industries, such as e-commerce and food and beverage.
"The majority of retailers in Singapore are legitimate businesses who want to serve their customers well. However, there are a small number of errant retailers who persist in unfair trade practices," it said in the statement.
"CCCS will not hesitate to take action against persistent, errant businesses."
Consumers should also know their rights and be alert to unfair trade practices, CCCS said.
It added that it will continue to raise general awareness of unfair trade practices among businesses and consumers.