Four salesmen from a notorious mobile phone shop in Sim Lim Square, who engaged in a conspiracy to cheat customers, were jailed for between four months and 14 months yesterday.
Koh Guan Seng, 38, Kam Kok Keong, 31, Lim Hong Ching, 34, and Kelvin Lim Zhi Wei, 32, were working freelance for Jover Chew Chiew Loon, 33, owner of the now-defunct Mobile Air mobile phone shop, which duped unsuspecting customers of a total of $16,149 between April 15 and October 27 last year.
They would entice customers with attractive pricing, before springing various hidden charges to jack up the product's cost.
Koh, who faced 15 charges of abetment by conspiracy to cheat involving $9,789, got 14 months' jail on six charges. Kam, whose nine charges amounted to $5,860, was jailed for 11 months on four charges.
Lim Hong Ching and Kelvin Lim were sentenced to six and four months' jail respectively.
Mobile Air came under the spotlight when a Vietnamese tourist was caught on video kneeling in the shop and begging for a refund in November last year.
The month before, the shop had been reported as refunding $1,010 to a customer in coins.
Chew's case will be mentioned in two weeks.
The court heard that he manned Mobile Air, and recruited the sales executives and assistants who worked at the shop.
He controlled the pricing of the mobile devices and gave detailed instructions to his salesmen on how to conduct sales.
District Judge Toh Yung Cheong noted that the four were the ones who made the conscious decision to commit the offences.
"In committing the offences, they behaved like thugs rather than sales assistants and they must bear personal responsibility for their conduct,'' he said.
The prosecution had argued that the business model employed by the four constituted a serious violation of corporate integrity.
The victims were mostly foreigners, low-wage and daily-rated workers with limited understanding of the English language, consumer rights and the avenues of seeking recourse.
In passing sentence, Judge Toh said it was important from the outset to make it clear that the four men had admitted to participating in a scam designed to deliberately cause wrongful loss.
They would fraudulently represent to the victim that a cellphone was available at an attractive price when, in fact, they had no intention whatsoever of selling the item at the price quoted initially.
"Instead, the main purpose of quoting the victim an attractive price was to induce them to hand over their hard-earned money and to, thereafter, use various means to try to extract more money from them,'' he said.
He agreed that the factors highlighted by the prosecution showed that there was harm caused to vulnerable victims and wider harm or potential harm to the reputation of Singapore as a tourist and shopping destination, apart from the impact on Singapore's retail industry.
He also agreed that there was an abuse of corporate structures and legitimate documents that made detection and investigation of the scam more difficult.
The accused persons, he said, were counting on this veneer of legitimacy, together with the victim's signature on warranty forms, to cause the police, if they were called, to classify the case as a contractual dispute.
None of the four has made any restitution.
They could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined on each charge.