Buyer Beware! What to Do If You are a Retail Scam Victim

Last updated on July 24, 2023

Woman looking upset as she looks at her phone.

The resurgence in e-commerce scams is an increasingly problematic phenomenon that Singaporeans must be aware of. Since February 2023, 168 people have lost at least $20,000 in total in such scams involving food items, such as wagyu beef, premium durians, and salmon.

Most notably, Singaporean actor, Charlie Goh who starred in Ah Boys To Men, was scammed of $160 in early 2023 after seeing an advertisement on the Grocery Retail Facebook page for 3kg of salmon, and 1 kg of wagyu beef, only to be blocked by the seller with no sight of his ordered goods. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always the older folks who fall prey to these ruses. Young adults aged 30-39 are also susceptible, with 18.3% of victims in this age group falling prey to this scam type.

In this article, we will cover:

What is a Retail Scam?

A retail scam generally involves an unsuspecting buyer who makes a purchase online through a website, a marketplace platform (i.e., Carousell, Facebook Marketplace), or through a reseller usually for luxury goods like handbags and watches. The “retailer” may request full/partial (deposit) payment, in exchange for certain promises (i.e., prompt delivery after the item’s arrival, etc.), only to become uncontactable after the payment is made. There would also be no actual delivery of the items.

Such scams usually occur via the same pattern. Their approach, while evolving, is always similar in intention and execution. They usually pose as genuine online businesses, and may even use the newest technology to set up “e-commerce sites” that appear real and legitimate. They may even set up their own stores on online marketplaces/social media, and utilise sophisticated designs and themes to aid in their scheme as they attempt to falsely sell the impression that they are a legitimate brand to potential buyers. They are also not afraid to advertise their goods to further prove their “legitimacy”. These scams can happen over various platforms, so it is important to remain vigilant wherever, and whenever, you browse.

But beyond their false façade, they also include offers that are simply too good to be true, even exaggerating the product’s benefits and utilities. Examples include a Carousell listing of a shoe claiming to be authentic and on sale, when it is, in fact, a fake replica, or even medicinal supplements with benefits that are clearly exaggerated and untrue.

Finally, scammers may either deliver a fake/inferior product, or deliver nothing at all, while absconding with the money.

What Avenues of Recourse Do I have If I have been Scammed?

It is important to note that there are no guarantees that you would be able to retrieve money that has been paid or transferred to the retailer. Your chances of success ultimately depend on the individual circumstances of your case which is highly contextual. Hope can be cruel and it is important to manage your expectations realistically.

If you realise that you have fallen prey to a retail scam, it is important to firstly remain composed, and immediately cease any financial transactions and communications with the scammer. Immediate recovery of your funds may not be possible, but if you respond quickly, it should at least stop more money from flowing out of your accounts. To further escalate the matter, you should gather all available material facts and evidence, and present your situation to the relevant parties.

Here are some examples of the avenues you can consider pursuing to remedy the situation:

Contacting the platform’s support team for assistance 

Certain marketplace platforms like Carousell, have support teams in place to assist you if you suspect yourself as a victim of a scam. Do keep records of chats with the seller to submit as evidence when reaching out to the support teams.

Pros Cons
  • Free
  • Able to contact the platform’s support team immediately
  • No guarantee of money retrieval, even with Carousell Protection

Filing a police report 

Filing a police report would mean that you have handed the matter to the criminal justice system. Do provide the seller’s bank account details, and correspondence with the seller to the police.

Pros Cons
  • Free
  • Relatively easy procedure
  • Taking social responsibility to deter the incident from reoccurring
  • No guarantee of money retrieval even if the seller is located and eventually convicted

Filing a Magistrate’s Complaint 

The purpose of filing a Magistrate’s Complaint is to initiate legal proceedings against another party to obtain a civil remedy prescribed. You may begin by visiting here.

If your case is deemed to be suitable, prepare a filing fee of $20, and submit all relevant documents (i.e., identity card, police report, case card, court orders (e.g., a previous court order obtained for the scammer to make compensation which was not complied with), settlement agreements (e.g., a promise of settlement obtained from the scammer which was failed to be kept), evidence, etc.).

Do take note that there is a cap of $60,000 for your claim. If your claim exceeds this amount, your case would be heard in the District Court.

For more information, you may refer to our other article on Magistrate’s Complaints

Pros Cons
  • Relatively cheap and easy online filing procedure
  • Taking social responsibility to deter the incident from reoccurring
  • No guarantee of money retrieval even if the seller is located and eventually convicted
  • Could be costly if you decide to engage a lawyer to assist with the filing of the complaint

Lodging a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE)

CASE’s role is to handle consumer-to-business disputes that happen when a consumer purchases goods/services for personal/domestic use with a Singapore-registered company. Consumers can engage them to negotiate with the businesses, in view of working towards an amicable solution for a small fee ($10.80 to $54).

Do prepare your identification and documents relevant to the dispute (i.e., proof of purchase/receipts/invoices, contracts signed with retailers, and any other supporting documents) and they may handle such a complaint by either helping you draft a letter to the retailer to communicate your concerns and ideal outcome. Afterwards, you have to follow up on the matter yourself, or for CASE Members to be provided with assistance from their Consumer Relations Officer on their behalf, to obtain an agreement. If the matter is still at an impasse, their officer may advise you to seek mediation or escalate it to the Small Claims Tribunals.

To begin, you may head here to submit an online complaint following an easy 4-step procedure.

Pros Cons
Relatively cheap and easy procedure. Limited scope of assistance. They are unable to assist with business-to-business disputes, and claims against overseas companies

Filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) 

The SCT is part of the Singapore Court system and hears low-value disputes between consumers and suppliers, arising from any contract for the sale of goods for up to $20,000 (or $30,000 if both parties agree to increase the claim limit – produce a mutually signed Memorandum of Consent), for a small fee. Following which, they may make orders such as a money order (i.e., A pays B a sum of money by a certain date), or a work order (i.e., A is ordered to restore something that belongs to B, and that was damaged by A, to its former condition).

You can consider going to the SCT if your claim does not exceed this amount, and you would prefer a quicker, more cost-effective, and streamlined process compared to the Magistrate’s Court. You must access the Community Justice and Tribunals System (e-service) to file and manage your case. This is where you take your pre-filing assessment, and submit relevant documents prior to choosing your preferred time to attend court.

Do take note that you must file the claim within 2 years from the date of claim, which is the day the seller has failed to deliver the item. You can refer to our other article on making SCT claims to obtain a more detailed understanding of it.

Pros Cons
  • Generally affordable
  • Easy and convenient
  • No need to engage a lawyer
  • Need the seller’s personal particulars in order to file a claim
  • May not be worth filing a claim if the claim amount is lower than the filing cost

What are Some Practical Steps to Take to Avoid Being Scammed?

Some measures that you can adopt to protect yourself on the web include:

  • Being extra cautious and wary of vendors that offer significant discounts. Research the product’s market price. As per the Singapore Police Force’s advice, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is;
  • Be resistant to pressure, and purported time-sensitive deals due to limited available stocks;
  • Avoid making upfront/advance payments to unknown vendors via bank transfer;
  • Do not click on URL links provided on pop-up advertisements or disclose any personal information;
  • Block unwanted/ suspicious calls and text messages;
  • Report any fraudulent transaction to your bank immediately and check the amount being transferred before approving any transactions;
  • Look for public reviews, but remain skeptical and cautious about their authenticity;
  • Check the National Crime Prevention Council Scam Alert to learn more about the various types of scams and their respective modus operandi
  • Stop and talk to someone you trust before you do anything else if you are suspicious; and
  • Do as much due diligence as possible beforehand before committing to the purchase.

To recap, you should always be cautious and vigilant when treading the web regardless of how safe you think the platform you are on is.

If you suspect yourself to be a victim of a scam on common marketplace platforms, remain calm, and report the incident at first instance on the platform you are on to seek their assistance. If it transpired on independent/ luxury resellers, you may consider lodging a police report immediately.

Taking legal action against any vendors is likely to be the last step after exhausting other avenues of recourse. Do visit our Call A Lawyer service if you require quick advice on your matter. Alternatively, do engage a civil litigation lawyer if you want further legal advice or are considering pursuing legal action.

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  2. Your Consumer Rights in Singapore and How to Get Recourse
  3. Can silence amount to acceptance of a contract?
  4. Unfair Contract Terms Act: UCTA in Singapore
  5. When Can I Void a Contract For Misrepresentation?
  6. Making Lemon Law Claims for Defective Items in Singapore
  7. Hire-Purchase Agreement: Your Rights and Repossession of Goods in Singapore
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