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Chewing on the Jover Chew case

There was a man called Jover Chew
We hope his kind are far and few
Too many people did he screw
All they can do is rant and rue
The day they met Jover Chew

What did he do, this Jover Chew?
He made people pay more than their due
So why not sue this Jover Chew?
He cannot be found
He’s made no sound
Or he’ll be skewered, ’tis true

Apparently, there’s a whole new lingo for the unsuspecting people who get conned in Sim Lim Square. You’re an “ayam’’ if you got tricked into paying more, for example. (For the blur, “ayam’’ is chicken in Malay). That’s according to TNP, which reported a variety of ways in which unscrupulous retailers and their henchmen extract more than their due, like adding an extra zero to credit card bills, putting prices in code, placing a finger over dubious clauses, extracting an in-house warranty after the consumer has put his signature on a contract, not allowing refunds because the fine print in the contracts say so, and ominously announcing that the place is “monitored’’ by cameras.

I think that as a local, I would try to face down such rogue merchants. But I would be intimidated if I was a foreigner in a strange land and would probably “give in’’ to save any trouble. It seems that these rogues are on the lookout for tourists, especially those intending to leave the country soon. Then no time to complain mah…

All I can say is that Mr Jover Chew comes across as a thug, so much so that even his wife has distanced herself from him, if you believe her. She runs a mobile shop too and she’s now the owner of the infamous Mobile Air that Mr Chew runs. So quick change name liao! When he was interviewed by TNP, Jover Chew painted himself as a victim of sorts, suffering because of demanding and unreasonable customers. The gall!

So what did Mr Chew do to make himself such a pariah?

Besides the fact that his Sim Lim shop chalked up the most number of customer complaints – 25 – to Case between August and October, his claim to fame is paying an unhappy customer more than $1,000 in coins after the Small Claims court directed him to, and making a Vietnamese kneel and beg for a refund (while laughter was heard all round).

He is now a persona non grata and has been incommunicado since news of his shenanigans broke. In fact, besieged by netizens who CSI-ed him, he transferred his number to that of the TNP journalist, who received more than 200 calls on his line yesterday. He’s a real piece of work, he is.

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Netizens are baying for his blood; MPs are asking for tougher laws; the Chinese have sent out an advisory warning its people about buying stuff from Sim Lim Square in Singapore. Sigh. And what is CASE up to? Or even the police? Seems their hands are tied because the thugs didn’t break any law; they just “assaulted our sensibilities’’ as Manpower minister Tan Chuan Jin said in a Facebook post.

You can take them to the Small Claims Tribunal, like the recipient of Mr Chew’s coins did. You can also sue under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, except they will simply close down, wind up and emerge under a different name. Then, they use friends and relatives as shadow directors of the company, while they run the show.

Seems there’s a Voluntary Compliance Scheme that CASE wants the shop to sign, so that it can take action if it breaches any undertaking. The key word is “voluntary’’ no? It’s not something that can be “served’’ on the shop yes? What’s the bet that Mr Chew will sign? In any case, only a grand total of EIGHT shops signed it between March 2004 and December 2013. Five have had injunctions taken out against it. Seems three others are still “okay’’. The CASE position is, what else? Caveat emptor…!

In the meantime, while the law looks on limply at Mr Chew, lawyers are saying that it can be used against the vigilantes who “exposed’’ and harassed the man and his wife. The new Protection From Harrassment Act isn’t in force yet, but such vigilantes can be hauled on charges of being a “public nuisance’’, it seems. After all, his wife has filed a police report which means that the police would be bound to investigate.

It would be ironic – and tragic – if it was Mr Jover Chew who ended up having the last laugh.

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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