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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

New guide to help you spot dubious companies

Accounting body, Case create online resource amid more complaints against errant firms.
The Straits Times - January 24, 2013
By: Jessica Lim
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New guide to help you spot dubious companies The idea, said Acra chief executive-designate Kenneth Yap, is to help consumers make better and more informed business decisions. -- PHOTO: ACCOUNTING AND CORPORATE REGULATORY AUTHORITY (ACRA)

A NEW online guide is helping consumers identify businesses that could be out to fleece them.

The guide, launched last month, was created by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) and the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) amid the rise in the number of complaints to Case about errant companies.

Last year, Case received 1,422 complaints about companies breaching the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. This was up from 1,260 in 2011.

Many of the complaints were against businesses that did not carry out work or deliver products after payment was made.

The online resource on the Acra and Case websites lists common tactics adopted by dubious businesses. These include unrealistic investment opportunities and offers to resolve business problems.

The guide also encourages consumers to run their own background checks on businesses, using Acra's online services.

Other resources, such as alert watchlists compiled by Case and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), are offered on the site. Consumers are also told how to lodge reports with the relevant authorities.

The idea, said Acra chief executive- designate Kenneth Yap, is to help consumers make better and more informed business decisions.

Yesterday, local gold trading company The Gold Guarantee made the news after its chief executive became uncontactable. The company, which is on MAS' Investor Alert List, offers an investment scheme whereby investors buy gold at a premium and receive monthly payouts, depending on how much clients invest.

Clients can elect for the company to keep possession of the gold and get a higher payout. This, after they buy into the scheme through agents who earn a commission.

Similar complaints are rife in the time-share, spa and home renovation businesses, where pre-payments are made for services and investments. In many cases, consumers struggle to get refunds when the companies shut down.

Those out to cheat, said Mr Seah Seng Choon, Case's executive director, would just open up another company and start collecting money again.

He said: "A background check could have furnished consumers with useful information that could have helped them to avoid becoming victims of fraud."

The new guide came too late for Madam P. Raja Lachimi, who lost her $200 deposit last July, when a painter she had engaged and paid in advance for a $600 job never turned up.

"He said he was going to finish painting that week but then made many excuses. In the end, he agreed to a refund but I never received it," said the 52-year-old housewife.

A subsequent check by Madam Raja Lachimi found that the company was listed by Acra as "cancelled". This indicated that the owner was operating a business without registering it.

"Before this happened, I didn't know that you could check up on companies," Madam Raja Lachimi said. "I thought that because he advertised in the paper, the company should be okay."

limjess@sph.com.sg

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