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Police helpless against rampant renovation scams

By Terry Xu

The Online Citizen noted in an earlier report that over 13 families were cheated by an interior designer who misrepresented his former employer, took their deposit for renovation work and disappeared with work left half done.

The interior designer would accept the renovation jobs from the families, take the deposit, start the “renovation” work by hacking up the floor, and then disappear, leaving the family with a bare uneven concrete floor which they sometimes have to put up with for months.

Police initially classified these as civil cases and did not record them down. The police then advised the families to seek legal redress.

It was due to the persistence of the cheated families who banded together to go to the police to insist that their cases be filed that the police eventually classified the cases as cheating.

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The police had even put up a notice to advise people to be wary of such scams going around.

However, even with an investigation officer being assigned to the case, there has not been much update to the families. It was left to the families to constantly and pro-actively check back with the police on the progress of their cases.

TOC understands that local workers, hired by the interior designer and to whom the designer owes salary, had brought the designer to the police station. The affected families have also provided the police with more information on how they have been cheated. Nevertheless, the police were still unable to do anything.

The police told TOC that they cannot share any information with third parties, although TOC has been copied in the emails from the affected families.

This is not the only case involving renovation scams. A few months ago, another group of individuals sought the assistance of TOC to highlight their situation, similar to the one above.

But this time round, it was another contractor who allegedly scammed the families.

Police had also initially classified them as civil cases and did not want to classify them as cases of cheating, despite having the same individual involved in the cases. The police eventually took them in as official statements when the families insisted on filing a report.

Similarly, the police had then told TOC that they cannot share information with third parties.

One of the families said that the investigation officer attached to the case seemed very new and was not sure if the police would take their cases seriously.

She shared that she had paid more than S$19,000 for the initial deposit, including advances for materials and subcontractor fees.

The families have since written to their members of Parliament, the Law Minister, the Prime Minister and even the President to seek assistance. None responded to their pleas for help.

To add salt to the wound of victims, the scammers who allegedly cheated both groups are still going around committing their operations.

An old Malay uncle who had join group of families wanted his story to be shared, as there does not seem to be anything that he could do to retrieve his deposit with the contractor.

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Condition of the Malay uncle's kitchen

His floor was hacked by workers of the contractor and left untouched when the contractor became uncontactable.

A few weeks back, TOC was contacted by yet another family facing the same situation, but with a totally different contractor. The family is still liaising with the police to seek assistance on the matter.

All of the cases have sought the assistance of the Small Claims Tribunal and CASE. However, as the contractors either refused to turn up for the hearing or claim that they have no money to pay up, there is nothing that the agencies can do for the families.

The families of the second case shared that they have been told by the police that their cases have been classified as civil proceedings. In order to continue with civil proceedings, they would need at least S$10,000 to S$15,000 to sue the contractor, which most of them do not have since they have already spent their money on renovation.

Even if they were to win the civil case, the contractor may not have the money to compensate the affected families.

While the affected families are more or less resigned to the fact that they cannot retrieve their money through official means or legal suits, they are determined to have the perpetrators of the scams dealt with in accordance with the law and to prevent other Singaporeans from being cheated in the future.

They felt that the contractor is obviously making use of loop holes, knowing that the victims will not sue him for cost reasons. They also claimed that he knows that the breach of agreement and the use of bounced cheques would not lead to a classification of criminal case.

These repeated cases suggest that dishonest individuals can effectively continue to carry out their activities in Singapore, despite the series of doubtful business transactions and complaints filed against them with the authorities.

TOC will continue to keep in touch with the affected families to give update on the progress of investigation by the police.