S’poreans claim being scammed by vending machines franchise company, police decline to investigate further

S’poreans claim being scammed by vending machines franchise company, police decline to investigate further

At least seven police reports have been made against businessman Raymond Ng for scamming thousands of dollars from his business venture Vendshare’s franchisees, but police said there is “not enough reports” or “evidence” to investigate further.

Mr Ng is a founder of Katalyst Pte Ltd and Candle Consulting Pte Ltd. He also owns Vendshare, a company that aims to enable franchisees to co-own stakes in coffee vending machines across Singapore. Some franchisees claimed that Vendshare is “a brand out of Candle Consulting”.

According to RICE, the company would open bidding for a vending machine location to franchisees – who have been invited to a Whatsapp group chat after attending Mr Ng’s webinars or live presentations – via Whatsapp, with each vending machine lot costing S$3,000.

It was said that franchisees who bid S$500 will be given a priority to choose their lot and location, while a higher priority would be provided to those who bid S$1,000, or they can also pay the full S$3,000 upfront to secure the lot.

Franchisees who won the bid will receive digital contracts and a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) to review, which they are not obligated to sign.

However, RICE reported that franchisees have claimed that Mr Ng had stopped giving updates on the machines they have invested.

Some vending machines were never even installed at the promised locations, whilst franchisees who get their vending machines installed never get any payouts from Vendshare.

A franchisee, only identified as Winston, told RICE that none of them knows the exact number of vending machines that Mr Ng owned physically in Singapore.

“Most recently, Raymond claims he has about 25 machines placed across Singapore. But according to the evidence we have so far, he has collected deposits for at least 43 machines already,” said Winston.

On the non-payment issue, Mr Ng said the company can give no payout given that their contracts do not stipulate that franchisees must be paid.

When they ask for explanations, he would threaten to issue lawsuits for defamation and breach of contract and kick them out of the franchisee Whatsapp group chat.

Winston told RICE that he had made a voice recording of his conversation with Mr Ng on the phone, where Mr Ng said: “You’re in your 20s, a student. I can drag you into a lawsuit for seven years and ruin your employability and life!”

Several franchisees have also made complaints about the company on the Scamsg.com website, saying that they have yet to receive any payout from Mr Ng or Vendshare months, or even years, after they paid the deposits.

“Complete scam. CEO Raymond Ng promised payout to me when I first got in touch with him. I have his emails promising payout of $1500 passive income in 1 month, starting from $500. After more than a year now, I received a grand total of $0.00. This passive income of $0.00 is real,” said an anonymous investor.

“It was promised by them that I would be getting payout after about 1-2 months after starting to pay for my lot. However, after fully paying for my lot in early 2020 (6 months instalments of $500 done), I have not even received any payout now in November 2020. When asked about the machine performance for the months, and other franchisee-related concerns, the CEO Mr Raymond Ng replies nastily and even bans franchisees from the group when he could not/not willing to answer,” said Pauline Goh.

“Raymond, the man behind this scheme continues to organize multiple sales talks to entice people to part with their $3000 per vending machine but once in, franchisees are often surpressed or threatened with lawsuits whenever the question of payout is raised. At the time of writing, I’ve yet to receive a single payout from the vending machine I vested in despite it being in operation for more than 6 months already,” said Leslie Chiang.

Another anonymous user said: “Their office is shut tight and doesn’t seem in operation. Has many offices under same director’s name too. The number on their website http://www.companyregistrationsg.biz/virtual-office-business-address/ is also invalid and not in use. I got cheated by their virtual office package, now trying to get refund through Paypal.”

In a reply to the complaints, Mr Ng pointed out that Vendshare is “not an investment” but a franchise program that requires franchisees to “put in effort”, reiterating that the company has never made “any promises on returns” in the contract.

“Not to mention, that while I understand that there are grievances and sometimes people need an outlet to vent their frustrations and anger, but doing the way they are doing now actually is a breach of their franchisee duties to the franchisor. The damages suffered can even be more than the S$ 3,000 they have so called put up.

“Of course we still wish for an amicable ending to this, but if this is not taken down, it is clearly defamation and also breach of their duties as franchisees,” he said.

In his reply to a user named Pauline, Mr Ng said that the company has no obligation to sell a franchise license.

“As per contract, you enter into contract with your eyes open. If you were to do a franchise business, you run it badly, or you don’t put in effort, you blame the franchisor at the end of the day.

“And btw, as per your franchise license, it is profitable, though it is more of the effort of your franchisor and little on your side. The fact is as franchisee, the level of work you have put in is dismal, practically next to nothing,” he added.

Mr Ng also stated in one of his replies, dated 18 Feb, that he has filed defamation lawsuits against “those people involved” and promised to give an update about the lawsuits on the website, but he never did.

Meanwhile, seven police reports have been made against Mr Ng and his company but it seems that nothing has been done by the police so far.

“The Investigating Officer (IO) told me that they’d already received several reports on Raymond, but he explained that because there were too few reports, the police could not move forward with the investigation,” said a franchisee who is only identified as Peter in RICE’s report.

In fact, they were advised by lawyers not to pursue any claims as the legal cost for an individual to take Mr Ng to court would “far outweigh the money they’d stand to get back”.

Nevertheless, many franchisees would rather not take any legal action or file police reports against Mr Ng because they feel embarrassed or do not want to be judged by others.

RICE highlighted that some of them had actually borrowed money from relatives and loved ones to invest in the vending machines franchise, while others are just worried that being involved in an ongoing legal dispute might affect their chances of getting a job.

Other cases where police take no action after several reports were made

There are other instances where the police received several reports from scam victims but did not take any actions.

Back in 2014, the Singapore Police Force confirmed that police reports were lodged against the now-defunct Mobile Air Pte Ltd, situated at Sim Lim Square, for allegedly unfair and dishonest sales tactics.

It is said that some customers were coerced into buying mobile phones and in-house warranties at inflated prices due to hidden terms and agreement in the sale contract. The customers were given the choice of paying for the grossly inflated mobile phones or pay fees to cancel the deal.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) also revealed that the mobile phone shop received over 25 complaints from the public from August to October 2014.

However, both the police and the CASE did not take any action on the reports and complaints.

They only took action—by detaining five men related to the company and its former owner Jover Chew—after a video of a Vietnamese tourist begging on his knees in tears for the return of his money went viral.

Another case involved a furniture shop named SOS—sometimes called Collective Living, Prestige Modern Space Living, Teak & Co—which had trapped several couples who were eager to furnish and upgrade their living space by cheating them out of tens of thousands of dollars and delivering shoddy work.

In a post on the site in November 2020, Lene noted that the store had overcharged them for their deposit—charging S$5,000 instead of the actual amount of S$1820—but refused to refund the excess. When they requested to cancel the order entirely and get a full refund, they got nowhere.

For over eight months, the couple has yet to be refunded.

Lene noted in her blog that the store became uncontactable after the refund form was filled and that when they went to the store to ask for an update, they were referred to the company’s office.

Oddly, the company doesn’t actually have an office. Lene notes in her post that the furniture store is not a company name that exists. The parent company P+ Capital Pte Ltd, on the other hand, only has a virtual office. However, that virtual office doesn’t handle P+ Capital.

The couple was also given a phone number of Ben who they were told to contact about the issue. However, Ben has blocked their number.

They then filed a police report on the matter as well as a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal which has ordered the furniture store to make a full refund.

Lene had also approached CASE and asked them to list this company’s address as a company alert list, but she was told that there needs to be a lot of complaints against the company before they can put the company up.

Lene asked, “how to, when they can change (their company name) everyday?”

Several of these victims have also made police reports against Ben and the company but to no avail. They also attempted to seek redress in the Small Claims Tribunals.

TOC understands that this Ben person is involved in a few other corporate disputes, and that the person in charge of these stores, Ms Lou Zou Yee, who was listed as the director of the company, has not been called in for questioning by the police.

In fact, it was said that the police are not exactly treating these cases as cheating but merely a “dispute”.

 

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