19 February 2006

Unscrupulous Ways of Doing Business

Over the past few months, I have encountered 3 separate incidents whereby business was conducted in questionable ways. I am not talking about the NKF issue nor the several corporate scandals that happened last year. I would say that the companies involved were downright unscrupulous. Mind you, out of the 3 companies involved, 2 are reputable household names - one of them a well-established foreign bank and the other a large telecommunications service provider. The third has its office in downtown and posh Shaw House, right in the smack of upmarket Orchard Road. However, I have not heard of this company before. Yet all three companies were shady in their dealings with me.

First, this bank which I had signed up 2 credit cards with, sent me a letter in Dec 2005 to say that I did not need to settle my credit card bill for Dec 2005. 'Wah, ho sei liao,' I thought but my happiness was short-lived. When I perused the letter further, I realised that I could only delay payment till Jan 2005:

Not only that, I would not incur late payment charges but the usual interest rates would apply. My alarm bells started ringing immediately. Being a responsible and creditworthy credit card holder, I always settled my credit card bills fully via Giro payment. Why should I incur extra interest charges (at an exorbitant 13% p.a.) when I didn't need the payment holiday? What kind of promotion was that when I had to pay more for credit which I did not need? Since the letter did mention that I had a choice (see word circled in red above), I immediately called up their hotline. I was assured by the staff who answered my call that customers on Giro would not be affected by this promotion, i.e. they would still be billed normally for Dec 2005. Despite having called the hotline to opt out of this 'promotion', I was therefore very surprised to receive a Jan 2005 bill which reflected extra (interest) charges of $37.28:

I immediately called the hotline again to give the bank no peace of mind a piece of my mind. The staff on the other end of the line was unapologetic and only said, 'We are aware of this problem. The error will be rectified in your next bill'.

Indeed in Jan 2005, I received a letter from the bank apologising for the glitch:

However to me, the damage had been done. As they say, 'sorry no cure' (especially when it came so late). In fact, this was not the first time that the bank made an error in its dealing with me - a few months ago, the bank deducted my housing loan payment from my savings account instead of from my CPF account which it had been doing regularly. Luckily I checked and called them immediately to rectify the error. Again, the bank said that it was aware of the problem and it had been corrected even before my call. Was that a case of never admitting one's mistake; sorry is the hardest word; just face-saving or all 3-in-1? Then how about those pre-approved credit cards which the banks sent out to creditworthy customers a few years ago? If you did not opt out, then you were automatically considered as 'in'.

In the second incident, my mobile phone service provider recently sent me a bill which reflected an extra charge of $1 by mTouche:

Although $1 is not a lot of money, if that amount is collected from each subscriber, it would have added up to 1 or 2 million dollars, certainly no small beer by any standard. In any case, it is not the amount of money involved but rather the principle behind it that I am questioning.

This incident was widely reported in the media over the past few days. After several irate subscribers wrote to the press, the 3 main mobile service providers had publicly clarified that mTouche had 'incorrectly charged' for a CNY SMS greeting which was intended to be free. They even went as far to say that 'we are neither involved in nor do we control such content providers' operations and/or marketing strategies.'

Incidentally, I now have an explanation on why that company was called 'mTouche'. 'm' probably stands for 'money'. It is in lowercase since it is only $1. 'Touche' is a 'stylish French-sounding' word for 'touch' - the company wants to touch our money even though it can't have it. Hahaha.

So the 3 mobile phone service providers claimed that they just 'innocently' collected the money for mTouche? Never mind that, they would be still be considered as partners in crime even though the money involved would be refunded to all customers affected. Again this was not the first time that the telecommunications service providers committed such an 'oversight'. A few years ago, subscribers complained that they were being charged for a value-added service which they never asked for in the first place. They were billed just because they had not opted out of the service after the free trial period.

For the last incident, a dubious company sent my wife a letter to say that she won a car:

And you guessed it right - this was also not the first time that she received such a letter either. A few months ago, she 'won' a 42-inch plasma TV. Hey, how come I never win anything? Maybe it's because I am more wary about filling up lucky draw entries and survey forms. Grow up, if we keep on winning such things, we never have to buy anything. Get real, we never win the real lucky draws, only bogus ones like this. In fact, Chris also received such a letter recently. (See his 'I Should Be So Lucky' post.)

I could not help but felt amused by these details stated in the 'terms and conditions' of the letter:

This program is for married or engaged couples if one is not convinced, the partner will do the convincing for us; both must be at age of 30-70 we do have a heart you know and will not con youths and the elderly with combined household income of above net $5,000 per month half of which will henceforth be our profits and having a valid, non-expired major credit card which you are prepared to max out and are Singaporeans or PR, both English speaking (sorry, we don't speak Hokkien). You must arrive with your spouse or partner, without distracting children, friends or relative, and take part in an approximately 120 minutes introductory at the sponsoring company's office or venue. Awards presented at the end of the introductory if you survived all that. Sponsoring company would respectfully request you to switch off your mobile phone during the introduction so that you will not be rudely jolted out of your hypnotic state. Should there be any inconvenience caused, ambulance secretarial service will be provided.

If you believed all that (minus the strikeouts which are my own of course), then you would probably also be gullible enough to believe the company's claim that it 'does not feature timeshare holidays'. (Yes maybe it only specialises in con jobs). We did not respond to the letter since we already got a car. But out of the thousands of mails that this company probably sent out, there would bound to be some gullible and greedy victims who fell for the scam. These people would invariably end up in CASE, with each one fighting their own futile case.

Why do companies have to resort to such underhand tactics to do business? I thought that the economic growth last year has improved to 6.4% and the good business environment should not justify such means? In addition, why is it that whenever such acts are committed by companies, they are always called 'a technical problem' or 'an unintended human error/oversight'? Either that or it's always somebody else's fault and never the companies'. Then, whenever the unethical issue is publicised, an insincere-sounding apology follows and then comes damage control. How many times do these companies want to test our trust, patience and forgiveness before they think that they could be shattered? Come on, if you have made a mistake, be honest about it, admit it, apologise sincerely for it and move on. And very importantly, never repeat the same mistake or a similar one. However, sad to say, this does not seem to be happening anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

omg, your post is just funny!!! i love all the deliberate striking off of words...well done haha.

by the way, i signed up another 2 years w/ singnet after thinking really carefully. this promo that i signed up doesnt hv any carrots, so to say, except a lousy modem. but its 3500kbps @ $47 only and i thought its pretty good lor. afterall with all the freebies like camera or pc, i really don't need. mine are all so new also...i wouldnt wanna pay so much for things i don't need.

2b fair, singnet really didnt give me any major problem (except they didnt call or inform that my contract was expiring and i was SUPER annoyed). other than that...no disconnection prob, no nothing. so i guess, fated! so, r u switching provider for mobile?

Victor said...

Thanks Evan for the very encouraging comments.

Good for you that you recontracted with Singnet. Agree that if you don't need the freebies, then it makes better sense to sign up for a cheaper package. Ya I visited your blog and saw all the wonderful photos you posted for the flower exhibition at Sentosa. The photos were all very clear and well-taken so I know that you already have a very good camera. I know it's more the credit of the photographer rather than the camera but I am just curious as to what camera you are using. A digital SLR?

Incidentally, I also visited the flower exhibition on the last day and took some photos (but mine aren't good enough to post, paiseh). And can you guess who I saw there? It was Uncle Lam whom I haven't met before. Didn't dare to call him because I wasn't very sure as I only saw his (blurry) photos on his blog before. It was only later when I emailed Uncle Lam that I found out it was really him whom I saw at the exhibition. Life is hilarious, isn't it?

Lam Chun See said...

Personally I felt quite sympathetic towards the mTouche people. Obviously they could not have gotten away with it if it was an attempt to con the public. So I accept their explanation. Now that they have apologized publicly and probably going to get fined by IDA, we shd forgive and forget.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes the flowers at Sentosa Flower fest were great. But too bad didn't get to really enjoy the exhibition. By the time the prize giving etc was over already quite late. Anyway, I don't like crowded places. Prefer nature.

Anonymous said...

Re: To lam chun see
save the pity towards mTouche. I have reasons to believe that their apologies are not without flaws and are discussed in this link

notice that MyGlobal Fun registered its domain only on 15th february. So how was mTouche dealing with this "coy"? Telpathy? Go figure:D

Chris Sim said...

Victor, you must understand why the banks are in business in the first place. One of their purposes is to squeeze us people dry. If we roll over our credit cards balances, we're deemed "valued" customers. You got treated like dirt because you, like me, always settle your credit card bills in full. For your info, I've cancelled my credit card with that bank you're gripping now. Service sucks like hell. Can u imagine they charge you a fee if you choose to pay your bills IN PERSON at their branches? They want to encourage their customers to pay via internet or the ATM. Ah Pek and Ah Por how? They think EVERY household got computers and computer-literated, izzit?

BTW Victor, you forgot to mention the SMS you received telling you that you've won money in China (?).

I have yet to get me HP bills. I hope not to see Money Touch (mTouche).

Victor said...

Dear Chris, there is this saying which has some truth in it - banks are people who lend you an umbrella in fine weather but take it away from you when it's raining. It makes me wonder how a bank can come up with such a scheme or rather, why they are so scheming.

Yes I remember the SMS from China that said I won US$8,000 or something like that. Didn't give a hoot about that one too. In any case, you always said my posts are too long and I am always very cheong hei. Guess I'd better just leave that one out.

Anonymous said...

victor, thx for your compliments :p how come u asking the same question as chris did? lol...he also asked what camera i'm using. well mine is canon powershot G3...its a prosumer cam, not like those point & shoot type. there are lots of functions eg. u can choose the shutter speed, aperture n everything. but its not SLR...how i wish it is! just a normal digicam, but probably slightly better than consumer type. got it in 2003 at around $1200, but sadly they discontinue this model. i'm not a good photographer, and i think for ppl like me, who got no skill + lazy + stingy, best is a digicam :p

i wish i can take better photos, such as the one posted on chubbyhubby...u shd look at the composition of his pics, so professional & they look so classy. how i wish i can be like him! of coz lah, he's a journalist. anyway if you're interested, can check out his site :


coolest site i ever seen!

Anonymous said...

The local banks does not fails to amaze me in their quest of more business. Some of them goes against good common sense. Like trying to sell u a unsecure loan @ low interest rate (3.5% leh) when u no need the cash...

telemarketer: Talk up the loan, you may not know when u need the cash!

Me: Huh? I will call you when I need the loan. Tell me why i should pay u interest on somthing i dun need anyway?

telemarketer: but interest is low... you can afford, like SGD 50 for 6 months.

I hang up on him.

Victor said...

Hi anonymous. Btw, are you anonymous1, anonymous2, or both? :) So sorry if I got all of you mixed up. Thanks for all your comments.

Yes, the point of my post is that some of these 'mistakes' may not be genuine or unintentional after all. Looking at the facts, they could be part of a well-planned business survival strategy in a very competitive market environment. But fortunately, nowadays most consumers are well-educated and well-informed. They will not hesitate to boycott the merchants or even cry foul if the situation calls for it.

You may not need the cash, but I believe that the guy who's promoting the loan obviously needs it badly (in terms of commission which he will earn should he sell you the loan successfully).

Lam Chun See said...

Some years ago, I received a letter from a reputable credit card co. addressed to my late father offering him a gold card. The letter basically said this; "Dear Mr Lam, a successful person of your reputation and status blah blah blah ... shd have our gold card.

Trouble is; my father, who was in his 80's, had not worked for 30 years, after being retrenched from the British Naval Base. In fact he was bed-ridden from a stroke, and could not even eat on his own, let alone, 'leave home without it'.

Chris Sim said...

I'm not trying to stir up ill feelings or anything. I still prefer the POSB of yore. That was truly a People's Bank. It never should have been sold.

Anonymous said...


mTouche has received its deserved punishment!

Victor said...

Agree that mTouche deserved it. And just like the NKF saga, there may be more to come - besides suspending mTouche's license for 6 months, IDA is already investigating it for possible fraud and breach of confidentiality by giving out our numbers to a third party.

Evan, when you said chubbyhubby, I thought you were refering to your husband, LOL. Visited his site. I would say that he blends his passion for food with his skills in photography and writing very well indeed. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

The devil who spoil all SMS business in Malaysia is a company called zingmobile. Another Singaporean called mtouche. Shame on the Singaporean. They are the extreme spammer and scammer cheating money in Singapore and Malaysia. The company zingmobile.net change name several times to Parade9 Sdn Bhd and Mega Mobile Solutions Sdn Bhd. Hide themselves in Johor Address: 801-B, Floor 8, City Plaza, Jln Tebrau, Johor Bahru. SMS short code 33303, 36885, 32699. 2 years ago they charges RM10/SMS for subscription service and spam RM200-RM300 per month per victim falling into their trap using misleading advertisement. They ran away from Malaysia after being punished. Recently they are back to cheat users using different company name. Latest scam is they charges RM4/content 3 times a week. They hide the service instruction and pricing information at the bottom of advertisement which is illegal. Jeff Ooi if so smart why not catch this father of all criminal here instead of simply accuse the innocent.