Ask most Singaporeans where they would go for a one-stop tech and electronics quick fix and the answer is almost always Sim Lim Square -- for its sheer variety and supposedly lower prices.
However, over the past few years, some of Sim Lim Square's vendors have slowly but surely been making a name for themselves -- becoming notorious for touting and allegedly ripping off both local customers and tourists by over charging or selling them used goods refurbished and passed off as new.
The situation has become so bad and the complaints so many that consumer watchdog CASE last month put up flyers at the lifts the mall naming and shaming the ten vendors with the most complaints lodged against them in a bid to deter them from cheating.
The blacklisted vendors are JW World Pte Ltd (#01-42), Cyber Maestro Pte Ltd (#02-77), Mobile Apps Pte Ltd (#01-50), 3 Plus Mobile LLP (#01-58), S.M.S Gaming LLP (#01-16), One Plus Mobile LLP (#02-61), Elite 3 Mobile Pte Ltd (#01-64), Mobile Apps Pte Ltd (#02-72), Ray Technology (#02-26) and Wee Mobile (#02-61)
They are ranked in order of the number of complaints received, from 10 complaints for JW World to 3 complaints from Wee Mobile.
In 2012, a total of 100 complaints were lodged against Sim Lim vendors, bestowing them with the dubious honor of being the most notorious shop owners in Singapore.
Yahoo! understands that the number of complaints lodged with CASE are only the tip of the iceberg - many customers do not report getting cheated because they don't think they can get redress while some remain unaware they were even ripped off in the first place.
'Named and shamed' rogue vendors
"It is meant for consumers' information when they shop at Sim Lim Square and for traders to improve their services and resolve their disputes with consumers," said Mr Seah Seng Choon, Executive Director for CASE.
According to CASE, the top three types of complaints received from angry customers are cheating sales tactics by salesmen, misrepresentation of products, and overcharging respectively.
'They pressured me into buying a camera I didn't want'
British tourist Shane Michael, 36, was a victim of one of the ten shops. He had decided to buy a camera at Sim Lim after reading online that it had the best IT bargains in Singapore.
He said he felt a bit worried at how rowdy the shopping centre was - everywhere he went, salesmen would call out to him telling him, saying "best deal best price, just for you".
He eventually decided to buy a Canon camera with a recommended retail price of $599 from a salesman who quoted him $520 with a few freebies thrown in.
"The price was not that much cheaper, so I thought it was a good deal but not a fantastic one. I didn't even bargain," said Michael.
However, the Canon camera never turned up. Instead, the salesmen started to cross-sell a Nikon camera to him, extolling its virtues and how much more value for money it was than the Canon one. The salesman was soon joined by three other colleagues, who stood around Michael and kept pressuring him into buying it, which he eventually did, in the end.
"They were very persuasive, and I was so stressed I was perspiring. I just wanted to get out of there," said Michael.
So he paid and left, only to find out that night that he had been sold a refurbished second hand Nikon different from the one he was showed - and possibly swopped between counter to cashier.
"I'm never going back there again, I've told all my friends. They are unethical cheats and touts and the supposedly lower prices are definitely not worth the terrible service and experience."
Locals enjoy no immunity from these rogue vendors, either.
"I was offered a PSP at a price about $40 lower than in outside shops, with a lot of extras thrown in," said National Serviceman David Teo, 19.
"After I paid the agreed price, they refused to give me the PSP and instead said I needed to pay this sales tax, and all kinds of additional charges. In the end, I paid almost $100 above the recommended sale price for my PSP and some lousy games and a screen protector."
Rogue vendors: We don't care
Far from deterring these rogue vendors from cheating customers, however, these lists have simply enraged them and made them even more aggressive.
According to CASE, someone has been taking the lists down every time they are put up.
"We have been informed that the list has been removed from the mall’s lift lobbies by unauthorized persons a few times and, each time, the Sim Lim Management replaced it immediately," said CASE's Mr Seah.
Other shops simply changed their signs so that their actual store names would not be visible (see photo above), replacing the names with logos of well known electronics brands like Samsung, Nokia and LG.
"They put one list (sic), anyhow say we are cheats, so of course we fight back. I have been doing business here for over ten years, not so easy to get rid of me," said one vendor who runs a shop selling second-hand mobile phones.
When Yahoo! Singapore went to Sim Lim Square and approached several of the vendors last week, vulgarities and threats were hurled.
"I warn you first, you better siam (get lost)," said one male salesman in his 40s when we asked him why his shop was on the blacklist.
Several vendors approached us menacingly and gestured with rude signs when we attempted to take photos of their shop fronts, while the more civil ones denied that they were on the blacklist and there had been an 'error'.
Owners of other shops told Yahoo! S'pore that the list would not be very effective against the black sheep of Sim Lim, who are used to being tackled by authorities.
"They just pay $20, $30 and change the name of their business to something else, and then make a new sign. No one will know. Every day so many tourists come and go, they will continue to cheat. Business is too good for them to stop," said the owner of a computer shop on the second floor who only wanted to be known as John, 34.
He had previously written in to the authorities to complain about Sim Lim's rogue vendors and subsequently received threats.
"I have lots of regulars, more regulars than walk-ins so I can tell you honestly - if you're looking for a new camera or computer, wait for an IT fair, or just go to Funan. Sim Lim is a dangerous place."
Have you been cheated by a vendor at Sim Lim Square before? Share with us your experience!
Scams at Sim Lim: How to shop smart
-Additional reporting by Justin Ong