I think I got ripped off buying my new phone. Either that or I’m waaaay out of touch with gadgets, and a phone really is worth $500 more when it plays Snake in colour. “Gee, welcome back from 1992, Ryan“. Thanks. I have to say, there were fewer scam artists back then:
1. The GST Scam
The store sticks a low price on an item to get your attention. But when you agree to buy, the storekeeper charges an inflated price, then claims it’s “for the GST”.
The “GST” that the store charges is 7%, 10%, or 2,000,000%, depending on whatever the hell the storekeeper feels like. You’re also not warned of the phantom GST – you only find out after you check the bill, and after your credit card’s been swiped.
2. Buy to Get a Discount on “Surplus” Goods
The store is selling iPads or Galaxy Notes for the low, low price of $10, or something else that’s just as shocking. When you ask why, the reason will be “surplus”.
The storekeeper will tell you more pieces arrived than they ordered – if you’ll buy something else from the store (at full price), they’ll sell you the “surplus” good at the ridiculous discount.
Later, you’ll find that the box containing the “surplus” product is empty, or just filled with junk.
3. Pay to “Unlock” the Apps
After you buy a mobile, tablet, etc. the storekeeper might offer you a special service. For a low price of, say, $8 a month, he can “unlock” the apps and allow you to download all of them for free.
Now you might be thinking: Okay, he’s trying to rip me off by jail-breaking my iThingy. But I don’t mind paying $8 for that, I was gonna do it anyway.
But after you get the receipt, you’ll see you were billed $96, not $8. Because the storekeeper “bought” a year’s worth of this “special service” for you.
Again, your card would already have been swiped – so get ready to do a lot of shouting until the cops arrive.
4. Buy a Special Component
There’s no regulated price for retail electronics. If you willingly buy a data cable for $5,000, then no one’s getting arrested for it. But why would you do that, you ask?
In some stores, you’ll see a gadget with an abnormally low price (a standard tactic on this list) but which is missing something important.
Let’s take a Nintendo 3DS, which is a favourite product for this scam.
You’ll be sold the 3DS for around $80, which is crazy cheap (usual price $255). However, the storekeeper will claim you need to buy a “special” component, without which the DS can’t run games. This might be a plain memory card – or even the device charger, if you look gullible enough.
The price of the memory card or charger will be inflated, to around $500. So buy it, and you’ll end up paying $580 for a 3DS.
The same trick is used for other items, like cameras, tablets, laptops, etc.
5. Bait and Switch
Pioneered at Sim Lim Square and Lucky Plaza, this is a sales tactic that’s on the rise.
The storekeeper lures you in with a good price, but then grumbles about what you’re buying. You’ll hear complaints about how it’s breaking all the time, or the product will be recommended with limited enthusiasm.
When you ask why, the storekeeper will “test” the product for you. He may use a faulty product, or hamper its performance in some way (e.g. executing programs on a laptop that’s been configured to run slower)
The storekeeper then recommends a higher priced alternative, which you’ll buy if you believe him.
6. Sign a Letter of Agreement Without Checking
This one is often used on foreigners, or anyone who can’t read English well. But if you’re careless, you’ll fall for it just the same.
The storekeeper first cons you using one of the other methods on this list. But before charging you, he asks you to fill in a “warranty” and sign it. It’s common for the shopkeeper – or his other sales staff – to make small talk with you as you fill in the form. That distracts you from reading it.
That way, you won’t notice that what you’re signing isn’t a warranty – it’s a Letter of Agreement (LoA) to pay the full, inflated charges. It’s kind of hard to fight that in court.
7. Missing Components
This mainly happens with iPhones, because there’s a good market for iPhone cables, ear-phones, etc.
The storekeeper cuts open the box, removes the accessory, and then re-seals it. When you open the box you’ll realise something’s missing. In the meantime, the storekeeper will re-sell the stolen accessory separately.
This is why it’s best to buy products from authorised distributors. Otherwise, insist on opening it and checking it on the spot.
8. False Warranty
Some stores print out official looking warranties, which can be found online. Then with a bit of photoshop work, they have what looks like an official warranty from Samsung, Apple, Acer, etc.
There are a number of reasons for doing this:
- To charge you for an “extended warranty”, which doesn’t actually exist
- To mask the fact that you’re buying stolen goods
- To make second-hand goods appear new
- As a bargaining chip (i.e. I’ll throw in the extended warranty for free)
Another reason to stick to authorised dealers whenever possible.
9. The Real, But Useless, Warranty
Some stores offer warranties that they promise to fulfill themselves. This removes the need for detailed scam work, like Photoshopping the manufacturer’s logo.
Now they just need some wordplay. One common trick is for the warranty to state the buyer is liable for replacement costs, in the event of damaged or missing parts. Which, you might notice, completely defeats the purpose of the warranty.
Others may issue warranties that expired last year, are not valid with the product you’re buying, etc.
Ever been ripped off buying gadgets? Comment below and shame them!
Personal finance tips delivered to your inbox!
Receive news, subscriber-exclusive promotions and guides on how to become smarter with money.
We promise never to spam you!