Man posed as HDB-approved contractor to scam victims for patching works

Wan Ting Koh
Reporter
Yahoo News Singapore file photo

SINGAPORE — Posing as a Housing Development Board (HDB)-approved contractor, a man convinced homeowners to engage his patching services and collected non-refundable deposits from them.

But neither Gary Lau nor his business had been approved by HDB to do contracting works.

When some owners complained about the shoddy patching work, Lau became uncontactable.

On Tuesday (10 December), Lau was jailed six months and fined $2,400 after he pleaded guilty to four counts of cheating, and one count each of causing hurt and harassment to an elderly resident who rejected his services. Another 12 charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for sentencing.

From 2007 to 30 November last year, Lau owned Home Patching Contractor. He later transferred the business to another person before registering a partnership, iHome Patching Contractor, with a person known as Grace Penafiel Mabalay, on 12 March this year.

Between May 2017 and April this year, several police reports were lodged against Lau, alleging that he had cheated homeowners.

Lau would approach homeowners in their flats wearing a lanyard with a self-made company pass bearing his photograph.

He would claim to be an HDB-approved contractor and request to enter their flats for inspection. After entering, he would say that patching works on walls or ceilings were required.

In his attempts to convince homeowners to engage his services, he would show them stacks of invoices of other homeowners who have used his service.

Upon agreement, Lau would collect either a deposit or full payment in cash for the works and issue invoices, which stated that deposits were not refundable.

When some of the homeowners realised that Lau was not an HDB-approved contractor, they tried to get a refund but Lau would cite the terms in the invoices.

At times, Lau would refund a portion of the deposits. Other times, when homeowners complained about his shoddy patching work, Lau would stop responding.

On 10 March, Lau used the modus operandi to approach a 74-year-old homeowner, who let him enter the flat. Lau told the resident that his ceiling required patching at cost of $500. He then collected $200 as a deposit.

As Lau was about to leave the unit, a neighbour approached the victim and told him not to engage Lau’s services as he could be a conman. The victim then asked for the return of his deposit but was rebuffed.

When the victim threatened to call the police, Lau offered a $150 return, and insisted that the leftover $50 was for transport costs. Lau left afterwards.

On 22 March, Lau approached 72-year-old Vernon Low at his flat, but Low noticed that Lau appeared to be hiding his card and asked Lau to leave.

Lau left to approach a nearby unit where 78-year-old Tee Chiong Lam lived. Tee asked Low if HDB was going to perform ceiling works for him. Low suggested that Tee consulted his son.

Lau, who was standing behind Tee, became angry when he heard the exchange. He hurled vulgarities at Low and spat at him through the gate. The spit landed on Low’s cheek.

As Lau tried to leave, Low chased after him. The two reached the ground floor when Lau swung his fist at Low, who fell backwards. Lau assaulted him several more times before leaving.

Low suffered bruises on his right palm from the incident.

Seeking an eight-month jail term and a fine for Lau, Deputy Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok said, “The accused’s actions go beyond that of unscrupulous businessman, the accused is a conman.”

Lau knew he would not be able to gain entry to the victims’ houses if he had not told them the lie that he was HDB-approved.

Solomon Richard, Lau’s lawyer, said that his client was truly remorseful and had refunded as much as he could.

Lau, who is married with a four-year-old child, had come to Singapore to work as a computer programmer and plans to run a legitimate business after he is released from prison, the lawyer added.

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