Fowl Play: The Curious Case of the Chicken Heaven Vouchers

By Lee Chin Wee (14A01B) 

“Hey bro, could I take just 5 minutes of your time?”

Ordinarily, I would stop for at least a split second – after all, it’s only polite to acknowledge the fact that someone is actively trying to make contact with you.

This, however, was no ordinary situation. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I actually tracked down how many times I had been accosted by a random stranger at the entrance of Junction 8 for “only 5 minutes”, I would have enough time to write a whole Word of Mouth editorial. What’s worse, I know that this guy won’t just ask me to part with some of my spare time.

“Wait, wait. You’re from RI, right? Can I talk to you for one second?”

Classic sleazy salesperson tactic. He stops right in front of me, forcing me to make eye contact so he can feign an air of familiarity more effectively. I find myself pausing almost involuntarily, giving him the perfect opening to begin his rapid-fire spiel.

“Alright, thanks for listening. I’m Alvin, and I’m representing <insert organization here>, in an effort to help <insert gratuitous example of needy group here>. What we’re doing is selling these Chicken Heaven vouchers for $10 each, which would go a long way in helping them <insert benefits which are patently unobtainable for only $10, and provide a painfully unrealistic time frame here>. If you’re still doubtful, you can see my documentation here.”

The guy shoves a dirty-looking clipboard in my face. I barely manage to catch a glimpse of the official-looking documents clipped onto it before he awkwardly jerks the clipboard away. Now, I’m fully aware that the only thing I know is that I have completely no idea where my money will go, or if the person standing in front of me is even a volunteer charity worker. Despite all these warning bells, the irritatingly irrational side of me feels compelled to just hand over the ten bucks and end this awkward confrontation as soon as possible. Before I know it, my wallet is $10 lighter and one Chicken Heaven voucher heavier.

The voucher I was talked into buying

The voucher I was talked into buying

Feeling slightly miffed about the whole affair, I decided to do some research on the train ride home. The first link I discovered was an AsiaOne article, which confirmed my initial suspicions. A lady, who was approached by a similar ‘donation solicitor’, had actually taken photographs of the man’s supposed documentation, and claims that “The documents indicated that the man was a sales promoter who was engaged in the direct selling of food vouchers.” According to the article, these promoters were hired by an events company, which in turn was advertising on behalf of an organization called the Hope and Aspiration Association (HAA). The HAA claims to “promote the emergence and growth of social enterprises”, a far cry from the charity which Alvin insisted they were when trying to sell me the vouchers.

A second article, also on AsiaOne, along with a Stomp! post, revealed that this was not merely a one-off occurrence.  Quoting the Stomp! post, “I realized on the MRT that I was scammed because on the voucher itself, it states that I have bought the voucher for the money.” Say what you may about citizen journalism in Singapore, but a quick check of the voucher I bought revealed that it was indeed true. In bold, grey capital letters, it was stated on the voucher that “THIS IS NOT A CHARITY OR A DONATION PROJECT”.

I was beginning to suspect that my ten dollars could have been put to better use.

I was beginning to suspect that my ten dollars could have been put to better use.

It seems to me that instead of being an honest mistake, this was an intentional, systematic attempt at targeting people who were likely to shell out $10 for these vouchers, with few questions asked. It would certainly explain why many of such promoters congregate at hotspots like Junction 8, where there are numerous schools in the area. By buying the vouchers out of a noble desire to help the less fortunate in society or simply to get ourselves back home faster, we unwittingly incentivize even more direct sellers to flock to these locations. At the end of the day, word travels – if there is profit to be reaped in the Bishan area, there will obviously be more unscrupulous salesmen trying to aggressively market these products.

In asking you to stop purchasing these vouchers and promotional items from street vendors who lack proper accreditation, Raffles Press is in no way discouraging you from donating to charity. We think it’s great that you are willing to set aside ten dollars for a good cause, but those ten dollars could have gone to a responsible and transparent organization instead, like the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund or the Red Cross. As for elderly individuals who may be peddling small items like tissue paper or pens for a profit, that is ultimately your decision to make. In any case, it would be a far better choice than deciding to buy a voucher from someone who claims to represent a charity without showing any proper documentation.

Little surprise then, that only a few weeks later, I happened to bump into Alvin at the exact same spot. This time, however, he was wearing a green shirt and trying to sell me another set of vouchers from a different company.

“Hey bro, could I take just 5 minutes of your time?”

Comments
2 Responses to “Fowl Play: The Curious Case of the Chicken Heaven Vouchers”
  1. Haresh Kope says:

    Sometimes when I have the time, I wait for them to pitch their whole sales speech, ask a few difficult questions, (basically be an asshole) then say sorry and walk off. But those guys seriously deserve it, scamming customers off legit donations.,..

    • c-anna. says:

      I would only give to those doing fund raising for certain recognized organisations i.e. community chest, singapore children society etcetc. but usually i think volunteering would be more practical because it’s for a good cause afterall :) and it reduces the possibility of being the innocent targets of these heartless scammers.

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