Apple, I wanted you to take my money…


2016 is supposed to be a year for me to upgrade my iPhone and MacBook, but sadly this is not happening. I am still keeping my 2 years old iPhone 6 and my 3 years old MacBook. Dear Apple, what happen this year? I am a Apple fan no doubt but Apple is truly uninspiring this year.

First the iPhone 7…

I am a very satisfied user of the iOS. Having both an iPhone 6 and an Android Xperia Z5 premium, I have constantly rate my iPhone as a better performer in many aspects; LTE connectivity, Wifi connectivity, emails, calendar, camera, music and many more.

Sure iPhone 6s is suppose to be a minor upgrade. Faster Touch ID, 3D Touch, better camera. None of these appeals to me when iPhone 6s comes out. And by the way 3D Touch, it is rather hard to use unless you have a great sense of how much force to apply. I’m a person who just gently tap on the screen, applying force on the screen just seems unnaturally for me. Not to forget it can be a bit tiring too. So no updates for me when it came out and I gingerly awaits another year for iPhone 7 which based on Apple’s release cycle should have a major upgrade over iPhone 6.

Then it happened. iPhone 7 looks almost identical to iPhone 6! The plus version has a dual lens telescopic camera. Cool but what else. Beside faster this and better that, there is absolutely nothing I find enticing enough for me to buy an iPhone 7! I just couldn’t part with the money just to get a better camera. New Jet Black colour? It’s just the color. I could just get a jet black casing and slap it onto my iPhone 6 Plus. And no 3.5mm port? I’m sure to lose that tiny lightning to 3.5mm adapter.

Initially I was tempted to buy the new iPhone 7 Plus. I was so close to parting that $1000 plus after watching the iPhone event. Life will be better with the new iPhone, I thought. Alas, it is constantly out of stock and I just couldn’t get it even after waiting a month of it. During this time, I realized how good my iPhone 6 is and came to my senses. Maybe iPhone 8 will be better. So I’m shelving the plan for a new iPhone. After all, the new MacBook Pro is going to be announced soon, I can spend my money on that instead to get a better machine.

Then came the announcement of the new MacBook Pro…

First thing in the morning when I woke up to the news of the new MacBook Pro, I was all hyped up to find out when I could buy it. Yes finally I can get a new gadget for myself this year!

But no. Apple has again made it hard for me to part my money.

Where are my ports?

New MacBook Pro (15 inch model) comes with 4 ultra fast thunderbolt/USB-C port. And surprise! I have zero USB-C devices! I connect my current MacBook to a USB 3 portable HDD for Time Machine and an external display using HDMI. My previous MacBook has no HDMI port and I bought a thunderbolt to HDMI connect. Also, I have invested in a thunderbolt to Ethernet connector. After all, my MacBook is full of thunderbolt port. It will be a worthwhile investment.

The new MacBook Pro will have no HDMI or even the old Thunderbolt port. This means I have to first buy a USB-C to HDMI (I have already bought a Thunderbolt to HDMI) and then buy another USB-C to traditional USB hub. My Thunderbolt to Ethernet and Thunderbolt to HDMI are next to useless for this new MacBook.

The new butterfly keyboard is also what that irks me. Having tried out the keyboard before, I was always so glad that my MacBook Pro keyboard feels so good to type on. This new MacBook Pro comes with second generation of this butterfly keyboard. I don’t think it is just not going to work as well as the keyboard of the current Macbook Pro.

Wait did I mention no Magsafe? The one thing about Macbook that I boast to my friend and the connector that save my Macbook multiple times when someone trips over the power cable. In the new Macbook, it is gone. Is USB-C that important for Apple to remove Magsafe? Is that why Apple Care cost more for the new Macbook?

The price…

The giant touchpad is definitely a plus. And the Touch Bar actually looks sexy and useful. So maybe I can just buy more adapters for this new machine, it may not be so bad after all. So, I went to the online Apple Store and tried to find a comparable machine to my current one.

Close to SGD4000! If I remember correctly, I bought my current laptop of comparable spec at least 200-300 less. With Apple Care and a processor upgrade it costs SGD4700 plus! For my previous MacBook, even with Apple Care I paid at least 500 less. Back in 2013 when I bought it, it was the highest available spec and comes with SSD of 512GB. This set also comes with 512 GB SSD. I was expecting at least 1TB.


The increase in price is a big big turn off. Couple with the fact that I need to buy so many adapters, it just doesn’t make sense any more. My current MacBook will do just fine. In fact it may now worth more given the ports that are available on it. Did I mention it still have a SD card slot?

New MacBook is for early adopter

I have come to the conclusion that this new MacBook is for early adopter who really have the extra money to splurge. After going through the ‘Thunderbolt is the future’ And bought all the thunderbolt adapters, I’m not going to place my bet on ‘USB-C is the future’. I will let others have a go first.

Apple please surprise me next year…

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Is Singapore right to charge Electric Vehicle Fine for Tesla S?

Lately there was a case of a man who imported the first Tesla S into Singapore and was slapped with a $15,000 Electric Vehicle Fine. He wrote an open letter to make a case for his Tesla S and hope to get a refund. In most countries including the US, owner of the same Tesla S model actually gets tax rebate since Tesla S is an electric car which is supposed to be ‘greener’ than their gasoline counterpart.

Different way of computing carbon emission of electric vehicle

The reason from LTA is that they took into account the carbon emission from the power grid which apparently is a first among national regulators. I guess the question should be why are the other regulators not taking into account power grid carbon emission? Electric car consumes electricity, electricity comes from power station and most power station emits carbon dioxide. It is a fairly straight forward association. According to LTA, Mr Nguyen’s used Tesla S has an electrical energy consumption of 444 Wh/km while Tesla’s own energy rating is only at 181 Wh/km. This is quite a huge discrepancy. Are old Tesla car significantly less energy-efficient than a new one? The efficiency dropped almost by 2.5 times!

Assuming that LTA’s calculation is correct, this Tesla S is indeed not a very ‘green’ car. So the fine may be justifiable. Of course, $15,000 may seem a lot to many people. However, this is what car owners in Singapore have been paying all this while for the less energy-efficient car.

“You would not charge someone CO2 emissions for owning an iPhone that they charge at home, would you?”

So if the government decides to implement a similar fine for iPhone or more generally smartphone user, how much would it cost you? Let’s compare the Tesla S with an iPhone 6s Plus.

Tesla S

The Tesla S has battery capacity that ranges from 40 kWh to 90 kWh and can travel 260km to 509km.  Assuming that the owner of the Tesla S drives lightly for about 10km per year on the 40k Wh model, he would have charged his car around  38 times taking in a total energy consumption of 1.52 MWh (40KWh/260km x 10,000km) based on Tesla’s specification. Using LTA’s calculation, the energy consumption will be 4.44 MWh (444 Wh/km x 10,000km)  .

iPhone 6s Plus

I took this model of iPhone for comparison as it has the highest battery capacity among all the other iPhones. The iPhone 6s has a battery capacity of 2750 mAh or 10.45 Wh. Assuming a daily charge, in a year, the total energy consumption of the iPhone will be  around 3.8kWh.

The results

Let’s recap the results in a table:

One year Energy Consumption of Tesla vs iPhone
Tesla S (Spec) Tesla S (LTA) iPhone
1.52 MWh 4.44 MWh 3.8 kWh

Another assumption I have made is that Mr Nguyen’s bought a 10 year COE. So using a 10 year period, the total fine an iPhone 6s Plus user should pay will be:

Fine for ten years of usage
Tesla S iPhone 6s Plus (Spec) iPhone 6s Plus (LTA)
SGD 15,000

 3.8 kWh / 1.52 MWh x 15,000

= SGD 37.50

3.8 kWh / 4.44 MWh x 15,000

=SGD 12.84

Given that our phone usually last us for 2 years before we re-contract, the total amount tax that we should pay will then be:

Fine for two years of usage
iPhone 6s Plus (Spec) iPhone 6s Plus (LTA)
SGD 7.50 SGD 2.57

According to IDA, there are 8,211,400 mobile subscriber in the month of December 2015 (both postpaid and prepaid). A survey by Deloitte’s Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) puts our mobile penetration rate at 90%. In this estimate, I will use only smartphone for calculating the total fine.

The final total yearly fine that the government can collect for charging smartphones will thus add up to be …

~SGD9.5 million to SGD27.7 million

Wow, suddenly the amount seems significant compared to the revenue from ERP which stands at SGD 152 million as of 2014. Hope no one is having new idea on taxing handphone charging! Logistically implementing this taxation may be a nightmare too. Imagine different models having different variants with different battery capacity, some with additional battery pack etc…

So are electric cars really green?

Let’s get back to topic. From the manufacturing of electric car (think about the ginormous  battery they used in electric car, are you sure they are environmentally friendly?) to charging the car from power grid that is powered by non-renewable energy sources, electric car may not be as eco-friendly as we thought.

However, things can improve if more investment is made on renewable energy sources. Our electric vehicle may then be able to be powered by green electricity and our carbon footprint can thus be reduced. Until we reach that stage, I think it is fair for Singapore to charge Electric Vehicle Fine, that is of course if the calculation from LTA is indeed correct.

PS: Don’t just hear from me, hear it from the expert:

**UPDATES: 12 Mar 2016

Tesla has shot back at LTA comparing the Tesla S with a Mercedes S-class. According to their calculation, the Tesla S is around 3 times lower in terms of Co2 emission based on their original factory rating (181 Wh/km).
[Update 27 Oct 2016] Two mode of Tesla cars get their tax break in Singapore. 

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Console War in Singapore

Being an avid gamer myself, the topic of console war is always close to my heart. Before I reveal which camp I belong to, let us take a look at the new dashboard I have created using figures from www.gametrader.sg. Approximately 60,000 game posted on the platform from Jun 2010 to Aug 2015 are visualized in this dashboard.

Some key points to note on launch date of some consoles in Singapore:

  1. Feb 2012: PS Vita launched in Singapore
  2. Jan 2013: Wii U launched in Singapore
  3. Dec 2013: PS4 launched in Singapore
  4. Sep 2014: Xbox launched in Singapore after a year it was launched in US and Europe.

Who is leading the console war? Our 3 charts below can provide some indication:

1. Market Share

Market Share

Based on the number of posts on GameTrader.SG, market shares of PS4 has increased tremendously from 2014 to 2015. It is now at 44% of the combined numbers of posts of PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Xbox One is the tiny portion over at the bar chart for 2015 which account for 2.58%.

A point to note is that PS4 has close to a year head start compared to Xbox One which was release in Sep 2014. Desperate for getting their hand on a next gen-console, gamers may not have the patience to wait a year for Xbox One and have move on with PS4.

2. Price

Price

Price of PS3 and Xbox 360 games have been declining steadily over the years. With the launch of the new PS4 console, we see a greater drop in PS3 game pricing. The average PS3 games also cost about 35% of a PS4 game.

While Xbox 360 game is the lowest among the XBox and Playstation family, Xbox One game remains slight pricer than PS4. Could price be a reason why PS4 popularity is higher? Anyhow, a quick check on Qisahn for the game Watch Dog shows that Xbox One and PS4 price is the same at $39. Perhaps the data could be bias since trading for PS4 game is a lot more than Xbox One.

Nonetheless, it is good to know that game prices are decreasing over the years!

3. No. of Game Titles

Game Titles

 

The number of game titles definitely plays a part in the popularity of a console. Again, we see the number of titles traded on GameTrader.SG for PS4 is about 4 times more than Xbox One. Without a doubt PS4 titles are stronger than Xbox One. However, most big titles Metal Gear Solid V, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Final Fantasy 15 are usually available on both platforms. At least what we can conclude is that more titles are being traded on GameTrader.SG for PS4 compared to Xbox One.

Other findings

If you have time to play with the dashboard, you will be able to find other interesting insights. For example, pre-owned game cost about 35% less than the brand new counter part and average of preowned PS3 game can be as low as $22. Of course, some games are even cheaper depending on the seller.

Have fun with this dashboard! You can try it here.

PS: You should be able to guess which camp I am now 😛

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Salary Data of Graduate in Local Singapore University 2014

Recently, I have several friends who had their commencement/graduation ceremonies at various universities in Singapore. How does a choice of degree affect your employability and salary? Luckily for us, this data is available publicly. After cleaning up the data and some simple preprocessing, I have created an interactive visualization using this dataset. Hope this can be of use to people who is contemplating on which courses to take :)

Some insights:

  1. SMU and NUS students seems to be getting better basic monthly salary than their NTU counterparts.

  2. Business student generally fairs better than Engineering student in terms of mean basic salary. Top salary goes to Law graduates while the last goes to Arts and Social Sciences graduates.

  3. The mean for business student basic starting pay is $3,464 while that of engineering is $3,263. The highest paid business/finance degree is Business Management Cum Laude of SMU at $4,019 while that of engineering is Aerospace Engineering of NTU at $3,715.
    Business / Finance Degree Basic Salary

  4. In terms of employment rate, professions like teachers (Arts with Education), lawyers, pharmacists, accountant have either 100% or very close to 100% employment rate. At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest employment rate is at 66.70% for Psychology graduates and 73.20% for Sociology graduates.

You can try out this dashboard that I have created yourselves! There are many insights that you can derive from this dashboards that I couldn’t cover in this blog. Let me know what insights you have gathered in the comments below!

Lastly, I would like to add that salary and employability should not be all that one focus on when choosing a university degree in my opinion. Choose a course that you like and you will likely do better than one where you have close to zero interest. Have fun playing with the dashboard!

-Jax Xie

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Staying vigilant when buying online

As promised in my previous post, I will be sharing how scammers make use of online marketplace platform to scam unknowing buyers. Most of the content below are derived from my experience in running GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG.

Rise of consumer-to-consumer trading platform

A few years back, Yahoo Auction was arguably the king of online trading platform in Singapore. Even Ebay was not a strong competition to Yahoo Auction at that time. Online classified such as 88db and GumTree were always there too but they never gained critical mass or become super popular. Yahoo Auction Singapore was then shut down in 2008 and the popularity of C2C marketplace declined.

Fast forward to today, there are now many platforms for people to buy and sell their stuff. Amongst them are general trading platforms such as Carousell, Qoo10 and the recent Trezo by SPH. There are also more dedicated ones like SgCarMartGameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG which cater to a specific genre of items.

Of course the most impressive platform is none other than Carousell which raised $6M late last year and have experienced tremendous growth in terms of user base.

Most sellers on these platform are genuine individuals. However, online scams are on the rise and the authorities have even created website to educate the public. You may think that you are an experienced online shopper and you will not fall for such scams. You maybe wrong.

Tell tale signs of a scammer

a) Price of goods is un-un-un-believably cheap

The most easy give-away of a scammer which most people tends to ignore is goods sold at ridiculously cheap price.

Cheap PS4

For example, you saw this ad online on a PS4 that cost only SGD400. A quick google will reveal that a typical PS4 would cost above $500. Furthermore the set is brand new! Sounds too good to be true? Yes it is too good to be true!

Typically the seller will only contact you via email or private message (if it is present in the trading platform) so as to hide his identity. He will ask you to transfer the money to a bank account and promise to deliver the goods to you.

After some time, you realised that the item did not reach you. So you contacted the seller again and he mentioned that the item is stuck at the custom and he would need you to transfer more money to him. And so you did. Soon after you realised that you have been conned, you tried to contact the seller again but there will be no more replies. A police report is your next best option.

How to avoid

To prevent yourself from getting scammed, always checked the market price of the item of interest before committing to any purchase. If the price is way lower than market price, exercise caution. Ask for a meet-up and before making the payment.

b) Seller uses only email to contact you and not via mobile number

The next tell tale sign of a scammer is his mode of contact. Typically, reputable sellers and shops are more than willing to contact you via mobile number since it is the fastest and simplest mode of contact. As such contact numbers are traceable by the police, scammers would prefer to use anonymised mode of contact such as email or any private messaging system on the platform.

If you asked for the contact number and the seller refused to share, it may be best to walk away from the deal.

c) Making payments via Paypal/Alipay or even bank account

Other methods includes payment via facilities such as Paypal and Alipay. A scammer will typically ask you to make top-up to their accounts as mode of payment. Unless you are very sure that the seller is reputable, refrain from doing that.

Transferring money to bank accounts are generally traceable. There have been a few cases where scammers asked buyers to transfer money to a bank account. Turns out that the bank account belongs to companies that have a prepaid wallet system. Some websites such as 65daigou allow their user to transfer money into their bank account as a form of top up for their digital wallet. The credits within the wallet can then be withdrawn by their user or used for purchases. An email is all it takes to create a user account on such sites. So do not think that bank transfer are fully traceable.

Transferring money to foreign banks may be even more difficult for the police to take action. So think twice before sending money overseas.

How to avoid

The best way to avoid such scam is to do cash-on-delivery. Pay in cash only upon seeing the goods. Meeting up the seller is recommended. If you really need to do bank account transfer, you can do a quick google of the bank account number that was passed to you. A private bank account should not appear on any websites.

d) User rating

This is a bit of a no brainer. Of course you would want to deal with someone with a good user rating on the platform. However, you should also be mindful that not all ratings may be genuine. There is nothing to stop a scammer from creating multiple accounts. Use the ratings as a guideline but not as a foolproof way of filtering out scammers.

User rating

Always stay vigilant

I know this article may sounds like a message from the police but I can assure you that I am not working in the police force. Coming from an operator of online marketplace platform, I feel really bad whenever I received emails from the users that they have been scammed on my platform. While we have messages to warn user of potential scammers, some time the system may fail to pick up such individuals. It will still be best for our users to understand how such scammers operate and avoid them.

As we get more accustomed to transacting online, we should always stay alert and be mindful that there will always be scammers out there in the wild. So the next time you buy anything online, check and double check the credential of the seller before you make the purchase.

 

Disclaimer: The writer operates both the GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG platform in Singapore.

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Towards a Smart Nation – Inspiring the young to learn coding

Just for fun, sharing a quick build of Flappy Bird on HTML5 that I have created over a weekend. It is pretty basic and the code is rather simple. You can play it on your Desktop/Laptop or Mobile Phone

HTML5 Flappy Bird

There are actually many HTML5 flappy bird version out there. But this version uses only basic HTML5 so it should be easy to understand. I’ve made this game for fun and hope that I can inspire younger Singaporeans who do not know coding to start learn coding. Coding is not difficult. If anyone of you are interested, just leave a comment, I will passed you the code. Or you can simply view the source from the links given above.

Why learning coding is and will continue to be important

Learning how to code trains the mind to solve problems and will be an essential skills in the future. Even our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has coded his very own Sudoku Solver. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has also translated that code into javascript. To put things to perspective, the recent program that President Obama has written, drew squares on screen. Of course, we are not doing a comparison of whose leaders code better but rather how Singaporeans can take inspiration from our own leaders to start realising the importance of coding.

Improving productivity has always been the cornerstone of Singapore’s labour workforce. And the enabler will have to be technology. Eventually, the winners will be those who can harness and leverage on the almost infinite capability of computers and robots. People who can give better instruction to computers or build better solution with technology will win the game. Think Google which built one of the arguably best search algorithm. Or Netflix, with its strong recommendation engine that keeps you glued to their service.

How to inspire our young to learn coding

Coding is not as difficult as you think

To inspire the young, I believe that we would have to start with a change in the mindset.

Learning coding is not as difficult or geeky as one might imagine

Most codes are not as esoteric as what our PM Lee has written but are based on simple logic. In fact, one of the basic foundation of programming is the simple “IF…ELSE…” statement. “If the bird hits pipe, end the game, else continue with the game.” Simple logic like that can be built into a program and not necessarily complex algorithm that may seem daunting to most beginner. Of course, more complex algorithm can be slowly picked up once the basic foundation is laid.

Learning coding can be fun

Yes! It can be fun! Coding is not like learning how to type which can get boring. Coding is about translating your ideas from your mind to something tangible that you can see and perhaps feel. It requires a creative process to first think about the problem and then the solution. The sense of achievement and euphoria that a programmer can experience can equal that to scoring a straight A’s in your final exam. What’s more, you can share your work with other people and for them to benefit from what you have created!

For starter, I would recommend building something that you would love to build. Don’t follow some online tutorial to work on their sample projects. Think about an idea. It can be a game like my flappy bird, or a fun program like ‘Love Calculator’. Building on such project will make it more enjoyable.

Learning coding helps you understand your school work

A typical Singaporean kids have to handle so many subjects in school. It is easy for them to see ‘programming’ as yet another subject. But for me, it is not. Programming helps to bring in what you have learned in Math, Science and even Art together. Take the example of Flappy Bird. In it, physics and math comes into play. Physics is needed to calculate how the bird will experience ‘gravity’ within the canvas (v=u+at, F=MA etc.). Math is needed to calculate the various co-ordinate to draw the birds and pipes (remember your geometry class?). If you don’t like the bird, you can create your own flappy chicken using your own artistic talent as well! There are many examples of how you can put what you’ve learnt in classes to use in building an app.

Towards a Smart Nation

I am very encouraged by the Government’s push towards a smart nation with emphasis on the need to learn coding. Being an engineer by training, I would love to see more successful engineers in Singapore building top notch app or solution for the world. For that to take roots, let us focus on our young and build a strong foundation for our Smart Nation.

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Price to pay when you put too much trust in e-commerce – My lesson with Olaprice.com

Have you just purchased something from a website call Olaprice? If so, please check your bank statement regularly to make sure that they don’t charge you a $88 Ola Premium membership fee.

“What $88? I have only purchase a $13.40 bluetooth headset and know nothing about this $88 membership.” Or so I thought. You may have unknowingly be mislead into this ‘purchase’. This is what happened to me.

It all started with a Facebook sponsored post regarding a flash deal similar to the one below:

Ola Price Deal...

According to the Facebook page, some of my friends have liked Olaprice. Maybe they have purchased something from the site before. Alright, I think I will buy this item from them. (I have actually purchased a bluetooth headset from the site but couldn’t find the post anymore, so I am using a random power bank example).

Friends maybe victims too.

Clicking on the post will bring you to Olaprice.com. I added the item to my cart and checkout.

Next, I did a quick scan of possible telltale signs of a legitimate e-commerce site:

  • Design and appearance seems legitimate for an e-commerce site (big mistake…). 
  • SSL cert checked (the little lock that appears beside the URL marks a secure transaction).
  • Final amount checked.

Alright, seemed ok to enter my credit card number. Given no other payment options such as Paypal, I entered my credit card number into the form without much doubt.

SSL Cert Check

To my horror, when I was checking my credit card bill a few weeks later, I found a charge of $88 from a merchant called OLA P.

Secret $88 charge

I called up OCBC immediately and found out that it was a charge from a miscellaneous merchant. Remembering my purchase from weeks ago, I thought something is amiss with my previous purchase from Olaprice.com.

A quick google returned a hardwarezone discussion on an alleged scam and also this Facebook page on Streetdeal (somehow related to Olaprice I guess). I went back to the site and try to go through the purchase flow to see what I have missed out. This is what I saw:

Hidden $88

There is indeed a little checkbox which is checked by default regarding a quarterly charge for Premium membership! And the best part is the charge is not included in the total price! This is a very misleading for the consumer!

I quickly file a dispute with Olaprice through OCBC and was advised to terminate this card. The bank will issue another card with different number to prevent this rogue merchant from charging me again. Despite the inconvenience, I relented as I would not want Olaprice to be charging me again without my knowledge.

Some of you may wonder, isn’t there an OTP (one-time-password) send to your phone for credit card transaction? The answer is yes, only if the merchant turn it on as well. So apparently, Olaprice did not turn on the OTP feature of credit card for obvious reason.

Lessons learnt from this incident:

  • Never give your credit card details readily to any site. Use facility such as Paypal if possible
  • Not all E-commerce site is reputable. Check and double check. Never look just at the appearance. Even if your friend like their page, it may not be legit. They themselves could be victims.
  • Always check your credit card statement every month.

Till today, I have yet to receive the bluetooth headset. Olaprice have yet to give me a reply on the refund.

Where is my bluetooth headset
Where is my bluetooth headset?
Are you also a victim? Share this article with your friends so that others will not fall for this scam again.

In the next post, I will share with you other scams on the internet.

 **UPDATE JULY 2015**

Finally after close to 2 months, I have gotten my refund from Olaprice. If you are a victim too, please raise a fraud case to your bank quickly. You may be able to get your money back. By the way, my earphone came but is now broken after a month of use. 

  

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