PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 1999, 12:00am

Three cheers to the brave Malaysian tourist who is trying to fight back at having been overcharged in buying a video camera, by attempting to withhold payment from his credit card (Sunday Morning Post, January 3).

His is one of a large number of cases of such back-handed trade practices at electronic stores in the SAR which put us all to shame, and chase the tourists away. Unfortunately, the consumer rarely wins in such circumstances and shopkeepers know this and take full advantage of it.

As a hotel duty manager, I have dealt with several guests who have returned from a dissatisfied day of shopping. In most cases, they have bought a product only to find it going for half the price in the shop next door. Understandably, there is no law that can protect them. If they are willing to buy from the first shop without checking other shops for prices and to hand over the money without someone first having held a gun to their heads, one cannot necessarily blame the shopkeeper.

However, I have also encountered guests who fell victim to the 'bait and switch' tactic whereby, having already paid for a certain product, they are then told that their product 'cannot be used in their home country', and they need to fork out more money to buy a 'better' model which will suit them. Naturally, the guest tries to back out of the entire transaction, but is told the charge is already processed and no refund is available.

With no choice, the guest buys the pricier model, returns to the hotel, and wants to know how to report the matter to the police.

Our reply? 'Don't bother - the police cannot do anything and will merely refer you to the Consumer Council.' Alas, it is nighttime and the guest is leaving Hong Kong the next day. Even if the guest does report the matter to the Consumer Council, legal proceedings cannot be taken against the shop unless the guest is in Hong Kong, and no guest wants to waste more time and money to try and have a shop closed down.

With this in mind, unscrupulous shopkeepers freely abandon all dignity and freely issue verbal abuse and threats against our visitors. We have even read of the case of the shopkeeper who literally attacked a shopper when she tried to back out of a transaction.

I once accompanied one of our guests back to the shop where he had been 'baited'. I asked him to point out the camera he had 'bought' before being told it wouldn't work: He looked all around the shop but couldn't find it.

I asked him to find the staff member who had dealt with him, but, of the seven staff squeezed into this modest-sized shop, said staff member could not be found. 'Out to dinner' we were told, despite it being 9pm.

And then it hit me: In a shop that could get by with just two staff, they had spare people around who could easily disappear after baiting another customer.

They were ready to swindle at least five more honest tourists out of their money and get away with it scot-free.

And who do these poor, unsuspecting guests have to turn to when things go wrong? At 9pm before departure, nobody, and they leave the next day vowing to never set foot in Hong Kong again.

GERRY MARQUES Assistant Manager The Kowloon Hotel