36 held for goods-swap swindles on tourists

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2001, 12:00am

Thirty-six people from three electronic shops in Tsim Sha Tsui were arrested yesterday for cheating tourists.

Police said they used classic 'bait and switch' tactics - using cheap prices to attract customers but then telling them the product was out of stock after they had paid and offering an alternative.

Yau Tsim District Superintendent Ng Ping-kuen said police were acting on 25 complaints from tourists given to the Consumer Council and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

'The complaints, received between November 2000 and August this year, were from people from the mainland, Taiwan, England and the United States,' he said. The total lost suffered by the victims was $181,255, ranging from $2,350 to $20,800.

'They wanted to buy item A but were pressured not to buy and instead pressured to purchase item B because it had more functions. But when they took the product home, they found the functions promised in the store were non-existent and the price was much more than should have been charged.'

Tourists who attempted to ask for a refund were told they could not get their money back and instead were pressured to buy more items.

Mr Ng refused to name the stores, which were in Peking, Haiphong and Lock roads.

Officers posed as tourists to arrest the proprietors, managers and sales people, aged 25 to 35, who now stand to be charged with selling items by deception.

He said they hoped the Consumer Council would blacklist the stores, which have been closed indefinitely.

The Consumer Council's spokesman, Kenneth So Wai-sang, said the council would consider blacklisting the stores but warned such tactics had a limited effect because tourists would not know which outlets to avoid.

'We welcome the police action as tourism is very important to Hong Kong and shopping is an important part of our attraction,' he said.

The streets around Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui are notorious for using bait-and-switch tactics.

The deception begins when the shopkeeper gets the customer to pay for a purchase while a messenger goes off to the warehouse to fetch the requested item. When the runner returns, the customer gets a substandard replacement item.

To guard against this, the Consumer Council recommends that tourists do not part with money or sign receipts until they have the merchandise requested in hand. Buyers are also urged always to open the box and check the items inside before leaving the shop.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board recommends tourists shop at board outlets to avoid rogue stores.