Phone firms top target for consumers as grievances jump 8pc

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 12:00am

An increasing number of customers are being cheated by businesses as the economic downturn bites - with phone companies the worst offenders, consumer watch dogs say.

In the first nine months of the year, the Consumer Council received 15,483 complaints across the board - a rise of eight per cent on last year.

Phone companies topped the list of grievances with 3,497 complaints, of which 1,324 were related to mobile phone charges.

A spokeswoman from the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) said it also had received 1,218 complaints this year in relation to telecommunications providers.

The council said consumers felt that operators did not provide adequate notice about fee rises or did not give the opportunity to shop around for competing services before the rises took effect.

The council and Ofta recently released a code of practice for mobile phone operators, to take effect from January, which aims to ensure fair trading.

Council chairman Professor Andrew Chan Chi-fai said consumer confidence had fallen during the downturn because unscrupulous businesses were resorting to dubious practices.

Complaints relating to time-share holiday schemes rose by 128 per cent during the first nine months of the year to 114 cases, compared with 50 for the same period last year.

Unwary consumers were lured to time-share companies offering 'prizes' of holiday trips abroad.

Once they arrived at offices to claim the prize they were pressured into signing on for time-share schemes which committed them to paying thousands of dollars for many years.

Professor Chan also warned consumers and job-seekers to avoid get-rich scams such as modelling jobs, dubious marketing schemes or illegal pyramid selling.

The number of grievances against modelling agencies continued to rise, with 43 cases reported for the first nine months of this year compared with 51 for last year.

'Some modelling agencies have changed their tactics in that they no longer require participants to pay them [before modelling jobs are offered],' Professor Chan said.

'Instead, consumers are asked to pay for beauty treatments or shape-up courses designated by the agencies.'

Direct marketing sales complaints remained high at 95 cases in the first nine months of this year compared with 136 for last year.

Consumer dissatisfaction with credit card services also rose, with 372 complaints in the first nine months of this year compared with 314 in the same period last year.

The majority of cases were disputes over interest charged by the credit card providers and fees charged by collection agencies.

'From a financial perspective it is very foolish to finance debts through credit and a lot of people are doing this widely,' Professor Chan said.

'Consumers should be aware that using multiple credit cards as a means of obtaining long-term loans or personal loans could be extremely expensive because of the high interest rates adopted for such credit. They should also be aware of the substantial collection fees in the event of payment default.'

Graphic: COM31GET