Slimmers claim they've been duped

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 July, 2009, 12:00am

Clients of two slimming centre salons who say they were duped by unscrupulous practices are campaigning to fight for compensation.

Almost 30 people helped by legislator Starry Lee Wai-king seek amounts ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than HK$50,000, and complaints have been laid with the police and Consumer Council.

The campaigners - who say they were attracted by offers of 'free' treatment only to find they had to pay big deposits that would be refunded only if they reached their target weights - are also using the Net to call for others to come forward.

The Federation of Beauty Industry, fearing a backlash from such campaigns, is considering a 'cooling-off period' during which disgruntled clients can claim back 80 per cent of their deposits.

Ms Lee said most of the 'victims' had agreed to meet the beauty centres' staff after telephone calls from salespeople who told them the centres would offer free slimming programmes and that they would become paid 'beauty ambassadors'.

'But they have to first pay a deposit amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. If they reach the target weight, money will be refunded. Otherwise, they have to pay for the treatment,' she said. 'In order to reach the target, the centres will persuade them to sign up for more packages and consumers end up spending more than expected.'

A man giving his name only as Mr L said the 30 had formed an alliance on Facebook to share their experiences and tell others how to fight back. 'Many are still joining our group,' he said. 'We have meetings to discuss this. Some people might not know where to seek help now and more might join us as the message spreads around.'

Federation founding chairman Ip Sai-hung said a study was being conducted under its Quality Beauty Service Scheme regarding the feasibility of a cooling-off period and standardising some contract terms to boost consumer confidence.

He said collective action against some beauty centres could deal a blow to the whole trade.

'As the bad emotion builds up against the trade, the message will spread around and that will keep people who want to join beauty centres' programmes away from the trade, making it even more difficult to do business,' he said.

He said that under the cooling-off period proposal, consumers would be able to claim back 80 per cent of their money 'if they have a legitimate reason for cancelling a signed contract'.

Also, as contracts developed by beauty centres were getting more complicated, some terms should be standardised.

'It is just like signing an agreement with a property agent when checking out flats,' he said. 'The agreement content is more or less the same no matter which agency one goes to.'

The Consumer Council said using the beauty ambassador campaign as a marketing tactic was not a new invention and complaints had been received in the past few years. It said about 140 complaints were received concerning slimming course service in 2007, 147 last year and 70 in the first half of this year.

'Consumers should always ask for more information before signing any contract and paying for anything,' the council said.