Complaints about bad sales tactics jump 50pc

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 October, 2009, 12:00am

Complaints about the use of unscrupulous sales tactics surged by more than 50 per cent in the first three quarters of the year, the Consumer Council revealed yesterday.

The complaints mainly involved slimming centres, beauty salons and pay TV operators.

Misleading information, false claims, unfair contracts, prepayment packages and pressure shopping were among the more than 7,000 complaints against sales malpractice that the consumer watchdog received in the first nine months of the year.

The council's chief executive, Connie Lau Yin-hing, said that after deducting the roughly 3,000 complaints regarding Lehman Brothers minibonds, the 4,000 remaining still represented more than a 50 per cent increase over the same period last year.

The council was in talks with relevant industries and had suggested they adopt a 'cooling-off period' to allow consumers to reconsider their decision to sign up for a service contract, she said.

'So far, a group representing hair and beauty has shown support for our idea and recommended a seven-day cooling-off period before the service contracts take effect,' she said.

But it would be up to the industry as to whether consumers could get a full refund or only part of their money back after quitting the service during the cooling-off period, she added.

The government said this month that it would introduce a legislative amendment to the Trade Description Ordinance to step up regulation of sales practices in the services sector, which is not covered by the law.

A public consultation will be carried out at the end of the year, and the amendment is to be put forward in the 2010-11 legislative year.

Lau told a radio programme yesterday of a case in which a woman paid a total of about HK$850,000 for several contracts for slimming, massaging and beauty services over the past four years.

During the period of the contracts, the woman found it impossible to use up the services to which she was entitled because often all available appointments had already been booked. And then she was persuaded to spend even more money to 'upgrade her package' so she would have priority when booking services.

'The consumer has not been able to pay off the money she owed to the credit-card company,' Lau said.

Another problematic practice that had become more common recently in many slimming centres was to invite people to become the centres' 'spokeswomen'.

Lau said clients were promised they could have 'free slimming treatments' as long as they could achieve a particular weight-loss goal in a certain period.

Yet after paying tens of thousands of dollars, many of them found it unlikely they would receive any free treatments because they could not meet the required weight-loss target.

'In that case, the salespersons would promote many expensive slimming products to the clients,' Lau said. 'There's a victim who had intended to spend around HK$800 at a slimming centre. But at the end of the day, she paid HK$150,000 for all the packages recommended by the centre's staff.'

Hefty bill

A woman spent HK$150,000 at a slimming centre

The amount in HK dollars she had intended to spend, before staff pressured her: $800