Lies fuel sales of digital TV boxes to dupes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 November, 2009, 12:00am

Dishonest salesmen who peddle digital-television set-top boxes by claiming that free analogue services are about to vanish have conned nearly 100 people this year.

Police revealed the figure yesterday after an unemployed man was jailed for eight months for conning seven people into paying a total of more than HK$20,000 for high- definition television receivers.

Crime Prevention Bureau Chief Inspector Stanley Wong Tat-keung said it was 'totally untrue' to say that the existing four free analogue television channels would be terminated in the near future and that new set-top boxes - devices enabling older television sets to receive and decode digital signals - would be needed for free television reception.

Wong said door-to-door salesmen had been spreading such rumours since last year. Digital television was launched in Hong Kong in December 2007.

'According to the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, the government has set 2012 as a target to switch off the existing analogue TV service,' Wong said. 'However, it is merely a tentative target.'

He said the government and Ofta, the telecoms watchdog, had clearly stated that no exact timing had been set and analogue service would continue to be provided until a formal announcement was made.

Between January and October, police dealt with 85 such cases, with 96 victims, aged between 17 and 88. Twenty men and two women, between 19 and 48 years old, were arrested.

'These illicit salesmen often claimed they came from electronic-devices companies or were representatives of companies authorised by the Housing Department, and tried to mislead the victims into buying their products,' Wong said.

Police said the victims had been cheated out of about HK$160,000 in total, with some receiving overly expensive set-top boxes and some receiving nothing at all after handing over their money. One of the victims paid HK$6,500. 'They often tried to knock on the doors of people who were housewives or elderly between 9am and 5pm, when other family members with better knowledge of digital terrestrial TV were at work,' Wong said.

'They would also try to push the victims to make the decision quickly by offering them a discount and saying the discounted price would soon become unavailable.'

Wong said the salesmen would even claim that the Social Welfare Department or the Housing Department would refund the cost of the set-top box.

Former fitness trainer Chan Ka-kit, 26, was jailed for eight months yesterday at Eastern Court after earlier pleading guilty to seven counts of obtaining property by deception. Acting Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai did not issue a compensation order.

Wong said Chan was the second set-top box conman to be sentenced in the city. Another was given a probation order in June.

Wan Chai district crime squad Senior Inspector Lisa Lam Man-yee said Chan was located by looking at closed-circuit television footage from buildings he had targeted.

Chan tricked residents in Shau Kei Wan, Ap Lei Chau and Wan Chai into paying HK$21,498 in total for high-definition set-top boxes in August and September.

He tricked his victims by saying he had been authorised to sell the receivers, claiming all the other residents in the building had installed them and saying they would soon lose their television reception if they did not install the receivers.

The Consumer Council said it had received 421 complaints about television set-top boxes, 325 cases involving sales malpractice, this year.

Police and the consumer watchdog urged people to stay alert when dealing with door-to-door salesmen and to check their identities.

A survey by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau showed that about a third of the city's households watched high-definition television programmes in March.