Slimming firm suspected of rigging scales to fool dieters
Clifford Lo and Amy Nip
Police suspect that a slimming company accused of failing to pay up after promising customers money back if they reached target weights used rigged scales.
It follows police raids on Tuesday on Royal Bodyperfect's Wan Chai headquarters and six outlets around the city in which eight people were arrested. The man and seven women, including the company director, therapist, shop managers and consultants, were held on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud. They were released on bail yesterday and told to report back next month.
A ninth person, a 31-year-old woman, was arrested yesterday and was still being detained last night. No one has yet been charged.
The company's outlets were apparently open for business again yesterday.
Three or four scales were among the items and documents seized during the raids, an officer revealed yesterday. 'The seized scales will be taken for examination to see whether they have been altered to weigh people heavier.'
Another officer said initial investigations indicated that customers paid from HK$10,000 to HK$60,000 each as deposits for their slimming packages.
'They were promised they could get a full refund or part of their money back as long as they could achieve a designated weight-loss goal in a certain period,' the officer said.
Police from Kowloon West regional crime unit began the investigation after first receiving complaints against the company in late 2009.
Police refused to say whether undercover agents were used to collect evidence.
Without naming the company, a spokesman for the police public relations branch said unscrupulous sales tactics were suspected to have been used to promote three slimming packages. 'The plans involve about 500 clients. So far, officers have contacted 200 of them,' he said, adding that police were still investigating how many people were cheated and how much was involved.
Senior Superintendent Chan Wai-kong, head of Kowloon West regional crime unit, said: 'It involves a lot of people and a large amount of documents. We need more time to investigate.'
He did not rule out the possibility of further arrests.
A public relations manager for Royal Bodyperfect, who declined to give her full name, said: 'As it involves legal proceedings, it is inappropriate to make any comment.'
She said the company's chain stores were open for business as usual yesterday.
The Consumer Council said the number of complaints over sales tactics by slimming companies dropped from 150 in 2009 to 32 last year. There was only one similar complaint, involving an amount of HK$76,877, last month.
A council spokeswoman said one of the 32 complaints reported last year involved an amount of HK$577,790.
In most of the complaints, people were offered slimming packages for free, but they needed to pay a deposit to be refunded if they met weight reduction targets, council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said.
In some cases, customers were asked to pay deposits by monthly instalments, that were then forfeited if they failed to reach weight targets, she said.
Lau warned people to read terms carefully before signing any contract and said they should pay extra attention if they were persuaded to spend more money.
The founding chairman of the Federation of Beauty Industry, Nelson Ip Sai-hung, said there used to be genuine offers in the past. These were used as a loss leader marketing strategy - as the queues of people outside the stores generated publicity.
Consumers should be careful, Ip warned. People should beware of offers that required deposits which are only refunded if they reached a weight reduction target.
'It is not logical. The company will not want to repay customers after receiving the sum and it makes no sense for them to help the targets slim down,' he said.
The Consumer Council handled 150 cases involving slimming companies in 2009. Last year the number dropped to: 32