Police in beauty spa scam probe

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 August, 2011, 12:00am


Police are investigating a suspected scam involving a chain beauty parlour in which at least two victims had to sell their flats to settle debts of as much as HK$4 million.

Eleven people have been arrested. The women had joined slimming competitions in Q & A+ Health Spa by spending more than HK$70,000, and were asked to buy extra treatment plans to 'increase their chance of winning'. They were told they would receive HK$500,000 'bonuses' and could become company spokeswomen if they won. If they lost, they could claim back HK$100,000. But the competitions were never held.

One victim told the Post she has lost HK$4 million. Another thinks the beauty parlour charged HK$180,000 to her credit card for things she did not agree to buy. The police said the case, listed as alleged deception, was under investigation by Kowloon City's district crime squad. A man and 10 women, aged from 22 to 50, were arrested and released on bail.

Q & A+, set up in 2004 with four branches in Hong Kong, said the victims' claims were untrue and groundless. The company declined to comment further.

Tsang Chiu-wai, an assistant in lawmaker and district councillor Wong Yuk-man's office in Hung Hom, said they had received at least 12 complaints about the beauty parlour's branch in the area in the past year, with the amounts involved ranging from HK$10,000 to over HK$4 million. It was difficult for many of the victims to claim the promised refund, as the agreements were mostly verbal, he said.

One victim, Leung, said she had spent more than HK$4 million in the past two years on treatments at the beauty parlour - and had so far received just 10 per cent of the promised HK$3 million cash back.

Leung, who is 1.52 metres tall and 45kg, said she paid an initial fee of about HK$100,000 to enter the competition and was later persuaded to buy extra treatment plans. 'They said they were to increase my chances of winning,' the 43-year-old social welfare professional said. She was expecting part of the refund by November 2010, when the competition was to be held, but it was put off until January, and then to March. At that stage Q & A+ told her the competition had again been delayed, until September.

Leung, who sold her 600 sq ft flat to clear her debts, said she had given up hope of a refund but would continue the treatments. 'I don't dare stop going there. If I do, I'll be out of the competition and will have no chance of getting the money back.'

Another victim, Chan, who has also sold her flat to settle the debts, said she had lost at least HK$542,000. She is 1.68 metres tall and 50kg, has joined at least four competition plans and has never received any refund.

The 36-year-old clerk suspected the beauty parlour had used her card without her consent for transactions of at least HK$180,000. According to the bank's record, the amount was debited in 10 separate transactions on four days of an 11-day period.

She said she had exceeded the limit on her other credit cards and wanted to transfer some of the payments to her Standard Chartered card. 'The staff said they could try to do that for me, so I gave them my card. They kept it for a while, then told me it wasn't possible. But when I got the bill, it showed HK$180,000 had been paid to Q & A+,' she said.

In the dozens of handwritten receipts from Q & A+, she found a number of things she had never bought, such as botox treatment for underarm odour and placenta extracts. And she still doesn't know what the HK$180,000 was for as the receipts don't match the bank statement. Q & A + later recommended she switch to a 1,000-treatment plan at HK$542 each. 'I have no other choice,' she said.

Both women complained to the Consumer Council, which received 378 complaints about beauty services in the first half of the year.