Seven arrested for 'intentionally' misquoting prices at dried goods stalls

Abalone saleswomen accused of tricking customers into thinking they were about to get a bargain … then charging up to 10 times more

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 August, 2013, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 3:26am

Customs has arrested seven women for misleading customers into buying dried abalone and ginseng using "unscrupulous" pricing tactics - an offence under the new trade law.

They mark the first arrests under the amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance, which came into force on July 19.

Officers also confiscated HK$230,000 worth of abalone and ginseng from the three mobile stalls in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei where the women worked.

Misquoted transactions were found to range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. At times, the bill was 10 times more than customers had expected, the Customs and Excise Department said.

The vendors duped customers into believing the goods were priced in catties (604g) instead of taels (50g), said Diana Yau Fung-mei, deputy head of the consumer protection bureau.

"These [saleswomen] had the intention of misleading customers," Yau said. "Price labels were hidden or displayed in a very unclear manner and the storekeepers did not provide accurate price information to customers. They also paid no regard to the customers' inquiries as to how much a catty of the goods cost."

The suspects, aged 42 to 59, are accused of deliberately omitting information, or "misleading omissions", a violation under the amended regulations, which ban practices such as faking discounts and hiding extra charges. Offenders face up to five years in jail and a HK$500,000 fine.

Some of the stalls accept credit card payments, meaning some customers were unaware of the actual cost until later. The bureau said it was not ruling out the possibility that the stalls could be part of a syndicate.

The bureau said it had received about 290 complaints regarding suspected violations since July 19, mostly involving food and beverage outlets and electronics retailers.

Yau urged people to monitor the price-per-unit information on dried goods carefully before making purchases. "Consumers should buy at reputable shops and be aware of what they buy and how the goods are priced," she said, stressing that it was ultimately the consumer's responsibility to be alert.

Last year, the department made 503 arrests for false trade descriptions and seized HK$158 million of goods, customs statistics showed.