Mobile phone buyers have been warned to pay close attention to the sellers' clauses on repair and maintenance before choosing a model.
This follows rising numbers of complaints about the failure of telephone companies to honour their repair promises, using excuses such as spare parts being out of stock.
In the first nine months of the year the Consumer Council received an average of 51 complaints a month about mobile phone repair and maintenance services, compared with 42 in the same period last year. They represented 42 per cent of 1,085 mobile phone complaints the council received in the period, compared with 29 per cent of the 1,825 complaints in the whole of last year.
One customer was told she could get a new phone in exchange for her problematic model, but she was given one without packaging that did not look new. Another customer was offered a trade-in of the phone at half the purchase price but was charged a HK$300 handling fee.
The watchdog said it was unfair to consumers if phone companies failed to do what they had promised.
'They should tell customers if the spare parts are out of stock or if they have stopped producing them, so that customers can make an informed choice,' Ambrose Ho Pui-him, chairman of the council's Publicity and Community Relations Committee, said yesterday.
Mobile phone purchase contracts usually include a maintenance period. One consumer who bought a mobile phone brand's latest model from a telephone company found that after a month it started to emit interfering noises. She took it to the brand's company and a staff member told her the problem could not be fixed, but the phone could be exchanged for a new one.
She later received the so-called new phone, which had no packaging, and found that it was not a model sold in Hong Kong. She sought assistance from the Consumer Council.
The mobile phone supplier told the council it was the company's global policy to use such phones, which they call 'service units', in handling customers' repair requests. It stressed that though it was not new, it worked as good as a new one. It did not offer a new phone to the woman and did not return the original one to her.
The council found that the supplier had recently amended its global maintenance policy in the Asia region so that customers can now get a new phone if the old one can no longer be fixed. The council has requested that the company extend this new policy to Hong Kong.
In some similar cases, the 'service units' might be of a different model from the original phone, but chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said the council was not sure whether these phones were used or not.
Lau reminded consumers that, in general, whether they could be given a new phone in exchange depended on what went wrong with the original one.
She said these policies were designed to deter consumers from wrecking their phones towards the end of the maintenance period in order to get a new one.