Customs officers posing as ordinary customers on Monday arrested a saleswoman in Tsim Sha Tsui for misleading shoppers about the unit of measurement used for quoting prices of Chinese herbs, which turned out to be 10 times what was expected.
The 37-year-old was arrested for contravening Section 13-E of the amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance which prohibits the misleading omission of information required by customers.
More arrests are possible in the future, said Patrick Liu Ping-tong, acting head of the Customs’ Special Duties Team, but there was no evidence to suggest any wider network or organised group was involved.
Some 4.5 catties (2.7kg) of herba dendrobii, a Chinese medicine known as shi hu which is said to help prevent high blood pressure, were seized with a total sales value of about HK$470,000.
The operation followed a complaint received in early February from a tourist, whose place of origin was not revealed. The tourist said the salespeople at the Tsim Sha Tsui shop had quoted a price in tael, a unit of measurement equivalent to about 38g. When they went to pay, it was revealed that the price was actually based on the mace unit of measurement – one-tenth of a tael or about 3.8g.
The tourist said they were then pressured into buying the goods at the newly inflated price.
Liu said both locals and tourists fall victim to the misleading practice. But tourists, who may not be familiar with how goods such as herbal medicine are sold in Hong Kong, constitute a significant proportion of the complainants.
In the time period since the amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance took effect on July 19 last year up until the end of the year, shops trading in Chinese herbs and dried seafood have been among the major focuses of complaints received by the Customs and Excise Department. About 10 per cent of all complaints have been in relation to such shops.