No matter how many times buyers are warned to read the small print before proceeding with any transaction, this sensible precaution is often overlooked in the search for a bargain. That is how customers were duped recently into buying ginseng which they thought was offered at $100 a catty, only to find themselves faced with menacing shopkeepers who demanded $100 for one tael and refused to let them leave until they paid the bill. Fortunately, sharp practice of that kind is relatively rare. But subtler forms of deception are common, and the Consumer Council is anxious to see safeguards to protect customers from exploitation. Its campaign has the full support of the advertising industry, which recognises the harm to its image by so much blatant malpractice. The worst offenders, property agents, were found to have made questionable claims in 92 per cent of cases in the council's survey. The figures of more than 80 per cent for exaggerated claims by slimming companies, medicines and health food manufacturers are more alarming since they have the potential to inflict physical harm by distributing misleading or false information. But the industry cannot rectify the problem by itself. Supporting legislation is needed to give an Advertising Standards Authority more teeth. Firms that resort to dubious methods to attract customers rarely join professional organisations which expect their members to conform to set standards. Laws will have to be introduced so that the profession can devise a code of practice, and police it effectively. The problem is all the greater in times of recession as traders become ever more desperate. Hong Kong already lags in ensuring honesty in advertising. Though any system must not be so rigid as to stifle creativity or pose a threat to freedom of expression, legislation which prohibits deception is more necessary than ever.