Staff selling insurance are misleading customers and in many cases are not trained well enough to offer sound investment advice in the first place, the Consumer Council warned yesterday. The watchdog said complaints had been filed for the first time this year by customers claiming they were duped into joining unsuitable schemes. Of the 20 complaints received, most concerned savings plans in which customers thought the insurance was free, only to learn later that the cost was incorporated into the premium. Customers also said they had been led to believe that returns on insurance schemes were guaranteed. Consumer Council spokesman Matthew Ng said the current low-interest environment, combined with slick marketing campaigns, had encouraged people to put money in alternative savings and investment products in an effort to produce higher yields. 'The problem is the rosy picture painted [by the sales staff]. They often say there are guaranteed returns where it is not guaranteed, and if you quit the plan they do not tell you that you may lose money,' Dr Ng said. He added staff might tell customers what they wanted to hear in order to meet sales targets. 'Some frontline staff do not possess the necessary training and knowledge to provide sufficient information and give sound investment advice. They may also be under pressure to meet sales targets or are motivated by commission,' he said. The council would not disclose the names of the banks and financial institutions involved, but said it had notified the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, which in turn has sent out circulars drawing attention to the need for complying with professional codes and calling for improved training and audit procedures. Dr Ng added: 'Never sign an investment plan in haste, or join as a favour to someone. For the elderly in particular, first discuss it with family members before making any further commitment.'