Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns online shoppers of discrepancy in business internet addresses and actual locations

Lawmaker says intent of some merchants may be business-related and not fraudulent, but users should still be aware of fact

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 8:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 10:10pm

The Hong Kong Consumer Council has warned of the increasing risks of online shopping, and advised users not to assume that websites with a URL address ending with “.hk” are based in the city.

This comes after the council handled cases in which such website operators could not be contacted or tracked despite having a local number or address.

Professor Wong Kam-fai, chairman of the research and testing committee under the council, said: “Consumers should browse the merchant website to seek more details, or check for any detailed information on the operator’s background.”

Charles Mok, legislator for the information technology sector, said the discrepancy in the physical location of websites and their online details applied to other countries too.

“Websites ending with ‘.jp’ may not be from Japan, and those with ‘.kr’ may not be Korea.”

But he said that the intent of such companies may not be fraudulent. “A Hong Kong company may be doing Japan related business so it may want to make everything look Japanese to attract customers.”

Other online retail complaints received included recurring monthly membership fees charged to credit cards without user knowledge; the issue of different currencies reflected on product prices versus the transactions; and online shopping platforms refusing to handle consumer disputes.

“Air tickets were a major subject of online shopping complaints, but this has declined,” Gilly Wong Fun-hing, chief executive of the council, said.

“This is why the overall complaints about online shopping fell [even though risks are up].”

Online shopping complaints decreased from 5,552 cases in 2014 to 3,202 last year.

Meanwhile, regarding wider consumer issues, complaints about repair and maintenance services for electrical appliances shot up from 546 in 2014 to 701 last year. The cases mostly involved chain retailers offering extended warranties.

Problems ranged from cumbersome procedures and wide terms of exclusion, to improper provision of terms, such as conditions cited only verbally by a sales assistant to the customer.

Professor Wong also said he supported “sustainable shopping’ in principle, meaning appliances should be repaired if possible rather than disposed of just because of a reported fault.

Gilly Wong said consumers should also look at the warranty offered by the manufacturer before making a purchase decision.