Customs Special Duties Team combats unscrupulous trade practices at ginseng and dried seafood shop (with photo)

30 Jan 2014

The Customs and Excise Department has newly established a Special Duties Team (SDT) dedicated to conducting investigations and mounting operations against suspected unfair trade practices engaged by traders, with a view to providing a more comprehensive protection to consumers under the newly amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO).

In an operation conducted yesterday (January 29), members of the SDT disguised as customers successfully cracked down on a ginseng and dried seafood shop in Mongkok which sought to mislead customers of the real price of goods during purchasing transactions.

Customs officers purchased ginseng at the shop yesterday afternoon. In the course of the purchase, two salespersons repeatedly avoided providing the unit price of the goods with the intention of omitting and hiding this material information to mislead consumers into believing that the unit price of the ginseng was calculated in catty instead of tael. The transaction value was more than 10 times in excess of what the consumer expected. It was believed that the trade malpractice of the shop might have contravened Section 13E of the TDO, which prohibits the misleading omission of material information in a trade in relation to a consumer.

In the operation, 22.5 catties of ginseng with a total value of about $260,000 were seized. The two male salespersons and the male director of the shop, aged from 31 to 51, were arrested. The case is still under investigation and the arrested persons have been released on bail pending further investigation.

The amended TDO came into effect on July 19, 2013. It aims to prohibit unscrupulous trade practices, including misleading omission. A trader may commit a misleading omission offence if they use a commercial practice which omits or hides material information; or provide material information in a manner that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely; or fail to identify its commercial intent and, as a result, it causes or is likely to cause the average consumer to make a transactional decision that he would not have made otherwise. Offenders are liable to a maximum penalty of a $500,000 fine and five years' imprisonment upon conviction.

The Superintendent of the SDT, Mr Liu Ping-tong, today (January 30) reminded traders to abide by the law and consumers to purchase ginseng and dried seafood from reputable shops. Consumers should be cautious about the unit price, and ask for more information, including the price of the goods, before any purchase is completed, and also keep the receipts for future reference.

Suspected violations of the TDO can be made to the Customs 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

Ends/Thursday, January 30 2014

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