With a view to providing more comprehensive protection to consumers, the Special Duties Team (SDT) of the Customs and Excise Department conducted an operation earlier to detect suspected unfair trade practices under the amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO).
In the operation, members of the SDT successfully cracked down on a ginseng and dried seafood shop in Tsim Sha Tsui intending to mislead customers over the real price of the goods and grind the goods into powder during the purchasing transaction.
Customs officers, disguised as customers, purchased herba dendrobii at the shop on March 10. In the course of the purchase, a salesperson 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 herba dendrobii was calculated in taels instead of maces. The transaction value was 10 times what the consumer expected. It was believed that the trade malpractice of the shop might have contravened Section 13E of the TDO, which prohibits misleading omission of material information in a trade in relation to a consumer. The shop also exerted undue pressure on the consumer by grinding the goods into powder before revealing the actual price and confirming the consumer's final decision on buying the goods.
In the operation, 4.5 catties of herba dendrobii with a total value of about $470,000 were seized. A female salesperson, aged 39, was arrested. The case is still under investigation and the arrested person was 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 it adopts a commercial practice which omits or hides material information; or provides material information in a manner that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely; or fails to identify its commercial intent and, as a result, it causes or is likely to cause an 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 (March 13) reminded traders to abide by the law and consumers to purchase ginseng and dried seafood from reputable shops. Consumers should be cautious in the unit price, and ask for more information, including the price of the goods, before any purchase, and also keep the receipts for future reference. Consumers should agree to have the goods processed, by slicing, grinding or other means, only when they are certain of buying the goods to avoid any disputes.
Suspected violations of the TDO can be reported to the Customs 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.
Ends/Thursday, March 13 2014