A male director and seven male staff members of a fitness centre were earlier convicted at the District Court for engaging in aggressive commercial practices in the course of selling fitness services, in contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO). Five of the defendants were also convicted of theft and conspiracy to steal. The eight persons were sentenced to imprisonment of four to 27 months and 100 hours' community service today (November 10). They were also ordered by the court to pay compensation of about $690,000 in total to the 18 victims of the case.
Among the unfair trade practice cases involving the fitness industry, this case involved the largest number of victims and had the heaviest penalty imposed since the TDO was amended in July 2013.
Hong Kong Customs believes that the sentence has achieved a deterrent effect and the record-breaking sentence has given a clear warning to unscrupulous practitioners in the industry.
Customs earlier received a number of reports alleging that staff members of a fitness centre in Mong Kok were suspected of engaging in unfair trade practices when selling fitness services, and coercing customers to procure fitness services contracts.
After investigation, Customs found that staff members of the fitness centre concerned lured 18 victims on the street to go to the fitness centre situated in a commercial building from June 2018 to August 2019. They requested the victims to fill in their personal particulars and sign by asking them to complete a questionnaire and fitness assessment. The staff members then revealed that the document was actually a fitness services contract and pressured the victims. They also coerced the victims to make payments for the contracts by means of cash, credit card or bank account transfer. The total loss of the 18 victims has exceeded $820,000.
Since 2018, Customs has mounted a series of special operations to combat unfair trade practices among fitness centres engaging in aggressive commercial practices in the course of selling fitness services. Coupled with the deterrent effect imposed by the sentences pronounced by the court for relevant cases, reports related to aggressive commercial practices by fitness centres received by Customs have dropped significantly in recent years, from 482 in 2019 to 14 in the first 10 months of 2022.
Although there has been a downtrend in the number of reports against fitness centres, Customs will remain vigilant and follow up proactively whenever a report is received. The department will take resolute enforcement actions should there be any cases of violation of the TDO and will not tolerate any illegal acts.
Customs reminds traders to comply with the requirements of the TDO while consumers should procure services from reputable shops.
Under the TDO, any trader commits an offence of engaging in aggressive commercial practices if harassment, coercion or undue influence is used to impair the consumer's freedom of choice or conduct in relation to the product concerned, causing the consumer to make a transactional decision. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years.
Members of the public may report any suspected violation of the TDO to Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (email@example.com).
Ends/Thursday, November 10, 2022