Council names 9 HDTV set-top box companies in major crackdown amidst rising consumer complaints

22 December 2009
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Council names 9 HDTV set-top box companies in major crackdown amidst rising consumer complaints

The Consumer Council today (December 22) named a total of 9 companies involved in the marketing of HDTV set-top box for dishonest sale practices.

These companies were the subject of a spate of consumer complaints of 436 cases in total brought to the notice of the Council for resolution since 2008.

The Council has resolved to name these traders en masse in a major crackdown on malpractices in the door-to-door sale of HDTV set-top box.

The publicity sanction aims to deter would-be offenders and, more importantly, to alert the public in general and the elderly alone at home in particular to such dishonest practices.

The salesmen of the companies concerned have allegedly adopted a very similar modus operandi.

According to the complainants, the salesmen falsely represented themselves as agents appointed by some authorities to undertake HDTV reception installations and fabricated incorrect information to mislead buyers.

The set-top boxes also turned out to be substantially higher in price, mostly $2,200 but in some cases up to nearly $3,000, at double or treble the price (around $1,200) at retail shops.

In a press conference today, the names and addresses of the companies in question, together with the number of complaints each received, were disclosed for public information.

The companies were trading under the names of:

  1. Wilson Digital Technology
  2. Hong Kong Digital Terrestrial Television
  3. Hong Kong High Definition Technology Company
  4. Hong Kong Interactive Digital Engineering Company
  5. True Tech (HK) Enterprise Co. Ltd.
  6. Vantage 09 Ltd.
  7. Hong Kong High Definition Digital Television Ltd.
  8. Hong Kong High Definition Television Ltd.
  9. Three Leaf Group Limited

Additional details of the companies named are at Annexure 1 .

The sale tactics allegedly involved salesmen claiming: that they were sales agents appointed by the Housing Department, or TV station, or Incorporated Owners Committee of the residential building to undertake HDTV reception installations; that conversion of the existing TV broadcasting system was being carried out to all units in the building; that without conversion, the residents would not continue to receive free TV broadcast.

In some cases, the salesmen would be accompanied by people dressed like service men purportedly to perform work outside the premises of the flats as if work was indeed being installed for the conversion.

More details of individual cases were highlighted in Annexure 2 .

The Council has reasons to believe on the basis of information available that the complaints were perpetrated by a small handful of rogue operators in the trade.

The Council's business registration search showed that some companies were in fact identical in both their registered address, and their sales contract and set-top box device sold.

An onsite inspection of the premises showed that, in most cases, the names of the companies were neither displayed at the registered office nor on the building directory. Some of these companies also appeared to have ceased operation.

It is possible that the companies may continue their operation in different names so as to avoid the backlash of publicity sanction. Consumers' vigilance to such malpractice is therefore crucial in the long term.

Complaints related to set-top box sales began to emerge in 2008 in the wake of the launch of high-definition TV broadcast.

The situation worsened as more operators joined in the trade, taking advantage apparently of the relative ignorance of the general public on HDTV transmission and its implications to TV reception.

According to the Council's records, complaints against these companies totalled 128 cases for the whole of 2008 but rose rapidly in the first 11 months of 2009 to 308 cases, bringing to a total of 436.

Despite the mediation of the Council, the operators would largely ignore and refuse to provide refund in the settlement of complaints.

In an effort to heighten consumer awareness, the Council has disseminated information through its consumer education channels, including a series of articles in CHOICE and mass media programmes, as well as posters and notices posted at some housing estates.

Furthermore, the Council has referred a number of cases to the Police for consideration of prosecution action.

Last month, the Police successfully instituted prosecution resulting in the court conviction of a salesman on a charge of obtaining property by deception to 8-month imprisonment.

The Council's publicity sanction to expose errant operators in the trade combined with the court conviction will hopefully send a strong message and deterrent to this undesirable sale practice.

The press conference was chaired by Mr. William CHAN, Vice-chairman of Trade Practices Committee.