Watch out for Traps in Water Filters by Door Salesmen – Credulous in Product Claims May Cause Double Loss in Money & Health

15 October 2018
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Watch out for Traps in Water Filters by Door Salesmen – Credulous in Product Claims May Cause Double Loss in Money & Health

The revelation of lead water incident in recent years has raised widespread public concern, and resulted in surging demand for water filtering devices or indeed any products that claim to purify water quality for health protection.  But the Consumer Council has received quite a number of complaint cases involving the sale of water dispensers or filters as dishonest traders seized the opportunity to cash in on consumers eager for a taste of clean purified water by pushing sales with untruthful or misleading tactics.  Consumers are advised to be on the alert.

Often unscrupulous salesmen, on the pretext of undertaking water quality test for the household, gain entry to the premises, and once inside, began to peddle their wares to the unwary tenants with exaggerated and inaccurate sales persuasion. Consumers are reminded that the Government has never dispatched or authorized any commercial organizations to sell such products.  Should consumers have doubts about their household water quality, they should first approach their building or estate management for better understanding and, if necessary, contact the Water Supplies Department for further enquiry.  Some of these products have even promoted the miraculous effect of acidic or alkaline water to be curative or disease preventive.  Consumers should exercise extra caution, and consult a medical doctor or professional prior to purchase to avoid monetary loss and possible health detriment.

Traders are also urged to provide clear and accurate product information to the consumers; exaggeration or omission or ambiguity in the description of material sales information may lead to contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

Case 1: Ambiguity in usage and pricing of product

The complainant received a phone call from Company A introducing a free-of-charge water testing plan, but mistook it to be an arrangement from Government service for the housing estate and so agreed to an appointment for the test.  A staff from Company A turned up, conducted an so-called onsite water quality test and told the complainant that the tap water of her household contained chlorine, prolonged consumption of which is detrimental to health. The staff then proceeded to sell her a water dispenser, claiming that there were customers using water from the machine for hair wash that made their hair smooth even without the use of conditioner.

Concerned about the health of her family, the complainant agreed to the purchase.  That very night the salesman came back with a mini water machine and installed it in her bathroom.  It suddenly dawned on her that she was sold a water machine suitable for showering but not in the kitchen.  She protested but the salesman ignored her questions and hastily made his exit.  The complainant’s son later checked the sales memo and found the product though claimed to be able to purify chlorine residues was categorically unsuitable for use for other purpose except showering.  It carried a price tag of $9,900 which the complainant had signed an application for repayment over 24 monthly installments. 

The complainant had no clear idea of the exact price as allegedly the salesman was ambiguous in quoting a monthly installment of $200 at one time and $400 at another; and all along the salesman implied that it was “a water machine”, without any elaboration about its actual use and price.  The complainant reported the matter to the Customs and Excise Department, and the Council in seeking refund.   Upon the Council’s conciliation, Company A contended that during the course of sales it was pointed out to the complainant that customers who had used the company product for hair wash found their hair quality to be improved so there was no question of misleading the complainant, and declined to provide refund.  The complainant was subsequently referred to pursue his case through the Small Claims Tribunal. 

Case 2: Health effect of electrolyte water in doubt

The complainant had bought an air purifier from Company B years ago.  When the company staff came for maintenance inspection of the air purifier, he persuaded the complainant to buy an electrolyte water apparatus priced at $33,000, claiming that the electrolyte water with a pH value 8.5-9.5 was capable of removing the pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables as well as being potable for daily consumption without having to boil it.  In consideration of the health of the young baby in the family, and the company staff’s assurance that the product was issued with a Japanese safety certificate, the complainant agreed to the purchase.  But two days after drinking the electrolyte water, all members of the household fell ill with diarrhea and headache.

The complainant consulted a doctor and was told that drinking alkaline water over the long term was not recommended, in particular with babies in their infancy growth.   He complained to the company and demanded for refund on the grounds that the information about electrolyte water for daily consumption was erroneous; but the company refused.  He sought help from the Council.  In response to the Council’s inquiry, the company indicated in writing that it had already reached a consensus with the complainant – the apparatus in question has been collected and returned and the money amount in concern has been exchanged of other products of the company.  The settlement was accepted by the complainant.

Case 3: Implying Government involvement in water filter installation

A staff of Company C appeared on the doorstep, presenting herself as an officer of a potable water scheme to offer preferential treatment to needy families and elderly in the installation of water filters.  In the course of conversation, she casually mentioned “Housing Department” to the unsuspecting complainant into believing that the service to be provided is Government subsidized.  The staff also informed the complainant that the tap water of her household contained iron and a peculiar odor, which could be improved with a water filter valued at $2,000 with 10-year warranty and free filter replacement each year.  Further, as the complainant’s father was an elderly he would enjoy a further discount price of $1,700.  The complainant duly paid the price.  Afterwards, she saw on the web many incidents of door sales of water filters, and suspected that she was conned.  She asked to return the product and refund the cost but this was turned down by the company. She then sought help from the Council.

Based on the address on the sales memo the Council wrote to the company but the mail was rejected.  The Council then tried calling the company on the phone which was answered by a company staff who promised to contact the complainant direct.  Subsequently Company C refunded $1,400 after deducting $300 for installation fee.

Consumers encountering door salesmen should take note of the following:

- Never lightly permit salesmen to come inside your home to sell goods.  Consumers may be too embarrassed to ask the salesmen to leave allowing them to put up prolonged    product promotion which frequently ended up with consumers buying products unsuitable for their use;

- If you are doubtful of the product descriptions and/or promise of special benefits by the salesmen, ask them to put down in writing or recording as evidence of proof;

- Do not be fully trustful of salesmen talk and verbal promises, ask them to record them on the sales memo;

- Pay attention to the details on the sales memo: the full name of the shop and its address, the price, date of purchase, product name and model, and after sales service.

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