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Arrests made as Hong Kong fitness centres targeted in Customs operation

Customs officers have been targeting unfair trade practices by Hong Kong fitness centres in a special operation codenamed “Tornado” since the end of last year.

During the past week, officers raided three fitness centres in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei and have arrested 19 people aged between 21 and 43, including four directors and 15 salespeople of the fitness centres. A total of about $1.8 million is involved in the service contracts which officials will allege was obtained by coercion or undue pressure. 

Customs officers earlier received information alleging that staff members of three fitness centres in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei imposed undue influence and used aggressive commercial practices when selling fitness services to customers, forcing them to procure fitness club membership. 

Group head (unfair trade practice investigation) Suzette Ip told a press conference that Customs will continue to step up enforcement to combat unfair trade practices by Hong Kong fitness centres. 

She reminded traders that they must comply with the requirements of the TDO and consumers that they should procure services from reputable stores. Consumers must not give their identity cards, credit cards or automated teller machine cards to salespersons before making a purchase decision. They must also firmly refuse to sign any document if they do not fully understand the service and price details, or if they do not intend to make a purchase.

Under the TDO, any trader who engages in aggressive commercial practices where harassment, coercion or undue influence is used to impair a consumer’s freedom of choice or conduct, causing the consumer to make a transactional decision, commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of HK$500,000 and imprisonment for five years.

Stressing its priority given to consumer rights protection and zero tolerance for unfair trade practices, Ip said that it will continue its stringent enforcement actions against such practices by Hong Kong fitness centres.

Operation Tornado is ongoing.

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