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Rory Boland

Three Classic Scams in Hong Kong #1 The Bait and Switch

By June 11, 2010

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While Hong Kong's reputation as being a haven for conmen and swindlers is regularly overstated, the city does have a few unscrupulous retailers who will cheat tourists, if given the chance. There are a couple of scams that are particularly popular and over there next few days we'll be revealing what they are and how to avoid them

Largely in decline since the dramatic fall in electronic prices over the last decade, the bait and switch involved selling the customer a certain product, taking payment and then switching the product for an inferior model or brand before handing it over.

Probably Hong Kong's most famous scam, salesmen would sell you, for example, a Sony Focus 500 camera. After examining and trying out the product on display you would agree to buy the camera and the salesmen would go into the stockroom to bring you your purchase. However, instead of giving you the Sony Focus 500, he would give you the Sony Focus 400 or, even worse, the Soony Focus 500, usually in the Sony Focus 500 box. This trick relied on the customer leaving the store without checking inside the box. When the customer returned to complain and obtain the camera they paid for the store would simply refer to their no returns policy. Some stores were even so bold to accuse the customer of attempting to cheat them, claiming they had switched the product at home.

This scam is still in use and you should be sure to check the actual product and any accessories before leaving the store and always keep your receipt. If you fall victim to the switch and are near the store contact a police officer, who will often accompany you to try and obtain a refund or exchange. Alternatively, many people, particularly locals, advocate 'causing a scene'. Having a customer shouting loudly in their shop is bad business and shopkeepers will usually relent, if only to shut you up.

November 27, 2010 at 12:12 pm
(1) Edmond Michael says:

I know I am the most gullible guy in the world. But even though I know this scam well, I *still* have fallen for it many times in HK – always for electronics/photographic equipment. Beware as it is not a obvious as described here – what I love about this scam – is the variety of execution, ingenuity of deception & audacity of the salesperson. (The switch can occur right under your nose – and you may even be a part of it if you lack product knowledge by being convinced to buy an inferior product as described elsewhere on this site).

If you’d like to see this scam in action – visit John & his team at Intelligence Audio & Video limited (previously known as Happy Rich as business name keeps changing), Shop 3 54-64B Nathan Road, TST Kowloon HK and watch the masters at work on unsuspecting shoppers.


Caveat emptor !

July 16, 2011 at 6:44 am
(2) monboiser says:

The classic bait and switch scam just got better & more sophisticated this time. This applies to tourists who already have a firm idea of a camera model they wish to buy before visiting a store. This is how it works;

Upon settling on a store after canvassing other stores, the buyer as expected will inquire directly about the camera model he wants. This will trigger the scam mechanism such that the seller will offer prices that are at a loss lower than that of adjacent stores (SETTING THE BAIT). Naturally, the buyer will now engage the seller more since there is a substantial savings involved.

The seller will then ask “for what purpose does he intend to use a camera?” Upon any reply by the buyer, the seller will offer so many other camera models that “will perfectly suit your purpose” and are even “superior” while pointing at the disadvantages of the model initially wanted – but will still offer it at prices that are the same or minimally higher (THE SWITCH). The seller can ably convince the buyer due to his superior knowledge of the other camera models which the buyer usually lacks. The fact is the “new and better” camera now being offered is actually cheaper and of inferior quality if you buy it in more honest stores. The seller will let you try out the “better and newer” cameras by rigging the settings at its most optimum while the original model you have in mind was secretly rigged at its worst settings. Meantime, the seller will mutter that “he doesn’t care whether you choose your original model or the better and newer one he is now offering since his salary will still be the same”. Usually, buyers who are not so technically oriented or has not researched well or lacks confidence will usually fall for this SCAM.

For an actual demo on how the scam is executed, try to inquire about any camera you have in mind at the Big Camera Store located at the 2nd floor (near the exit) of the Mongkok Computer Center at the Ladies Market in Mongkok, Hong Kong.

October 12, 2012 at 11:39 am
(3) tony says:

Just tried to buy a Nikon D3200 camera for around 250 pounds in 4 shops and ea Salesperson tried to sell me a different Camera which is half the price in UK.

They showed how bad the Camera was and each time I said I wanted it they came back to tell me they were out of Stock.

Will not be buying Camera in HK……..

November 14, 2012 at 5:25 am
(4) Jacquie says:

My husband and I fell for the scam described above by monboiser. You hit every detail of the scam process in your description. We were also planning to buy the Nikon D3200 and using the exact method you described, we ended up with a different and inferior product. We are still grappling with the sense of shame and embarrassment we feel about getting taken like this. Looking back we can now see the signs but for some reason in the moment we chose to ignore them. Greed perhaps? I don’t know. LIve and learn I suppose. For some reason it helps me to feel a bit better to see the scam described on this website. I’m sure we were not the only people to ever fall for this one. I just wish I’d known about this scam before I walked into that blasted store. It’s still hard to talk about it because of the embarrasment but I will do my best to educate others so they don’t fall into the same trap that we did.

November 16, 2012 at 3:43 am
(5) Jerry says:

I fell for this scam at a camera shop that looks so legit at Nathan Road. It was too depressing, and you’re right – the bait was the ridiculously low price that they’ll offer for what you’re looking for.

My advise to all Hong Kong shoppers – be very vigilant, especially to shops down at Nathan Road. Let me warn you that they look VERY LEGIT, and that’s actually part of the trick. The shop is a spider trap, and it will prey on you once you set foot inside, so please avoid these camera shops at Nathan Road and go to a more credible establishment instead, like Fortress.

November 27, 2012 at 7:21 pm
(6) Fred says:

My sister just bought Nikon Coolpix L810 for about $950, which is supposed to be actually just $250. They kept insisting that the camera the $900 Nikon D90 was the inferior product; and maybe they have had also adjusted, as D90 really seem like the “inferior product”. Is there nothing that can be done about this? We can’t go back to hongkong for quite a long time. Can we report to authorities about this; maybe through phone call? The store is just beside Mirador Mansion. It may be the same store as Jerry…it looked really legit and it’s in Nathan Road.

November 27, 2012 at 7:31 pm
(7) Fred says:

Nikon Hongkong Ltd is the store name. How can you go wrong with that? It’s a major chain not just some another small shop. And yet, here we were fooled. Fooled is an understatement; we were scammed.

November 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm
(8) Fred says:

Sigh! It’s the same as the first commenter after all. It’s not Nikon Hongkong Ltd., it’s Audio and Video City.

April 5, 2014 at 6:56 am
(9) Bill says:

My wife and I went into one these flea infested little rat holes and I got scammed !! Looking for a 10-22mm Canon lense they showed me one and I paid for it and surprise they didn’t have one in stock I ended up with a wide angle and paid 500% more for it than I would have at home.
I am fairly embarrassed by this as I have been around the traps all over the world and I am very vigilant, however one thing I must give these little turds is they will have you before you know it.
I spent the next 5 days watching and photographing surrounding shops and they are all connected, they rotate around so when you go back to complain the original little turds that shafted you are not there.
They are liars, cheats and in general little flea infested sub humans.
Their shops have “Tax free” signs and in general don’t have a name.
They are very brightly lit and are small in floor space, they all have seats at the counters and all were inhabited by at least 3-5 flea infested little sub humans.
Do not enter these shops under any circumstances !!!!
For first hand experience and sightings of these little grubs go to “Digital park” in Cameron road.

April 7, 2014 at 7:36 pm
(10) Debbie says:

We went to A & B audio and video centre on Nathan rd Hong Kong wanting to buy a wide angle lens. We made so many silly mistakes including not checking out exactly what we wanted before we went, not knowing our prices, and showing our lack of knowledge. We have travelled a lot in Asia so you would think we would have learned. Despite our normally logical calm brains we got caught up in the hype of thinking we would get a really good deal on a better lens that would do it all. When we came back to the hotel and looked up prices in Australia we realised that we paid an astronomical price. We went back and they tried to compensate us by giving us another lens that we really did not want. I now wished I had gone back there with the police to try and recoup or money. Buyer beware of these con artists.. Do not go to A & Baudio & Video.

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