Hong Con: Avoid the scams and rip-offs

There are some shopkeepers in Hong Kong who seem more interested in ripping off tourists than making an honest sale. Don't let them spoil your holiday - if you're thinking of buying electronic or A/V equipment in Hong Kong, take a few minutes to read these guidelines.

In summary:

  1. Know what you are going to buy
  2. Avoid the small shops, especially those along Nathan Road and around Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay
  3. Buy from the major chains, or
  4. Buy from the specialist shops
  5. Watch out for the common scams
  6. Contact the police if you have problems
  7. If you think you've been ripped off, report it

1. Know what you are going to buy

The more knowledgeable you are about what you plan to buy, the harder it will be for someone to fool you. So make sure you know the answers to at least:

  • What is it I need to buy? (digital camera? camcorder? digital photo frame? Notebook PC? Etc)
  • What brand(s) am I looking for?
  • What model(s) will I buy?
  • What is the cost to buy it in my home country?
  • How much cheaper must it be to make it worthwhile buying in Hong Kong?
  • What are those prices in Hong Kong Dollars?

You should be able to get the answers to all these questions with a few searches on the internet.

If you are buying something as a favour for a friend, make sure they give you written answers to all these questions before you leave home. It will help prevent problems like buying the wrong model or overpaying, that will could cause headaches when you return home.

2. Avoid the small shops, especially along Nathan Road and around Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay

When problems are reported, they almost always seem to happen in these small shops. Just avoid them, it's not worth the risk of shopping there.

The shops typically have windows full of the latest gear, often have “Tax Free” signs in the window, with a group of salesmen waiting inside.

Usually they won't have any prices displayed, and you'll rarely if ever see local customers in the shop. Two warning signs!

3. Buy from the major chains

In recent years the price gap between the major chains and the smaller shops has got a lot smaller. Plus there's the peace of mind of buying from the larger chains.

Fortress is one local chain with a good selection of products, and stores in all the major areas. Visit their website (click 'Eng' at tthe top of the page to change to the English-language version, then click 'Store Locator' at the bottom of the page) to find the store nearest to you, and also to search for products and prices.

If you can't bear the thought of buying without at least a little comparison shopping, head along to the third floor of Ocean Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, or levels 7 and 8 of Times Square in Causeway Bay. Both have several of the major chains present, including Broadway (store addresses in English, but rest of site Chinese-only), Fortress, and Tai Lin (link takes you to English version of their website. It lists store addresses, but at time of writing it doesn't show any products or prices).

4. Buy from trusted specialist shops

We'll break rule #3, and admit that sometimes a smaller shop is the way to go. In some cases they do still offer better prices, and if you need more specialist equipment they are probably the only place you'll get it.

See our separate articles on buying specific products for recommended specialist shops.

5. Watch out for the common scams

If you've followed the above points, you shouldn't have any need for this section. Still, here's what to watch out for if you end up in the wrong sort of shop.

Most of the scams are some type of 'bait and switch': You start off talking about the model you are looking for (the one you researched in point #1), but then the salesman introduces a different model that is 'much, much better'. Except of course it isn't.

The Hong Kong Police website describes it as:

By far the most common complaints from visitors to Hong Kong concern deception during retail or other commercial transactions.

It is important that you know what you are buying before you enter into a transaction. The police can only investigate cases where criminal deception is suspected. In many cases, the victim may have obtained a "bad deal" - for instance, paying double the price as that offered by the shop next door - but such a transaction is not criminal unless the victim was given a false or misleading description of the item.

For instance, if you decide to buy a camera "model FX100" and negotiate a price of $1000 with the dealer, whereupon the deal is completed - it is not a deception if you later find out you could have bought the same model cheaper somewhere else. It is only a deception if you were told you were being sold model FX100 and later find out that it is in fact "model FX90".

So the attraction to the shopkeeper is obvious – fat profits and not having officially committed any criminal offence. Here are some of the warning signs to be on the lookout for:

“We use a different brand name here in Hong Kong”

This seems to happen most with the Fuji brand, where customers are shown products marked “Fujitac” or “Fujila”. The second names are manufacturers of digital cameras and camcorders, but are NOT related to the Japanese Fuji company.

As far as I know, all popular company brand names are the same in Hong Kong as overseas, so take this as a good reason to leave the shop immediately.

“That model is sold under a different model name in Hong Kong”

“That model is obsolete, and has been replaced by the newer XYZ model”

“That model is useless! Why don't you look at this brand, which is much better.”

In some cases these are true. Eg my current digital camera is sold as the Canon Ixus 850 IS here in Hong Kong, but in the US it sells as the Canon SD 800 IS Digital Elph. And new models are sometimes released in Hong Kong before Europe and America. But it could just as easily be an excuse to switch you to a model you don't know the real price of.

Stay safe:

Your best defence is knowing what you want to buy, as described in point #1. As soon as you start looking at a different brand or model, you don't know whether it's features are what you need, or what is a fair price to pay. The salesperson has taken control.

If this happens, get up and leave. If you believe they may be telling the truth, and the new model they recommend may actually be better for you, make a note of it, but still get up and leave. Then get on to the internet to check reviews and prices.

Alternatively, go to another shop that will sell you the model you originally requested.

Don't be pushed into buying something you don't know about.

Unfortunately there is another, higher-pressure version of this technique.

It all starts off well, where you are shown the product you asked for, agree a price, and sign a credit card slip to make the purchase. But then “So sorry, we don't have stock here but I'll just send someone to get it”. And the pressure to switch begins. They can stretch the delay out to 20-, 40-, 60-minutes and more, all the time persuading you that a different model is a better deal, that they have it in the shop, and why don't you take it? Many people give in just to get out of the shop!

Stay safe:

Once you have agreed on a price, ask if they have stock in the shop. If yes, ask to see it. If it is shrink wrapped they may not want to open it until you have signed the credit card slip, which is fair enough.

If they don't have it in stock, but say they can get it in a few minutes, that may still be true. Many shops have limited space and keep stock in a nearby location. So ask how long it will take to arrive, and if you're ok with the time, ask them to bring it. But DO NOT SIGN ANY CREDIT CARD SLIP OR HAND OVER ANY CASH UNTIL YOU SEE IT. If they insist you sign before bringing it, get up and start to leave. They'll either decide it's not worth losing the sale and give in, or you can soon find another shop.

If they start trying to sell you something else while you are waiting, politely tell them you are not interested, and that if they continue you will leave.

6. Contact the police if you have problems

If you've been taken in with a bait-and-switch scam, contact the police for help. Although it may not officially be a crime, as the police website says:

Police in Tsim Sha Tsui (the main tourist area) are also concerned about these cases, and may still be able to offer you assistance even if you are not sure about your case, so contact them if you are in any doubt. The telephone number for the Duty Officer of Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station is 2678 2887.

Give them a call. There have been regular cases where the buyer has returned to the shop along with a policeman and been given a refund. (Of course, keep all original packaging and paperwork if there's a chance you'll need to do this).

7. If you think you've been ripped off, report it

If you've been scammed and you're still in Hong Kong, call the police (see previous point), and lodge a complaint with the Hong Kong consumer council.

If you've already left Hong Kong, write to the police to ask if they can help (pprb@police.gov.hk), and again lodge a complaint with the consumer council.

The shops that operate these scams do it to make money. They rely on tricking tourists, assuming that either the tourist will be too embarrassed to make a fuss, or the tourist will leave Hong Kong before finding out about the problem.

If you've experienced one of these scams, please report it. Help make it difficult enough for the shopkeepers that they decide there are easier ways to make money than ripping off visitors.

You might want to print out a copy of this to take with you as you go shopping. At least make a note of the police phone number mentioned in point #6.

If you have any other advice for shoppers, please leave a comment below.



Bring a local friend!

Although it's good advice to stick to the major chains when buying major items like cameras or computers, for cheaper items, it's a good idea to check out some of the neighbourhood electronics markets, especially in Sham Shui Po. I made the mistake of buying a 1GB microSD card from Fortress for HK$99, only to find out that many of the shops in the markets were selling 2GB cards for $75.

Of course, if you don't speak Cantonese, bringing someone along who does is advisable...

Check prices of accessories too

Good point above about prices of smaller items. It's not uncommon to spend all your energy on bargaining for the main item (camera, PC, etc), then get suckered when you buy the extras. "You'll be wanting an extra battery" says the salesman, "and a screen protector too of course". And if you haven't done your homework you end up paying well above the going rate for these extras. Not exactly a scam, but still it's another way to lose money.

So when you are at home doing your homework before the trip begins, make a list of the accessories you'll need, and how much they cost. When you're shopping, avoid buying stuff that isn't on your list, and say no to stuff that's too expensive. (Or say you plan to buy, but it only costs $XYZ at home. The salesman may well match your price so as not to miss the business).


Hong Kong Rip Off

Thank you for this content, I was stung in a scam where they sold under deception just off Nathan road area, similar deception as above but very cleverly done, I read your site and went to the Police, i made sure it was clear with the local Police it was deception. They accomanied me back to the store and i received a full refund. now is was the turn of the shop staff to be under pressure with 3 police officers shouting at them. Thanks again for this information you have save me a lot of money and helped expose another dishonest retailer to the Police. Regards MrP

re: Hong Kong Rip Off

MrP, I'm sorry to hear you went through this, but it's great to hear that you got in touch with the police, and were able to get your money back.

Are there any other warning signs or techniques that we missed above, and you'd like to pass on to other readers?

Avoiding Hong Kong Shopping Traps

If you are looking for electronic goods, it is best to know your product, its price and availability in Hong Kong. Traditionally, this meant walking round the shops to find out whether your particular brand model was available, and if so, its price and the likelyhood it would have an international warranty. This was all very time consuming and you are never sure whether the price offered was a better deal down the road. This is no longer necessary as there is a Hong Kong based web site providing price information on the most popular electronic goods. So if you are worried about getting ripped off in Hong Kong take a look at ShopCite www.shopcite.com to check prices and availabilty before you actually travel. Shopcite even has a mobile phone version www.shopcite.mobi so you can check anytime and anywhere while you are moving around in Hong Kong and don't have a computer around to use. Actually with exchange rates, being a problem, you may find it cheaper to buy at home using this knowledge from the comfort of your own computer.

Excellent and true article!

Thanks for this article. I unfortunately was stupid enough to get sucke dinto this 'bait and switch' scam in Hong Kong a month ago and bought a camera at a small shop on Nathan Road for much more than its true value.

They did exactly as was mentioned in the article. We found the camera we wanted through internet research, went to various shops for prices... then found a shop that had the lowest price.

We went to purchase at that shop, sat down... signed the credit card slip and then got talked into purchasing a different camera. They said that camera was much better, etc, etc... We shouldn't have listened to them, but I guess we were a bit too trusting, expecting they were telling us their honest opinion on the cameras. We decided to swap and get their recommended camera, which in turn ended up being too expensive for what it was.

We went back after we found out and they refused to refund us the money, making us wait for 40 minutes for their manager who never arrived, and we were leaving HK the next morning so we just let that be an expensive lesson to be learnt.

I wish I had read this article before I arrived in HK! This experience made the last day of our fantastic holiday comprising of Thailand, China then HK a bit crap to say the least.

I wish I had brought the police with us to get a refund!

re: Excellent and true article!

Thanks for writing in to give a real example of how this scam works in practice, but I'm sorry to hear you had to experience it first hand.

I hope you'll follow step #7 above and report it. It may be too late to get any money back, but it's worth a try, and if it makes the shady vendor's life a bit more difficult, that must be a good thing!

Here's a slightly different

Here's a slightly different thing to watch out for.

Most people do at least some homework and know what camera body they want - after all, there is a limited range of potentially suitable options. So, we go to as many shops as we can bear comparing prices of xyz camera body, find the cheapest price and then think we have our deal solved.

Then, we get suckered on buying a lens to go with the camera. There are so many lens options (camera brand and multiple independent) with no really obvious way to compare - so that's where they make the money. We think the shop with the cheap body (the basis of choosing where to buy) will also have the cheap lens (or lenses).

If you say you just want the body, they tell you the body price only applies when you buy a lens as well, so ... you're suckered.  

Im a victim of Scammers in Temple ST.

I visited Hongkong october 18-21 2011. And our last day shopping was yesterday walking around the city. we were in G/F., Temple st. Kowloon Hongkong at 3D Digital video and audio co. and looking for an IPAD2 in the display. I asked how much is the price for it they said 3,500 HKD. 300 Hkd cheaper in other stores that I've been. And i asked if it has an INTERNATIONAL WARRANTY in APPLE. They said YES! So it was interesting and i call my sister to come over. They invited us to go inside the store. I saw a box of ipad2 in the glass cabinet so assuming that it was already there! There's (ALLAN) an indian man, He's asking me how many GB of an ipad. i told them only 16gb, he's getting a box from the cabinet and a chinese man name (BILL) is getting my payment i just show them my debit card to know if they accept it and he look at my card then i was shocked when he swipe it without letting me know that they are accepting that kind of my card. So i don't mind, I didn't make it a big deal as long it will be the ending paying for the item that i wanted. it's okay for me and the indian man (Allan) speak in other language that we cannot understand. He's holding already the ipad2 with plastic and sealed. Then he told me that it was EMPTY! He gave me an EMPTY BOX! Then they said that they will order for me and wait for a while. I'm like (What the hell?). They said 5mins it will be delivered. My sister told them to hurry up because our flight is 8PM. SO WE WAITED. We're like 5PM in there store and while waiting they said *WHY IPAD? THERE'S A LOT OF GADGETS BETTER THAN IPAD? He showed us a "SUPER PAD" and he wanted to convince us that is better than IPAD. He got a lot of demonstration etc. I TOLD THEM I WANT AN IPAD AND THAT'S ALL! I DONT LIKE YOUR OTHER GADGETS THAT HE WAS OFFERING TO US. So I told them WHERE'S the IPAD? And until 6PM NO IPAD WAS DELIVERED! They're calling to the phone and they said it will arrive on 7pm. I'M LIKE WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE ARE YOU? "We need to be at the airport 45 minutes before the flight". I knew it, No IPAD will arrive. They were like talking in other language! And the Chinese man said that GOOGLE PAD is more Expensive than IPAD. He told us "if I were you I will take this than IPAD! $#!+ I was so PISSED and Scream to them We're BUYING IPAD2 not that SUPER PAD OK? Why cant you understand that! We were like Oh my God. What kind of Citizens are they. And what can we do we're gonna be late for our flight! We leave the store and taking that SUPER PAD (FAKE of an IPAD) We're looking for the POLICE man or anyone who can help us. But we cant find one! I called my bank to hold the payment but they said that they haven't an access for that unless I'll call the merchant (MASTERCARD). Or I will communicate to the seller. I already email them lastnight and still not responded. Anyone can help?

I went to HK oct 12,2011 and

I went to HK oct 12,2011 and experienced the same thing. We passed by the nathan road and saw nikon dslr and we were given a good deal. They said they will get the stock coz what they have in store is the display unit only. I was asked if i have a creitcard then as i show it the salesperson quickly swipe it on a payslip...and he let me signed the payslip as i am
Waiting for the unit..the sales person is bargaining another model amd i find it weird that we already agreed on the the nikon cam why he is encouraging me to buy canon cam instead. Den after sevral minutes its almost 12midnight my huband almost mad bcoz it took th sp long to get the cam. We dsnt get tye canon cam wen he said no stock available for the model we want. Then he gave back the 3 pages payslip i signed. Im worried still even if they returned the payslip i signed. Is there anyway they can charge to my creditcrd? I should have read all these things prior going to HK.

Hi, i experienced the same

Hi, i experienced the same thing. I wanna know if they gave u the payslip where they swipe ur creditcard? Coz in my case they gave it to me but im still worried if there is any way they could do to use my Creditcrd.

3D digital video&audio co

This store is still doing this scam in late January.They set up the store front with a few genuine Samsung,Apple items and signs to give the impression that this is a authorised dealer.Of course they also SAY they are authorised dealers of Apple etc,selling items with full international warrantee. The customer is lured in with the offer of a genuine AppleIPAD at a discount price,but they have no intention of selling the Apple[which they have purchased at retail price,as a decoy]. EVERYTHING they claim is lies and deception. They rely on the customer not being well researched on the item...in the eyes of these fraudsters that makes the customer fair game. Product misrepresentation and fraudulant claims are viewed as acceptable business practise.They are VERY smooth and convincing.If the customer wants to buy the genuine item they get the credit card at the earliest possible opportunity.The idea is to convince the customer that the genuine[Apple,or whatever] is a bit out of date,but they have a newer up to date machine.They use a shop demo model to demonstrate. At the moment{Jan 2012}they present a no name tablet as a Google IPAD with Google android[the customer thinks its a branded item,ie made by Google],just a bit more expensive than the Apple.In fact this machine is some worthless crap called a SUPERPAD 111,but many customers wont realise this until they see the docket.If the customer realises this at this point they should definitely CALL THE HK POLICE.Worst case scenario is that the customer has signed the docket and takes it home,tries it,realises the complete uselessness of the SUPERPAD.Youshould immediately ring your bank to cancel the transaction,you can also dothis even after a few days.The credit card co will investigate.HK police can also be asked to assist the next day.Lodge a consumer council complaint.All this will get at least some of your money back and help put 3D digital video,Temple ST HK ,out of business