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Consumer Website accused of hush-up fees

THE official Website of a consumers' rights protection association in central China has been accused of making money by hushing up complaints.

The Hubei Committee of Consumers' Rights and Interests Protection was asking businesses to pay an annual membership of between 8,000 yuan (US$1,170.52) and 20,000 yuan to have consumer complaints against them blocked on the site, the Shanghai Morning Post reported today.

The committee is a non-government organization supposed to represent and protect consumers' rights and interest by publicizing inferior products and services.

An anonymous manager told Shanghai Morning Post that the Website had mailed a document, dated February 20, to his company on March 15 inviting it to become an official member on its official Website

According to the February 20 document, by paying the annual fee, the company would enjoy nine benefits, including having consumer complaints against them moved off the site.

A complaint posted by a reporter against one of the site's membership companies never appeared on the Website.

A senior official with the consumers' committee denied there was a membership fee scheme that stopped complaints.

Jia Minxiang, secretary general of the committee, said the committee had never asked for a fee from companies nor promised benefits though it did send out a membership invitation file on February 20.

He said the membership fee details in the file, however, were fake.

Jia said the committee had subcontracted the operation of its official Website to a private company which had no financial relationship with the committee.

Website workers, however, confirmed there was a membership fee program.

According to Deng Guoxi, a Website worker, the site had already attracted about 200 companies. And the fees charged varied according to the companies. Those with more consumer complaints had to pay higher fees, he said.

But membership was not offered to every company, he said.

He said the Website had returned the fee to one real estate company and canceled its membership because the company had a very poor reputation among consumers.

He said crowds of consumers had complained about the company, which he didn't name, at a housing fair. A deputy provincial governor at the fair was angered by the company's behavior, he said.


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