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Cognitive-impaired elderly in China allegedly coerced into spending 600,000 RMB at hair salon, depleting life savings

In a concerning case from China, an elderly individual with cognitive impairments expended a staggering 600,000 RMB (equivalent to US$82,775) at a hair salon, effectively depleting his lifelong pension savings.

Adding to the distress, the salon staff were reported to have convinced him to secure a loan to replenish his membership account.

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SHANGHAI, CHINA:  A senior individual with cognitive disabilities in China spent almost 600,000 RMB (equivalent to US$82,775) at a hair salon, depleting his entire life’s savings from his pension.

Additionally, as the salon staff became aware of the elderly man’s depleted funds, they allegedly persuaded him to take out a loan to recharge his membership account at the salon.

According to reports from Chinese media, in December 2019, the 62-year-old man signed up for a membership card at the Wenfeng hair salon on Wanping South Road (宛平南路), Shanghai, initially recharging 1000 RMB (approximately US$137.96) for his membership.

However, the salon staff reportedly took advantage of the elderly man, continuously pressuring him to top up an additional 5,000 RMB.

Before he could use up the funds, the staff employed various tactics to persuade him to spend and top up at the store, even going so far as to arrange for someone to accompany him to the bank for withdrawals.

The highest amount spent in a single transaction amounted to a staggering 117,000 RMB (approximately US$16,141).

After the closure of the outlet on Wanping South Road in August 2022, the service for her brother was transferred to another outlet on Tianyaoqiao Road (天钥桥路), where the staff continued to coax him into spending and recharging.

By April this year, the staff realized that the elderly man had no funds left and proceeded to open a loan on his phone, encouraging him to borrow and top up his membership card to ensure the elderly man continued spending at their outlet.

Ms Ren, the man’s sister, revealed to the media that her brother has grappled with severe cognitive and communication impairments since childhood, rendering him incapable of communicating effectively with others.

As he has never married, his economic expenses and daily life have been taken care of by his sister, and the family has also saved a large sum for his elderly care and medical needs.

Towards the end of July this year, Ms Ren suddenly discovered a loan on her brother’s Alipay account that required repayment.

Further investigations revealed that since 2019, her brother had spent nearly 600,000 RMB on top-ups and expenditures at two hair and beauty salon outlets, depleting his funds intended for elderly care and medical purposes, and also accumulating loans.

After meticulously examining the various expenses, Ms. Ren calculated that her brother’s spending exceeded 600,000 RMB, whereas the salon only accounted for just over 400,000 RMB, resulting in a discrepancy of more than 200,000 RMB.

Moreover, her brother still had unused services worth 450,000 RMB (approximately US$62,081) at the hair salon.

According to the information provided by the salon, her brother topped up 20,000 RMB for a male kidney therapy package on November 18, 2020, and 50,000 RMB for a “six-way rejuvenation (六合还阳术)” therapy on February 7, 2021, but these services were not recorded in the salon’s system.

Ms Ren also highlighted inconsistencies in some of the records provided by the salon, particularly regarding time and amounts.

Furthermore, the salon was suspected of engaging in alternative payment methods, prompting concerns about potential under-the-table operations.

In response, the salon clarified that the backend of their hair salon system could only display the brother’s income and expenditure records at the Tianyaoqiao outlet for the past year, resulting in differences in expenditure records between the two parties.

Additionally, the salon claimed that although the brother has cognitive disabilities, his ability to continuously spend should be considered normal consumption.

Additionally, the salon argued that despite the brother’s cognitive disabilities, his continual spending should be viewed as normal consumption, justifying their decision to only refund 280,000 RMB (approximately US$38,628) based on the data from their system backend.

The hairdressing company in question faces backlash over coercive spending practices and refund denials

Shanghai Wenfeng Group, as reported by Chinese media, asserts itself as a conglomerate integrating hairdressing, beauty, research, production, teaching, service, and promotion, boasting over 400 stores nationwide in China.

The news highlighted that the company has been the subject of numerous reports due to issues such as encouraging excessive spending and refusing to issue refunds.

In an article published by Xinmin Wanbao (新民晚报), comments on a certain platform regarding Wenfeng Hairdressing and Beauty (Tianyaoqiao Store) revealed numerous negative feedback, including instances of “coerced card top-ups,” “deceptive pricing, exploiting the elderly,” and “persistent marketing.”

In March 2021, an elderly stroke patient in his 70s in Shanghai spent a staggering 2.35 million RMB (approximately US$324,204) over a three-year period at the Wenfeng Barbershop on Changshou Road, with daily expenditures reaching as high as 420,000 RMB.

During June 2021, the Shanghai Consumer Protection Commission engaged in discussions with Wenfeng Hairdressing and Beauty regarding operational issues.

On June 18, the Wenfeng Group submitted a rectification report to the commission.

Later, in November 2021, the Shanghai Consumer Protection Commission once again held discussions with the company, urging it to address reasonable consumer demands and effectively safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of consumers.

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