Wed, Nov 12, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Closure highlights risks of pre-paid cards and coupons

By Lisa Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Following the unexpected closure of Twin's Bakery (新糖主義) outlets, a consumer-rights watchdog urged people yesterday to be careful with taking out pre-paid cards or coupons, as these items can become valueless when the business involved closes.

Twin's Bakery, a six-year-old chain known for producing cakes and bread using sugar substitutes, has enjoyed great popularity among local consumers who hoped to eat healthily. It ran around 20 outlets nationwide, but closed most of its branches yesterday due to financial difficulties.

"Though stores initially tend to offer generous discounts to coupon holders or on pre-paid cards, consumers should be aware of the risks underlying the generosity," warned Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏), secretary-general of the Consumers' Foundation (消基會).

"These offers are no guarantee that companies will continue to operate for a long period of time," he said.

The foundation received dozens of complaints from angry callers yesterday, who demanded a refund of their Twin's cards and coupons.

With NT$35 million worth of coupons reportedly held by Twin's members, the foundation said it will urge the authorities to freeze the assets of the bakery's owner as early as today.

Twin's could not be reached for comment as of press time yesterday. So far, the company has not filed for bankruptcy, but most employees haven't received their salaries for two months.

While most of Twin's 20 chain stores shut their doors yesterday, the store located in the Far Eastern Department Store (遠東百貨) in Taipei still provided cakes and breads, and took the particulars of holders of pre-paid cards for a possible refund.

It is estimated that about 4 million people, including the bakery's members and cardholders, are victims of the incident. The bulk of the cards was issued by Twin's, while 5,000 were issued jointly by the bakery and Ta Chong Bank (大眾銀行), the bank said.

One cardholder surnamed Chen yesterday rushed to the bakery's Yitung outlet in Taipei, hoping to get a few cakes to reduce her losses, but the store was empty.

"I came here after learning of the shutdown from a television broadcast," Chen told the Taipei Times.

"It's unthinkable that Twin's would shut down. Now I don't know what to do with my card," said Chen, an office worker. She said she still has credit of about NT$2,000 left on the card.

Chen is not the only one who tried to reduce her losses by visiting as many outlets as possible. In just 15 minutes, over 20 Twin's members came to the Yitung branch in the hope it might still be open.

A young woman, who received her pre-paid card only last week, said she noticed something unusual at the store the day before.

"They looked like they were packing up or cleaning," she said.

"My heart is bleeding. I haven't even used my card yet," she said, adding that she paid NT$2,000 to become a member. She said most of her colleagues are members of Twin's.

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