SINGAPORE - Smartly dressed and ready with a smile, they approached the heart patients with lots of concern.
Then, they pushed their products.
The New Paper was alerted to aggressive sales tactics by health supplement promoters from Herbalife who had camped at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS).
These promoters would target patients and their family members who were at the centre waiting for their appointment.
TNP learnt that some of the unsuspecting patients had no clue that the promoters were not working for the hospital.
Both NHCS and Herbalife said promoters are not allowed to hawk their products this way.
They added that they had no clue this was happening until TNP approached them.
But the promoters did not hide their activities.
On three separate visits, a TNP team spotted the promoters operating openly.
On the first visit to the centre two weeks ago, TNP observed a group of five touts at the main lobby waiting for potential customers.
Some of them were in T-shirts with the Herbalife logo and name, and had set up camp at a table in the waiting area.
Within minutes of being spotted, two of them latched onto an elderly couple and were seen talking to them while showing them printed material kept in a binder file.
"Most people don't consume enough nutrients... We tend to eat the wrong things," said a male promoter.
His woman colleague also spoke about the various health benefits and how their products could help counter illnesses such as arthritis and gout.
This went on for about 30 minutes until the elderly couple left for their appointment at a clinic in NHCS.
The promoters then regrouped before moving off to look for more customers.
On April 21 at 12pm, this reporter was approached at the waiting area by one of the promoters.
Saying he was from a nutritional products company, he took out a brochure-cum-namecard.
He also produced a folder with the Herbalife logo and claimed his company was a Herbalife franchise.
Citing 10 different ailments, he asked if an elderly family member was suffering from anything on the list.
He proclaimed that his products provided health benefits and solutions such as weight management.
He even showed before-and-after photos of his "customers".
He said: "Besides that, I can also put a dollar in your pocket."
When asked to explain, the promoter said he would pay the reporter if he recommends his products to others.
Herbalife was hit with a lawsuit earlier this month accusing the multilevel marketing company of failing to disclose to investors that its operations were based on a "pyramid scheme".
The lawsuit came days after reports emerged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the company.
The promoter also extended an invitation to a talk at Suntec City Convention Hall, which was to take place in a few days' time.
He said it was an opportunity to learn more about his products.
This reporter then identified himself as being from TNP and his smile dimmed.
When asked if he was violating any rules by approaching NHCS patients, he said: "This is a public space and I am just talking to people. There are people here who I believe I can help."
HEART CENTRE: Such activities are not allowed
A National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) spokesman said that the unauthorised sale and promotion of products and services at its premises is prohibited.
The spokesman told The New Paper: "Patients and the public are advised to alert our staff if they come across such activities... NHCS has also stepped up... efforts to deter such unauthorised activities..."
Meanwhile, a Herbalife spokesman said the company was unaware that its distributors have been touting at the lobby of the NHCS.
In an e-mail, Herbalife said it will investigate the matter.
It said: "Should there be any suspected case of violation of the company's rules of conduct, we will act accordingly.
"Herbalife products provide good nutrition to everyone and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
"This message is emphasised... to our independent distributors."
This article was published on April 29 in The New Paper. Get The New Paper for more stories.