Use censors to fight mainland cyber crime

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2012, 2:06am


Cyber criminals have a reputation for being a step ahead of the law, but on the mainland, they are sprinting. The latest internet shopping fraud figures show that almost one-third of the estimated 194 million consumers in the year to June had been tricked by fraudulent websites, losing 30 billion yuan (HK$36.7 billion). With China's e-commerce business booming and expected to become the world's biggest by 2015, those numbers are fast growing. It is an ironic situation given that no other government is as fastidious about censoring websites and monitoring users.

Governments the world over are struggling to fight e-commerce criminals. Scammers operate from websites that mimic popular on-line stores, posting fake reviews and paying search engines to boost result rankings. Products can be fake or sub-standard or not get delivered, while personal information is used for other fraudulent activity. Advanced masking techniques make it difficult for the cheats to be tracked.

Although the amount cheated on the mainland is huge, 70 per cent of transactions involve between 500 and 2,000 yuan. Police, flooded by complaints, find such sums too paltry to give them priority. Without transaction records and an easy way to find the fraudsters, victims can do nothing other than put their losses down to experience. Authorities have launched a campaign through "enhanced supervision and inter-agency co-ordination" and are in the process of drafting legislation to improve protection.

The law, expected to be enacted within a year, aims to enforce registration and licensing of on-line sellers. That is only a small part of the problem, though. Fraudsters are constantly looking for loopholes and opportunities. Educating shoppers and policing, therefore, have to be priorities.

There is no shortage of people monitoring on-line activities to censor anti-government messages; by some estimates, there are 30,000. Making the on-line world safer for shoppers is, therefore, a matter of getting priorities right.