The cat-and-mouse game between China's railway authorities and web-savvy scalpers
Scalpers continue to exploit loopholes to buy tickets in bulk during major travel seasons
China’s railway authorities are waging a constant war with internet-savvy scalpers who have exploited loopholes in the railway ticketing website in order to purchase tickets at peak travel times.
The state-owned China Railway Corporation's ticketing website, 12306.cn, is the only official online outlet in the mainland for reserving and purchasing train tickets. The site requires all buyers to wait in a digital queue and enter in their real name and banking information when booking.
Because of limited spots on each train and a booking rush during major festivals such as the Lunar New Year, customers often find that tickets have already sold out by the time their information is entered and verified.
Since 12306.cn first began accepting internet reservations for both high-speed and normal trains in 2011, scalpers have taken advantage of the opportunity to purchase tickets in bulk and re-sell them to customers at high prices.
In an effort to combat this phenomenon, 12306.cn recently went through an upgrade that requires users to input various verification codes when reserving tickets.
But according to reports from The Beijing News, scalpers have already circumvented this system by using specialised third-party programs - usually referred to as software “cracks” - that can fill in all relevant booking information and generate working codes in about three seconds.
CCTV reports claimed that the “cracks” could also make more than one account on 12306.cn, allowing scalpers to secure multiple spots in the site’s digital queues to buy several tickets at once.
An experiment cited by CCTV confirmed that an experienced scalper could technically set up 25 accounts at the same time and arrange for each account to purchase five tickets from Shanghai to Chengdu, ending with a total of 125 tickets.
Scalpers purchasing these tickets go on to illegally hawk them on websites and chatrooms organised via the Chinese messaging software QQ. Demand is never a problem, thanks to the massive-scale travel that always occurs before holidays like the Lunar New Year.
According to Xinhua reports, these “malicious ticket scalping” trends have long caused “serious damage to the vital interest of the traveling public,” and railway authorities have pledged to punish scalpers and clean up the loopholes in 12306.cn’s website architecture.
Maintaining 12306.cn has been a headache for the China Railway Corporation, which spent over 529 million yuan (HK$ 678 million) to open the site and operate its web commerce system. The website has frequently been called buggy and incapable of handling the mass demand for train tickets during the holiday season.