Dealers in counterfeit products are using online auction sites to sell their wares that they pass off as genuine.
The Customs and Excise Department says this is a new method that is used to evade detection by their new monitoring system.
The number of counterfeit goods cases has been rising steadily, from 26 in 2008 to 47 in 2009, and to 49 last year. There were 26 cases in the first half of this year, similar to the same period last year. Most of the cases involved Yahoo Hong Kong's auction site.
Sandra Tam So-ying, superintendent of the intellectual property investigation group, said vendors selling counterfeit goods often disguise the fakes as second-hand products to confuse potential buyers and lure them to pay higher prices.
'They sell them as genuine goods to avoid our surveillance online,' she said.
'But we will be able to discover that [nonetheless], when the victims lodge a complaint.'
This year, the department set up an online system to monitor local auction sites 24 hours a day, searching for fake goods using keyword searches.
In one such case, a woman put up a fake handbag for sale, using airbrushed pictures, on Yahoo Hong Kong's auction site.
She claimed the bag, which resembled a luxury model that cost about HK$110,000, was a second-hand limited edition, Tam said. A buyer bought the bag for HK$31,000 and deposited the money in an account belonging to her boyfriend. The buyer received the bag by post but found it was fake upon inspection at a shop of the brand.
The couple were arrested after the buyer made a complaint. The seller was found to have been involved in three previous cases.
Tam said the department was now relying heavily on victims' complaints to detect fake goods sold as genuine. She said customs would upgrade its keyword-search criteria.
University and college students have been getting involved in selling counterfeit goods online. Of the 28 people arrested in the first half of this year, five were students, compared with the two students arrested in the first half of 2010. Their ages ranged from 18 to 21.
'They think they are invisible, that no one on the internet knows their real names and appearance,' Tam said. 'They usually use the post for transactions and thought they could cancel the accounts afterwards. That's why they are getting more daring and think customs would not arrest them.'
A Yahoo Hong Kong spokeswoman said auction users should comply with Yahoo's rule against counterfeit goods. She said any suspected cases should be reported to Yahoo.