Customs officers fear a growing number of young people are topping up their pocket money by selling fake goods online, after a dramatic rise in the number of arrests so far this year.
Many might be under the false impression that they cannot be tracked selling goods online or that they will not be criminally liable, said Superintendent Guy Fong Wing-kai, head of customs' intellectual property investigation group.
Some 45 people aged 21 or younger were arrested on suspicion of selling counterfeit goods, either online or in stores, in the first six months. This was a 67 per cent increase on the same period last year, when 25 were arrested.
Some 24 were university students or secondary school pupils. The youngest was a 14-year-old boy studying in Form Two, who was picked up in April while being recruited to deliver bogus goods. Last year, just nine of those arrested were students.
Most of the arrests involved online sales, often using social-media platforms. The goods sold included watches, leather handbags, sport shoes and mobile-phone accessories, and had often been bought from auction websites or on the mainland.
"We were told they could make between HK$1,000 and HK$2,000 a month selling bogus items online," Fong said. "They think no one can track them down in the cyberworld and that they have no criminal liability."
Some of those arrested believed they could not be accused of deception because they marked their products as "high-quality counterfeits," Fong added. Customs do not believe that gangs or syndicates are behind the sales. "We believe they worked individually to make pocket money during their leisure time," Fong said. The maximum penalty is a HK$500,000 fine and five years in jail.
Overall, customs solved 183 cases and arrested 255 people in the first six months, compared with 168 cases and 237 arrests in the same period last year.
There was a first for customs on Tuesday, when officers seized pencils falsely bearing the popular Chung Hwa brand. Some 90 packets, worth a total of HK$600, were seized from 11 shops.