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Scams and swindles

Hong Kong consumers need to be vigilant against online scams

The city’s consumer watchdog recorded a surge of 23 per cent in complaints from online shoppers last year. While there is room for the Consumer Council, government and police to educate the public in how to protect themselves from the latest rip-offs, shoppers must take the lead role

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 1:07am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 1:07am

If World Consumer Rights Day this month held a mirror up to the market place, online buyers have emerged as the new face of consumer protection, both in Hong Kong and the mainland. The city’s consumer watchdog recorded a surge of 23 per cent to 4,000 in complaints from online shoppers last year. Many said goods delivered for their online purchases did not match the initial description or their expectations.

And a growing number of cases – nearly 100 – involved buyers claiming to have been scammed by sellers offering a cash-on-delivery option. In one case, a courier refused a request to take back the goods after the buyer inspected them, and the buyer’s attempt to get her money back failed when the online shop went out of business. In another case, a women who ordered a well-known British brand coat and paid on delivery, found the coat was from a Korean branch.

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On the mainland, Chinese Central Television’s famous annual 315 Gala show may have focused on consumer complaints about foreign-based companies, such as Volkswagen and on toothbrushes imported from Japan and South Korea. But the big mover, amid a 44 per cent increase in consumer grievances, was dissatisfaction with online purchases, which surged an eye-popping 184 per cent.

The chairman of the Hong Kong Consumer Council’s publicity and community relations committee, Clement Chan Kam-wing, called for consumers to be more vigilant and for law enforcers to crack down on errant sellers.

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Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han urged consumers not to let their guard down, especially when deals on offer seemed too good to be true. The council is continuing to monitor online activity, and pledged to tackle fraud and scams to boost online consumer protection.

But consumers must be prepared to take the lead role in protecting themselves.

In the digital world, it is important but not enough to safeguard personal data to prevent fraud and identity theft. There is room for the Consumer Council, government and police to educate the public in prudent online shopping to protect themselves from the latest rip-offs.