City Weekend

The dark side of online shopping in Hong Kong: Dealing with scams and viruses, and fighting addiction

Though online shopping has opened up a world of choices and offers convenience, scams and viruses have made buyers more cautious, while shopping addiction in the city is a cause for worry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 8:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 4:23pm

Parting with your money and not getting what you want, or anything at all, is a less than desirable outcome. But that is exactly what victims of online shopping fraud have experienced.

One such victim, a woman surnamed Zhao from Wuxi city, found a great deal from a Hong Kong-based online seller for an iPhone 6S in March 2016 reported Chinese news website She was told the phone cost 3,400 yuan (HK$4,000). But she ended up paying a whopping 8,400 yuan.

After paying for the item, she received a message from the seller informing her there was an unexpected problem – the phone had been seized by customs – and that another 5,000 yuan was needed to get it back. The seller promised Zhao would get the money back at a later date.

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Zhao said she did not hesitate to transfer the money as she believed the seller to be legitimate.

When the package arrived, Zhao was reduced to tears when she discovered she had been given a “Pear” phone, an imitation of an iPhone.

She tried to contact the seller to make a complaint and get her money back but to no avail as the company had blacklisted her.

In another case, a buyer from Australia, Genevieve Burnett, bought camera products totalling HK$65,000 from a Hong Kong discount trading website.

Her purchases never arrived, but Burnett was able to win a civil claim against the website’s Hong Kong owner. She told the Post that she was put off ever buying something online from Hong Kong again, saying that: “It is too risky and it is too hard to work out which stores are legitimate and which ones are going to take my money and disappear.”

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But fraud can extend to buyers too. Sellers in Hong Kong commonly take to expat forums to warn others about fraudulent buyers by sharing email exchanges.

For example, users on such forums are sometimes approached by keen buyers who claim that they have to use PayPal as a payment option because they are no longer in Hong Kong.

One user on website AsiaXPAT said that a fraudulent buyer made contact and went to the extent of creating a fake PayPal invoice email stating that he or she had paid extra for shipping charges.

The buyer then requested that the local seller make a extra transfer of HK$2,000. But the seller suspected that it was a scam and cancelled the transaction immediately.

Retail therapy or addiction?

Hongkongers spend HK$25 billion annually on clothes, according to a Greenpeace survey earlier this year, with individuals spending an average of HK$10,000 each year.

While shopping can bring temporary satisfaction, the survey revealed that 59 per cent of respondents believe this feeling turns sour in less than a day — debunking the myth that shopping can “buy” happiness.

How then, can shoppers learn to cut down or quit their addiction?


1. Acknowledge the problem

Active denial never helps stop a problem: you have to acknowledge the addiction and question whyyou feel the need to compulsively shop. Get down to the root of your desire to purchase things and tackle it from there. Confrontation is the surest way to end an addiction.

2. Pay for everything in cash

To many people, spending money feels more concrete when they have to pay for things in cash — so when shopaholics have to hand over a wad of bills to cashiers, rather than using a card, it can often help them face their spending head on. Shopping addicts have a tendency of ignoring their enormous credit card bills and shying away from confronting the high amounts they are actually spending. If you insist on paying by card, debit is a better option than credit, as that way you can spend only what you actually have.


3. Ask yourself how many times you’d actually wear something

According to Greenpeace statistics, Hongkongers discard 110,000 tonnes of clothing to landfills each year — the equivalent of 1,400 T-shirts every minute, or 15kg of discarded clothing by each person every year. Instead of throwing out unwanted clothes, donate them to charities. Look at the items you no longer wear and figure out why — is it quality? Style? Fit? This way, you can avoid the same mistakes when purchasing new clothes. Every time you buy something, ask yourself: Will I wear this at least 30 times? If not, then maybe you should leave the item in the store.


4. Set a monthly budget and force yourself to save

As with anything, it is hard to go from zero to infinity. Set small goals, and incrementally change your shopping habits. A good way to start is to establish monthly spending limits, and force yourself to save. Incentivise the process by rewarding yourself at the end of the month if you have succeeded. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip and splurge as hiccups happen. As long as you are conscious of your addiction, and aware of the need to alter your habits, you are on the right track.


5. Unsubscribe from shopping websites

If you spend a lot of time and money on online shopping, one way to cut back is to unsubscribe from mailing lists. This way, you won’t be as enticed to click on shopping links.

Protecting yourself

Visiting random websites can result not only in being scammed out of your money, but can also lead to viruses being downloaded into your computer systems.

Even if you are just clicking on shopping links out of curiosity, and have no genuine intention of purchasing anything, many of these websites are ripe with harmful computer viruses.

The simple act of visiting a website can activate these viruses and cause them to be downloaded secretly onto electronic devices. Web pages that lack internet security are the perfect target for computer hackers.

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Virus, hacker, malware and spyware infections can debilitate or damage the contents of a computer’s hard disk, and can go as far as entirely shut down a device.

Often, the viruses will not make themselves obvious, but will silently lurk and watch your online moves. They will gather information ranging from what you look for on search engines, to your contact details and credit card numbers, and can even hack into a webcam to observe your everyday actions.

So before you visit random websites or start shopping online, it would be a good idea to first spend some money on antivirus software.