Rise in Hong Kong school students caught selling fake goods online

Although many of the youngsters did not market the products as genuine, they were unaware that such trading is illegal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 9:11am

More school students are being caught earning pocket money by selling fake goods online, which is now the main platform for offloading counterfeit items.

The Customs and Excise Department said the number of cases cracked in online community marketplaces jumped from 36 to 74 in the first six months of this year compared with the same period of 2016. This accounted for more than 80 per cent of all online counterfeit cases over that time.

The number of fakes seized in physical stores jumped fourfold, to 14,025.

Customs officers arrested 101 people, including 28 secondary school pupils and four tertiary students.

Catherine Yip Wai-sim, head of the intellectual property investigation bureau, said although the total number of arrested students had dropped from 37 to 32, 93 per cent of them were caught selling fake clothes, watches and leather products in community marketplaces this year. This compared with only 27 per cent in the same period of 2016.

Yip said many of the youngsters were not aware of the legal consequences even though they stated the products were “not real”, “1:1”, “toys” and “high-quality fakes”.

“They thought they weren’t cheating as long as they clearly stated the items were fake,” Yip said. “But the law is clear: it’s an illegal act to sell an item you know is fake. Whether or not you’ve told the buyer the truth is immaterial.”

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She said sellers had moved from auction sites and social media to community marketplaces because the person-to-person shopping tool combined classified sites, forums and social media, while some came with mobile apps that enabled buyers to communicate with potential buyers through a private messaging system.

“Some students posted pictures of the items. After receiving an order request, they then purchased a fake one from mainland online retail platforms and sold to buyers. Some just resold their unwanted counterfeits,” Yip said, adding that officers would create undercover accounts to crack down on the trade.

A 13-year-old girl studying in Form Two was the youngest trader. She was arrested in May after she sold a fake backpack in a marketplace to earn HK$140.

In another case, a 23-year-old mainland Chinese student was put behind bars for 28 days for delivering fake jerseys to Hong Kong city from Shenzhen. She was caught by customs officers during an undercover operation in July last year.

Under the Trade Description Ordinance, selling counterfeit goods is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of five years’ jail and a HK$500,000 fine.

Courts have convicted 27 students this year, with punishments ranging from fines of up to HK$10,000, 140 hours of community service, and a care and protection order.

Officers seized 14,362 fake items that sold online with a market value of nearly HK$1.5 million in the first six months, compared with 11,458 fakes worth HK$744,219 in the first half of 2016.

In real shops that sold fakes, officers found they had made good use of websites and social media to promote themselves.

Sellers often misled customers that the products, ranging from babywear to leather products, were real and cheaper than the market price by labelling them as “stock clearance” or “outlet”.

“Con men also disguised as customers and left positive comments on social media or forums to make people believe the stocks were real,” Yip said.

Customs detected 12 cases in stores and netted more than HK$1 million worth of fake products. This compares with five cases in the same period of 2016, when officers seized 2,688 counterfeits worth HK$256,367.