Posted 28 Aug 2007 01:18
I've been frequently presented with this question by many Alibaba members who have been scammed by rogues in China. Their method oftentimes is not sophisticated. A roughly designed website, several pictures of products, MSN or email address only and the address given only in English or incomplete in Chinese. But it seems to work and many a bona fide Alibaba trader got scammed.
They want to pursue the scammer and shut down the website. But, other than posting the scammer's name and address on the Alibaba forums, how? Given the volume and similarity of these cases, I think there is a need to write something specifically on this topic .I've helped some non-Chinese Alibaba members pursue the scammers and the following is my advice.
I think enough has been said on the Fraud & Security Forum on how to shun the scammer. However, it may be equally useful to know how to deal with the scammer after being scammed. When scammed, one normally wants two things: this first is to get back their money; this second is to shut down the scammer's website. Sometimes, they can achieve both; sometimes, they can get one thing done, while in a fairly good number of cases, none. The reasons may vary by case.
For a foreigner who wishes to act all on his own, their chance of getting both done is almost nil. So retaining a lawyer would be the first step. At this stage, however, the cost should be the first issue to consider. If the money lost is a few thousand dollars, you may consider taking the scam as a lesson because that amount may probably not be enough to retain a lawyer who "really" can represent you all through the legal proceedings to recover your money. I mean "really" because not all lawyers are capable of taking such cases. The legal proceedings, once initiated, may take longer time and turn out far more complex than you could expect, because such cases are treated as "foreign-related" under Chinese law and may involve different lawyering expertise. Let alone the issue of language.
If you decide the case is worth pursuing, then, finding the right, competent authority would be crucial. Neither you nor your lawyer may seize the scammer by hand. You have to decide whether to lodge civil actions against the scammer or report to the police. Someone may have suggested calling the local police at such emergency number as 120, hoping they would intervene and seize the scammer and shut down the website. That may sound good, but is not realistic. Local police oftentimes take care of local matters. The emergency number is mostly used to report emergency matters. And most of the police taking such calls do not speak English. How could you expect them to take your verbally-reported case that arose out of an online, cross-border transaction? I was once told by a frank police officer in Beijing that they normally direct such callers to the callers' embassies in Beijing for help. So, you can expect what will follow.
In order to report such scams, the practice is to prepare a complete documentation of all the facts and evidence and report to the police in person, or through a duly authorized representative. Such cases, once accepted, are usually taken over by the commercial crimes division of the police for investigation and they may take such actions as closing down the scammer's website and confiscating their illegal gains. However, in order to recover your loss, you may have to lodge an ancillary civil action against the scammer and the outcome and timeline will depend on that of the criminal proceedings.
It may also be possible to lodge the civil action directly against the scammer. But, as a first step, you must find the scammer's actual location, without which the court won't take your filing. The location shall be the abode of the individual scammer and the business address of the corporate scammer. Sometimes, the scammed may find themselves unable to provide the accurate location of the scammers, with only fuzzy, incomplete address in English available. That does not make sense to the judge. Website URL, MSN number, email address, or **** number of the scammer is not enough, too. Some scammers are very sly and always avoid giving their address in Chinese either on their website or in their communications. This may bring trouble. The Internet service provider normally will not disclose the information of the scammer that hosts the website to third parties on alleged fraud and the local government authority in charge of telecommunication services is also reluctant to shut down the website without written confirmation from either the police or the local court judgment, because, as one official of the Beijing Bureau of Telecommunications once told me, they are not authorized by law to investigate such scam allegations and therefore may not shut down a website merely on such allegations. In such cases, the scammed may have to turn to the police first in the hope of finding the scammer's whereabouts. Then the ancillary civil action.
If your main purpose is only to shut down the scammers' website, rather than pursue them to recover your loss. There is also a cheap and easy way. The Chinese government has set up or sponsored online report centres that take reports of illegal websites. Websites used for scam may also be reported. The centres will then bring these reports to local police and they will **** down on the scams and close the websites, not on a daily basis but regularly. The name list of the closed websites will be published on the centres' own website. One such centre is the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Centre (http://net.china.cn/) hosted by the Internet Society of China. They have an English version but report can only be made in Chinese. Another centre is hosted by the Ministry of Public Security of the State Council at http://cyberpolice.cn. They only take reports in Chinese. Both require minimum information of the reporter and charge no fee. So, if you can type Chinese, or have a Chinese friend, you may try this.
In sum, in order to cope with the online scammers located in China, you need to decide on your main objects, find the right representative and choose the right course. Otherwise, you may either remain helpless or throw good money after bad.