Friday, January 04, 2013

Guns & drugs for sale online in China, reports

China has a thriving illegal trade of gun and drug running, at least according to a report in the New York Times published this week [ / SMH]. While the country reins in spurious content such as Internet porn, blocks political discussion and many foreign social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+,  it appears many individuals are openly selling firearms and drugs on the net.

Reporter Nicholas Kristof points to several Chinese sites which sell drugs, and apparently claim to deliver anywhere in mainland China. "Our company has delivery stations in every part of China," one Chinese-language website, complete with photographs of illegal narcotics, claims. "We offer 24-hour delivery service to your door, and we have long-term and consistent supplies. If you just make one phone call, we'll deliver to your hands in one to five hours."

Guns too are also available for a price, according to the article. A Type 54 semi-automatic Chinese military handgun could be bought for around  for $640 or 4,000 Chinese Yuan.

Scams & honey traps

Of course such sites could be scams or even honey traps set up by law enforcement. While such sites could be part of a sting operation to catch unsuspecting criminals, a scam set up by other criminals is far more likely.

Scamming is rife in China, yet gets little publicity and Internet users are not warned sufficiently enough about the dangers of phishing and other fraudulent activity.

Telephone scams

As recently as today it was reported that some 82 Taiwanese individuals appeared in a Taiwan court charged with carrying out telephone fraud activities on victims across mainland China. The 82 were amongst 400 people arrested for swindling millions of dollars from the elderly [ABC/CBN / GMA].

Posing as police officers or state prosecutors, the suspects would call their victims on the telephone claiming hackers had broken into the victims' bank accounts and scare them into transferring their savings into the gang's bank accounts.

In a separate incident ten defendants stood trial in a telephone fraud case last year accused of stealing nearly $4 million in a scam targeting people in China. The victims were told they had won the lottery but informed they had to pay $1,892 for insurance and necessary certificates and documents in order to receive the prize [China Daily].

Internet fraud

Internet fraud too is rising as more people go online to purchase goods. However few are aware of the risks and a growing number of people are finding themselves to to victims of fraud.

As of December 2012, there were around 500 million Chinese connected to the Internet and nearly 200 million of them have shopped online, according to a report by the China Electronic Commerce Association. However according to the CECA more than 60 million Internet users have been victims of fraud with at least 30.8 billion Chinese Yuan [£3 billion / $4.8 billion] stolen from unsuspecting shoppers.

Even mainstream sites have not proved to be entirely safe. According to statistics from Taobao, one of the most popular online shopping market places in China, they received more than 8.7 million complaints on goods bought on the website and levied more than 700,000 punishments on shop owners who were found in violation of its rules in 2011.

Accounts emptied

One Taobao user found her bank account emptied after making a simple purchase for her baby of only 146 Chinese Yuan [£15 / $23].  A 26-year-old mother in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, said she received a call from a woman claiming to be an after-sales service worker for the online shop shortly after her online purchase claiming that there had been a technical problem with her payment and asked to make the payment again, through another website.

"I knew little about paying online, so I believed her," Ge said. "I was told to input my ID card number and my bank account on a Web page." Minutes later the young mother received a text message notifying her that all of the money in her bank account, about 19,000 Chinese Yuan [£1,900 / $3,000], had been taken.

"I called the shop but they said they never called me or disclosed my information to others," she said. "It's all the savings for my family's past eight months," she said. "I called the police, but they said it is almost impossible to get my money back." [China Daily]

Risks and benefits

Of course there are many benefits to shopping online. Prices can be easily checked against different outlets, and with many payment methods there is at least some degree of protection.

Buying illegal products online might not be the safest of online activities however. While the purchase of a Type 54 semi-automatic Chinese military handgun for less than a $1,000 might appear to be a bargain it could result in more than one might have bargained for. Such a purchase could simply result in the delivery of the said item, no questions asked, and a debit of the posted amount. It could however result in an emptied bank account, a call from the police and a stiff prison sentence to boot.

Purchasing illegal items on the Internet is probably not the safest thing to do. Even in the West authorities have tracked individuals who illegally download music and child porn or post defamatory comments on social media websites.

The trail left behind through online activity is possible to follow and illegal activity can result in fines or even prison sentences. In countries like China the risks and penalties are much greater. Even if the reports of guns and drugs being on sale on the net in China could be substantiated, the risk posed is more likely to be felt by the customer than society.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

No comments: