Buyer beware – dealing directly with merchants makes Singaporeans more vulnerable to Taobao scams.
Taobao is a part of the Alibaba group, but this online store caters primarily to customers in China. While there are some good deals to be had, especially during Singles’ day sales on 11 November, it’s important to remember that Taobao is a customer-to-customer marketplace. This puts you at greater risk of dealing with scammers.
While many Taobao merchants are legit, “Buyer Beware” are the watchwords here. Singaporean shoppers should be wary of the five most common Taobao scams this Singles’ Day.
Scam 1: Fake Taobao Agents
As Taobao is meant for users in China, some Singaporeans will have difficulty with the interface (everything is in Chinese, for instance). There may also be complications with exchange rates (everything is priced in yuan) and with delivery services.
As such, there are now Taobao agents who help customers facilitate the transaction, make payments, and receive packages. While most of these are reliable, be wary of the occasional fake Taobao agent.
Some Taobao agents charge an unusually high fee (it is often around 10 per cent of the price involved), and some agents can charge unwary newbies 15 or 20 per cent instead. This may come in the form of “buried charges”, such as the made-up “handling fee”. The agent may refuse to let you have the item until you pay this fee, which is only revealed after the transaction is processed.
It is best to pick an agent based on word-of-mouth. Use one that a friend can vouch for. We’ve also researched some tried-and-tested Taobao agents in Singapore.
Scam 2: Avoid Skincare and Cosmetics
As a general rule, do not buy skincare and cosmetic products from Taobao. The first reason is safety. If it’s fake, you won’t know if you’re brushing something toxic on your skin or near your eyes.
The second reason is that, among all the things that can be faked, skincare and cosmetics are the easiest. In many cases, the fraudulent products will use real containers. It is a simple matter to fill a used skin cream bottle with a fake product.
Scam 3: Knock-off Products
Knock-off products have been a longstanding problem on Taobao. Because the fakes look very much like the real thing, it is almost impossible to tell if you’re buying a knock-off just from the pictures. While the sellers are reviewed, remember it’s possible to hire some people to create fake accounts, and give good reviews.
In general, the more popular and recognised the brand, the higher the odds you’ll get a fake. A fake Louis Vuitton, for example, is more probable than a fake Miu Miu.
Also, note that there can be “fakes” that are only fake on paper. Many fashion labels get their products made in China. When a factory makes these, they are sometimes required to make a surplus to make up for any defects. These surplus products are made in the same factory, and by the same people, as the originals.
Sometimes, the factory needs to clear out the surplus. They are not allowed to sell them to stores (they are not recognised retailers), so the surplus go on Taobao. That’s not a bad deal, but they are still officially “fake” on paper.
Scam 4: Photo Scams
When you see a picture of the item on Taobao, save it. After that, use Google Images to see if it was ripped off some other website. When a seller can’t use a real picture of the product, that’s warning of a potential scam. You might send the money only to receive nothing, or a product that’s an obvious, cheap knock-off.
Also be aware that many pictures are touched up with Photoshop. Some items may be in worse condition that the image implies. A leather bag, for example, can have its spotty or creased exterior disguised with a few minutes of Photoshop work.
Scam 5: The Customer Service Representative Scam
If you’ve ordered something over Taobao, you may sometimes get a “customer service representative” to call you. They may pretend to represent the seller, or have a story about how you will be getting a refund because the seller cannot send the item.
The first warning sign will be if the seller has not communicated anything. Always double check with the seller through Taobao and try to get a response first.
The second warning sign is if the caller seems extra nice and indulgent, asking you if you’ve had a nice day, telling you they are sorry, and generally dragging out the phone call. Most customer service representatives do not have 15 to 20 minutes to talk to one customer.
The final warning sign is when you asked for bank account details, PIN numbers, or credit card security numbers. You should never give out such information, as it allows scammers to access your accounts.
Note that most sellers will just refund you via your Alipay account. It’s highly improbable that they will go through a convoluted process of calling Taobao to inform you.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.