More school students are being caught earning pocket money by selling fake goods online, now the main platform for offloading counterfeit items.
The Hong Kong 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.
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 is 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 doesn’t matter.”
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, and some came with mobile apps that enables buyers to communicate with potential buyers through a private messaging system.
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 from Shenzhen. She was caught by customs officers during an undercover operation in July last year.
Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG) Youth Crime Prevention Centre supervisor Chan Man-ho told Young Post today some young people sell fake goods online but don’t fully understand or grasp what the consequences of selling these items are. “It’s more common in summer as that’s when many teenagers want to make money fast, and they think they won’t get charged with anything as their friends might also have been selling things online,” he said.
Under the Trade Description Ordinance, selling counterfeit goods is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of five years’ jail time and a HK$500,000 fine.
Chan said young people selling anything online should seek advice from their teachers. “They have to make sure what they’re doing is legal. When describing the item, they shouldn’t exaggerate or lie, as [the description] needs to be in compliance with the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.”
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 use of social media to promote themselves.
Sellers often misled customers into thinking the products were real, and cheaper than market price by labelling them as “stock clearance” or “outlet”.
“Con men disguised as customers would also leave 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 is compared with five cases in the same period in 2016, when officers seized 2,688 counterfeits worth HK$256,367.