Online shopping swindles increasing

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Online shopping swindles increasing

Kim Byeong-geon, a 36-year-old office worker, ordered a smart beam projector, which projects videos from a smartphone onto a wall or screen, from a small online merchant. The package included a projector, screen, tripod and speaker and cost 240,000 won ($218.08). Even though Kim was suspicious about the briefness of the description of the product, once the seller showed him proof of shipping, he transferred the money.

Three days later, Kim received a package. Inside was a roll of toilet paper.

“I thought an error was made,” Kim said. “After trying to contact the seller many times, I realized it was a fraud.”

As online commerce grows, so does online shopping fraud. According to the National Police Agency, the number of online swindles has increased from 32,803 cases in 2011 to 40,657 last year.

Swindling is exceptionally easy in online commerce. A swindler need only join a website and load images of products supposedly for sale. Communication is done via text messages. After a gullible customer transfers the money, the swindler simply stops communicating. Online shopping from big online shopping sites like Gmarket and Auction is considered safe. The riskiest shopping is from individual merchants.

Some swindlers send patently wrong products, like the toilet paper roll, so they can show proof of shipping and customers can track deliveries.

Ms. Park, 33, was swindled in January when she tried to buy a used smartphone from an online commerce website. After contacting the seller, she asked for copies of the merchant’s ID and bank account passbook, and he complied. Still concerned, she asked the merchant to send her a photo of the smartphone on a sheet of paper with the letters “KKKJJJ” written on it to prove that the phone really existed. After the seller complied, Park transferred 515,000 won. But instead of the used smartphone, Park was sent a package full of old newspapers. This case is under investigation.

Swindlers who use phones or bank accounts in an assumed name are difficult to track down.

“All cyber bureaus across the country are conducting a war against online commerce swindlers,” a police official said. “It is not easy to arrest suspects because most of them are using illegal phones and bank accounts.”

Experts stressed that consumers have to be careful. Consumers Union of Korea Chairwoman Kang Jeong-hwa said people should do searches online using merchants’ information to see if other customers have been burned by them in the past.

BY NOH JIN-HO [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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