Psst! Wanna Covid-19 relief support voucher cheap?

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Psst! Wanna Covid-19 relief support voucher cheap?

Vouchers disbursed by the Seoul city government to support households struggling from the coronavirus pandemic are being traded online illegally for cash.

Sellers are offering their vouchers at discounts to the face value, and the city government is on alert.

Numerous listings for vouchers issued by district offices of Seoul were found last week on Korean online secondhand market platforms.

One listing on the Danggeun Market offered a 330,000 won ($270) face value voucher from Dongjak District, southern Seoul, for 290,000 won. Similar listings could be found in Bungaejangter.

Conversations were taking place online between sellers and interested buyers on the sites.

Used product market platforms are working to limit such activities. Joonggonara, one of the largest used product platforms in Korea, announced in a notice earlier this month that it will limit the sale of government-issued vouchers and gift cards from April 10 to Aug. 31.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been issuing vouchers to low-income households earning below the median income since last month as emergency support funds. The city government is giving out 10 percent more for those requesting vouchers for Zero Pay-supported stores.

According to the Seoul Institute, eight out of 10 small business owners in the capital experienced a 50 percent drop or greater in sales due to the coronavirus outbreak. In a survey that was published by the Korea Federation of Micro Enterprise, seven out of 10 small business owners in Korea said they were considering shutting their businesses if the outbreak continues for six months or more.

The vouchers are issued as smartphone coupons.

Citizens can install an application on their smartphones and register the given coupon code to use the funds like cash at participating stores and restaurants. But it is against the law to sell that coupon code to others in exchange for cash.

Seoul plans to retract all support funds for violators if found. The city government said it is illegal in any cases to sell vouchers for cash, adding that violators will be barred from trading the coupons.

Under the Korean law, those who buy or sell vouchers paid out for disaster support can be jailed for up to three years or levied 20 million won in fines.

Elderly residents are struggling to use the money as many are not technologically familiar. A 67-year-old in Busan said he received 500,000 won as a debit card earlier this month but wasn’t able to check the remaining balance.

The cards can be used right away after being issued, but they require users to install an application on their smartphones to check the balance or deposit additional cash.

For elderly not so used to smartphones for managing their finance, they have been running into tech-related difficulties.

The Busan city government said it is considering a measure to print out the remaining balance on paper receipts, adding that it is in discussion with card issuers and card reader manufacturers.

BY YOUN SANG-UN, LEE EUN-JEE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]

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