Beware ubiquitous traps for consumers

Updated: 2012-03-22 08:15

By Huang Xiangyang (China Daily)

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Beware ubiquitous traps for consumers

It was a normal weekday afternoon, much like any other, and I was surfing the Net, when suddenly a pop-up appeared informing me it was my lucky day.

It seemed I had been selected - from millions of netizens - to win one of the prizes that, one of China's largest news portals, was offering to mark the three-year anniversary of its micro-blogging service.

You may think I got a little overexcited, but my heart beat faster and my mouth felt dry, at the thought of this unexpected blessing of wealth.

And apparently all I had to do to receive this blessing was enter a few personal details.

The prizes, though not astronomical in value, were decent: 68,000 yuan ($10,700) and a Lenovo laptop computer.

I would not include greed as part of my character, but who would spurn money at the doorstep? A few clicks seemed unlikely to cost me anything. And the information page, with its web address starting with "sina", looked authentic - at least to me - and the page had popped up from my micro blog account, which needs a username and password to access. So on I clicked, entering my name, phone number, home address and bank account, as directed by the prompt messages.

Admittedly, for a second my finger hesitated on the mouse, as a small voice in the back of mind cautioning me about the wisdom of divulging this personal information. But after a moment's consideration, I concluded the information I was providing was indispensable if the laptop was to be delivered to me, or the money transferred to my bank account. So on I went, motivated partly by the hope of becoming a little more well-off, partly by my curiosity to see how I could be ripped off if it was a hoax.

And hoax it was, as I found out seconds later, when I was asked to transfer 1,500 yuan in "tax" to a designated bank account. I was disappointed. After so much effort to disguise the ruse to separate me from my money, it turned out to be no more creative than any other scam that I have run into in my daily life.

But I was also angry with myself, not because I fell for it until the last moment, or because my illusionary bubble of fortune had been popped, but because I could not forgive myself for harboring that wealth dream in the first place.

Each month I receive many phone calls from the "people's court" warning me in an intimidating voice I will get a subpoena. Occasionally I get a friendly call from someone who claims to be my friend and asks me to guess who he is. My mobile is always filled with messages that want to sell me property, stock software, tax invoices and even weapons. When I withdraw money from an ATM I am bombarded with the bank's pre-recorded messages warning me not to transfer money to strangers.

To me these are the "knowns". If you are not too greedy and able to withstand the temptation of unearned wealth, your wallet is reasonably safe. But we live in a society where the moral baseline is fast receding and hustles and cons are multiplying at breakneck speed, the scams becoming ever more inventive, leaving almost no one completely safe from victimization.

Yes, in China life is not easy. It's a constant battle to outwit swindlers or be outwitted. However, we are faced with threats, not only to our wealth, but also our health, our lives and our children's future.

I know of the glittering jade bracelets and accessories sold in stores that are made of stones dyed with hazardous chemicals. I know of fire extinguishers that will not work in an emergency. I know of children's toys made of recycled plastic, including used syringes from hospitals, that are toxic. And, more worryingly still, I know there are many dangers out there that I don't know about.

But unfortunately there is only one day each year when we are put on our highest alert - International Consumer Rights Day on March 15.

It's our public duty to ring the alarm every day.

The author is a writer with China Daily. E-mail:

(China Daily 03/22/2012 page8)