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Baidu’s guide to the eight biggest Internet scams in China

BeijingWanBao 25 July copy

The top headline of the front page of today’s Beijing Evening News (北京晚报) is ‘Bo Xilai indicted today’. The Global Times has a good English summary of the way the party is spinning the story. Also on the front page is the headline “21 Million Sham Webpages Deleted in Half a Year” for a page eleven story regarding the release today by Chinese Internet search engine giant Baidu (the equivalent to Google in China) of an “Anti-Fraud Guide for Eight High-Risk Areas on the Internet.”

The eight types of websites deemed by Baidu to be particularly susceptible to fraudulent activity and requiring netizens’ vigilance are those involving financial management, value recharge, pharmaceuticals, online shopping, ticket bookings, after-sales services, express delivery, and prize draws (see below for more detailed descriptions of the top three Internet scams).

According to statistics quoted from the Anti-Phishing Alliance of China, in 2008 there were only 1,610 scam websites in China, but by last year this figure had increased to 37,584 (this figure seems to relate to coherent scam website operations rather than individual webpages, which is what the figure in the headline refers to). In 2011, over 60 million netizens had already lost money to online fraudsters, with the total amount swindled exceeding 30 billion yuan (US$ 4.9 billion). And fully 30% of all online shoppers have been victims of scams.

China’s 500 million or so netizens each use Baidu an average of ten times every day, searching and sifting through the over 200 billion individual webpages that Baidu has records for. Given the oceans of data available, there are bound to be a few sharks that get caught in the net, and so in 2010 Baidu’s national illegal online information reporting center initiated “Operation Sunlight” to get rid of them.

The article reports that in 2012 alone, Baidu cracked down on over 30 million scam websites. There are indications that such fraudulent websites are becoming increasingly prevalent, however, as in the first half of 2013 Baidu has already had to delete over 21 million of them.

The Baidu guide details typical scams in each of the eight high-risk categories, although the advice provided by Baidu is rather simple, and basically just warns netizens to be careful, use antivirus software, verify website bona fides by checking addresses and telephone numbers, and only transfer money online using certified official websites. Below are translations of the examples provided of the top three online scams in China.

#1 Financial management scams
Mr. Gao received a text saying “Valued Internet banking customer, your E-banking account will expire tomorrow, please promptly visit www.xdboc.com to upgrade”. Mr. Gao immediately logged onto the website to “upgrade” and after providing his banking details had 160,000 yuan drained from his account.

#2 Value recharge scams
Old Wang searched online for “Sinopec gas card” and found a recharge website. He used Internet banking to put 1,000 yuan on his card, but when he went to use it there was no money on it. It turned out that a scammer had registered a fraudulent website with a numerical domain name (many domain names in China consist of random numbers or letters) only one number different from the official Sinopec gas card recharge website.

#3 Pharmaceutical scams
Mr. Liu went online to buy medicine for his father, and chanced upon a diabetes website claiming to be the “most professional, most authoritative, most effective.” Per the instructions on the website, he made an online payment and arranged for delivery. The medicine was received, but rather than alleviate it in fact aggravated his father’s condition.

Links and Sources
Beijing Evening News (北京晚报): 半年打掉虚假网页2100万个