Should 163.com change its URL to 419…
China’s Internet user base explosion has made euphemistic any early proclamations by analysts regarding growth potential. And with over 400 million Netizens now online in China, virtual eyes have turned toward the east. And accompanying the home-grown success of B2C platform Taobao, B2B giant Alibaba, and Video sharing sites like Tudou and Youku, resident and immigrant scam and spam masters we have all come to know and hate in the west are flourishing.
The central government is hyper-vigiliant and quick to censor moral and political information. Some complain that China, centuries old experts at assimilation and “shanzhai” (knockoff) adaptation, have created a sad, intra-net dirt road in place of the world’s information super-highway. It is not the World Wide Web with Chinese characteristics. It is tin cans and walkie talkies posing as desktops, laptops and 3-G mobile devices. It is maddening for most online dependent businesses to operate here. It is maddening for all but the worst of users. Businesses find it hard to interact legally though all the censor filters, paid advertising results and “reputation management” search returns that push real information off the page–commercial censorship Ala Rupert Murdoch and similar unsettling accounts….
Beijing acts with passionate intensity about face-saving, but no serious conviction when it comes to the safety of its online community. A recent report by CCTV (the official State owned media service) accused China based search engines of promoting counterfeit drugs,. Baidu was singled out in the press, costing them a 4% decline in share value, but the problem is not Baidu’s alone. The Sanlu milk scandal and suppression of search results about the crisis left a bitter taste in the mouths of those who sympathized with the victims. The tainted milk issue that killed and disabled children country-wide happened in 2008 and the government seems only be paying PR lip service to possible solutions. CCTV reported on Sunday that a mere three websites selling fake drugs was able to scam more than 3,000 people in China.
Now 163.com and other sites have become notorious among anti-spam crusaders worldwide. 163 addresses are by 419’ers. The “419” is code for the devious get rich quick email driven schemes that once were relatively confined to Nigeria and neighboring countries. Now Africans residing in China and native scammers legitimize millions of emails with IPs originating in China and asking for help with everything from Children’s charities to Chinese dating.
I recently tried to sell an iPhone on Craigslist in Hong Kong. Nine of my fourteen responses came from 163 addresses that asked me to drop ship the phone to a son or daughter in America. They promised they would send a bank draft (I have never seen one in China for purchases under 1,000,000 Yuan) upon receipt of the merchandise. Despite a Chinese email address, the email sender’s IPs all resolved in Africa.
And in-country, one clever group uses bogus profiles of pretty Chinese girls to lure lonely westerners. Most of the girls, actually 419ers, use 163 addresses and the scam goes like this:
firstname.lastname@example.org’s profile on a date site as reported by The Dragon Ladies Anti-dating scam forum:
Hi, can we become friends? I live in America because of my work. However, i am not happy. I am very lonely. I want to find a bosom friend. Maybe we can arrange a date and develop a deeper relationship. I wait for your reply. What is your email address address?
Upon reply to “Little Moon” you are told that her English is poor and asked to use a translation site that is run by the scammers. Ms Xiaoyue shaves daily and buys his razors with money gleaned from any bank information you surrender.
More recently, I tried without success to contact 163 about a woman wanted in Guangzhou for commission of fraud perpetrated with the use of a stolen American passport. She writes from a 163 address and attempts to hijack business payments, and charity donations by pretending to be people associated with the businesses or charities. She also uses her 163 address to send fake reporter queries, and then character assaults with the material gleaned, to employers and and the friends of her victims. She later contacts friends of the victims, claiming to be a victim herself, and asks for money to assist in obtaining legal help or other assistance. With Yahoo’s help I shut down three of the bogus accounts she had registered with them. But, 163 has sent back every complaint I emailed them (sent in Chinese and English) stating that they lack translation abilities or citing some other pre-programmed reason for not reading the complaint. Phone calls to 163’s headquarters have resulted in an endless loop of recordings that list the marketing services they sell.
Instead of harmonizing blogs to protect its citizens from historical or political truths, Beijing would do well to rescue online comrades and international web users from the likes of fraudulent sales, spam, and 419 masters. And the WTO would do well to demand enforcement of anti-spam laws at the same time it expects China’s Internet portals to obey Intellectual Property Rights rules and while easing up on censorship.
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