E-commerce scams plague Internet-driven Vietnam

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A Chinese tablet was set to a customer in Ho Chi Minh City who had ordered Apple's latest tablet, iPad Air, online. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

It takes just five minutes and a few clicks to open a shop online, so that is all it takes to scam people.

Shopping websites have mushroomed in Vietnam to cater to a community of more than 34 million Internet users, of whom 18 million shopped online last year according to an official survey.

But only a few of the websites are properly registered and most of the rest rip customers off with no one to complain to.

One man in Ho Chi Minh City, identified only as N.V.T., ordered an iPad Air, Apple’s latest tablet, from traitaovang.mov.mn (gold apple), which advertised a 60-percent discount to mark the opening of a new outlet, but received a Chinese-made Novo tablet instead.

T. called the persons he had spoken to when placing the order, but they kept passing the buck, he said in a Tuoi Tre newspaper report.

So he went to the address listed on the website -- on Dien Bien Phu Street, District 3 -- but a security guard at the building told him there was no website office there and that many others too had been conned in similar manner.

The police said there was nothing they could do, and the website continues to operate with impunity, advertising gadgets from Apple, Samsung, and Nokia.

Linh was lured by a 50 percent discount offer on thegioiapple.net.vn (apple world), but ended up getting a Chinese toy instead of an iPad. She too was unable to find the website’s office.

Online shop owners said they don’t need to pay tax or register any information.

Nguyen Thi Dieu H., who runs several fashion shops online, told Tuoi Tre it takes five minutes to open one.

“I import items from China and Taiwan and rent shopping sites like 5giay or 123mua, or even Facebook. It’s very easy.”

Her colleague, Lam, said renting a shop online costs VND3-6 million (US$142-285) for six to 12 months.

“You just need to pay a little money and provide the site some basic information when you want to place an ad.”

Lam also said since his shops do not have real addresses he is not worried about complaints.

Nguyen Ngoc Dung, deputy general secretary and chief southern representative of the Vietnam e-Commerce Association, said shopping websites became a fad in 2011 and have been growing along with the development of online payment methods.

Nguyen Thi Hanh of the southern branch of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's e-Commerce and Information Technology Agency said 518 shopping sites and 344 websites registered with the ministry to carry on e-commerce as of late 2013.

But it is a very small number compared to the number which is actually operative, she said.

“It is impossible to know how many of them there are.”

But she said the situation seems to be improving with many sites starting to register after a resolution on punishing e-commerce violations came into effect this year.

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