- Many shops on Taobao and Amazon hire people to post good reviews.
- Criminals use online shops to transfer illegal casino money.
- The police are still investigating.
For years, many online shops on Taobao and Tmall have hired people, especially students and housewives who have lots of free time and want to earn some extra money, to forge orders and good product reviews. It’s called “Shuadan” in Chinese. These hired “customers” browse and buy the products in exactly the same way that a normal customer would behave.
However, instead of receiving the products, they usually either receive nothing or just some cheap stuff such as a pair of socks as a gift. They get paid by online-shop owners for each good review (only customers that have bought in a shop can post reviews), which usually varies from less than $1 to $5. There are countless Wechat groups and even companies dedicated to this grey business.
Undoubtedly, the online platforms are aware of it. So gradually they carry out some measures to fight against Shuadan. But there are always more ways to go around the rules. For example, the hired Shuadaners won’t search the shop that hires them directly. They need to pretend like they are just casually browsing, enter some other shops and stay there for a few minutes and then get out.
When they are finally in the right shop, they need to act like they are curious about the product and contact the shop’s support team. They will have a nice little rehearsed chat or even bargain for a while before placing the order. These kinds of tricks exist on Amazon too. According to an informant, it’s a bit more complicated to Shuadan on Amazon, but not impossible and it’s quite common. To be honest, I personally have done it several times for friends who own shops on Taobao and Amazon.
One important part of this grey business is the tracking number of the package. For each product sold, even though a fake one, it needs an authentic tracking number. Even though they send the hired customers some cheap gifts, it’s still a bit expensive for many new online-shop owners considering the delivery fee. So, another business appears: authentic yet fake tracking numbers. Agent companies buy tons of real tracking numbers from courier companies and sell them to online-shop owners. These numbers can be tracked online, but they do not correspond to any package. Illegal as it is already, these empty tracking numbers have given birth to another more evil business: money laundering. In this case, the goal is not the commissions for posting good reviews.
According to a special program on China Central Television, two guys, Wang and Zhang, from Guangdong and Guangxi own more than 3,000 websites selling empty tracking numbers. Since gambling is illegal in China, criminals use online shops to gather money for oversea casinos. When gamblers place orders in these shops, they are paying money to casinos located in Southeast Asia. The shop owners then use the empty tracking numbers to mask it all as a normal order to avoid inspection. Wang and Zhang are reported to have sold over 600 million empty tracking numbers, many of which are related to two big cases of money laundering. The police are still investigating how these agents manage to buy the tracking numbers from the courier companies, which may lead to more dark secrets.