EXPOSED: How fraudsters are minting money from Nairobi online shoppers
If you thought shopping online guarantees you quality products and fast delivery, think again. Fraudsters are now targeting those buying goods on the move to make a quick buck.
And this is how it works: browsing through various sites provides one with amazing pictures. Then follows an order with the promise of delivery within hours. What you might not know is that sometimes you will receive something very different from what you ordered, in terms of quality.
But this could soon change, with the government planning to crack down on such cheats. The Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) has forwarded proposals to top Industrialisation ministry officials seeking powers to monitor all online shopping sites, where those found selling counterfeits will be blocked.
“In response to the increasingly effective and coordinated efforts in the dismantling the traditional counterfeit distribution networks, criminals are now resorting to more innovative ways of selling their counterfeits on the open internet trade platforms,” says the agency.
The agency, which conducted a market intelligence survey in Nairobi and Mombasa, in which 500 people were involved, found that 30 per cent of Kenyans bought counterfeit merchandise unintentionally.
“The majority of those polled had a strong stance against buying counterfeits but bought due to convenience, lower cost and delivery options,” it observed.
ACA said it had since asked its staff to track the offending websites with a view to helping the Cybercrime Investigation Unit (CIU) identify counterfeit dealers.
“CIU will then suspend the domains found selling counterfeit merchandise to unsuspecting consumers. The most popular counterfeit products sold online include electronic goods at 50 per cent, followed by clothing, cosmetics, stationery, food products, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, in that order,” it said.
ACA said the pre-order and pre-pay system for products bought from foreign shops made it impossible for Kenyans to determine the authenticity of a product. Kenyans were also not aware of the legal issues concerning trade in counterfeit goods.
The agency, which has been actively involved in destroying illegal goods seized in various locations across the country, also recommended that Kenyans be sensitised to the dangers of counterfeits, especially those bought online.
The authority cautioned against the growing home deliveries, saying while it made it easy for Kenyans to receive goods bought online, but made it impossible for ACA and other agencies fighting counterfeit products to track the source of the items.
The agency said the online shopping craze among Kenyans adversely affects the ongoing nationwide crackdown by the multi-agency team, which has been conducted raids at the Nairobi Inland Container Depot, the Mombasa port, Nairobi godowns as well as privately owned factories and distributors, where imported counterfeits worth millions of shillings were seized.
The goods now stored in the agency’s godown range from the most basic consumer goods to complicated machines, with internationally known brands being the most affected.
The counterfeiters, who had previously used China to copy popular brands, now have local manufacturing dens, with some of the products being sold by street vendors.
The discrete online market has been a perfect hideout for sellers of these fake products, with consumers only having a narrow window to complain, let alone seek redress.
Global shopping sites such as Amazon give customers up to 30 days to return the products purchased if they are not satisfied with the quality, after which refunds are promptly made. The sites also take complaints on product quality and punish individual sellers of the products, including suspension from the marketing platform.
In the first and second quarters of ACA’s 2017/2018 financial year, counterfeit goods worth Sh81.89 million were seized, with cargo worth Sh24.5 million destroyed to date. In the 2016/2017 financial year, goods worth Sh610 million were seized, and cargo worth Sh320.3 million has since been destroyed.
In January this year, an operation at the Mombasa port netted Sh100 million counterfeits: sugar (Sh30 million), shoes (Sh40 million), electric cables worth Sh9 million and a Sh20 million bale of counterfeit tobacco imported from South Africa.
The crackdowns, which have targeted godowns, factories and inland depots, have proved the existence of conniving State networks that enable unscrupulous businesspeople to import contraband goods.
This has seen the government ban the importation of small consignments in single containers that have in the past been inspected locally. While the crackdowns have mainly targeted retailers and distributors, importers and the big dealers remain untouched since many of them have resorted in mislabelling imported goods by giving non-existent names to conceal their identities.
Last week, the Kenya Ports Authority warned of severe penalties for importers found perpetrating the practice where Nairobi-bound goods are marked “Destination Mombasa” but lack a forwarding address to facilitate the preparation of the documents necessary for taxation.