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LCQ16: Online shopping
     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Han-pan and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Dr Bernard Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):
     It has been reported that amid the epidemic, members of the public have become more reliant on online shopping. However, as the standard of online stores varies, problems on late delivery, refund arrangements, etc., arise from time to time. Moreover, there have been quite a number of online shopping frauds. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that both the United Kingdom and South Korea have enacted specific legislation to protect e-commerce consumers, including setting out protection such as a mandatory cooling-off period during which customers may return products and be refunded, as well as full refund for late delivery, whether the Government will consider enacting dedicated legislation on e-commerce as soon as possible so as to protect the interests of online-shopping consumers;
(2) given that in recent years, some online stores suddenly closed down after having large quantities of products or services sold in pre-sale, and that I have recently received requests for assistance from more than 100 victims of such cases, whether the Government will consider enacting legislation to regulate such online pre-sale activities so as to combat related frauds;
(3) of the problems that the law enforcement agencies are currently facing when investigating online shopping frauds, and whether they have plans to step up the use of technology and to increase manpower, so as to deal with such problems; and
(4) given that from time to time, online shopping involves cross-border e-commerce activities, of the problems that the law enforcement agencies faced in the past three years when investigating related frauds, and the details of their collaboration with the Mainland or international law enforcement agencies; whether the law enforcement agencies have examined ways to improve their efficiency in investigating online shopping frauds?
     Having consulted the Security Bureau, the Hong Kong Police Force (Police) and the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED), our reply to various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) Currently, various laws in Hong Kong protect consumers' rights and interests. Among them, the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap. 362) (TDO) covers goods and services. Unfair trade practices that are prohibited include false trade descriptions, misleading omissions, aggressive commercial practices, bait advertising, bait-and-switch and wrongly accepting payment, which are applicable to both physical and online traders.

     The C&ED is the principal agency to enforce the TDO. In dealing with unfair trade practices related to online shopping, the C&ED monitors different types of illegal online activities by using tools for evidence collection and investigation, and initiates follow-up actions and prosecutions where appropriate. If the cases involve offences falling outside the purview of the C&ED (such as the offence of fraud), the C&ED will refer such cases to other relevant law enforcement agencies for immediate follow-up.

     In addition to the TDO, other laws in Hong Kong (such as the Sale of Goods Ordinance (Cap. 26), the Control of Exemption Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 71), the Supply of Services (Implied Terms) Ordinance (Cap. 457) and the Unconscionable Contracts Ordinance (Cap. 458)) also regulate contracts relating to consumer transactions, thereby protecting consumers' rights and interests. Depending on the circumstances of the cases concerned (including contract terms), consumers may lodge claims under contract law and/or any other relevant laws.

     The Government will continue to keep a close watch on the development of online consumption and review the trend of unfair trade practices, so as to formulate appropriate strategies in protecting consumers' rights and interests.

(2) Deception is a serious offence. Regardless of how it is committed, the Police will take stern enforcement actions as long as there are illegal activities involved. The Police have all along been combatting different types of deception through various means including strengthening law enforcement, multi-agency co-operation, intelligence analysis, cross-boundary collaboration, and publicity and education.

     On the other hand, under the TDO, if a trader at the time of accepting payment for a product, intends not to supply the product or intends to supply a materially different product, or there are no reasonable grounds for believing that the trader would be able to supply the product within a specified or reasonable period, the trader commits an offence. In this connection, in handling complaints concerning sudden business suspension or cessation of a trader hence failing to provide consumers with the prepaid goods or services, the C&ED will in general investigate in the direction of "wrongly accepting payment", including investigating the operating condition, capital flow, and any atypical promotional activity of the trader before the shutdown of business. If any trader is found to have violated the TDO, the C&ED will take immediate law enforcement action.
(3) With the increasing popularity of the Internet and the change of life and working mode of the public under the epidemic, the extensive use of the Internet and social media have created opportunities for scammers. Owing to the anonymity of online scammers and the cross-boundary nature involved in the process of committing the crimes, etc., it is often more difficult to trace online scams when compared to traditional crimes.

     "Enhancing cyber security and combatting technology crimes" is one of the Operational Priorities of the Commissioner of Police in 2022. The Police will continue to enhance public awareness of using computer, cyber security as well as the risks associated with the Internet and social media through a multi-agency co-operation approach. The Police will also continue to enhance co-operation with other law enforcement agencies and relevant stakeholders.

     Targeting technology crime and deception cases, the Police will leverage the "e-Crime Processing and Analysis Hub" established in September this year to enhance the efficiency of technology crime and deception investigation by carrying out correlation analysis through an enhanced computer system. The Police also launched a one-stop engine "Scameter" on the "CyberDefender" website in September this year. Members of the public can enter suspicious phone numbers or information of online platforms to identify deception and online pitfalls.

     As regards digital forensic investigation, the Police will strengthen the knowledge of technology crime and investigation skills of frontline officers through enhancement of expertise, technology, equipment, resources and talents. A Digital Forensics Laboratory and a Digital Forensics Unit have been established at the New Territories North Regional Headquarters to enhance frontline officers' capabilities in handling technology evidence. To enrich professional knowledge, the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau of the Police organises regular training courses on technology crime investigation, digital forensic examination and cyber intelligence gathering to police officers and local law enforcement officers.

     The Police will keep up their efforts in combatting technology crime and promoting public awareness on security.
(4) Targeting syndicated and cross-boundary scams, the Police maintains close co-operation with the Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies, other government departments and major industry stakeholders, including strengthening the co-operation mechanism with overseas law enforcement agencies, and carrying out proactive, intelligence-led operations to combat cross-boundary technology crime. The Police have seconded an officer to the Digital Crime Centre of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, through which the Police exchange intelligence with the INTERPOL and law enforcement agencies of other countries to co-operate in combatting cross-boundary technology crime.

     On the other hand, the C&ED has all along endeavoured to combat unfair trade practices and infringing activities on the Internet and maintained close co-operation with the Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies to protect the rights and interests of consumers and legitimate traders.
Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Issued at HKT 14:30
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