Making a living on counterfeit products in China has come full circle, as the counterfeiters are now feeding career counterfeit busters.
The law these retail sleuths are working under was designed to protect customers who have purchased fake goods, but the self-made product detectives have found a way to use loopholes to make it into a livelihood. Some Chinese nationals consider these people heroes, others find them as despicable as the counterfeiters themselves.
A Growing Counterfeiting Problem
Despite the long war China has been fighting, an influx of counterfeit goods remain on its streets and in shops.
It’s not just tourists who are getting bilked, though – locals are also suffering at the hands of these fraudsters. China was uncertain how to stop this flow, but initiated measures in 2009 with a law that promised customers 10 times the value of any food product they found that had somehow managed to bypass food safety laws.
When government officials realized this and other laws weren’t strong enough to ebb the flow of bad products, they enacted another similar law for other types of fake goods in 2013. With payouts increased to customers who had been defrauded, a small industry started to blossom from the experiences of disenfranchised shoppers.
Owing to purchases of anything from poorly manufactured clothing to children’s compact discs filled with pornography, the ranks of these angry customers grew. Then they realized how much power the 2013 consumer protection law gave them to fight back.
Fighting Counterfeit Products for a Living
Many Chinese people realized that they could make a living using this law while fighting for more general consumer rights.
These retail bounty hunters started buying up faulty products, then turning around and collecting the considerable payment the law provided. Their efforts have had mixed results. In some ways, they’ve become heroes in the public eye, but these fraud busters have also been threatened, attacked and countersued for defamation as thanks for their efforts.
The government is also having mixed feelings about professional fraud fighters. They are certainly helping to clean up Chinese counterfeits, but the expense of the consumer protection law, which was designed to be used by individuals due to personal grievances, is mounting. China is now trying to curb the payments to counterfeit sleuths with limited success.