People have spent more time at home than ever before because of the pandemic, and thus the time they spend on the Internet has also increased. The Executive Yuan's Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) found that many people create fake online relationships to practice improper sales behaviors, which has led to many consumer disputes. Therefore, the DCP would like to remind consumers to be particularly careful when making friends online to avoid scams.
According to statistics from the DCP, from January to June 2021, there were 80 consumer complaints related to online relationships, which is approximately the total number of complaints received last year (2020). Among them, beauty service providers establishing fake relationships to sell their products or even to provide loan services is the most frequent complaint, which accounts for 60% of all cases. In summary, the modus operandi of most scams is to pretend to establish a relationship with consumers to accomplish a sales target. This method is described as follows:
● After contacting consumers via online dating apps, female service employees will invite consumers to their stores and ask them to buy or experience certain beauty services.
● While a consumer is experiencing a facial treatment (ranging from hundreds up to a thousand dollar), multiple female employees will inquire about the consumer’s financial capacity and promote their products. Once the treatment is finished, employees will recommend multiple beauty products and promote their alleged effects, and encourage the consumer to try them. Female employees sometimes ask the consumer or directly open a product without informing the consumer of its price. Consequently, once the consumer has tried out the product, the employees demand full payment of the opened products claiming that it is store policy.
● If a consumer does not have the ability to pay, female employees may state that payment in installments is available and ask the consumer to sign a printed finalized contract, claiming that the contract will be used by their head office to verify the consumer’s personal information, such as its ID. Consumers then sign without fully understanding the contract to later realize that they have actually applied to a financial institution for installment loans.
It’s worth noting that all consumers filing the aforementioned complaints are men who wanted to make female friends online. However, after meeting a young and pretty female friend online, such “friend” invited him to her work place (beauty service company) to experience a certain product. The consumer was then forced to buy opened care products or sign a loan contract with a financial institution, thus suffering substantial financial losses.
Also, relevant cases from the National Police Agency, Ministry of the Interior show that some young women in Taiwan have also been victims of fraudulent investment schemes because of online dating. Coincidentally, data from the United States Federal Trade Commission showed that there were more “romance scams” reported by consumers in 2020 than in previous years. In those cases, the modus operandi of scammers was also to find targets on dating websites or apps, gain their trust, and commit fraud against them.
The DCP would like to once again remind the public to be careful when making friends online. Consumers should be aware of these types of scams when talking to new friends and choose a proper place to meet. Additionally, this type of transaction is considered a “door-to-door sales” according to the Consumer Protection Act, so consumers can return the goods or send a written notice within seven days after receiving the goods or services to rescind the transaction. In the event of a consumer dispute, and if such dispute cannot be properly solved or the consumer is not refunded after contacting the service providers, consumers may visit the DCP’s website (https://DCP.ey.gov.tw/) to file a complaint and protect their rights and interests.