Introduction
One-page website advertising fraud methods
Judicial practice

Comment


Introduction

In light of the increasing popularity of online marketing, industry players are using various means to capture the attention of consumers through online marketing. One such technique is the use of a one-page website, which is characterised by its simple design. Consumers can browse and pay for products after scrolling to the bottom of the webpage.

One-page websites are often combined with social media ads. Using algorithms, one-page ads featuring specific products are released to targeted consumer groups. Consumers can click on the ads, enter the one-page website and purchase the products. Because the one-page interface and payment methods are simpler than normal websites, it is easier to close orders. As a result, one-page ads have become a popular tool for industry players and e-commerce sellers.

One-page website advertising fraud methods

Scammers and counterfeiters also utilise one-page website ad tactics, using images of the genuine products on their websites. Numerous types of products have been affected, including items from well-known sports brands and products that have been recommended by celebrities. Through convenient one-page websites, consumers can browse through attractive product pictures and place orders quickly. After receiving the packages, they might find that the products are of a poor quality or that they are obviously counterfeit.

After placing an order on a one-page website, the purchaser may not receive email confirmation or, if they do, the webpage may not be attached to it. Therefore, if the consumer wants to return the goods, they have no way to find the link to the original webpage. Even if they can find the webpage, there is often no valid contact information attached. If the consumer successfully contacts the seller's customer service team to enquire about a return, their message may remain unread or be blocked. Alternatively, if consumers try to contact the sender through the delivery information on the package, most will lead to Taiwanese forwarding companies or freight companies. Most forwarding companies, however, will claim that the relevant goods have shipped from abroad, and that they are mere mediators which assist in the delivery process.

Judicial practice

Scammers on one-page websites use photos of branded products but in fact sell counterfeit products. They use a structure comprising:

  • a one-page website with a foreign internet protocol address;
  • Taiwanese forwarding companies and freight companies;
  • overseas logistics companies; and
  • foreign sourced goods.

In criminal justice cases – such as criminal fraud cases, or in cases of infringement of trademark rights or copyrights derived from one-page website advertising fraud – it is often the case that only the representative of the package sending company is listed as the defendant, due to the challenges of identifying the correct defendant. Because the sender company of the package is usually only a Taiwanese forwarding company, the district prosecutor's offices will often render a non-indictment based on the grounds that:

  • the one-page website uses an overseas internet protocol address; and
  • the forwarding companies claim that they:
    • were only entrusted to deliver the goods;
    • did not know what was in the packages; and
    • are not the operators of the one-page websites.

It is difficult to believe that the forwarding companies are guilty of selling counterfeit trademark goods through the Internet – therefore, they are often not prosecuted on such grounds. In such cases, the district prosecutor's offices have made several decisions of non-indictment on the grounds that the source of the goods is located overseas or that no actual seller can be found.

However, many consumers and brand owners (ie, trademark owners and copyright owners) have resorted to legal actions against these emerging tactics. It is necessary to reflect on whether the current judicial practices are effective in combatting such crimes.

The responsibilities of the forwarding companies under the one-page website scam structure set out above should not be flatly ignored. As the sender, the forwarding companies have the responsibility to know what is in the packages they send and it is the basic legal obligation of the sender to honestly declare the imported goods.

Moreover, certain forwarding companies have been listed as defendants in many cases of violations of the Trademark Act and many victimised consumers have left negative comments and complaints on the websites of the forwarders themselves. However, such forwarding companies continue to work with overseas logistics providers and deliver counterfeit products to other unsuspecting consumers without confirming the actual content of the goods with the overseas logistics operator.

If the above is the case, despite claims by forwarding companies that they did not know of the actual content of the goods, this behaviour obviously contradicts the rules of experience and reasoning and does not comply with normal social expectations. The forwarding companies, in certain cases, may be accomplices that are covering up the crime of selling counterfeit goods. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine that any decent business would act in a manner that is so blatantly contrary to appropriate behaviour. Also, as legal forwarding companies, they should assume the sideline safety of the first line and legal and social responsibilities.

Regarding one-page website advertising fraud cases, the district prosecutor's offices should more actively investigate factors such as:

  • the financial relationship between the Taiwanese forwarding companies;
  • their relationships with the overseas logistics companies; and
  • the whereabouts of the products that are returned by customers.

This would better protect the rights and interests of consumers and brand owners and confirm whether the forwarding companies are genuinely not aware of the infringement.

Some scammers may claim that their one-page website is the official website of the brand and publish a fake official non-infringement guarantee on it. If the brand owner does not take appropriate action, consumers may feel like they have also been deceived by the brand owners. Therefore, when a brand owner is confronted by an unscrupulous businessperson who sells counterfeit products using these one-page websites, the owner should take both judicial and non-judicial means to protect its reputation and brand value in the minds of consumers.

Comment

One-page website advertising scammers use structured criminal methods to sell counterfeit goods, commit crimes such as criminal fraud and trademark or copyright infringement, and may endanger public food safety and violate relevant laws. However, the current judicial practices are mostly based on the fact that the senders of the packages – that is, the forwarding companies – are not aware of the contents of the package, such that they are not indicted. It is important to consider how to confront such structured group crimes in the Internet age to protect consumers and brand owners.

For further information on this topic please contact Audrey Liao or Wei-Ting Liao at Lee and Li Attorneys at Law by telephone (+886 2 2715 3300) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Lee and Li website can be accessed at www.leeandli.com.