Gripes pile up over fake HK tour sites on Baidu

Top News | Charlotte Luo 16 Apr 2019

Mainlanders using search engine Baidu to look for agencies organizing Hong Kong tours are being scammed, according to a report by state media CCTV.

Shenzhen authorities received 26 complaints during the Lunar New Year holidays, with about half complaining the dishonest travel agencies had been verified by Baidu.

Baidu, which claims it screens out fake websites and adds a "V" for those that had been checked, promised to give a full refund to customers scammed by verified sites.

One of the victims booked a tour on avcits.com, which was passed off as the official website of China International Travel Service. The travel agency confirmed the site was fake.

The Standard tried to check the website yesterday, but it had already been taken down.

According to China's advertising law, a publisher cannot feature advertisements with fake content.

A lawyer at Grandall Law Firm (Shanghai), Wu Nuo, said Baidu should be held responsible for the scams.

Wu said the websites with the "V" mark may not have actually been verified and wondered if Baidu got paid to promote them instead.

A friend of former Hong Kong Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying was victimized by a fake tour agency also named China International Travel Service.

Lam said his friend and her parents signed up for a Hong Kong-Macau tour.

On their first night in Hong Kong on April 3, their tour guide took their ID cards to check them in at a hotel in Tsing Yi.

The following day, the guide said the tours would be replaced with shopping. Lam said his friend told him they were forced to spend 3,000 yuan (HK$3,505) each.

After they refused to go shopping, the tour guide kept their IDs and left them with a phone number, saying they would meet later and go to Macau.

However, when they called the number, they were told they needed to pay 500 yuan each to get their IDs back. Lam took them to the Hung Hom police station to report the case.

On a leaflet provided to The Standard by Lam, the tour organizer was listed as China International Travel Service. But the company chop was that of China Travel Agency Guangdong.

Wu said those operating such travel scams - impersonating others to sign contracts involving money, forced purchases, and confinement and loss of Chinese citizens' liberty - may have committed multiple crimes, including fraud, false imprisonment and transaction by force.

She said even though the fraud took place in Hong Kong, mainland law enforcement has jurisdiction because the victims are Chinese citizens.

Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said it received more than 20 complaints from mainlanders on packaged tours in the first few months of the year. The complaints include travel agencies changing itinerary and forced shopping.

This is not the first time Baidu has been criticized for failing to verify the authenticity of operators.

In 2016, a mainland university student was believed to have been taken in by a medical advertisement by Baidu and ended up dead after spending a large amount of money on treatment.

charlotte.luo@singtaonewscorp.com

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