What once appeared to be an internationally styled version of Amazon or eBay, companies like alibaba.com appear to be little more than a commercialized online scam; operating safely out of the reach of the United States Department of Justice. While the company at first appears to be a legitimate way to pass on savings from China based manufacturing directly to consumers, the web site seems to be little more than a way to mass market huge numbers of counterfeit goods to consumers while remaining out of the reach of US authorities.
We took a look at alibaba.com and the company appeared to be legit enough, offering a buyer protection policy, as well as tips and suggestions aimed at consumers for avoiding online scams. So we placed an order for five Kingston Digital HyperX 3.0 64GB DataTraveler flash drives through alibaba for $8 each (items that cost around $63 each from any other online retailer) and shortly thereafter received an email message from the seller stating that they were listed as USB 3.0 by mistake, but were actually USB 2.0. We agreed to continue with the transaction, paid using our credit card and received our flash drives ten days later. The flash drives appeared to be very poor copies of the real Kingston DataTraveler, had a rough uneven finish and the packaging looked like it was printed on someones computer. We ran the vconsole flash drive tester software on them and found that while the packaging stated that it was a Kingston HyperX 3.0 64GB flash drive, the speed actually was (as the seller had stated) USB 2.0 and 4 of them contained errors or parts of the drive where data saved to it would become instantly corrupted. The last one worked for a short time and then that one failed as well. We then contacted the seller, so stated that we could mail the items back to him in China and would receive a refund 4-6 weeks later. Like most consumers faced with having to ship a small value item back to China and then wait a month or more for a refund we simply deposited them in the trash.
We also placed an order for a “factory unlocked” Samsung S5 cell phone for $200 ($586 on Amazon) which was advertised to work with any cell phone carrier and received a very poor copy that came with a customs declaration labeling it as a “sample” item. We tried to activate it with Verizon, US Cellular, AT&T and T-Mobile (are there any others left?) and were told by all of them that the phone could not be activated. On this particular item we did contact the seller who stated that we could send it back and he would refund our money within 1-2 months. We sent it back and when no refund was forthcoming we filed a complaint using alibaba.com’s buyer protection policy only to find that our complaint was overruled, closed and cancelled automatically by alibaba.com without even having received a response from the seller. The company also stated that if we disagreed with their determination we could reopen the complaint, but left us no way to do so as there was no option to reopen it, and the company listed no contact information. After several months of being being stonewalled by both alibaba and the seller we filed a credit card chargeback with our bank and after providing the tracking information on the return shipment, we received a refund.
The moral of this story is that if things seem too good to be true, then they most likely are. If someone online is offering you an item for a fraction of what it should cost then you are likely about to become the victim of counterfeiting.