Selling items on Facebook and Instagram illegal, says Deputy Minister

Responding to a Q & A session at the Dewan Negara on 17.12.14, the deputy minister of Domestic trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism told that all trading activities via Facebook and Instagram are deemed illegal.

The statement by the deputy minister has dropped a bombshell in the social network scene in the country. The bombshell hit even harder and wider among the country consumerism scene.

Both Facebook and Instagram are now

the most popular and leading social networks in the country where the netizens continue to grow in the country where even the remotest corner of the country are now connected. The availability of mobile devices have abetted to this phenomenal link and what is more on the bargain is that the prices of many devices are dropping, making it affordable to the non-income earners such as students and senior citizens.

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Selling on-line in the country is not something new. Ebay and Amazon have been in the country for many years. It accompanying services such as Paypal was here for many years too. But singling out Facebook and Instagram is sort of bombshell when the issue in question is to protect consumers. It is the Ministry’s duty to protect the consumers and the gullible public at large. Cheating via the net is something quite worrisome and has increased phenomenally year after year, commensurate with the rise of internet connectivity. It is the Ministry’s role to protect the gullible public since the minister was voted there by the public and would be a dereliction of duty if the government failed to protect the public from such net scams. But the question is singling out Facebook and Instagram the right approach?

There is an aphorism that swatting a fly with a hammer. The Minister’s statement specifically targeted Facebook and Instagram. Are most of the scams came from these two sites? Where are the statistics from the police on the internet scams? Under the official Secret Acts?

newsFeed_banner_472x394The main reason for the Minister’s reaction is there is already an existing provision in the consumers’ law protecting them by requesting all online sellers to be registered and have their company’s information such as registration number, address, e-mail and telephone numbers listed. Is the law efficacious for those sellers based overseas? How the Ministry is going to enforce the laws to the sellers overseas if they commit a misdeed?

To find a holistic solution to a complex problem like internet scam, the Malaysian police need to provide some statistics on the type of scams, which sites are the most vulnerable and how much money lost through which modus operandi. There are many modus operandi of online cheating. A browse through the daily tabloid would inevitably come to such public platform like the MCA Public Complaint Bureau where it is not uncommon to see the victims  holding their police reports displayed before the posse of local media and complained about been cheated online. Most of the victims that received wide coverage from the media are actually from the internet dating sites. Most of them lost their lifesavings in the process. Cheating a relationship and having all your money in the bank account emptied are the most grievous and constituted the largest volume of money cheated online. But this could not be collated because there is a dearth of statistics on this in the country. There was a recent scam of ‘Africa Romeos’ imitating as a Caucasian in England promising money and Visa for local women. Many felt victim but the coverage is not wide enough to reach the most vulnerable audience – the single ladies in the country. The Africans would have ripped off millions from the country in collaboration with a Malay lady pretending to work in a local courier company asking the victims to pay at least £3,000 to claim the ‘gifts’ from their ‘suitor’ in England wooing their hearts. If a survey is undertaken, it is doubtful that many in the country would be aware of this scam due to low publicity. The same applies to the e-mail scam promising US Green Card to the applicants if they deposit processing fee to a bank account based in the UK.

Both the internet dating apps and e-mail scams are the most serious and would have ripped off more money from the victims compared to Facebook and Instagram. Most buyers in social network buy for small price items like trinkets or memento. It is hard to encounter a buyer paying away RM50,000 and above for something they saw on social network. A look at the items on sale in ebay would give a better picture. Most are small priced utility items. Moreover, consumers would not normally go to Facebook or Instagram if they have an intention to buy. They would go to the sites that specifically a market for seller and buyer.

If a scoundrel wants to cheat, why he want to register on the first place? How to get a foreign trader to register? How to enforce the Malaysian laws on a global scale? The Minister needs to answer these pertinent questions before targeting Facebook and Instagram.

Most of the sellers within the country utilising Facebook and Instagram want to boost their limited income by selling something to their friends and relatives. During such a harsh economic climate where the cost of living have risen exponentially and with the onset of Goods and Services tax (GST) next year, many find the present economic situation hard-pressed. Selling online is a notable choice because it does not incur much operational cost and would help many low income earners. Most of their buyers are their circle of friends and acquaintances. In fact most of the Facebookers are known to each other such as former classmates, relatives and former colleagues. The chances of a conman intending to cheat here is lower than via dating apps where most of the potential suitor are strangers to the victims.

Is the Minister’s approach like swatting a fly with a hammer. The fly may not be killed by the hammer but there are collateral damages everywhere. The main damage is the most vulnerable segment of our society, the low income earners who want to make an extra dollar by trading over the net.

Think of the fly and hammer before you act, Minister. Malaysian is fighting too many straw men in the shadows. Facts, illusion and delusion are always intertwining and call forth wise mind to untangle it.

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