Lexology ran an excellent article the other day, entitled, Catching the Bad Guys: Recovery for a Defrauded Alibaba Buyer. Our international manufacturing lawyers can attest to the need for this sort of article as hardly a week goes by where we are not contacted by someone with a major China Alibaba supplier problem. Note though that these issues are certainly not confined to Alibaba. The article nicely sets out how to handle a situation where you have sent payment for an Alibaba purchase but you receive “either junk or nothing and [you] can no longer reach the seller.” As noted in the article, most of these fraud situations involve a Chinese seller that “is a newly registered entity with little registered capital that uses a fake office address.”
Initiate a police report. The article notes that in a fraud case, you should report the crime to the police to try catch the fraudulent seller and to try to recoup your monetary loss. The article rightly notes the importance of going to the police quickly and ignoring various stalling tactics employed by the seller:
When confronted fraudulent sellers will reflexively claim that the matter is a commercial dispute to avoid involving the criminal justice system. For this reason, in cases of clear fraud it is advisable to proceed quickly to report to police and ignore last minute entreaties by the suspect to amicably settle. These apparent attempts by the fraudulent seller to settle not only may be an insincere attempt to delay for time but are also designed to create the appearance of a commercial dispute to dissuade police from pursuing an investigation.
The article notes the importance of going to the right police department (Hong Kong or Mainland) and of going to the police department with sufficient evidence to entice them to pursue an investigation.
Negotiating a settlement with the suspect. The article goes on to discuss how negotiating for restitution with the seller often should be undertaken, even in conjunction with the police pursuing its investigation of the seller:
Once put in detention and questioned by police, the realization of serving prison time acts as a strong impetus on the fraudulent seller to settle claims with the buyer. In exchange the buyer can agree to make best efforts to end the police investigation or ask for leniency for the fraudulent seller before the court if the case has advances to an indictment.
According to Chinese law, if an accused person returns some or all of the defrauded money and obtains a written pardon from the victim, her/his criminal responsibility may be mitigated. It’s on this basis that a fraudulent seller looks for a reduced sentence or release from detention by striking a deal with the buyer.
The article notes that one way to be able to tell whether the fraudulent seller has exhausted its available resources is “the extent that the fraudulent seller’s immediate and extended family make contributions:”
If a family member of the fraudulent seller provides a mortgage over real property or liquidates real estate assets to pay for restitution, then it’s likely that the fraudulent seller has cobbled together the maximum possible restitution payment.
Bottom Line: If you have been defrauded by an Alibaba seller (or any other China seller for that matter), the key is to act as quickly as you can in going to the police and in trying to negotiate repayment from the defrauding seller. The quicker you act, the more likely you are to get at least some of your money back.