Pissed-off Toff

China: a virus, a scam, and an act of lunacy

in Big Issues

Pissed-off Toff speaks out in favour of the Coronavirus … unearths a clever Chinese scam … and condemns the decision to let these wily oriental operators near anything which concerns our national security.

Since the main function of the media, nowadays, is to stir up fear and loathing and to keep us in a state of constant anxiety, they are making the most of the new scare story about how a ‘Coronavirus’ pandemic is going to cut a swathe through the population of Britain. 

Even if one believes this, I cannot see what all the fuss is about. As anyone who has the misfortune to commute to and from work by rail or car knows, our country is hideously congested and absurdly over-populated, and the housing crisis will only get worse as the supply of homes falls ever further behind the needs of a population that is growing inexorably.

What we need, of course, is a demographic cull of about one-third, of the sort that took place as a result of the Black Death. Although not especially enjoyable at the time, this purge did wonders for what are now called ‘workers’ rights’, because after the flea-borne bacillus from the East had exhausted its energy, the serfs of Medieval England found that their position with regard to their overlords was greatly improved.

Being a modern serf (unhappily and reluctantly so; but a serf nonetheless), I am therefore all in favour of this virus which hails from the land of the dragon, and I look forward to it doing its work quickly and efficiently. Nor, frankly, would I particularly care if it got me. In the absence of a surprising development, an old age of loneliness and destitution is all that I have to look forward to.

* * * * *

Less contentious, perhaps, are my concerns about a different import from China … namely, a clever scam which my readers would do well to avoid. What follows is a story which might inform and entertain; with, attached, a few more general observations to which I would direct the attention of our Prime Minister, my fellow-OE Boris Johnson.

* * * * *

Propped up in bed one morning with freshly made coffee to hand, I was looking for YouTube videos of a dance called the sarabande. The reason for this was that my piano teacher – I call him that, but he is in fact a concert pianist of aristocratic birth and rare talent whose services I can afford only occasionally – had told me that I was playing the sarabande from Handel’s Suite no. 11 in D minor rather too fast; and he had explained to me that I had to think of this as a slow and stately Spanish dance, quite different from the minuet.

So I wanted to establish quite how slow and stately said sarabande is or was. But before I could view the YouTube video, up popped an advert for a revolutionary new knife sharpener. It so happens that along with solid gold pens, expensive shirts, well-cut suits and hand-made shoes, sharp knives feature among my various obsessions; so I watched.

To the accompaniment of catchy music, a slickly produced advert shows a chef pulling a knife through a sharpening device which looks as though it is made out of glistening metal. Cut – so to speak – to a pineapple sitting on a chopping board. In slow motion, the newly-sharpened knife swishes through the air, as though wielded by a Samurai warrior, and effortlessly decapitates the innocent fruit. Further scenes show other knives performing other miraculous tasks; and then a window pops up saying “50% off today. Buy it now.” I followed the link and paid my £15, reduced from £30 … sending my cash by PayPal; which, as it turned out, was just as well. 

* * * * *

Over two weeks later a parcel arrived, containing two tiny slivers of cheap steel glued to a flimsy plastic frame to which an even more flimsy spring mechanism was attached. There was no wrapping or receipt or invoice, and no sender’s address. Just a featherweight object in a battered cardboard box with a Chinese bar-code on the outside. Using this product, I tried to sharpen a soft carbon steel knife, and in so doing almost injured myself. I had purchased a bit of rubbish which could never have sold for £30. It wasn’t worth a fiver. Nor even one single penny.

Plastic ‘knife sharpener’ … from China, with love

I might, I suppose, have thought “Oh well, win some, lose some.” What had I lost, after all? No more than the price of a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape dropped by mistake on the flagstone floor of a kitchen in Gloucestershire; or no more than the price of a disappointing pizza somewhere near a villa in Tuscany. 

However, I knew that I’d been had, and that I was annoyed. It wasn’t just an unsatisfactory purchase. It was fraud, and I intended to do something about it. 

Little did I realise that I was about to embark on a quasi-legal on-line odyssey.

* * * * *

Although the box contained no clue as to the identity of the sender, my PayPal invoice gave the name of the payee as YC Tech Co Ltd, and a google search soon led me to a Facebook page dedicated to this company.

The ten pages of comments that I printed out made for lively reading. “Numerous attempts to contact this seller but no response. Do not buy from this company!” “Rubbish. Keep away.” “The company I ordered from is called Now Sparkle. They need reporting to Trading Standards. I would advise NOT to use this company, but if you’re reading this, I suspect it’s too late, and like myself you have already lost your money.” “I have been completely ripped off.” 

Or how about this comment, quoted here in full: “I ordered some ice-scrapers advertised on Facebook from a company called Cadevotus. My account was debited by this YC company. Contacting them is almost impossible and the package tracker shows it being shipped from China. Kiss the money goodbye. SCAM company.”

And so it goes on. “Absolute rubbish, cheap and nasty.” “I am being told to return to some warehouse in China.” “This company is a scam.” “I paid $25 for trash.” “Cheap tacky crap.” “Feeling angry.” There’s even a pissed-off French customer complaining that “ce sont de vrais arnaqueurs” … meaning, in the argot of the streets of Paris: real rip-off merchants.

* * * * *

That YC Tech was a rogue company seemed clear. But what, I wondered, was the connection between them and the companies called Cadevotus and Now Sparkle; and, indeed, between YC Tech and a company called SaltDays UK, from whom I had received an email confirming the purchase of my own accursed knife sharpener … this despite the fact that my money had been paid not to SaltDays, but to YC Tech. It was all rather confusing. And there was the China connection too. 

Now in detective mode, I visited the sites of the these three on-line retailers which were clearly connected in some way to YC Tech. 

The domain names for Now Sparkle and SaltDays (www.nowsparkle.co.uk and www.saltdays.co.uk) suggest that they are British companies, while the online address for Cadevotus (www.cadevot.com) suggests an international retailer. All three sites sell a large range of cheap consumer tat, every single item being offered at a ‘discount’ of between 50% and 70%. Furthermore, the design, format and template of all three sites are identical; nor, on any of them, is there any telephone number or postal address to be found for the benefit of the customer.

But then, deep in the entrails of saltdays.co.uk I came across an interesting bit of information, in very small print: “This site is operated by YCI Technology,” it read. Even better, in the corresponding place on the almost-identical site of its sister-company Cadevotus: “cadevot.com is a site operated by YCI Technology Ltd, registered in Hong Kong at 19H Maxgrand Plaza [etc etc].” 

On nowsparkle.co.uk, however, I could find no mention of YC Tech. But I knew already that they – Now Sparkle – were involved in this; and the customer feedback for them, listed on the consumer website uk.trustpilot.com, was another eye-opener, with an impressive 97% (sic) of reviews being categorised as ‘Bad’. In this compendium of retailing shame, every second review contains the word ‘scam’. “Wish I had never seen [Now Sparkle’s] advert on Facebook,” writes one customer. “It’s so bad it’s almost funny,” writes another, who signs off saying that he will be “reporting this outfit to Trading Standards.” There are pages and pages of these complaints. Oh, and Now Sparkle also ship their products direct from China.

* * * * *

Finally the jigsaw puzzle fell into place. I understood the scam. It works like this:

YC Tech is a company operating from China, registered in Hong Kong, and with websites throughout the world which appear to belong to various on-line retailers based in the country in which the unsuspecting consumer is sitting at his computer. These websites are not just similar, but almost identical, and can be easily replicated, their names changed at a moment’s notice. Nor, it seems, do YC Tech’s outlets – with names such as Now Sparkle, Cadevotus, and SaltDays – have any physical presence at all in the countries in which they operate. They exist in the ether.

Thus through various ghostly front companies YC Tech dumps cheap tat onto Western markets. But when howls of protest ensue, as they inevitably do, YC Tech is out of reach in a foreign jurisdiction on the other side of the world. They are untouchable … as, presumably, are their websites, which I’d guess are hosted by servers in China.

As a business model it is, in its way, inspired. Think: China’s warehouses are bulging with cheap tat that no-one wants, and here’s a way to offload it onto suckers in the still relatively prosperous West who, when they realise the trick that has been played on them, are powerless to do anything about it. Plus, since these are low-ticket items, priced generally in the £10-£20 bracket, most of the victims move on with a sigh.

“Ha! Velly clever!!” thinks the wily Hong-Kong-registered businessman as he contemplates the tons of plastic rubbish which he is shifting and the river of money that is pouring in from dupes all around the world. “Velly clever indeed!!!”

* * * * *

Thus to the website of PayPal, from which I printed out their six-page Buyer Protection Policy, in which Paragraph 2a pointed to the first step I had to take: “Before contacting PayPal,” it read, “you should contact the payment recipient [my italics] directly to resolve the problem.” 

So let’s play the game. Let us send appropriately-worded emails to YC Tech, the payee operating behind the scenes … and also, while we are at it, to SaltDays, the online retailer involved in my own little story.

From SaltDays, I received an automatically generated response asking me to return the item in question to an address in China, at my expense, and stating that once the item had been received, I would be refunded … which was already a good laugh to dine out on. Whilst from YC Tech, I heard nothing. All of this was entirely consistent with the numerous complaints that I had read in various places on-line.

Having gone through the motions on this front, and with the hours starting to clock up significantly, I spent further time digging around on PayPal’s website … here to learn that I had to “open a dispute” with the payee via PayPal’s own site. And having then drafted, typed out and submitted my ‘dispute’, I heard back from PayPal. “It looks like something went wrong at our end,” read their message. “Please try again.” I did so, thus clocking up more hours before I finally got through to the next stage. “If you can’t resolve this issue,” read a subsequent message, “you can escalate it to a claim before [date in the near future].” 

* * * * *

“Open a dispute” … “resolve this issue” … “escalate it to a claim” … With all this and with the stream of emails automated by my every action (and also with everything having to be printed out and put in order … how else could one deal with the process?) … with all this, I was now running an on-line court case. 

But with the difference that PayPal would act as both judge and jury. “When you escalate a case to a claim,” read one email from them, “[we] will decide the outcome, usually within 30 days.” When, therefore, I duly ‘escalated’ my ‘case’ to a ‘claim’ (to use their lingo) … when I filled in yet more forms, I did so with the due care and consideration of the solicitor which I should perhaps have been.

Yet more emails followed, each one having to be read, digested, printed out and filed away. Merely contemplating them as I write this makes my head swim. 

Then just two days after I ‘escalated to PayPal’ I was informed that YC Tech had refunded my £15, which PayPal would forward to me. Only hours later the cash was on my account.

* * * * *

What lessons do we draw from this story?

Some are trivial or relatively trivial.

In all, about twenty hours spent to get £15 back, for example, plus a considerable expenditure of emotional energy. Was that worth it? No. 

Or perhaps it was, as a matter of pride. And perhaps this was a lesson well learned: the hazards of on-line retailing. How much better, often, to shop in a real shop.

Plus, we now have confirmation, if ever it were needed, that the on-line giants like PayPal and Amazon who increasingly dominate the lives which we have handed over to them will do anything – anything whatsoever – not to talk to you. It’s all done at-distance, on their terms, causing the impotent consumer to scream loudly and grab for the gin bottle. 

More importantly:

The Chinese are a highly intelligent race. But they don’t do things our way; they consider us to be inferior beings; and as likely as not, their intentions towards us are hostile.

Why, then, has our Prime Minister agreed to let the ultimately state-controlled Chinese company Huawei participate in the creation of our 5G network? This is something of vital importance to our national security. And yet Boris – in thrall, like all politicians, to short-term expedients with long-term costs – hands this most vital contract to China … whose knives, in this particular case, are well sharpened.

The idiocy of his decision beggars belief.

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