As if Alibaba’s counterfeit woes weren’t enough, the Chinese tech giant’s e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall were hit with more bad news on Monday.

An investigative report by The Beijing News (link in Chinese), a Chinese media company, was published yesterday, revealing China’s illegal market of “empty package scalping” (空包刷单, our translation), whereby shop owners on Taobao and Tmall inflate their sales statistics though fake package deliveries by using “empty package” service websites and delivery services.

“I wasn’t even in China, I never bought anything from these stores,” said one source in the report, who had left China for two months.

In that period of time, she received more than one hundred fake packages filled with toilet paper, shredded paper, and other useless debris. Like other victims of “empty package scalping” schemes, her personal information, including her full name and address, had been leaked online to unscrupulous e-commerce shop owners.

In other “empty package scalping” schemes, shop owners will send packages with the words “Already inspected” (已验视, our translation) stamped on them, so abetting couriers at package delivery warehouses know they’re fake. That way, they can mark the package as “delivered” without having to send it to a final destination.

According to a source who spoke with The Beijing News, those in the package delivery industry are well aware of “empty package scalping”, which has been occurring since at least 2013.

Five package delivery companies were implicated in The Beijing News’ investigative report:  STO Express (申通快递), YT Express (圆通速递), ZTO Express (中通快递), Best Express (百世快递), and Yunda (韵达速递).

“The ’empty package scalping’ incident has shocked us,” stated STO Express in a public announcement. “As one of the largest courier companies in the industry, we cannot be excused for the inadequate management and poor supervision that has been revealed by the ‘scalping’ incident. To our customers and friends, we offer our sincere apologies.”

According to the company’s announcement, STO Express will adopt a “zero tolerance” attitude and work with law enforcement to conduct investigations and crack down on those involved in the empty package scalping schemes. In addition, STO Express claims they will improve their supervision and oversight systems, creating a “blacklist” for dishonest shop owners.

During the 2016 Development Of China’s Express Delivery Industry Conference (2016中国快递行业发展大会, our translation) on Sunday, the CTO of Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics affiliate, said that it was working with both government officials and delivery companies to investigate the network of “package scalpers.” In addition, the company said it would continue to leverage big data not only to stop stores from plagiarizing goods, but empty package scalping as well.

However, Cainiao’s war against “empty packages” will be hard one to win. Shop owners on Taobao and Tmall rely on their total sales to promote their stores, attract customers and boost the visibility of their shop. In addition, their shop status is influenced by the number of deliveries they successfully complete, as well as user reviews. Both can be bought.

A spokesperson from Alibaba could not be reached in time for comment.

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