Alibaba helps police catch suspects in motor oil scam

E-commerce giant Alibaba is using big data to help Chinese police keep tabs on wholesalers suspected of importing fake motor lubricants from Malaysia and selling them online, the company said.

Authorities detained 11 suspects, including a Malaysian citizen, in June after it was discovered that counterfeit Mobil, Shell and Castrol products were being sold on online shopping platforms, including Alibaba's Taobao.

More than 50,000 barrels of fake lubricant with a street value of 100 million yuan ($14.5 million) was found at storehouses in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and Yiwu, a city in Zhejiang province.

It was the first time a Chinese mainlander had been found selling fake products manufactured overseas online, according to the General Administration of Customs, which listed the case as the most important in 2016 related to intellectual property protection.

Though falsely branded, the motor oil itself met Chinese standards, according to customs officials, but specific formulas and additives may not match the true brands.

After further investigation by Mobil, Shell and Castrol, customs officials in Tianjin, Shenzhen and Guangzhou were tipped off in October and seized more falsely branded motor lubricant. The products were bound for a trading company based in Tianjin that had been registered under the name of a Malaysian citizen.

"We're assisting police in investigating the case using our big-data technologies to spot and locate affiliated dealers and storehouses," Hong Jun, who heads a task force in Alibaba's platform governance department, said on Wednesday.

Alibaba joined hands with the Zhejiang Public Security Bureau two years ago to launch Cloud Sword, a campaign to use big data and offline actions to stamp out fake goods on online platforms.

The information Alibaba provides is passed on to the Ministry of Public Security's International Cooperation Department, which has been asked to work with the Malaysia government to investigate the Malaysian source of the fake lubricants, said Jessie Zheng, Alibaba's chief platform governance officer.

Hong said the case goes back two years, when police in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, found fake motor lubricants imported from overseas by a Guangzhou import and export company registered by a Malaysian citizen.