2017-12-21 13:15:41

Fandom is flourishing in China — but it has also created opportunities for fraud.

A leader of an unofficial fan club for SNH48, a popular Shanghai-based girl group, was given three-and-a-half months’ detention for counterfeiting 7,000 tickets to meet and greets, a Shanghai district procuratorate stated in a case brief Wednesday.

The 19-year-old man surnamed Liu confessed that he had sold more than 2,000 fake tickets to other fans online in July, earning more than 60,000 yuan ($9,000). After being found out, he embezzled more than 20,000 yuan from the fan club in an attempt to refund his buyers.

SNH48 is the Chinese answer to Japan’s AKB48, a band whose 48-strong lineup is determined by fans selecting from a rotating cast of several hundred girls. In 2016, Liu became interested in one particular SNH48 member, and later he took over the leadership of one of her fan clubs.

Like its Japanese counterpart, SNH48 is based on an “idols you can meet” business model. Each album the band sells comes with a ticket that gives fans the chance to shake hands with their idols at a meet and greet. Buying more albums means getting more tickets — and therefore more time with band members. With an enormous and intensely loyal fandom, some supporters turn to scalpers to nab more tickets, so they can get autographs from and take photos with their idols.

Liu saw an opportunity to take advantage of the band’s many monetized interactions and exploit the trust and devotion of his fellow fans.

“I attended these meet-and-greet events last year and found that they didn’t check tickets very carefully,” Liu said in the procuratorate’s report. A major SNH48 meet-up was scheduled for July, so one month earlier, Liu posted on Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce platform, advertising that he had tickets for sale that would allow fans to circumvent buying albums.

Fans snatched up the tickets — with one buyer purchasing 400 — only to be told by the event organizer that they were all fake. The police confiscated the tickets and questioned Liu, who initially pretended to be a victim himself, until another buyer also reported him. After getting caught, Liu attempted to refund buyers to lessen his penalty, but when he ran out of money, he embezzled funds from the fan club he led. A Shanghai court sentenced Liu to three-and-a-half months’ detention and fined him 1,000 yuan.

Fans turn to clubs for a sense of belonging and a community with which they can share their enthusiasm and excitement — but in some cases, well-respected fan organization leaders have betrayed their members’ trust. In June 2016, netizens exposed the leader of a pop star’s fan community for pocketing nearly 10 million yuan from the club’s coffers, though no legal action was taken.

Shen Fei, a diehard fan of SNH48, told Sixth Tone that some of his friends have been victims of similar scams. “Though this is a single case, it will definitely affect fans’ trust in the organization,” the 25-year-old said.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Members of SNH48 greet their fans at an event in Shanghai, May 25, 2014. Yong Kai/Sixth Tone)