Vietnam News

Cash-on-delivery fraud is a nightmare for gig workers in Vietnam

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Drivers pay out of pocket for online cash orders, expecting to be paid back by the customer — but, in Vietnam, the customers could disappear.

  • Cash on delivery is the most popular mode of payment for online orders in Vietnam, leaving delivery workers vulnerable to fraud orders, or bom hang.
  • In such situations, food delivery workers end up losing out on the delivery fee and the money they pay restaurants to pick up the food.
  • Platforms have reimbursement policies, but workers say they’re complex and sometimes it’s just easier to eat the food.

One night in November, when Grab delivery worker Nguyen Hai reached Hanoi’s Old Quarter to drop an order of 30 pieces of fried chicken, he was met with a rude shock. He could not find the address mentioned on the app anywhere in the neighborhood. He tried calling the number given with the order at least seven times, but there was no reply. Hai had paid for the order from his pocket — a norm for cash-on-delivery orders in Vietnam — and failing to reach the customer meant he would lose all that money.

“I was really sad because the order was worth nearly a million [dong ($41)], while each night I make just 200,000 [$8],” the 27-year-old told Rest of World, adding that he ended up eating the fried chicken as his meals for the next three days.

In Vietnam, such experiences are common enough among delivery workers for there to be a colloquial slang for it: bom hang (bomb package).

Until 2021, around 80% of all e-commerce transactions in Vietnam were paid via cash on delivery, according to the Vietnam E-Business Index. For such orders, delivery workers need to pay the merchant or restaurant upfront and get the amount reimbursed from the customer when they make the delivery. If a delivery person falls victim to bom hang, they not only lose the money they spent on fuel to travel to the delivery location but also the money they have spent to procure the package. While bom hang occurs with all kinds of items, food orders are the trickiest, as they can often not be returned and are perishable.

“If you don’t follow the right procedure, you won’t get compensated.”

In a 2022 report, management consulting company McKinsey noted that cash on delivery as a model leads to more failed deliveries. “Customers who need to pay only when their purchases arrive tend to be more fickle when they shop online and are more likely to make last-minute cancellations when the items are already en route,” it read. The report also highlighted cash-heavy Vietnam as a standout in the region, with a failed delivery rate of 15%.

Most food delivery platforms in Vietnam offer ways to get reimbursed for failed deliveries. But the processes to file such complaints are cumbersome, multiple delivery workers told Rest of World.

For instance, local food delivery player Be expects undelivered orders to be brought to its offices — costing drivers additional fuel expenses and wasted time. Grab mandates riders to come to its office to get reimbursed if it’s the third case of failed delivery in 30 days.

There are other tedious steps in the process: Grab requires delivery workers to call the customer to confirm the order before starting the trip, and that call must last at least 10 seconds; workers must also take screenshots of the order and keep records of multiple call attempts made to the customer within a span of 10 minutes. If all these steps are followed, Grab reimburses workers within 48 hours. 

Hai said he had managed to get reimbursed for the 30 pieces of fried chicken because he followed the correct procedure. “If you don’t follow the right procedure, you won’t get compensated,” he said.

ShopeeFood mandates that riders keep the food for an hour after registering the failed delivery, in case the customer manages to contact them for redelivery, which is subject to an additional fee. “Items like drinks with ice, after an hour, are ruined. As for hot food, after an hour, it melts away too,” a 34-year-old ShopeeFood worker told Rest of World, requesting anonymity, fearing backlash from the company.

In some cases, the complication of the reimbursement process is so discouraging that it is more feasible for delivery workers to simply bear the loss.

“In practice, for low-value orders like a few drinks, claiming compensation can [cost more time] … than just consuming the order or reselling it,” Dinh Thi Chien, a legal scholar who studies gig work at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, told Rest of World. “This puts drivers at a disadvantage.”

“When drivers are bom hang-ed, in my opinion, the tech company should take legal responsibility for that.”

Another ShopeeFood delivery worker told Rest of World that for small orders, she preferred to eat the food or give it away to someone needy because she’d rather focus on hitting her daily delivery quota than trying to file complaints and claim reimbursements.

Platforms do allow drivers to sign up for the maximum amount they’re willing to risk for a cash-on-delivery order. But experts believe that is not enough.

“When drivers are bom hang-ed, in my opinion, the tech company should take legal responsibility for that,” Chien said.

Cybersecurity expert Ngo Minh Hieu agreed that bom hang is not just a security issue. “Platforms must have a more suitable policy to minimize [bom hang], so that if [drivers] get scammed, they can be protected,” Hieu, who founded anti-scam organization Chong Lua Dao, told Rest of World. “It’s a platform policy issue, and whether they protect well enough those working for them, especially shippers.” 

According to ShopeeFood, the company’s policies — such as suspension of accounts or disabling cash on delivery for users with a history of bom hang — discourage users from canceling orders. Bom hang accounts for less than 1% of daily orders, and drivers can get reimbursed within 48 hours, the company told Rest of World, specifying that “[drivers] will also be paid the delivery fee for the canceled order, and their service performance will also not be affected.” 

Rest of World also reached out to Grab and Be for comment, and while Grab declined to participate in the story, Be has not shared a response at the time of publishing.

For companies, this can be a hard challenge to navigate because they cannot refuse to offer cash on delivery to customers in Vietnam. “Platforms that don’t offer cash on delivery can hardly compete,” Quyen Nguyen, director of logistics consultancy CEL, based in Ho Chi Minh City, told Rest of World. She attributed this to lack of trust among consumers who need to “hold and see the item before paying for it.”

“People tend to be wary of sharing their bank card information … since even large platforms can be hacked,” she said. E-commerce scams and the prevalence of fake products online also makes cash-on-delivery ordering the best way for shoppers to protect themselves, Hieu of Chong Lua Dao said.

In the absence of adequate support from platforms, drivers have come up with ways to identify potential bogus orders. They also warn one another on Facebook groups — posting addresses and numbers they blacklist after getting bom hang-ed. According to delivery worker Do Vu Linh, who has been working with Grab since 2018, only “careless drivers” get “bom-ed.” 

“If they’re too rushed, pay the money, and just go deliver, then, if unlucky, they’ll get bom-ed,” he told Rest of World

Linh, who makes informative YouTube vlogs for the gig worker community and has nearly 6,500 subscribers, said bom hang orders are sometimes intentionally placed by scammers. For example, at times, scammers pose as vendors and place orders after borrowing the phones of strangers in public places, Linh said. The driver pays the scammer in cash and leaves to deliver to an address with no customer awaiting them. By the time the driver returns to where they met the scammer, they’re long gone.

According to Linh, this is why it’s important for delivery riders to check the address and recipient details before picking up an order. For valuable orders, he said, drivers should request and note the customer’s personal ID number. 

Hai said that when he thought back to what had happened that November night, he realized there had been signs of it being a fake order all along. It came from a street known for its vibrant nightlife, with eateries open till the early hours. “There was no reason for someone there to order food from far away,” Hai said. “I think that restaurant played me.” Besides, the order value was a smidge below Grab’s upper limit for reimbursement — 1 million dong ($41). “Perhaps they knew Grab’s reimbursement policy, and so they made an order with the intention to bom [hang],” Hai said. 

By Lam Le – Rest of the World – January 3, 2024

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