Expat in new theft of contact details
(11.10.2011)

A thief, believed to be one of the three expats caught on camera stealing a reservations book from an Italian restaurant last week, has been seen again stealing another one containing 4,000-plus customer contact details from a popular wine bar.

Karen Ma, owner of the Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen on Jiangyin Road, Huangpu District, complained to Shanghai Daily that its reservation book was stolen “in the blink of an eye” on Monday.

Ma said a surveillance camera showed the book was stolen by a thief, believed by the bar to be one of the trio caught on video stealing a reservations book from the Da Marco Italian restaurant last week.

Ma said: “Our video shows he wore the same suit, the same shoes and even ran away with the book in the same way as the thief who appeared in Da Marco’s video.”

She said the book contained more than 4,000 contacts, about half Chinese and half expats. The bar believes the book was stolen by thieves hired by a consultancy that advertises or sells by cold-calling.

“Many of the customers are high-ranking officials of the Chinese government or senior officials of foreign companies,” said Ma. “We are desperate to ensure our customers are not bothered by cold-callers.”

This is the latest in a string of such thefts. Three expats stole a reservations book containing hundreds of contacts from the Da Marco last week, and in October last year a reservations book containing several thousand contacts was stolen from another Italian restaurant, VaBene, according to a restaurant official.

As a result at least 5,000 customer contact details are believed to have been leaked by way of book thefts, but police will not initiate an investigation because they say the books have little face value.

Ma said: “The book itself is not valuable, but it contains valuable information.”

Matteo, a Da Marco staffer, yesterday provided Shanghai Daily with the name of a company and one of its senior officials who he believes is behind the thefts, claiming an Englishman once phoned the restaurant to apologize for the theft.

But when the Shanghai Daily confronted the company on Nanjing Road W., the manager protested its innocence, claiming the culprits could be other small companies faking their identity.

According to local lawyer Wu Dong, the thefts reveal a loophole in China’s laws protecting privacy, as a theft case can be established only when the value of goods stolen reaches a certain value or the goods constitute a business secret. Wu said the thieves may face charges of selling private information only when evidence shows they have sold or passed on the contact details. Another lawyer, Wang Zhan, said it would be hard to provide such evidence.

Both said if the bars can provide evidence that the same thieves stole books repeatedly, and emphasized the huge number of people that might become victims, the police should detain and fine them for disturbing social order.

Meanwhile, lawmaker Pei Zhen suggested the bar and restaurants report the case to local prosecutors if police refuse to pursue it.

He also suggested people who have dined at those venues should be careful when taking phone calls from cold-callers. Pei said: “They should record such callers’ names and their companies and report them to police as evidence that their contact details have been traded.”