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July 5, 2012

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Home » Metro » Public Services

City updating car plate auction system to thwart hacking bid

SHANGHAI is trying to reinforce fair play at the auction of private car license plates by upgrading the online bidding system to fend off hackers.

Called the most expensive metal plates in China, Shanghai's car license plate prices had increased more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,575) in the first five months of this year before the lowest successful bid fell from its record high of 64,000 yuan to 55,800 yuan in June.

The continuous price hikes amid buyers' strong demand has given rise to market speculation and cheating, which the authority is determined to end. Besides extending the required holding period of a new car plate from one year to three years to push scalpers out, the city is showing little tolerance toward those using technological loopholes to win the bidding.

Since February, Shanghai International Commodity Auction Co, the organizer of the monthly car plate auction, has been fixing bugs in its online trading system, according to the company.

"We completed the latest round of system upgrades last month and it has proved effective in crippling the external software programmed to intercept bidding data and calculate the potential lowest successful bid near the closing," said a technician surnamed Yuan at the company.

That kind of software is believed to be widely used by proxy agencies at the auction to cut better deals for their clients at the expense of individual participants without technological know-how.

"We don't want proxy agencies to be a major player at the car plate auction as they have an unfair advantage in the game," said Yuan.

Before the system's loopholes are plugged, the bid success rate of proxy agencies is reckoned to have reached 90 percent on average, compared with 50 percent at most among independent bidders.

Knowing others' offers in advance enables proxy agencies to fetch the best prices - usually no higher than 200 yuan plus the lowest successful bid. Last month, the gap between the lowest and the average price for a car plate was nearly 2,500 yuan.

Despite efforts to restore fair play at the auction, some proxy agencies still manage to keep their tricky business adrift.

A proxy agent surnamed Liu said the firm he works for has been perfecting its software along with the upgrades of the auction trading system since February.

"Our bid success rate is stable at around 90 percent and the upward limit of our proposed offerings is still 200 yuan above the lowest winning price," said Liu. "The service fee is 700 yuan, which you pay after the deal is cut."

Another proxy agent surnamed Gu echoed Liu's views, saying his business is running as usual.

"Many are counting on us to fetch them a good deal," said Gu. "The market is rife with speculation, which could again drive the prices through the roof."

Shanghai's car license plate prices dropped for the first time in seven months in June after the municipal government eased quotas and introduced a new rule on car plate resales to curb speculative bidding.


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