WeChat money transfers stir up trouble in court

Updated: Jan 24, 2024 China Daily Print
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With Chinese New Year around the corner, those sending out digital "red packets" of money via WeChat have been advised to make it clear whether their gift is actually a gift, or whether it is a loan.

The alert comes in the wake of a case last year, where a woman surnamed Liu and a man surnamed Zhou had a dispute over whether the funds that had been transferred between them were gifts or loans expected to be repaid.

Beijing Haidian District People's Court heard that from 2020 to 2021, Liu provided Zhou with a total of 15,669 yuan ($2,180), either through WeChat red packets or money transfers.

Zhou insisted that the money was given to him, not a loan, even though Liu had urged him to repay the money several times. The two failed to negotiate, so Liu initiated the lawsuit.

The court eventually identified 2,769 yuan sent via red packets as gift money that did not need to be repaid, because the pair's online chat records showed that Liu indicated the red packets, each containing less than 200 yuan, were used to support Zhou's daily expenses.

As for the remaining 12,900 yuan sent through WeChat transfer, the court deemed it as a loan, ordering Zhou to pay back the money, because no evidence could prove the sum was a gift.

Calling for residents to be wary of online transfers, the court stressed that the verdict does not mean all WeChat red packets can be identified as gift money and all fund transfers as loans.

"If someone sends a red packet and leaves a message saying it's a loan, the money will not be deemed as a gift," Li Wenfeng, who assisted the judge in case handling, said on Monday.

"If a sum of money is sent via money transfer during festivals or on birthdays, it will also not be appropriate for it to be considered a loan."

She added that only when the purpose of the money is not indicated at the time of payment, causing disputes, will judges make a ruling based on the functional difference between WeChat red envelopes and money transfers.

In another lawsuit in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, a court rejected a man's claim for his ex-girlfriend to return the red packets he had sent to her through WeChat, identifying the money as a gift.

The cases went viral on Chinese social media after they were made public on Monday, with topics related to the lawsuits receiving over 340 million views on Sina Weibo as of 6 pm.

Zhao Zhanling, a lawyer from Beijing Yunjia Law Firm, agreed that WeChat red envelopes are generally sent by users at festivals, or on the birthdays of recipients, and most have special meanings.

Many people send a 520-yuan red packet on Valentine's Day to express affection to their partners, as the numbers "5-2-0"sound similar to wo ai ni in Chinese, which means "I love you" in English.

"The money is more of a vehicle to express emotion in these moments," Zhao said.

"When sending red packets, people often write some notes to express wishes, such as good luck in competitions and congratulating newlyweds, which also shows that the packets, compared with funds transfers, are more like a way to socialize."

He suggested people clarify the meaning of the money and take screenshots of the conversation, especially when lending money through WeChat to prevent similar problems.

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