China – Be Careful of Scams

No matter who you are, and where you travel; travel long enough and you will encounter traveler scams. Traveler scams have unfortunately turned into a big business, as it’s an easy way for scammers to make a large amount of money praying on the naivety of travelers. With a little bit of education, you will be able to spot these scams and avoid them. However, if you speak to enough travelers, you will hear the horror stories from other travelers who encountered some of the scams about to be mentioned in this article.

The tea scam – the mother of all china scams. This scam usually takes place near major foreigner tourist destinations such as Tienanmen square (Beijing), Wangfujing (Beijing), or in Shanghai on the Bund, or around Yuyuan garden.

Tiananmen with chairmen Mao portrait, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

You will be approached by a group of friendly locals who strike up conversation, asking where you are from. Upon continuing conversation they will ask you if you’re interested in going to a tea house in the area. As you walk with them to the tea house, chatting about what its like in your home country, you have unsuspectingly fallen deeper into the scam.

Upon arrival at the tea house, you’re seated towards the back of the room, or will be given a private room with limited access. Tea will be served, along with food. All of the sudden you friendly host will disappear to the bathroom and leave the restaurant. When you finally decide to leave, and ask to pay your check, you’re in for a surprise. If you’re lucky your bill will be around 400-600 yuan. I have heard of checks from the tea scam being as high as several thousand yuan. Usually they will use strong intimidation tactics to make you pay. I have heard of travelers successfully negotiating the check down, however its best to avoid this scenario completely.

 

The art show – This is a variation of the tea scam. This scam takes place in the same areas as the tea scam and follows the same protocol. Instead of going for tea, this time you are asked if you would like to attend a free student art show.

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When you arrive, dozens of inexpensive reprints are hung up all of the walls in the hopes that you believe they are all hand painted by students. High pressure tactics are then used to free you from your money.

 

The taxi rip-off – in major cities, it’s uncommon for taxi drivers to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners. However there are several circumstances, where it happens commonly, and if you are aware of the scam, you can stop it before it becomes a problem. The first and most important rule is to make sure that you always use official marked taxi cabs. You can identify them because in larger cities they will always follow the same color schemes. Avoid using “black cars”, or unofficial taxi cars. Black car operators commonly prey on unsuspecting foreigners and will not uncommonly charge double or triple for their transportation services. Taxi drivers will also usually have a display card with the taxi drivers name and driving credentials. If you have a problem just snap a picture of their driving credentials (This sometimes causes them to completely bug out, as taking advantage of a foreigner is serious to the taxi companies).

In larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an, taxi drivers should always use the meter. If they do not use the meter, just ask them to turn it on by pointing. If its super late at night however, or if you are in a smaller city, drivers commonly do not always use the meter. You can politely suggest to run the meter. After some time, you can have a reasonable idea of what taxi rides should cost. A trip from Beijing’s North to South will cost in the neighborhood of 70 yuan. A short trip is usually around 30 yuan. In china, tipping is not common, therefore refrain from giving any tips.

Also be very careful riding tuk tuks in china. By law they are all illegal, but it is common in smaller cities to use them for short trips. The normal charge for a short tuk tuk ride is around 10 yuan. I once encountered a foreign woman outside Beijing’s pearl market, arguing with a tuk tuk operator who was trying to charge her 500 yuan for a short ride from her hotel. If possible avoid this type of transportation entirely.

Fake money – Counterfeit money has become increasingly more common. While living in china, I only encountered fake money a few times, however there are certain situations where you are more likely to receive fake money. When paying for anything in a shop, do not let the shop attendant take your money into the back room. This has become a common way for people to pass off fake bills onto their customers. They take the real bill into the backroom to “check it” returning with a fake bill and some “bad news”.

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Pickpockets – Pickpockets are opportunists, and thrive on the carelessness of travelers. Do not leave your bags unattended, and be careful in crowded areas. The most common places for pick pockets are areas with large crowds. Train stations, bus stations, subway cars, tourist attractions, etc. A good habit is when moving through a crowded area to place your hand on top of your bag or wallet to guard from pickpockets. All important documents such as passport / travel documents / money should be kept in a safe spot, deep within your travel bag.

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Bogus tour guides – In smaller cities its not uncommon for tour guides to offer their cars for rent for the day to take you around the city. If recommended by your hotel or hostel, this can be a great experience. However on your own make sure you negotiate a price and stick to it. These types of tour experiences is just another way people easily take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.

Unfortunately, travel scams will exist as long as there are travelers in the world. The best thing you can do is to be aware of them, and to follow your gut.

  • Always agree on a firm price before you pay for anything.
  • Guard your cash. Be careful not to flash it in public.
  • Be cautious when strangers ask you personal information about where your from, where your staying, etc.
  • Be direct and firm with what you want from people. Don’t be convinced against your gut intuition.

Have you or anyone you know ever been subject to a tourist scam?


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