In almost every major country in the world there are people who try to deceive foreigners and tourists through scams and deception, and China is no exception. In this blog we will warn you about some of the most common scams in China, so that you are better prepared and know what to look out for when you are there.
Tea house scam
This might be the best known scam in China. The set up of this scam is basically always the same: a lone foreigner, or a group of foreigners that is clearly engaged in sightseeing or other tourist-like activities is approached by an innocent looking girl who speaks English quite well. The conversation begins innocently: the girl will ask where you come from and no matter what answer you give, she will say that she has been there before or that she has family living there (and she will try to prove what she says is true by stating random facts about the country in question). As the conversation progresses she will invite you to go to a tea house with her to attend a ”traditional” tea ceremony together. It sounds like a win-win situation: you as a foreigner get the chance to experience a seemingly authentic piece of Chinese culture (for a very reasonable price agreed in advance) and she gets the chance to practice her English with a foreigner. So far so good.
However, the tricky part of this experience becomes clear at the end, when it turns out that the price you agreed to in advance for the entire ceremony no longer applies and you are kindly but forcefully asked to pay the bill for all the tea that has been consumed separately for an absurdly high price.
Do not let yourself be seduced into a tea ceremony while wandering around the city. If you do want to experience Chinese tea culture, always go to a tea house with a good reputation, or look for reviews and experiences from other foreigners online.
A major problem that occurs at airports and other busy places are unofficial taxis, of which the drivers will approach you and try to convince you to get in. Often they only drive for a pre-agreed price that is many times higher than the fare that you would have to pay when traveling in a real taxi. Also, the meters in these taxis are often tampered with to make them run faster and you will end up paying way too much.
Taxi drivers -the legal ones included!- sometimes carry fake money that they give to you as change when you have paid for your trip. The two easiest ways to recognize fake money are: The watermark. When you hold a 50 or 100 Yuan note in the light, a watermark of Mao Zedong appears in the note. This watermark is missing in a fake note.
The second way to find out if a bill is real or fake is by scratching Mao’s head. If you go over the image of Chairman Mao with your nail, you should be able to feel his hairs in the paper. If you do not feel this, the bill is fake.
Many busy places such as airports and train stations broadcast messages over the intercom to warn you about the fake taxis, but when you’ve just arrived at the airport after a long journey it can be very tempting to take the first taxi available. It is however best to resist to this temptation and get into a legal taxi. When in a busy place always take a taxi at an official taxi stand and only get in if the name, logo and details of the taxi company are on the outside of the car. The taxi’s boarding rate should also be displayed on the outside of the vehicle. A legal taxi driver will always use the meter and will never propose to arrange a price for the ride in advance. Lastly, keep a close eye on the change that you receive and, if in doubt, follow the two above-mentioned tips to distinguish real money from fake money.
Also, always ask for a receipt of the trip, as the details of your journey and the taxi company are also listed here. When you have followed all the above tips, you are ready to explore the city by taxi!
The massage scam
Another common type of scam is the so-called ‘massage scam’. The introduction of this scam is very similar to the tea house scam. With this variant, however, the lady who approaches you does not offer to attend a tea ceremony together, but she offers a massage at a salon for a pre-agreed price. This price seems almost too good to be true and -you guessed it- it is. The lady asks you to follow her to a shady looking building that is supposed to be the massage parlour. After you have arrived here, you are taken to a private room where you get the possibility to choose a masseuse. After selecting the woman of your choice, the other ladies disappear from your room and the massage starts. There are a number of ways in which it can go wrong, but the most common is that the masseuse makes advances and offers other services that surpass what is considered to be a normal massage… Keep in mind that prostitution is illegal in China and punishable by law, so therefore never give into these temptations!
Another common phenomenon is that during the massage a group of dangerous-looking thugs suddenly enters the room. One of the men will introduce himself as the manager of the room you are staying in and will, in addition to the price for the massage, demand money as rent for the room. The amount of this rent is absurdly high and the so-called manager will ask you to give all your cash or he will require that you hand over your credit card so that the amount can be debited. If you do not want to pay, there will be threats of violence and the presence of the henchmen will not improve your possibilities of a quick getaway.
It is safe to say that it is not wise to take the offer of a massage on the street. If you still want to relax after a long day of hard work we recommend to check online for reviews and experiences of other customers online and choose a salon with a good reputation.
Don’t let yourself be discouraged to discover everything China has to offer because of our warnings. Exploring the city your are staying in and stepping out of your comfort zone now and then is absolutely worth it! The chance that you will end up in a scam is not big if you keep our tips in mind and usually your common sense is enough to prevent you from falling into the trap. If you do not trust something, do not comply and remember: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Written by Ruben van Gestel, Intern at China Plus