by Toffler



Surviving China’s Scams

August 8, 2007, by TofflerN, category Knowledge and Experiences, Tourism, Traveling

As this 2008 Beijing Olympics are now less than 1 year away, its scary to think the number and types of scams perpetrated by Chinese on foreigners is only increasing.  Most of the following examples have actually happened to my guests when in Beijing or other parts of China, and a few are commonly reported elsewhere around China.

  • At the capital airport, a guy claiming to drive a taxi says he’ll take you to town for 700RMB! And he makes you walk a long way to his taxi.
    • –> Go outside to the taxi queue and insist that the driver use the meter.  Most rides to downtown Beijing are less than 200RMB.
  • Exiting the Summe Palace, a guy claiming to drive a taxi offers to take you back to downtown Beijing.  You see that his car has a ‘taxi’ sign on top so you think it must me legit and you agree.  However, after the taxi starts, you realize the meter is clicking over 2-2.5times as fast as it should be.  When you arrive at your destination the meter reads RMB400.   The meter is rigged. You protest but the driver pretends not to understand you and so you give in and pay.
    • –> Instead of taking a taxi whose driver seeks you out, go and find your own taxi, maybe even walk a block away from the attraction.  Also, choose standard taxis–(in Beijing) red, green/yellow, blue/yellow, red/yellow.  If you do find yourself in a taxi where the meter is rigged (and you don’t have any luggage), get out immediately, without paying.  If you’ve reached your destination and find its too late to get yourself out of this situation, take the driver’s license (visibly located about the glove box), then report it to the police to try to get your money back.  In another case, if the driver refuses to start the meter, get out immediately without paying.
  • You’ve just paid the driver of the previous taxi his exorbitant rate of RMB400, then he tells you 3 of your RMB100 notes are fake. You tell him that can’t possibly be because you got them at the bank in your home country.  And you know he had plenty of time to switch them while you were getting out of the taxi.  But he again pretends not to understand.  You refuse to give him new notes, he gets angry and makes for a nearby policeman.  You guess involving the police probably won’t help the situation given your inability to speak Chinese and a system know as guanxi. Again, you give in and give the driver RMB300 more just to have it done with.  All-in-all, you paid RMB700 for a taxi ride which should have cost less than RMB200.
    • –> If paying with large bills, sit in the front of the taxi, then watch the driver as he checks the bills.  Don’t give him the opportunity to switch them and don’t get out until he’s satisfied with them.  If its too late, take the driver’s license (visibly located about the glove box), then report it to the police to try to get your money back.
  • You’re wandering through the hutong watching and learning about local life and a Chinese person starts to chat with you in excellent English. You think, wow, great. This person is so friendly and helpful and I’ll learn so much more about the local culture by having a native to talk to.  He shows you around, then brings you to a teahouse.  There you sample tea and the beneficial properties of each type of tea are explained to you.  At the end you’re told you owe RMB2400(!!) because each tea you tried was between RMB80-500.  ‘What,’ you balk, ‘I can’t pay that much.  I don’t have that much money.  I didn’t drink that much tea.’ ‘That’s ok,’ they explain, ‘they accept credit cards.’ (Note: Credit cards are rarely accepted in China, therefore this is also likely credit card fraud as well.)  Reluctantly, you give them your credit card.
    • –> Before drinking tea, whether in Chengdu, Beijing, or elsewhere, always check the pricelist/menu and ascertain the price of the tea you will be drinking beforehand.  There are some very expensive teas in China and for the most part, you won’t know the difference so stick with teas in the range of RMB30-40.
  • You’re wandering down Nanjing Road in Shanghai and someone with decent, but not great English approaches you and asks if you will practice English with them. You think, wow a great opportunity to interact with locals, learn more about local life, and do someone a favor.  So you follow them and then take you to a top floor of a building and together you drink tea and chat in English.  After a while you say you have to go and get up and leave but they say, ‘wait, you need to pay RMB1500 for the tea.’
    • –> This is also a tea scam and possibly credit card fraud as well.  See above for how to deal.
  • You’re walking toward Forbidden City or maybe down Nanjing Road and a young person speaking exellent English approaches you and says ‘I’m an art student and we’re having an exhibition, please come look.’
    • –> This is a scam, usually also involving tea or an art viewing fee.  Say no and continue on your way.
  • You’re wandering through Tiananmen marveling at its size, then a tout asks you if you want to buy a Mao watch, or other souvenir.  You decide you like that Mao watch then you haggle over price.  You agree on 20RMB.  When you go to pay, you realize you only have a RMB100 note.   You give it to the seller and he gives you a RMB50 and 3 RMB10s in change.  You think wow, what a deal, until later you try to use that RMB50 to buy lunch but they tell you, ‘no, that’s fake.’   You realize you just paid RMB70 for that watch, not such a great price after all. 
    • –> Always keep small change on you to pay for little things.  Learn the security features of the RMB50 and RMB100 notes.  Then check for them everytime you’re handed one of those bills.
  • You go to rent a coat, or a bike, or whatever and you’re required to pay a deposit of RMB100-200.  When returning the item, and receiving your deposit back, the bills don’t seem to hae the right texture and feel.
    • –> Learn the security features of the bills and always remember to check them. If the notes seem fake, insist on different ones or smaller denominations.  Consider telling the local police bureau.

These scams may change as they become more well-known to the foreigners visiting China so always be aware.  Please pass this along to anyone you know visiting China to help protect them and teach China that they can’t treat foreigners this way.


  1. Kenny |

    I found your blog randomly on google.
    I used to live in Shanghai as well (because my father worked there) but i didnt like the people very much.
    however i must admit that Shanghai is an exciting city to live in.
    maybe i can work for you after i graduated from university
    only if u hire me =)
    Best wishes to you!

  2. Andrew |

    This is a good post because it lists some common fraud schemes. However, I feel that your solutions put too much faith in the police and that is too optimistic for me considering language issues, their general lack of concern, and the extremely rare chance they will every recover your money.

    The only way to prevent getting ripped off is to know the schemes before you arrive here and do your best to avoid them before they happen. A good general rule of thumb is don’t interact with anyone that approaches you and don’t trust anyone.

  3. mjbphx |

    Well written, excellent comments, and very informative. Should be distributed to everyone who steps off a plane into China!!!

  4. Joe Hunkins |

    Great post, though 200 is too high as a guideline – most rides for a tourist will be under 50RMB.

    I fell for the Tea scam yesterday coming out of Forbidden City, though I think I will be able to stop the card payment (and cancel my card). Sad that this is allowed to continue because it could easily be stopped with about 10 undercover police who would take pix of those chatting up the foreigners. My guidebook said it was common for Chinese to practice english on you but this is totally wrong. Almost every encounter I had with good english was either in markets for selling or with the scammers on the streets at tourist spots. DO NOT spend any money with these folks who are really sophisticated grifters.

  5. lastpokemon |

    I fell for the Nanjing road scam, i got a bill of 2000RMB for some drinks, i refused to pay and insisted on sharing the bill with the two nice girls, i asked if they want to call the police they feel free to do so. at last they girls pretended they paid so i got 700MB ripped off, i was so angry on myself to let it happen as i know this trick already from Amsterdam its a very old trick.

    i decided to fight back and spent whole afternoon and evening accepting the approach of the ladies, but this time i tricked them to have a fast walk with me for 2 hours to take pictures then take them with me to the hotel 3 miles away to get my credit card i forgot there before we can go for a drink i let them then wait for 30 min in the lobby before i come back to them and appolygies that i have headache and i need to sleep, i’ve done it one two girls after the incident and i still want to do it again if i can, no one can rip me off no one.

    i advice any one who is approached by this people to trick them back and take them for a long walk and use them as a company but never even go with them to the place of their choice.

  6. Carl Brown |

    Do not talk with people who say something to you in the streets – never in China.
    Do not look at people that tries to make a contact, whatever way they will use, it is to get your money. And, they are experts, so if they see that you are listening they will try their best to get your money.
    No reaction at all is the best way of meeting these girls, boys, small children, men and women.
    I do not suggest to go around on your own, not in Beijing anyhow.
    Sad but true.

  7. Phil |

    I got scammed in Nanjing Lu a few days ago. I went to the police station to complain and everyone in the room sighed when I told them but two policemen went to the restaurant with me and the owner got so scared he gave me all my money back right away.

  8. nappedbj |

    hi, i got scammed too :(. I dint go for something like sex, but went for a just 50RMB foot massage. but i lost 450 Yuan in cash and they pulled my credit card and pushed me to sign the credit pay slip. I was surrounded and helpless. I came back to my hotel and saw my credit card transaction details and mail statement from bank that the previous transaction was blocked due to suspicion.

    Even if you avoid adult services but just think for a massage in Nanjing Road, dont fall please. All are frauds.

  9. Daniel |

    I got scammed by a young man pretending to be keen on talking English with me. I thought it seemed fairly harmless at first because he wasn’t a woman and was clearly not after sex or anything. he took me to a tea room and we drank tea. I resisted his suggestions to drink several different teas and only tasted three. Cut a long story short, the bill for the two of us came to nearly 600RMB. We split the bill but I’d still ended up paying much more than I had intended to. Despite this, he seemed fairly harmless.
    The interesting twist was that as we were getting ready to leave, the tea ceremony lady gave us both a red tassle, which the young man insisted on tieing to my rucksack. Again, I thought this was a hramless good luck charm, but in fact now I wonder if it was really just a big flag to other scammers meaning “this guy is a gullible westerner who deserves to have his money taken off him!!”. I was approached by loads more people that day before I eventually got fed up and went back to my hotel

So, what do you think ?