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7 Common Scams in China and How to Avoid Them

May 24, 2017 By Susie Gordon , Comments (11)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Although China is relatively safe compared to other countries, there are still dangers. City life is never 100% crime-free – there are pickpockets, unscrupulous shop owners, and dodgy taxi drivers everywhere. Although personal safety is mostly common sense, knowing what to look out for can make a world of difference. Here are some common scams you might encounter in China, and how to stay one step ahead.

 how to avoid scams in China
Source: ivanpw

1) The teahouse scam
A lot of people fall for this one when they first arrive in China. It is most common in Beijing and Shanghai, but it also happens in other big cities. A couple of young people will approach you, often asking if they can practise their English. After a brief conversation, they will offer to take you to a teahouse. After the tea ceremony, you’ll be hit with a bill running to hundreds (even thousands) of RMB. Your new friends will have vanished; or they’ll pay part of the bill – money they’ll get back as soon as you leave. Even if you ask to see the menu to verify the prices, the staff will bring you a different one with ridiculously inflated prices. No cash? The kind manager will escort you to the ATM. Refuse? They’ll get nasty. Your only choice is to stump up or run, if you dare.

How to avoid: Either refuse to talk to anyone in the street, or, if you want to be friendly, suggest a reputable teahouse, or a chain like Coffee Bean or Starbucks. If they refuse, it is likely to be a scam.

2) The art scam
This is similar to the tea scam, but the students claim to be art majors, and offer to take you to their gallery. Once there, you’ll be strong-armed into buying overpriced, worthless art.

How to avoid: Don’t take the bait. Simple.

3) Pickpockets
Obvious, but still a danger. They operate on public transport, busy streets, restaurants, and often work in gangs, so by the time you notice the fingers slipping into your bag or pocket, your wallet will be on the next street.

How to avoid: Street thieves can be incredibly sneaky, so be ultra careful at all times. Carry your important documents and most of your money in a money belt, make copies of your documents, don’t keep all your cash in one place – divide it between pockets or belt and wallet.

4) Airport taxis
You know the feeling: you land at Honqiao or Pudong, glimpse the taxi queue snaking into the distance, and decide to hop into an unlicensed cab instead of waiting. After all, you just want to get home, right? Think again. Best case scenario, you get ripped off as there’s no meter. Even if your Mandarin is great, there’s no arguing with a crooked taxi driver. Worst case scenario, you’re driven to the back of beyond and robbed of all your possessions.

How to avoid: Don’t use unauthorised cabs. Even if you get into a licensed one and feel that the driver is taking you for a ride, literally, write down his identification number.

5) The card swap
If you pay your taxi fare with a transport card, sneaky taxi drivers sometimes swap your card for an empty one without you noticing.

How to avoid: Mark your card with permanent ink, or invest in one of those card-sized stickers that teenage girls like to use.

6) Dodgy tour guides
A trip to the Great Wall? A panda tour? A guided walk along the Bund? These are just some of the ruses that con artists use to get tourists to part with cash. Sure, they’ll take you to the Wall/sanctuary/Bund, but once you get there you’ll be asked to pay extra fees. You’ll also most probably be taken to souvenir shops along the way.

How to avoid: Book your tour with reputable companies, not street touts – however trustworthy they might appear.

7) The Traditional Medicine Scam
You’ll be invited to tour a traditional medicine clinic. A physician will examine you. Lo and behold, you’ll be diagnosed with some ailment or other, and – quelle surprise! – the clinic has just the medicine to cure you. Obviously, it costs several thousand RMB…

How to avoid: Simple - don’t buy. Or don’t get examined.

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Keywords: the teahouse scam scams in China

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11 Comments ( Add your comment )


Common Scams---Don't be a freakin' idiot!

Oct 19, 2013 01:27

Haha! Perhaps it's time to list them into an article.

Oct 19, 2013 12:27

This only confirms I was right to do a CELTA course. A qualification is a qualification, after all, and its in Teaching English! Even so, I expect I will have to be very wary. Will have my lady check the contract first, and run it past her favourite lawyer (don't trust my Chinese that far yet!) Thanks for the warning about the pay periods. I had wondered about that... And especially about the 'We'll pay for...' clause. I wonder, which schools are worse employers? Pre-school/kindergarten, Primary, Secondary, University or private?

Oct 21, 2013 06:06

No.5 is even useful for locals

Oct 21, 2013 14:48

I remember well a scene with the teahouse... Some more years ago... I was to visit TianAnMen and there took with some girls , was taking few pictures and we went to a teahouse . Exactly as this article say, the bill was something of hundreds or more RMB.. for a very small coup of Jasmine Tea. Of course ! I didn't pay anything ! I said I have no money and said sorry, I was not prepared to serving something outside. The girls paid the momey, but now I realized that they was cheated by the teahouse ! They probably wanted cheat me first ( the staff and manager ) and at least, if I said I have no money to me, they asked this girls to pay. The girls ( all students from province) paid and then we leaved together and I told them I will pay them later my tea. Well, at least we becomed friends, one of the girls was taking care of me while I had a surgery here in Beijing and I was very thanksful to her and now I hope she is happy somewhere, because we lost conection. Now I understand why that tea was soooo expensive :) Anyway, for me was free :)

Oct 22, 2013 18:04

I am always avoiding teaching jobs ! I feel nausea of how many agents asking for Native English peoples to be their teachers ..... I am not a Native and maybe is better for me because I am not attracted in this way by this "huge" salaries and lies ..... If you know you are qualified for this kind of jobs, attraction is big and from here to cheating process is only one step ...... I would never apply for a teaching job here even they would want me as non-Native !

Oct 22, 2013 18:11

Skimmed the article. Clearly written for tourists and not for residents. Old "news" found in any guidebook written on China in the past 20 years. Got anything original?

Oct 22, 2013 22:55

#4 is not that bad. If you take airport taxi from Pudong you will see all of the city. City tour ride.

Oct 23, 2013 21:48

Local loves to scam foreigners. Foreigners have the Green and worth more than the red. Local view foreigners as rich, yet, they are not. Many are in debt with mortgages and car payments and etc

Jul 08, 2016 13:35

What an absolute crap article, just copied and pasted,how can you even put your name to it

May 24, 2017 11:59

Forgot the fake taxi meter

Jun 06, 2017 22:11

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