13 Common Scams and How to Avoid Them

13 Common Scams and How to Avoid Them
Oct 16, 2009 By Susie Gordon , eChinacities.com

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.

Common scams and how to avoid them china
Photo: ToastyKen

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 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 kindly 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.




8. Estate Agents
Westerners always get ripped off by estate agents. It’s par for the course in China, especially in Shanghai. But some people wire money to phony estate agents who advertise on expat websites, without even viewing the property. Of course, when they turn up at the apartment or office, it doesn’t exist.

How to avoid: Don’t send money to anyone without seeing the apartment. As for dealing with landlords or estate agents, get a Chinese friend to negotiate the price for you before the contract is written up.

9. The “No Money” Scam
This one is usually perpetrated by couples. They will approach you in the street distraught, claiming that all their belongings have been stolen, and pleading for some money to get a hotel or taxi.

How to avoid: Never give money to anyone you meet on the street, no matter how desperate and genuine they seem. Offer to call the police instead. If they are fraudsters, they will scarper.

10. The Bike Scam
You’ll be biking along, and suddenly something will snag in your back wheel. You’ll stop your bike, see some wire tangled in the spokes, and hop off to pull it out. When you turn around, your bag will have disappeared from the basket. The thief who dropped the wire in your wheel will be halfway down the street with your possessions.

How to avoid: Use a backpack, or make sure you don’t leave your bag unsecured when you get off your bike.

12. Restaurant Ruses
You ask for the check. You pay the server. Server comes back with your 100 note saying it’s fake. You hand over another one in return. Server ends up with two real notes and you get a fake. Paying by card? Some restaurants will keep your card details for later fraudulent use.

How to avoid: The fake note scam is difficult to get around. You could mark all your notes, or write down the serial numbers, but only the most anally retentive will actually do this. Read here to find out how to check if a bill is counterfeit or not. As for the card copying, don’t let the waiter take your card away. Ask them to bring the swipe terminal to your table.

13. The Empty Box Scam
You buy a product, get it home, and realise that you’ve actually bought a box stuffed with stones or paper. Or, you pay for a product, and the shop assistant goes to get a new one from the storeroom. She comes back saying they’ve sold out. They have a no refund policy, but you can pay extra and upgrade to a better model.

How to avoid: Don’t pay a single mao until you have the exact product you want in your hands.
And if you do get scammed? In most cases, the police won’t be able to do much about it. By all means report the crime, but don’t expect a lot. Chalk it up to experience, and keep your wits about you.


Related Links

Oh No You Didn't...Bitten by a Prostitute!?
5 Blunders to Avoid for English Teachers in China
Common Scams in China (Pt. 3): The Tea Scam

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on eChinacities.com without written permission from eChinacities.com constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.


All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



I been to 26 countries but I will never judge a person who didn’t... its not every one who enjoys it . Or are you bragging?? You have such low intelligence to say a silly thing like....Actually, they should just save time and commit suicide...

Jun 12, 2011 23:08 Report Abuse