22 Most Common Tourist Scams in China

Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Lijiang, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Yanshuo County, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Chongqing, Wuhan, Tianjin, Xiamen, Shenyang, Qingdao, Dalian, Suzhou, Harbin, Dongguan, Zhengzhou, Jinan, Changsha, Kunming, Foshan, Sanya, Ningbo, Changchun, Wuxi, Hefei, Fuzhou, Nanning, Dali, Nanchang, Taiyuan, Shijiazhuang, Guiyang, Zhuhai, Guilin, Haikou, Changzhou,

China

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As the world’s largest country with the world’s largest population, China has a myriad of diverse and attractive world class attractions to offer. You can find and be enthralled by the spectacular scenery (great wall, national parks, pandas, etc), distinctive food (Beijing duck, spicy Sichuan food, etc), unique culture (kungfu, taichi, tea, etc), the city buzz, the countryside’s peace and many more!

However, as the factory of the world, China is also home to many fakes and scams. You have fake taxis, fake products, fake restaurants and even fake bus stops! Coupled with the Oscar worthy performances by many of these scammers, one will be hard-pressed to walk away with one’s wallet intact. Check out this article to protect yourself in this amazing land!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. English practice/offer to help

real scammers

Real scammers

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This is one of the most common scams around Beijing (Wangfujing, Houhai Lake) and Shanghai (Nanjin Road, People’s Park). This is where a scammer, in the form of an innocent looking girl, approach lone travellers.

She will first chat with you to establish rapport. A common opener would be “where are you from”? No matter which country you say, she will mention that she has a friend/family member there or mention some well-known fact of your country.

Once rapport has been built, the scammer will suggest going to an event or doing an activity together. This way, she can practise her English while you get to see local sights. Win-win! Another variation is offering to bring you around to experience local Chinese culture. Or bringing you somewhere for tea while waiting for an event/the scammers’ friend to come.

You may go to a tea ceremony, a karoke bar, an arts gallery or even a house where they force you to play poker or some card games! Either way you will be scammed. E.g. by drinking lousy tea/beer/buying art pieces for high prices. Try to escape, and you will find yourself some new male “friends” for company..

Rule of thumb:

Firstly, be on your guard should you be approached by a stranger, especially someone with a good command of English. This is because most Chinese tend to keep a distance from foreigners.

Next, never let them bring you to somewhere they suggest (similar to the “would you like a drink” scam in Turkey).

Finally, always check and affirm the price before buying any goods or services.

For a detailed account of such an experience, check out this link.

 

2. Tourist-oriented traditional chinese medicine (TCM) clinics

Traditional chinese medicine

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Knowing that these TCM clinics are tourist oriented should set alarm bells off immediately. Their act is highly persuasive – free foot massages are given and you see men in white lab coats posing as doctors.

They first take your pulse and then diagnose your condition by guessing common factors that have caused you to get a certain disease. For instance, they guess you have been sleeping late nights, which is something very likely to be true for working adults.

Once trust is built, they sell you overpriced and useless fake herbs or liquids – it’s difficult to verify the authenticity or potency of these herbs.

Rule of thumb:

Only go to reputable TCM clinics. Check reviews online or get recommendations from your hotel.

Note: there have many reported claims of scams by Tong Ren Tang copycats. Tong Ren Tang is a legitimate TCM shop with centuries of history. However, there are many copycats using that name but with a slight difference, so watch out for that.

 

3. Cheap, low quality tours

China shopping streets

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There are some very cheap tours but they are cheap for a reason. Their main source of revenue comes from the commission shops pay when they bring tourists there. These are usually marketed by touts on the streets or simply by advertisements at bus stops.

Low quality tours can also be in the form of guides who do not speak English, in some cases no guides at all, run down buses/vans, etc. There are even tours where the guide uses a nonsensical excuse to get you to pay more than necessary to enter a certain attraction.

Rule of thumb:

If you don’t want up end up everywhere else but your intended destination, do not sign up with these street touts (the great wall of China tour seems to be a popular one). Do your research online or at your hotel and only book a tour with a licensed operator.

Some names to avoid: Beijing Capital International Travel Agency, China Dragon Travel Company, Beijing Youth Travel Great Wall tour, National Travel Service

 

4. Fake monks

Fake monks

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If this is a common scam all over the world (e.g. Australia, Hong Kong, USA), it’s all the more likely you will find them in China.

It should be patently obvious that these monks are fake when they take out and show you a donation book. The book details all the donations people from around the world have made in different languages. This is an extremely effective persuasion technique (social proof) to add credibility. Further, it adds on an element of guilt should you choose not to donate having seen so many others done so.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject.

 

5. Tea house scam

China tea house

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This is usually done through scam #1, where you are approached by a stranger who wants to practise her English with you and who subsequently brings you to a tea house.

Tours are another common avenue, as tea houses pay good commission to them.

Rule of thumb:

There are many teas of inferior quality sold for a high price by shady operators. Only buy if you have done your research/or at a reputable tea house.

 

6. Arts gallery/school scam

China art gallery

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This is very similar to scam #1 and scam #5 and also found in Indonesia. However, in this case art students or so they claim will approach you and invite you to check out some Chinese art at their studio. Some will claim to be dealers in rare Chinese antiques. Others will claim to be an art student and that it is the last day of their exhibition.

Once you are there, they will use many hard sell tactics to make you buy one of their works at an overinflated price. Nonsensical claims such as this being the only one in circulation will be made.

Rule of thumb:

Only buy at reputable shops after doing some research or checking with your hotel. Do not follow any street tout/stranger who tells you otherwise.

 

7. Fake “officials” at Mao’s Tomb at Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen square

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There are scammers who go around claiming that that you need an official passport/ID and proper shoes before you can enter, which is nonsense. Should you believe them, they will offer to sell you some documentation or shoes for you to enter the mausoleum.

Rule of thumb:

Brush them off.

 

8. Fake tickets

Be wary if a stranger approaches you to sell a ticket at a lower price (e.g. for the Summer Palace or some musical performance). This is because the ticket is likely fake or a higher price is charged for an inferior seat.

Rule of thumb:

Reject the offer.

 

9. Fake/over priced silk/jade/jewellery/pearl

Real vs fake jade

Source credit (check out the link to learn how to differentiate between real and fake jade)

This is another favourite stop of tour companies to bring you to. As the title suggests, many of these jade shops sell fake or low quality at extremely high price. What is actually impressive is the salesmanship mastered by the scammers at these jade shops.

These scammers put in Oscar worthy performances. They act as if the shop has many years of experiences and had been patronised by big personalities. They try to make it seem as if they are on your side, by bringing you into the VIP room, giving a free gift, having a staff screw up/make a mistake in front of the guests, and the owner scolding and punishing him/her for instance, and finally offering a friendship discount! You can find screenshots of some of the Oscar worthy performances below:

Story #1

Story 1

Story #2

Story 2

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Rule of thumb:

Only buy at reputable shops after doing some research or checking with your hotel. Also do not listen to the recommendations of any street tout/stranger.

Stores to avoid: De Run Jewellery at Bird Nest Stadium, Jiu Jiu Fu gemstone shop

 

10. The place is closed

This is an extremely common scam around the world (Sri Lanka, Morocco, etc). in China’s case, were you to believe it, you will be led to a tea shop for a tea break.

Rule of thumb:

Stick to your plan (which has been well researched).

 

11. Price gouging

At markets where there are no official price tags, stall owners will start with an outrageous price when you enquire about the price.

Rule of thumb:

Bargain as much as possible, sometimes even as much as 80-90% off the price, though be prepared to pay more just for being a foreigner.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging taxis

China fake taxi

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Many unlicensed/unofficial taxi drivers camp around the airport/touristy areas ready to overcharge you. The tactics they use include:

  • Rigging a meter
  • Covering a meter with a preset starting charge initially
  • Installing a fake meter
  • Driving off with your luggage, etc. A common tactic scammers use is to ask you to get out of the cab to help push it. Or to close the trunk properly. Next the scammer simply drives off.
  • Claiming a pre agreed fare was for each person rather than for the total trip
  • Suddenly jacking up a price. Claiming 400 yuan when 40 yuan was originally agreed upon
  • Sleight of hand swapping of bill to a counterfeit note
  • Not using the meter and using an “official” looking list of prices instead
  • In China, there are even fake taxis made from abandoned parts of old taxis decommissioned by taxi companies. All it costs is about 30,000 Yuan.

Rule of thumb:

To save yourself from all these trouble, simply take a licensed taxi.

At airports especially, you will find many unlicensed cab drivers waiting for you once you check out. Avoid them and head to the official line which usually has a uniform dispatcher stationed there.

If you are in Beijing, only take taxis with “B” on their license plate and always only use the meter.

Finally, avoid taking cabs at touristy areas. If you must, walk to a less touristy spot. If you want to be even more careful, take a photo of the driver’s license plate.

 

2. Fake bus stop/fake bus

China fake bus stop

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In China, anything can be faked, from fast food restaurants, an Apple store, and even an entire bank! For this scam, the idea is simple. Taxi drivers have created a fake bus stop by creating a signboard or simply using a sticker showing certain bus numbers.

As time passes, the number of tourists increases as there won’t actually be any bus passing by. This creates “social proof” as other tourists will believe this is the right bus stop. As the tourists get frustrated, the taxi drivers now come out in full force. They claim the bus only comes once every hour, and so persuade tourists to share taxis which will be more affordable and faster.

This is a common scam and has been reported by tourists heading to the Badaling Great Wall of China when transiting at the Jishuitan station.

Another variation of this scam is for fake buses to put up fake signs. Should you get up on the bus, you will either be overcharged, or sent on a shopping trip before ending up at the Great Wall of China.

Rule of thumb: 

Do your research if you are planning your own route. There are several articles online sharing the different routes to take to the Badaling Great Wall, check out this link for instance.

 

3. Three wheeled rickshaw drivers

China rickshaw

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Just like the tuk-tuks in Thailand and Vietnam, avoid this unless you want to be scammed, unless it is a really short trip. Even then, it is not recommended.

Also, don’t be faked by their friendly demeanour! Many of them can be really friendly and charming as they are extremely experienced in dealing with (scamming) tourists. For instance, even if you have agreed a price before the trip, the driver can claim to have heard it wrongly initially. He will bring you to a secluded spot and demand a higher fee. If you refuse to pay, you would be lost.

They are usually found at the touristy spots, such as the Forbidden City or the Beijing Workers’ Club, but really, they can be everywhere.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid.

 

C. MISC

1. Counterfeit Yuan/money or even Vietnamese Dong

China determine real Yuan

Source credit (check out the link for more details) or this link for even more details

There are reportedly, many fake 50 and 100 yuan notes in circulation. There have also been reports of fake notes been given out at ATMs in secluded spots.

One variation to watch out for is the sleight of hand trick by rogue shopkeepers. They take your 100 yuan and swap it with a counterfeit. If you were to pay another 100, you would have paid double effectively. There are many other sleight of hand tricks, which are common in Mexico, Turkey, etc.

Another variation of this scam is when someone claims not to have enough change. So he asks that you top up and he will pass you a 50 or 100 yuan change.

Another very creative scam is that some shopkeepers return you as change, mixed Vietnamese Dong with Chinese Yuan  change. To understand how worthless 1 Vietnamese Dong is, 1 Yuan = 3000 plus Vietnamese Dong.

Rule of thumb:

Learn how a real yuan note should look and feel like, and reject any that you think might be counterfeit. Avoid old or torn looking notes.

Some tips on determining if a note is real is to see if the note is smooth and crisp, and when placed under a UV light, it should not glow. Also examine the top left corner – the serial number and characters should be clear. Also, keep small notes to pay for small amounts.

Finally, withdraw money only at bank ATMs. Also, watch the shopkeeper very carefully once you pass over your cash and check your change meticulously.

 

2. Double menus

Some shady restaurants and bars in China have two menus. One before and one after your meal where they charge you extra. This is easier to pull off in bars when you get tipsy and might not remember the original prices.

Another variation is having a “local” menu and a “foreigner” menu, where prices are well jacked up. Look for a bilingual menu as much as you can. This is also common in other countries, such as in Morocco or Italy so do be wary!

Rule of thumb:

Only eat at reputable places/research reviews online/ask for recommendations from your hotel.

Be wary of hidden prices, footnote in a language different from the menu and also have a rough gauge of the cost of your meal.

 

3. Fake beggars

This is similar to an earlier scam – fake monks. These beggars (kids especially) on the street are part of a ring set up, similar to those in Europe (France, Spain, Italy). Some will go as far as hounding you in restaurants, asking for food if you do not give any money. These are some of the stories/tricks they use:

  • Claim to have been robbed, and ask if you can spare some change for them to take transport
  • Some cling onto you, and might pickpocket you if you are careless
  • Ask for a donation for some cause
  • Disabled beggars
  • Silent beggars

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid.

 

4. Pickpockets

China pickpocket

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Pickpocketing happens especially around the crowded tourist spots (e.g. People’s Square, East Nanjing Road, the Bund). Keep your valuables securely, and half the battle is won.

Rule of thumb:

Keep your valuables in your hotel safe and carry a photocopy of your ID/passport instead of the real one around. Consider getting a spare wallet or money belt.

Also check out distraction tactics pickpockets use – Spain and Netherlands are home to the real pros.

 

5. Bar scam

This is usually led on by the first scam of the article, where someone approaches and offers to bring you around. Either way, when you find yourself at a bar, and girls are offered to sit and chat with you, get out.

Their modus operandi will be to get you to buy drinks for the girls, and to get as drunk as possible, while the girls drink water-ed down alcoholic beverages. When you plan to exit, you will be hit with an extravagant bills and you will be too weak to resist or protest.

Rule of thumb:

Do not accept any offers to head to a bar from a random stranger on the streets.

 

6. Card swipers at stores

There have been reported cases of shops feigning card swipers as a credit card machine.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid paying with your credit cards, especially at secluded stores. Also, always keep your credit card in sight when it is used for payment.

 

7. Your accommodation is closed

Similar to the “the place is closed” scam, this is commonly carried out by cab drivers or touts at public transportation hubs in Guilin and Yangshuo.

Rule of thumb:

Stick to initial well researched plan.

 

8. The massage scam

This is where a Chinese lady approaches you and offers a massage. Should you accept, you will be led to a secluded apartment and asked to take off your clothes. There are many different ways this can turn out. For instance, halfway through a massage, an official looking person will come in to pretend to arrest both of you. At this point, the lady would have escaped, and with your wallet as well.

Another variation is where the pimp enters with a gang of thugs. They will now demand an outrageous bill compared to the price agreed on initially.

Rule of thumb:

Do not accept such offers from touts on the streets.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

China police

China police

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  • Police (Calling): 110
  • Police (Text message): 12110
  • First-aid Ambulance: 120
  • Fire: 119
  • Traffic Accidents: 122

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2 Comments

  1. Does the police stand on your side in for example an obvious case double menus? Other cases? Any experiences?

    Reply
    • I have encoutered at least two,to addition to what you said some men or ladies will approach you showing you an expensive phone,forming that he pick it up then telling you to bring any amount and take it, sometimes its spiolt phone and also might be fake phone…this mostly happen in commercial city of Guangzhou

      Reply

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