25 Most Common Tourist Scams in China

Safety at Beijing, Guangzhou, Guilin, Hangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xi’an, Yangzhou, Chengdu, Hainan
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Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Temple of Heaven, Beijing


As the world’s largest country, China has a myriad of world class attractions to offer in Asia.

You can be enthralled by the spectacular scenery, distinctive food, unique culture, the city buzz, the countryside serenity 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.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!




1. English practice / offer to help

real scammers

Image source: hobohop.com


How it works:

This is a common scam around Beijing (Wangfujing, Houhai Lake) and Shanghai (Nanjin Road, People’s Park), where a scammer, in the form of an innocent looking girl, approaches 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 / relative 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 karaoke 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..


What to do:

Be on your guard should you be approached by a stranger, as 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 Greece).

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


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

Traditional chinese medicine

Image source: aeon.co


How it works:

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 fake herbs or liquids which are useless.


What to do:

Only go to reputable TCM clinics, such as Tong Ren Tang, a TCM shop with centuries of history.

Or check reviews online or get recommendations from your hotel / hostel staff.

Do be wary though, as there are many Tong Ren Tang copycats which use a similar sounding name.


3. Tea house scam


How it works:

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.

Major tourist attractions such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, People’s Square in Shanghai etc are where these crooks hunt for targets.

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

Anyhow, you will end up with an astronomical bill for a few cups of tea.


What to do:

There are many teas of inferior quality sold for a high price by shady operators.

Only buy if you have done your research / or if at a reputable tea house.

If you find yourself a victim of a scam, call the police down and these crooks will refund you in no time.

We also recommend concealing your valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch, and to use a cheap, spare wallet with little cash inside to act as a decoy (i.e. showing the scammers that there is little point in exploiting you).


4. Arts gallery / school scam

China art gallery

Image source: angelynbryce.blogspot.com


How it works:

This is very similar to scam #1 and scam #5 and also found in Indonesia.

However, in this case “art students” 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, or that this is the last day of their school’s exhibition.

Once you are there, they will use many hard sell tactics to make you buy one of their works at an inflated price.

Nonsensical claims such as this being the only one in circulation will be made.


What to do:

Only buy at reputable shops after doing some online research or checking with your hotel / hostel staff.

Do not follow any street tout / stranger who tells you otherwise.

If they do not want to let you go, threaten to call the police (number at end of this article).


5. The massage scam


How it works:

This is where a Chinese lady approaches you and offers a massage. Nanjing Road in Shanghai is a hotspot for this.

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 develop.

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, and demand an outrageous bill compared to the initially agreed upon price.


What to do:

Do not accept such offers from touts on the streets.


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

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square


How it works:

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.


What to do:

Brush them off.


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

Real vs fake jade

Image source: noblejades.com/how-to-tell-if-jade-is-fake.html


How it works:

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 jade at inflated price. What is impressive is the salesmanship of 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 / making 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

Image source: virtualtourist.com

Story #2

Story 2

Image source: virtualtourist.com


Some stores to avoid: De Run Jewellery at Bird Nest Stadium, Jiu Jiu Fu gemstone shop, Shenzhen Mineral Museum, etc


What to do:

If you wish to buy, learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed, experienced dealers with a good reputation.

You can find these by doing some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.


8. Shoe shine scam


How it works:

Like in Turkey, you may find scammers either putting a drop of shoe polish on your shoes or staining your shoes with some liquid.

Before you say no, they would have then helped you clear the stain and then demand money from you.


What to do:

Firmly decline and stay away if you spot them.


9. Cheap, low quality tours

China street

China street


How it works:

There are some very cheap tours marketed by street touts and advertisements at bus stops, but they are cheap for a reason:

  • Their main revenue comes from the commission shops pay when they bring tourists there.
  • Guides do not speak English, or in some cases there are no guides.
  • The transportation provided is generally overcrowded / poorly maintained.
  • Guide may trick you into paying more than necessary to enter a certain attraction.

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

Another variation of this scam is by street touts who pass themselves off as from a legitimate tour agency.

  • These scum usually hang around tourist attractions (e.g. Forbidden City) with fake name cards.
  • Should you engage them, on the tour day, they will ask for full payment upfront and then abandon you soon after.

Legitimate tour agencies which have had their names “stolen” by street touts: China International Travel Service, etc.


What to do:

Engage a licensed, reputable tour operator online which you can find via:


  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

To determine if an offline operator is legitimate, ask these questions:

  • Is the operator licensed and is there a professional website, physical office, business email and working telephone number?
  • Are there online reviews? Do they sound legitimate?
  • Is the price too low to be true? What does it cover (vehicles, guides, safety, insurance, hidden fees, etc)?

When paying:

  • Avoid paying in full upfront unless through a reputable platform / operator.
  • If using an online platform, do not make payment off the platform.


10. Fake monks


How it works:

If you can find this scam around the world (e.g. Australia, Hong Kong, USA), you can definitely find them in China.

It should be patently obvious that these monks are fake when they show you a donation book.

The book details all the donations people from around the world have made in different languages. This is an effective persuasion technique (social proof) to add credibility.

Further, it adds an element of guilt should you choose not to donate to a “charitable / religious cause” having seen so many others do so.


What to do:

Firmly reject.


11. Fake tickets

Image source: arounddeglobe.com


How it works:

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 an inflated price is charged for an inferior seat.


What to do:

Reject the offer. Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Klook (best in Asia) – bestselling tickets include:



12. The place is closed

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China


How it works:

This is an extremely common scam around the world (e.g. Sri Lanka, Morocco).

In China, should you fall for this scam (e.g. scammer claiming that an attraction such as the Great Wall of China is closed), you will be led to a tea shop for a tea break.

Another variation is carried out by cab drivers or touts at public transportation hubs in Guilin and Yangshuo, who tell you that your accommodation is closed.


What to do:

Stick to your plan. It would also be useful to know the opening hours of the main places you are visiting.

For accommodation, never take up a driver’s / street tout’s offer. Only book through legitimate platforms such as:

  • Agoda: leader in Asia with the best selection and rates here generally.
  • HomeStay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of China by staying with a local host!



1. Fake bus stop / fake bus

China fake bus stop

Image source: lifestylehappens.asia


How it works:

In China, anything can be faked, from fast food restaurants, an Apple store, and even an entire bank!

This fake bus stop scam has been reported by tourists heading to the Badaling Great Wall of China when transiting at the Jishuitan station.

The idea is simple. Taxi drivers have created a fake bus stop by setting up 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 from waiting, the taxi drivers now come out in full force.

They claim that the bus comes only once every hour, and so persuade tourists to share taxis which will be more affordable and faster.

Another variation of this scam is for fake buses to put up fake signs.

Should you board the bus, you will either be overcharged, or sent on a shopping trip before ending up at the Great Wall of China.


What to do:

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, such as this link.

If you prefer to save yourself the trouble, then simply go with a tour by a reputable tour operator which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, etc can be found here – 60+ tours involving the Great Wall.
  • Klook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and vehicle transfer – with 20+ options for visiting the Great Wall.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.


2. Three wheeled rickshaw drivers


How it works:

Just like the tuk-tuks in Thailand and Vietnam, avoid this unless you want to be scammed.

Also, don’t be fooled 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 and have paid 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 will 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 anywhere tourists frequent.


What to do:

Avoid engaging.

If you do, make sure you have GPS so you can escape from any secluded spot.

It will also help if you conceal valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch or an anti-theft bag so that the scammer cannot steal from you easily.


3. Overcharging taxis

China fake taxi

Image source: scmp.com


How it works:

Many unlicensed / unofficial taxi drivers camp around the airport / touristy areas ready to overcharge you.

Tricks they use include:

  • Rigged meters
  • Covering a meter that has a higher preset starting charge with a cloth
  • Installing a fake meter
  • Driving off with your luggage
  • Claiming a pre-agreed fare was for each person rather than for the total trip
  • Suddenly jacking up a price. e.g. 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.


What to do:

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

  • At airports especially, head to the official line where you can see a uniform dispatcher stationed there.
  • If in Beijing, only take taxis with “B” on their license plate and always use the meter.

Other tips are to:

  • Avoid taking cabs at touristy areas. If possible, walk to a less touristy spot.
  • Take a photo of the car license plate and also of the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

If you wan to spare yourself from these hassle, you can also consider:

  • Arranging private transport through your hotel / hostel or day tour platforms like Klook (best in Asia) – 50+ transport options.



4. Flower girls


How it works:

You will find these little girls with flowers roaming around crowded public transportation hubs targeting foreign couples.

What they will do is to pass the flower to the female and then hold on tight to her leg, not letting go until you pay for the overpriced flower.

She is actually part of a gang, and will have a few more accomplices around, who may either surround and pressure you, or pick your pockets.


What to do:

Decline firmly and stay away.



1. Pickpockets


How it works:

Pickpocketing happens especially around the crowded tourist spots in the big cities (e.g. People’s Square in Beijing, the Bund in Shanghai, etc) and transportation hubs.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.


What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep wallets in your front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.


2. Counterfeit Yuan / money or even Vietnamese Dong

China determine real Yuan

Image source: theworldofchinese.com


How it works:

There are reportedly many fake 50 and 100 yuan notes in circulation. There have also been reports of fake notes been given out by 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 PhilippinesMexico, 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 mix Vietnamese Dong with Chinese Yuan when returning change. Note: 1 Yuan = 3000+ Vietnamese Dong.


What to do:

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

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. To be safe, withdraw money only at controlled environments such as in the bank.

Finally, keep small notes to pay for small amounts. When paying, watch the shopkeeper once you pass your cash over and check your change carefully.


3. Restaurants / bars with tourist menus

Image source: zzoob.com


How it works:

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.

Unfortunately, this is a common scam globally, such as in Morocco or Italy so do be wary!


What to do:

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

If researching is too much of a hassle, you can also consider joining a fun local food tour!

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, etc can be found here – one such food tour:
  • Klook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and vehicle transfer – popular food tours include:


  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

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


4. Fake beggars


How it works:

These beggars (kids especially) on the street are part of organized gangs, similar to those in Europe (e.g. 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


What to do:

Firmly reject and avoid.


5. Bar scam

Image source: Flickr – Eton Kwok


How it works:

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 is to get you to buy drinks for the girls and to get as drunk as possible, while the girls drink watered down alcoholic beverages.

When you plan to exit, you will be hit with an extravagant bill.


What to do:

Do not head to a suggested bar together with a random stranger on the streets.

But if you do want to make new local friends, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the restaurant / bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.


6. Card swipers at stores

Image source: cnet.com


How it works:

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


What to do:

Avoid paying with your credit cards, especially at secluded stores. Also, always keep your credit card in sight if you do use it for payment.

Although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.


7. Counterfeit items


How it works:

As everyone knows, China is infamous for its counterfeit products, so take extra caution before buy anything.


What to do:

If you don’t mind fakes, then bargain.

Else, do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on where to go to buy authentic items.


8. The item swap


How it works:

Like in Hong Kong, there are shops in malls or markets which swap items after you hand over payment.


What to do:

Do not pay first and always check your items after receiving, especially if they have been handled or repackaged by the vendor.


9. Price gouging

Image source: travelzoo.com


How it works:

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


What to do:

Bargain as much as possible, sometimes even as much as 80-90% off the price.

However be prepared to pay more just for being a foreigner.



This is not a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:


1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Image source: smartraveller.gov.au


How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: rare. Be more wary of petty crime and scams.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: risk of armed bandit attacks in remote areas bordering Siberia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Russia.
  • Terrorism: risk of attacks in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region by Uyghur separatists with possible links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
  • Civil unrest: ongoing political and ethnic tensions in Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region.


What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any threats. Avoid the danger zones and demonstrations.


2. Medical care

Image source: chinadaily.com.cn – VCG


How it works:

Good medical care in cities but not so good elsewhere. Main issue you might face is the language barrier.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: dengue, chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, malaria, Japanese Encephalitis.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne diseases: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: hand, foot, and mouth disease, tuberculosis, HIV.
  • Others: air pollution from congested roads and mainland factories, altitude sickness (Tibet, Qinghai, parts of Xinjiang, Western Sichuan).


What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A, typhoid
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis (if visiting rural areas), polio (if visiting Xinjiang), rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving animals), malaria

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing
  • Insect repellents
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets
  • Plug-in insecticides
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.


  • Avoid swimming in freshwater sources (lakes, rivers, ponds).


3. Natural disasters


How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Earthquakes: major earthquakes and tsunamis can occur in China.
  • Rainy season: May to November
    • Can cause flooding in central, western and southern China, particularly areas near Yangtze River.
    • Potential landslides can make Karakoram and Khunjerab Pass routes dangerous.
    • Typhoons can occur along southern and eastern coasts can disrupt daily life.


What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reportsweather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture; expect aftershocks.


4. Transport safety


How it works:

Driving here can be difficult if you are unprepared, some factors:

  • Traffic can be chaotic with high volumes of traffic, reckless driving and pedestrians not having the right of way.
  • Rules are not consistently enforced.
  • Depending on where you are, road conditions can be poor.

Other transport concerns:

  • Public transport is safe and extensive. However, watch out for thefts.
  • The Trans-Mongolian express train is noted for smuggling so do lock your cabin.


What to do:

Before going out, check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

When on the road, stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.



1. Emergency numbers to call

China police

Image source: sputniknews.com


  • Police (calling): 110
  • Police (text message): 12110
  • First-aid ambulance: 120
  • Fire: 119
  • Traffic accidents: 122

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