Common Scams in China

There are a number of common scams running in China, though none of them should catch out anyone but the greenest of travelers. The most likely way you will be ripped off in China is if your bartering skills aren’t up to scratch. In tourist-heavy areas you can be pestered constantly by touts and scammers and after a while the natural reaction is to just ignore anyone who approaches you on the street. However, sometimes people who approach you do just want to talk (either because they are curious about foreign countries or to practise their English) so it can be a shame to miss out on these opportunities. Below are the most common examples of scams operating in China and how to check whether the people are genuine or not.

The Tea House Scam

The Scam: You’ll be approached by people on the street, usually young girls who often claim to be students. After chatting with you for a while they will suggest going to a teahouse they know of. Long story short, you will be misled about the price and after drinking the tea you will be hit for a massive bill.
How to avoid it: Say you don’t drink tea and suggest going to a cafe you know of instead (Starbucks is everywhere). If they insist on a certain place, walk away.

The Art Gallery Scam

The Scam: This is a variation on the Turkish carpet salesman trick, though the Chinese are nowhere near as good at it. You’ll be approached by people on the street who often claim to be students. Soon they will tell you about their art exhibition and ask if you want to see their paintings. Once inside the ‘gallery’ you will be ‘pressured’ into purchasing overpriced art.
How to avoid it: Tell them you’re in a rush, or that you don’t like art. Or go and check out the art if you want. Their supposed high-pressure sales tactics aren’t particularly effective and all but the weakest-willed people will have no trouble leaving without making a purchase.

The Lady Bar Scam

The Scam: This one shouldn’t even need to be pointed out as a scam. If you fall for this, you shouldn’t have left your own country. Anyway, at night you will often be approached by men or women saying ‘lady bar’ with the promise of a strip club or prostitution. If you go with these people you will be taken somewhere without any women but instead several imposing men who will extort you for every cent you have. Prostitution is illegal in China so there is nothing you can do.
How to avoid it: Ignore these people. If you’re in the mood, it can be fun to toy with them a bit. If it’s a man who approaches you, tell them you don’t like ladies but prefer men, Chinese men in particular. But never, ever go anywhere with them. If you want to find a prostitute in China, go to one of the established pick-up bars (you can find a few in our nightlife listings) or get a recommendation for a brothel (usually ‘disguised’ as hairdressers) from someone you trust. Note: Human trafficking might not be as big a problem in China as it is in south-east Asia, but some reports say that it does happen. Be sure to consider this before deciding to engage in paid sex.

The Unofficial Guide Scam

The Scam: This is quite rare. Someone will approach you to enquire about your day’s sightseeing. Once you tell them where you’re going they will say they’re going with you. Often they will mention they work for a travel agency but they will never say they expect to be paid for going with you. That will come when you finally part ways, at which point they will request a ridiculous amount for their ‘guiding service’.
How to avoid it: If you suspect this is happening you can say you would prefer to go alone, or enquire up-front whether they expect to be paid. Alternatively, if they don’t irritate you too much, let them come with you. When they request money at the end, simply refuse to pay them – in spite of whatever scene they might cause, whatever threats they might make, or whatever ploy for sympathy they make, there is absolutely nothing they can do. People like this deserve to have their time wasted for no reward.

Your Accommodation is Closed

The Scam: This one is quite common in Guilin and Yangshuo. On your way from the airport, the taxi driver might tell you (or he might phone someone who will tell you) that the accommodation you are going to has closed or even burnt down and that you should go to a different place (which they, of course, are connected with). Touts at the bus or train station will often tell you the same thing.
How to avoid it: Simple – call their bluff. Let them tell you the story and then say, “That’s strange. I just phoned the hotel an hour ago and they didn’t mention that it had burnt down yesterday.” If they persist, then tell them to stop and flag down a different taxi.

Rickshaw Robbery

The Scam: There have been a few reports of this happening near the Forbidden City in Beijing. Basically you are offered a short ride to a nearby attraction (like the Forbidden City) for a small sum – for example, ¥3. Then you will be taken to a quiet alley and the driver will tell you that he actually meant ¥300. The reports say that the driver becomes physically aggressive when you refuse to pay, so it’s more like a robbery than a scam.
How to avoid it: Rickshaws in Beijing operate purely for tourists – they are not a form of transportation for locals. If you want to take one, find one in an area where they are common (around Houhai is a popular spot). Beware also of very low prices. Anything below ¥10 is unrealistic. If you do get caught up in the scam, try to stand your ground: shouting, showing you are not intimidated and even becoming aggressive yourself (within reason) should make them back down. Alternatively, run.

Also read about counterfeit money in China and how to spot it.