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top scams in china to watch out for

Fake banks, ticket sharks, and burned down hostels? Intrigued, amused or horrified, China really has it all.

China is the world’s second largest country, with the biggest population of 1.5 billion people. We’ve previously dived into the different cuisines of China, crossed the Great Wall at winter, and tried to pick up the most valuable Chinese internet slang.

But even in paradise there are rotten apples, and those who seek pleasure in others misfortune. In this article we will introduce, and most importantly guide you through some of the top scams in China, and how to avoid them. As a student, tourist or even as a local you might have or will experience some of these tricks.

See the wonders of China while travelling safe

Foreign tourists flood to the beautiful view of the Great Wall in Beijing, the neon-covered skyline in Shanghai, and the famous pandas in Chengdu. And every famous sightseeing spot in China attracts scammers and people looking for a gullible tourist to trick into buying overpriced souvenirs. Please note that these scams are often obvious and easy to spot, often-targeting drunk tourists or gullible individuals. So be aware of your surroundings and be smart, don’t let this dissuade you to travel to China.

See our list on top scams in China, and how to avoid them.

English practice/offer to help

This is one of the most common scams in all of China, usually seen around Beijing (Wangfujing, Houhai Lake) and Shanghai (Nanjing Road, People’s Park), or in other big cities and well-visited tourist attractions. A young innocent girl will approach lone travellers and ask them for a small favour, or start a conversation. When trust is built and the traveller is interested, the girl will suggest some form of activity or to go to an event. So she can practice her English of course, and you can experience some authentic Chinese culture. You will then most likely end up at a Chinese restaurant, teahouse, karaoke bar, or at a house, where drinks and food will be extremely expensive. Trying to escape or argue with the people will only land you in an even worse situation.

How to avoid it:

top scams in china to watch out for top scams in china to watch out for

A general rule is to be advised when strangers approach you (Life in general), especially if you’re travelling alone. Never let a stranger take you somewhere you don’t know, at this point it really should be obvious that something shady is going on. Some good advice is to always check the price of the food and drinks you are ordering. If something is too good to be true, it usually is.

Fake monks, ticket sharks and fake petitions

This one is seen all around the world, lost souls, pickpockets, and good actors trying to get a small amount out of you. Walking around China you will see many funny characters, and being a foreigner in China can give you your 15 minutes of fame. However, be aware of your surroundings and use common sense when travelling around. Beggars, ticket sharks and fake petitions are all scams, plan ahead and stick to your reservations and licensed operators.

How to avoid it:

Use your common sense and rational thinking, petitions and monks usually don’t ask for donations in crowded tourist places, even if it is for a good cause. Cheap tickets to popular attractions sold in front of the attraction, that one should be obvious. If it seems shady, or too good to be true, it probably is.

Cheap, low quality tours

This scam is rather harmless and will at the most just give you an unpleasant experience. These cheap, low quality tours are seen around popular markets or travel destinations. The cheap tour will consist of a badly managed tour, usually with a poor speaking guide, which gets commission from the stores visited on the tour. Other examples are paying an overcharged price for entrance tickets to an attraction.

How to avoid it:

Be smart, use common sense, and plan ahead! Plan your trip by searching online for information on tours and attractions, get help from your hotel, and only used licensed operators. This scam is usually easy to spot, and can be avoided by planning and doing research before your trip.

top scams in china to watch out for
top scams in china to watch out for

Teahouses and massage scams.

This one is often related to the first scam, the friendly stranger leading you to a deserted place or worn down shop, and then demanding an obscure price.

How to avoid it:

Use your common sense and rational thinking before entering places you’ve never been before, these places will stand out and most likely look shady. Getting a massage or a pedicure is normally relatively cheap in China, and an attraction in itself. So please ask around at your hotel, do some online research, ask friends or colleagues for recommendations, and you will most certainly end up at a decent place.

The place is closed; hotel closed or burned down scam.

This one sounds awful, but stick to your initial plan and you will be just fine. The scams consist of your driver telling you that the hotel has closed for today, or even burned down. He will then advise a new place, or a break at a teahouse, most likely a place where he gets a commission for every new customer.

How to avoid it:

Only take licensed Taxis, these can be seen easily on their design, and their behaviour. They won’t try to drag you in their Taxi. In Beijing, all Taxis have a “B” on their numberplate. Stick to your initial plan, and insist that you go to the address as planned. The driver will accept or realize that his gimmick won’t work, and drive you to the correct destination. Worst-case scenario, you get out of the Taxi and take a new one.

top scams in china to watch out for top scams in china to watch out for

Fake “officials” at Tiananmen Square, Beijing

This one is well thought off, but poorly executed and can be easily spotted. You will experience “officials” asking you for extra documents, or claiming that it requires certain clothing items to enter an attraction. If you don’t have the proper clothing, they will proceed to try and sell it too you. Clever in theory, but pretty easy to see through, when no one else is buying anything.

How to avoid it:

Use common sense, trust your initial plan, and look around at other tourists. If you’re the only one being targeted, something is probably wrong. Furthermore, doing basic research, or asking your hotel for any extra information should prevent any misunderstandings or scams.

Fake/over priced silk/jade/jewellery/pearl

This is a classic, and one of the toughest one to avoid. You’re enjoying your time in China and want to bring back a gift to that special one. You keep seeing all this beautiful jewellery, silk shirts, and pearls. But how do you avoid getting your hands on some fakes? Some of these shops have a whole Hollywood production stacked up to trick you into buying at their store, friendly employees, very low or unusual high prices, and a VERY persuasive manager.

How to avoid it:

Only shop at respectable shops after doing some research, you might ask a friend or at the reception at your hotel. And if you’re ever in doubt, don’t trust the random stranger on Nanjing Road ensuring you that his store has the best quality!

top scams in china to watch out for

Fake Bus stops – The Great Wall

This one might sound a bit far fetched, but it actually happens. The trick is simple. Create a fake bus stop near a popular tourist attraction, resulting in people starting to line up. It’s human nature to follow others, so soon there will a small crowd waiting for a bus that will never show up. After a while, an army of Taxis will magically appear and claim that the bus only goes every hour, or that there are no more departures this day. Other scenarios might be getting on a bus, and being overcharged for the ticket, or being tricked into buying an unnecessary expensive ticket for the attraction.

How to avoid it:

Use common sense, but most of all, research and stick to your plan. Stand your ground and trust the information you’ve gained from relevant websites, or given by employees at your hotel. Every well-visited attraction has loads of information on how to get to the attraction, things to look out for, and how to buy tickets.

Fake, and overcharging taxi scam.

This scam is all about drivers trying to convince you that your Hotel is closed or gone out of business. The fake Taxis have a whole playbook on how to scam people, including locals. These include, fake and rigged meters, suddenly jacking up the price or insisting that the initial price was only for one person, not using the meter at all, or simply driving off with your luggage.

How to avoid it:

Avoid private drivers, or pushy people trying to direct you to their car, especially when first arriving in the airport. Take licensed Taxis at the designated Taxi spots, and plan your route beforehand. Be well prepared and have an idea of what your destination looks like and the general direction, this will prevent the driver from tricking you. You can also write down the number plate of the Taxi or the Taxi drivers’ ID, just in case. Some airports have employees designated to help you find a Taxi, the price will be decided beforehand and you will receive a receipt before getting in the Taxi. Pay attention and stand your ground if anything happens.

How to get help?

Travelling is great and you should never be afraid of going places you’ve never been before. You might experience some of these scams during your stay in China, or you might not. Every single one of these scams can be avoided by doing some simple research beforehand. Plan your trip and your route, and using common sense.

Some relevant tips if you ever experience problems.

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

Installing a VPN, BEFORE you come to China is strongly advised.

top scams in china to watch out for

Already packed and ready?

Whether you’ve already experienced being held hostage at a local massage place, or just paid too much for a fake pair of shoes. We’re glad you made it through, if you’re new in China or are thinking about visiting, we hope this article makes you think twice when a complete stranger insists on hearing your entire life story. But most of all we hope you see the fun in some of these scams and enjoy your stay in China.

Interested in reading more about Chinese culture, see our articles on Chinese customs, or see our Chinese cultural guide.

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