Tourist Scams In China & How to Avoid Them

Travel Tips — By on 15/09/2012 9:48 am

Travel in China Scams Tourist Scams In China & How to Avoid ThemIf you have ever been scammed travelling in China or anywhere else, you’ll know what a disappointing, frustrating and often expensive experience it can be. Bad weather, getting lost, late trains, you name it, I can handle it. These kind of things are all part of the travel experience. Being taken for a fool and having people trying to deliberately and systematically rip me off though is infuriating, insulting and disrespectful to the 99.9% of locals who are honest and admirable people.

As a foreigner travelling in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, you are a target for sophisticated scammers who see you as safe and profitable victim for their semi legal scams. The best you can do to enjoy your travels here is to understand these scams and avoid them. To help you do this, I’ve put together a list of the most common scams and how you can avoid them.

Scam No 1 – The Teahouse Scam
This has to be the most common scam in Beijing and the most subtle and even the most experienced travellers will get caught by this one. There are a number of variant of this scam and they all involve you being approached by a friendly and talkative local.

You’ll be at busy travel spot and a pair of charming young girls/guys will start up a conversation with you in good English. They’ll be disarming and say something like they just want to practice their English. They’ll generally have excellent conversational skills and entertain you with their knowledge of Chinese history and ask all about yourself and your home country.

After 20-30 minutes of chatting they’ll offer to take you some where to sit down, relax and talk over some Chinese tea. Being eager for a genuine Chinese experience with your new friends, you are more than happy to take them up on their offer. They’ll take you to a nearby teahouse where you will take part in a tea ceremony and then given a number of different teas to sample. Generally your friends will order dishes such as fruit or chips to go with tea. When it is time leave, you will be given an astronomical bill which will be any where from 600 to over 1000rmb. At this stage your best hope is to plead poverty and/or misunderstanding and pay as little as possible.

How To Avoid this Scam
-ALWAYS be careful if a stranger initiates a conversation. They could genuinely just want to practise their English so don’t be paranoid but do be careful
-NEVER let them choose were to go. If they are scammers and you go to a venue of their choice, you are done for. Some one who is genuinely friendly will be happy to go to a place of your choice. If you are confident you are being scammed suggest McDonalds or KFC for a laugh

-Agree to nothing unless you know what the price is. If you do end up drinking and eating with your new friends, be clear how the bill is split and make sure you know the price of the drinks and food before you start.

Scam No 2 – The KTV Scam
This scam also has several variants and will generally involve a very attractive woman who will have you believe she is yours by the end of the night if you play your cards right OR a small group friendly students/businessmen who want to give you a good time. Your potential fling or new friends will invite you to KTV for some fun. Just sing a few songs and down a few beers. Pretty harmless right? Wrong. You’ll have your own private room and after a song or two your friends will invite a few attractive and charming girls to join you. The girls will be drinking (a lot) so extra alcohol will conveniently appear accompanied by a cart loaded with snacks. VERY expensive snacks.

By the time you finish, your “friends” are going to leave you with a bill that will be AT LEAST 1000-2000rmb. If you argue and dispute the bill, you may get a discount but you’ll be expected to pay for most of it and the security guards employed at every KTV will be persuasive in emptying your wallet or escorting you to nearby ATMs.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-Stay away form KTV bars. There is nothing good about these places and no reason why genuine friends would insist on taking you there.

-If a woman genuinely wants an experience with a foreigner or an honest professional, she will not take you to KTV

Scam No 3 – “Black” Taxis at the Airport & Other Taxi Scams
You’ve just grabbed your bags and walked outside the airport terminal when a taxi driver walks up to you and offer to take you into the city for a special price. Ignore them. They are probably black taxi drivers (black taxis are private cars not registered as taxis) who will charge you 400-500rmb or more for a trip that should only cost around 100rmb.

You’ll also see these same black taxis parked at major tourist spots like bus station entrances looking for victims. Not only are they likely to rip you off, they often drop their victims of at random locations and drive of with a passenger’s luggage after they get out. Even some legitimate taxi drivers will over charge you and give you counterfeit change.

How to Avoid these Scams?
-Only take legitimate taxis. One way to identify a legitimate taxi in Beijing is the licence plate which should have “京B…” Don’t get in a taxi unless you see the B.
-Always use the meter and if the meter is “broken”, get out and find another taxi
-use taxi queues or flag taxis down on the street. Don’t approach parked taxis.
-Ask your hotel staff to give you an estimate of the fare and write the price on a piece of paper together with the destination to show the taxi driver
-Give the taxi driver the benefit of the doubt because most of them a honest but if you are confident you are being scammed, note their details, offer to call their company or police, take a photo of their taxi ID card (and them). Most will then back down.

Scam No 4 – The Art Student Scam
At one of the popular tourist spots you’ll be approached by a friendly art student who will engage you in conversation and offer to take you to a gallery where he/she and their friends are exhibiting their work. They will try to get you to buy their art for incredibly inflated prices and will often plead poverty and hardship.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-Easy, don’t go to their gallery. If you do, buy nothing.

Scam No 5 – The Rickshaw Scam
This scam can take many forms and normally involves a price at the end of the ride that is MUCH higher than the original price agreed to. You may have an agreement to pay 20rmb but at your destination the driver will demand 200rmb and claim you misunderstood him. They will often become angry and aggressive if you refuse to pay or threaten to leave stranded in a maze of streets. The north gate of the Forbidden City is a popular place for rickshaw scams.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-agree to the price in writing
-don’t catch a rickshaw if the driver is actively searching for customers

Scam No 6 – The Bar Tab Scam
Many bars in the touristy areas will have a special menu in English that has MUCH higher prices than the identical drinks on the Chinese menu. The more unsavoury bars will also add drinks onto your tab that you never drank if they think you are drunk enough not to notice.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-Keep track of what you have ordered and carefully check the tab before paying

-Do not order until you are clear on the cost
-If you have to get drunk, grab some cheap beer/whiskey/wine from a local convenience store and head back to your hostel

Scam No 7 – Fake Badaling Great Wall & Ming Tombs
Many cheap or dodgy tours will take you a restored section of the Great Wall near the city called the Shuiguan Great Wall or to a minor Ming Tomb also near the city and claim that these are the genuine attractions. Not only do you waste money and time, you also miss out on seeing the genuine item which is a real tragedy.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-Don’t join random tours on the street. Only join tours through your hostel or through reputable travel companies.

Scam No 8 – Helpers at the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
You are patiently lined up in the long queue to check out Mao’s tomb when an official approaches you and says you can’t take your bags in. He’ll then take you to a nearby locker where you can store your gear for 60rmb or a little more. He will then tell you that your sandals/thongs/shoes are not allowed and sell you shoes for 30rmb. If you don’t have your passport on you, you can’t get in but he’ll get you in for a small fee. It’s all a scam. The official locker cost 10rmb, passports are not necessary and most types of presentable sandals are accepted.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-Leave your gear in the official locker room before queuing. 10rmb Max.
-Dress appropriately and avoid thongs/flip flops, singlets and tank tops
-If an official in the same blue uniform as the other helpers approaches and starts the scam, politely ignore them

Scam No 9 – Chinese Medicine Scam
A lot of the more shady and cheap tours will take you to traditional Chinese medicine clinics where you will be offered “free” foot washes, consultations and examinations while being given a spiel on the wonders of 5,000 years of Chinese traditional medicine. A bunch of distinguished elderly Chinese men claiming to be doctors but probably no more about medicine than you or I will check your eyes, your pulse, skin color, breathe and more. At the end of the consultation, the doctors will give your guide/translator a list of all your ailments and matching shopping list of necessary medicine (weeds and grass) to cure you and restore you to health.

How to Avoid this Scam?
-Simple, buy nothing at any of the medical clinics you are taken to. Your guide/translator/new friend will be getting a cut of what ever you buy
-If you do want to buy traditional medicine during your travels in China, only go to a clinic recommended by some you trust and who knows that they are talking about.

Your Experience With China Travel Scams
If you have been scammed during your travels in China, please feel free to describe your experience below and help fellow travellers avoid similar scams.

pixel Tourist Scams In China & How to Avoid Them
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  1. Gopal Das says:

    I think everybody should check out the Scam Detector app. I believe they're online as well.

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Gopal, Just checked the Scam detector app you mentioned. Wonder if theses scams come under the 550 fraudent activities covered by the app.

  2. Andy says:

    The Tea House scam was tried on me in Beijing in 2010, I managed to avoid it having investigated the local scams prior to arriving in China.
    An attractive female approached me and engaged in conversation, (wanting to practice her English) in one of the shopping areas. After about 20 minutes she invited me to go somewhere to drink tea and talk. I declined the offer at which point she became insistent and wanted to know why I didn't want to. It took a good 10 minutes further for her to give up.
    However, another attractive female approached me in the Forbiden City and wanted to talk in English, we spoke while walking for about half an hour, at that point I was going to go in a different direction to her so we said our goodbyes and parted company.
    Other than obviously not asking me to go somewhere with her the main differences were that, the second girl wasn't really intense and hanging on my every word and being over complmentary. I wouldn't advise refusing to engage in conversation, just be aware of the scam and refuse to go anywhere with them.
    Also nearly all the taxi drivers in Beijing tried to scam me, I always insisted on them using the meter although some flat refused especially if it was raining or if I had limited other options to get where I wanted to go. I would strongly recommend using the subway, it's cheap, clean and safe.
    Also visited Shanghai and Hong Kong where I was not subjected to any scams………. to my knowledge.

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Andy, Great to read about your experience with the tea scam and taxis in Beijing. I”ve also found that Beijing has a much greater frequency of scams that most other cities. Must be due to having so many foreign tourists.

  3. Martin says:

    Personally, after one day in Beijing I've already had enough of this place.The minute I got out of the airport, some guys offered me a taxi ride to the center.. eventually payed 600rmb, but I guess I can count myself lucky that my luggage wasn't stolen.

    Then I also fell for the rickshaw scam… another 300 for less than 5min of driving…. The drive ended in a small backalley and suddenly they were two guys… I was glad they just took the 300 and left me alone.

    Then, some young guy approached me to offer tours to the great wall, he was young and spoke really good english, so eventually I registered. Fortunately, I was supposed to pay only at the pick up and also got a receipt, where I later discovered "includes visit to jade factory and tea house" where I realized this was another rip off.

    Also, something strange happened: Later that night I got a call from the reception that a girl wanted to speak to me claiming to be my "tour guide", when they put her on the phone she couldn't even speak english. The only people that could have known my name and my hotel address were these scammers (fortunately they got to me so early, I hadn't even checked in at that time so I couldn't give them my room number or else the girl might have directly knocked at the door…).

    So in conclusion, don't visit china if you travel alone. It's  just a pain in the ass with all these scams. Maybe as a group you are less likely to fall for it.
    I can't believe I am googling comments from >5 years ago and the same tricks are still going on (more than ever), this is ruining the business for the honest taxi/rickshaw drivers and tour guides… are the police and politicians sleeping in that country?

  4. jason says:

    I have gone to shanghai a dozen times and never had the problems I had in Beijing.  Sure there was one or two places where people tried to sell you fake rolexes or fake purses, but at 50.00 for gucci bag or 100 for a rolex, you are clearly looking at fakes.   Only once did a young person approach me and my friends and ask if we would like to help them practice english.  They spoke German so I was the only one to speak english.  When I suggested he come with us to Starbux, he became disinterested  That is a period of 4 years with only one incident.  Frankly go to Shanghai.  Skip Beijing.

  5. tetsu says:

    I have gotten the same experience of being scummed around forbidden city.

    Right after getting out of taxy, frindly stout man approached me and offered me to ride me on a rickshaw for 3. But end up in 300..
    I found other victims after me..

    It happens as usual as everybody expects..


  6. rochald says:

    I was so stupid to be fooled and scammed by the gem store, herbal medicine shop and tea house last August 26 and 27, 2013.  A reminder to all who will be on tour to Beijing – if you will be brought by your tour guide to these places – DO NOT EVER BUY ANYTHING.

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Rochald, Sorry to hear bout your experience and good advice. Any store that your tour guide takes you to will be horribly marked up and a tourist trap so never buy there.

  7. Tony Perez says:

    Americans has the biggest scammer ever. It's called the Obama scam. He fooled Everone. 

  8. Andy says:

    The KTV Scam was tried on me but I left befor the girls came… There where just two pots of tea and one bottle of wine, that I never ordered, on the table. At this point, the lady asked me to sing some songs. I asked for the bill imediately – it was slightly over 1000. I decided not to pay and I left the place, after I droped the information, that I am doing Karate since ten years. "You al lubish" was the only offense I heard while I went stairs up…



  9. Tourist says:

    Hi, we have been with a China Tour Package with compulsory shopping stops.

    After I have done investigation on internet, apparently 90% of the shopping stops selling fake stuff.  We have been cheated. : (

    Please share below link so more tourist can beware of such activities.




    • Brendon says:

      Sorry to hear about your unfortuante experience with your tour package and thank you for sharing that link.

  10. Tourist says:

    Hi, we have been with China Tour Package with compulsory shopping stops.

    After I have done research on internet, apparently 90% of the shopping stops are scam or fake product. We have been cheated. : (

    Please share the link below for more details to protect tourists. Thanks!



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