The common scams in China and how to avoid them

Despite being well-seasoned travellers, China being our 45th country and having just completed 4 months in Eastern Europe we have yet to come across many scams. We are not the naïve first time traveller but at the same time we consider many of the regions we have been to as being well known for their honesty. Coming over to China then was a rude awakening, after 26 hours of travel and over 24 hours being awake we fell for our first scam within hours of us touching down on Chinese soil! Luckily we got off lightly but this made us much more area… here are the scams to look out for! Here are the common scams in china, the top scams in china and scams in Beijing to avoid when you visit this crazy and beautiful country!

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The Teahouse scam: (The one we got done for!)

It all starts with a nice young lady, or group of them approaching you and being really friendly. Asking where you are from and if they can speak to you and practice their English whilst they show you the way to your hostel. At first it all seems really nice and a lovely exchange where you have already gotten to meet some locals. That’s when they enquire if you would like to join them for coffee or tea and they will share with you some advice for the city. Until you are left with an extortionate bill for just a cup of coffee!!

We got off relatively lightly here paying £30 for a cup of tea, coffee and some snacks. We were just too tired too see it coming and unsure on the exchange rate. Some people end up with a bill totalling hundreds of £/$! But it was a lesson learnt and in the end probably saved us from getting scammed again! This is probably one of the most the most common scams in china!

Common scams in china: Bar/ Karaoke/ Gallery scam

Pretty much the same M.O as above. You get approached by a friendly local who wants to chat with you or help you on your way. After building a rapport with you they will suggest going to a gallery, bar, karaoke or any number of local sights. This seems like a great way to get some local knowledge, but in the end you pay a fortune for this with overpriced drinks, entrance fees or even forced poker games!! This has to be one of the top scams in china that get unwilling tourists, especially after they had a drink!

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Taxis

Taxis the world over are known for their scheming and scamming and it has to be not only one of the top scams in China but in the world!. Many in the cities here are fake cabs who charge double the fees for a ride. Some rig the meter or install a fake one, others start with a preset initial charge that bumps up the cost. Some drive off with luggage in the boot/ trunk, or claiming a pre-agreed fee was per person or suddenly jacking it up from 40 to 400!

Make sure to only used licensed cabs, those in Beijing always have a licence plate beginning with B, and always used the meter and have an idea of how much the journey should cost. Keep your luggage with you if you can and don’t get out of the cab with out it. Use the official lines at the airport and even take a photo of the drivers licence plate to be sure.

Discount Tours

In many touristy locations you may be offered a discount tour, but often you get what you pay for. The best scenario is that you end up riding the subway or walking to each destination. The worse is that you end up spending all day being taken to a stream of shops where your guide receives commission. They also often come up with reasons you must pay more or are ran by guides with poor levels of English.

If you must take a tour then do your research and use a reputable company. We also always find that hostels do good tours and are usually more trust worthy than many hotels too. For tourists visiting the popular spots I would say this is one of the most likely common scams in China you will come across.

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Top scams in china: Card fraud

Again, it happens the world over but the Chinese are well known for it. There are many ways to fraud your card and a popular one is to refuse cash and then charging your card a fortune. There are also stores that have been known to use card swipers. Always use the ATM’s at the big banks where you can go inside. These are well monitored and also safe from opportunist thieves too as many have locks and guards. Only use your card at reputable establishments and use cash anywhere else. Of all the common scams in china this is probably the one you will notice last and will effect you the most, be careful out there!

Fake guides/ advice for major attractions

We have noticed this one a lot around the Great Wall and Terracotta warriors, luckily we read a really informative post and did our research before setting off to see these things so knew what to look out for and where to go.

It is basically the same scam for each place but it was more blatant at the Great Wall. If you don’t take a tour you have to get the bus and a taxi up to Mutianyu, they take advantage of you not quite knowing where to go and basically drag you away from the correct bus stall and over to another bus. With the great wall they usually take you away from the 916 and tell you it is now the 980. They even wear bus driver uniforms to make it seem legit. Now you are on a bus taking you further away from the wall that you need to be, once you get off you are stuck and the mini bus drivers instead of charging around 10 yuan each to get to the wall will sting you for much more. There are even people who get on the right bus all along the way and tell you to get off before the bus station and onto their dodgy mini bus! Again, for tourists following the usual trail of must see sights it is probably one of a few of the the top scams in China you are very likely to come across.

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There are also other variations of this scam to be aware of, taxi drivers making fake bus stops using stickers and signboards. More tourists build up in the queue but the bus never turns up. Taxi drivers turn up to take the frustrated tourists to their destination. The driver telling them that if they share the ride its cheaper and faster!

Make sure when heading to popular destinations on your own that you do your research on which buses/ trains to take, how long they take and how much you should pay. Stick to your route no matter what anyone says!

Fake Monks

Fake monks are all over, we even saw some over in Japan. Basically they get you to donate to their cause and use manipulative tactics such as social pressure to get your to do so. They also often give you things like prayer cards and then ask for an crazy price for them. Showing you a book with donations from people all over the world as proof that they are real! They aren’t!!

Rickshaw Rides

Like with the tuk-tuks in Thailand you need to be very careful when getting in one of the Rickshaws in China, and honestly the risk of being scammed is so high I really wouldn’t bother unless you get something organised by your hostel. Many are very well versed in scamming westerners and often hike up the agreed price, stop in a secluded area and demand more money or take you well out of your way to shops and teahouses increasing the scam. They are everywhere and will shout you and follow you along the street. Just ignore them!

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Pickpockets

Not as scam as such more just daylight robbery and not just one of the top scams in China but something you have to be wary as you travel anywhere! Carrying cash in China is a necessity as most places don’t accept western cards and you also don’t want to risk it at many places. Pickpockets target tourists and can be very well organised. Make sure you keep your valuables close. I usually have them in a zipped compartment inside of my middle section of my backpack that is then locked up with a padlock. Though nothing is impenetrable the harder you make it for them the more likely they will move on to an easier target.

Fake money

Now another problem with the cash heavy economy in China. Many visitors are not overly familiar with the appearance of Yuan at first and so often you will receive you change in make money. Make sure to avoid shading looking stalls and pay in correct change or small notes if you can.

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Fake Tickets

The land of fakes strikes again. Even buying a ticket for major attractions is fraught with trouble. Make sure you know the correct price and search out the official ticket booths. If someone is selling you a cheaper ticket then you can bet that its fake! Be aware of the other stands outside the terracotta warriors and only buy yours from inside the large building near the carpark. Then main entrance is also inside here.

The forbidden city I.D scam

Recently scammers have been telling tourists at the Forbidden City and Mao’s mausoleum that you need official ID to get in or even proper shoes and dress which again needs a permit to say you are wearing the right clothes to enter! Of course, they offer to provide you with these for a price! This is not required at all, although you should take some ID with you to get inside the security perimeter around Tiananmen Square.

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Your accommodation is closed

This is also often used with “the attraction is closed”, taxi drivers or just local people trying to help you find your accommodation or the attraction will tell you it is closed and then direct you to their overpriced alternative. This is most common in Guilin and Yangshuo.

Price gouging

It seems that in most places in China they don’t have set prices, be aware that in most cases then the price will be pretty much made up. For westerners this usually means a price hike of sometimes huge amounts. Always barter the price and have in mind what you want to pay. If they won’t come down then just walk away, you would be surprised when you can end up paying sometimes up to 90% less than their original quote. Also be aware of double menus at restaurants or those that change when you come to pay. Always try to get a bi-lingual menu from the start or make a note of the price in front of the staff. Not only one of the common scams in China but also common in Italy and Turkey too!

Common scams in China: General advice

There are so many scams out there in China that it can make you feel like you are watching your back at all time. In all honestly it does spoil the experience a little and it makes you wary of every person who approaches you. It might seem to counter the travellers way of interacting with locals but honestly it just isn’t worth getting scammed for, save that enthusiasm for other countries!!

In China I would say that a general rule is to treat anyone who approaches you with suspicion, especially if they speak good English. Most Chinese people keep their distance from foreigners and despite maybe a few stares or the occasional photo of you will leave you alone! It does make your time in China feel a little on edge but my tactic after a while was to just pretend that I couldn’t speak English. I would basically mix together some words from other languages I know and just make up some words. Saying “ Ne Englas, Ich binsky Slovenska.” Seemed to get rid of them rather quickly!

Generally I feel that once you start speaking English to them then the con has begun and you are constantly trying to escape it! We also have this silly made up language we used to speak in school so the teachers didn’t know what we were saying. You put “ab” after each syllable/ first letter in each word. This is a good way we can speak to each other without the scammer knowing what we are staying!!

Maybe China has made me sceptical but I try not to interact with the Chinese as much as I can. You just never know what is a con. They drop something, you help out and they’ve got you. Just keep your guard up and make sure you get in a good hostel so you can speak to the staff about local culture or tips on where to go. You will also find in good hostels they usually have a board up with scams to watch out for.

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Police (Text message): 12110

First-aid Ambulance: 120

Fire: 119

Traffic Accidents: 122

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The common scams in China and how to avoid them >

Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.
  • Gotta love the tea house scams and good to see you got off so lightly! Your final comments on not feeling like you can trust anyone is what we ended up feeling in Morocco. It’s a little sad when you end up feeling that way, but i guess it just makes the non scamming countries that much better!

    • Yes it is a shame to feel like that in a country. I was just saying to Shorty last night how much more relaxed we feel about talking to people now we are out of China. Of course, we are still wary and you have to be anywhere you travel, but we don’t feel that everyone who approaches us is trying to scam us in South East Asia!

      • Yeh it’s really a big weight off the shoulders and makes you enjoy a place sooooo much more when you don’t have to worry so much about getting ripped off. Watch out though, South East Asia still has a few of those not so fun people kicking around…. Have fun in Vietnam though guys, it’s one my favourite countries 🙂

        • Oh yes, we know !! But what I mean is that you learn in China that around 90% of the people with good English that approach you are trying to scam you, where as in other places it is many a smaller minority rather than the majority! Same as anywhere else!

  • Lara Dunning

    I understand that scamming is a part of our world, but it is both bothersome and worrisome. This is a very helpful list for those traveling to China. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes, it seems so in your face in China that is the thing and yet still so easy to fall for, you have to be so careful over there! Its crazy!

  • This is the type of post I’d go looking for before I travel somewhere. But,having said that, I then keep it in the back of my mind and try not to let it override my thoughts. For eg I read this about Vietnam recently and thought it was the scam capital of the world but it really wasn’t that bad. So sorry you got ripped off. I don’t think you’ve travelled though until you have a story like this.

    • Yes, I wish we read up more on scams before because we just had the opinion that we are seasoned travellers so it won’t happen! I think it was quite eye opening. But China seems to me to be one of the worst for it, its so sophisticated and once you know you see it all the time!

  • Brianna

    Its really sad that the Chinese people feel like they have to scam tourists in order to make money. One of the downsides of travel, I guess…

    • Yes and I am sure many of the honest people over there get annoyed, because at times you literally feel that anyone speaking English who approaches you is a scammer. And once you know their games it literally turns out to be true, you can see them trying!

  • Helena

    I find these posts really useful as I like to be aware of scams but as you said, it shouldn’t take over your experience. I can see how the tea house scan takes people in, it sounds quite genuine!

    • You should know before you go for sure, I wish we had, especially for China as it is everywhere! But after a while we were able to look passed it!

  • I got caught out by the tea scam in China too. I thought I was really travel savvy but apparently not. I think they do know how to pick when you are fresh off the plane and overtired. I’ve heard taking photos of scam artists can get rid of them. You have photo evidence!

    • Its really frustrating isn’t it and such a bad start to being in a country, makes you really paranoid for getting scammed again. Yes that is also a good way to get rid of them…that’s when you realise you are being scammed!!