Common scams in China - How to avoid them

China is known for its con artists, scammers and nefarious characters, and maybe because there's a natural tendency of visitors to mistrust when they don't understand the language or feel comfortable with the customs.

You may want to fight that instinct, but don't let your guard down too far.

Common scams in China

Practice English scam

One of the most common scams involves a traveller getting an invitation from a stranger, usually an attractive young woman, to tea or dinner so they can "practice English". However, the only practice you will be getting is mathematical, as you calculate the very high bill that is left behind when they do a runner.

Another similar scam is for couples to invite you to a tea tasting ceremony, then leave you for dust when the check comes - and don't expect the check to be cheap at a haughty, high end establishment that puts on such a spread.

Be aware that getting stuck in a situation like this doesn‘t just lead to a misunderstanding with the tea shop owner, if you don‘t pay up, things can turn aggressive. (And could lead to you covered in scalding hot tea).

Our advice is to be wary of who you dine, or drink with. If something smells funny, it's probably not just the seared duck's feet you just ordered - it's the stench of a scammer.

Free Exhibition scam

Chinese trickery doesn't stop at the restaurant counter either. There are also hustles which involve con artist art students - as if art students didn't already have a bad enough name.

These burgeoning Picassos come up to tourists and ask them to see a "free" art exhibit at their school. The ruse is that they try to get you to buy something once they‘ve given you a little talk on the works and made you a calligraphy picture. One Australian expat said this is most common around Tiananmen square in Beijing.

(Note: If the pictures look like this, you should know you are in for a swindle - but at least you'll have a good laugh)

While it's more a high-grade hustle than a full blown scam, it's one to watch for none the less.

Counterfeit Chinese money

There are problems with the money itself in China, too. Counterfeit notes, especially ¥50 and ¥100 bills, were once widespread throughout China, even in Hong Kong and Macau.

Fake notes have been found as recent as September 2010, though the Chinese government has made large attempts to curb the issue, and newly minted notes have decreased its prevalence. Part of the problem is that many of the notes are so high quality, it‘s hard to detect them, which is why many shopkeepers still use cash detectors and hold notes up to a light. Some crafty merchants will even exchange a large bill with a fake and claim you were the one who handed over the counterfeit.

(Some people even try to draw their own notes. This guy is pretty good!)

Try to take smaller denominations with you or give exact change to avoid the possibility of getting fake money in return. If you only have ¥50 or ¥100 bills, record their serial numbers so you‘ll know if they have been switched with a counterfeit.

Also beware that ATMs have been known to issue counterfeit notes as well.

Fake Goods in China

After fake money, there are fake, or at least grossly overpriced, wares.

Nanjing Road in Shanghai is considered to be a hotspot for locals trying to get tourists to buy products or services, many of which are sub-par.

Beijing‘s Silk Alley is also another prime place for vendors to jack up prices and jack your change.

Tourists should watch transactions carefully and inspect all items they buy, as some visitors have wound up with wrong things in their bags.

Also, be wary of booking tours in Beijing that take you to shops. Most often, the prices are inflated and the tour guides will push you to buy, since many get a commission off the sale.

While it may be a little boring, the best bet is to stick to larger shopping malls and traditional retail outlets for higher priced items.

Teaching scams

If you are going to China for work, not play, keep your wits about you when it comes to accepting a job offer.
Plenty of places offer reputable work, but some do try to take advantage of travellers and expats with working scams, and many involve teaching English.

Australian travellers have reported misrepresented living and employment conditions and contract disputes leading to eviction from university housing or threats of physical violence. Australia‘s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises meticulously researching the work opportunity and necessary visa requirements.

Working visas are usually the Z-class and require a residency permit. Penalties for the wrong visa or for overstaying your visa include a ¥500 fine and jail time.

Legit employers will never ask to keep your passport, and ideal arrangements shouldn‘t specify that you forfeit a return plane ticket or pay if the contract gets terminated prematurely.

If intending to work in China, contact the embassy in your locality to check on visa and other requirements.

Several forums on teaching English have featured discussions on fraudulent work offers. Some say the scammers tried to get individuals to enter China on L-visas, which are tourist visas, and accept unlicensed teaching positions.

Potential teachers should talk to the person hiring and other employees, in addition to visiting the school and watching classes.

Government schools seem to be the most credible, and problems that arise with working conditions can be sorted by the Foreign Experts Office of the provincial education ministry.

Some red flags that could indicate a slimy sell on an English teacher position include an ad with inflated language bespeaking all the perks of the job, vague descriptions of job duties and inconsistent information.

One teacher points out that many of the work scams center on private language schools that could be fooling clients in addition to teaching applicants. He suggested asking about the curriculum to prove the school is legit.

Get a travel insurance quote for China

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

4 Comments

  • JUAN BUONO ALCARAZ MD said

    we fell for the artist scam [ as soon as we left the hotel in beijing ] & bought a few things . we soon realized it since we met many ''artists'' the whole day ; especially around the forbidden city. but we fell for rickshaw scam where they took us to a deserted spot & overcharged us .

  • Darrell Heal said

    If you recieve fake money from an ATM in China, don´t bother going to bank that own´s the ATM it isn´t worth it. I withdrew 2000rmb last Friday night from the ATM at my hotel"Bank of China", 1000rmb of the 2000rmb is/was fake. I have today spent nearly all day with the bank (which is just across the road from my hotel) explaining to them that the money was withdrawn from there ATM. Apparently they do not own the ATM, a seperate company actually fills the ATM machine, the only time they open the machine is when somebody´s card get´s taken.
    Anyway they took the seriel numbers of the notes that I had and done a check - they deny that the money I recieved came from the ATM in question, because they say they can detect all numbers in the machine...BS if you ask me. Be warned.

  • Tom said

    Beware of taxi scams. Our Beijing experience - we got in and driver demanded US dollars but we told him we only had Yuan. He then wanted about double the value of the going exchange rate. We said we only had "X" amount and he accepted it. Turns out we still paid too much for what turned out to be a short ride, but it could have been far worse. If you have a trusted local guide you can avoid taxi rip offs (our guide really browbeat one driver). If not, remember that the driver knows English and the area better than you know Chinese and the route, and he's probably better at quick currency conversion, too.

  • rick baldwin said

    Taking the Metro is the way to go,no ripoffs possible there.
    I was staying at a little place but would pick up a taxi at the big hotel
    across the street,the doorman would get one for us.Then I would return there too,
    the taxistas don't wanna lose big time business,we had no problems except for communication.

Add a Comment

Browse by country

Country list

Sign up for the latest news, deals & opportunities.