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The Beijing Tea Scam (and a few others)


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Funny that this scam has been around for a few years now and I still read about it from pissed off foreigners. Basically, it's always a pretty girl is super friendly, suggests a bar she knows, etc. I guess the government officials don't really care about this as they keep let it happening; either that or NOT ONE foreigner is reporting the incident. Also, these people always have their own paid-off police...sigh, the corruption of it all! :(

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I'm guessing that the foreigner doesn't want to waste any more time in trying to locate a police station, finding a policeman who speaks English, trying to describe what the nice girl looked like, where the bar was... if instead of all that hassle they can curse, take their losses and go see the Great Wall. I doubt that going to the police would get anyone their money back, and even if the police take the matter very seriously, they're not likely to catch the scammers.

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I want to share my "tea" experience. This text is a part of my story about small trip across China, which you can find here.

---- Tea party with «students» (aka Tea ceremony) ---

Before the trip I have already read a lot about the «students» that start talking with foreigners, and then, seemingly by chance the invite you to take tea nearby or come to the uncle's gallery to look at pictures.

Aware of this trick, I decided to get into contact with these guys — E-Wei and Kin Kin. At first there was no trickery as such.

We talked, they invited and we went. Tearoom was at the second floor of the shopping mall not far from the People's square and Nanjing street. At the tearoom they immediately showed me the prices for tea, rather high, - just like in Moscow.

They demonstrated teapots with disappearing and appearing from heat images, made different teas. One fruit tea was rather tasty. They also showed a trick with the flower that opens in the glass of water. After the ceremony they proposed to buy teapots and tea.

At the end an unpleasant surprise was waiting for me — it can be thought as a con for money. It is a charge of 100 yuans ($15 USD) per person for the ceremony proper and 100 yuans per person for the room where tea party was held. So, apart from paying for tea, I had to pay another 200 yuans ($30 USD).

In a couple of days I met my «tea friends» near the People's square. They were taking an American for a friendly cup of tea. I explained the situation to him, and the students have rapidly disappeared at that time.

In Beijing «tea-students» tried to talk to me only at the Tiananmen square, in Shanghai — at the People's square, Nanjing street and Wai Tan embankment.

Photos: http://www.tiwy.com/pais/china/2008/eng-shanghai-tea-ceremony-scam.phtml


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So you knew about the scam and decided to experience it anyways. You're mighty adventurous! Other foreigners have been tricked out of ¥5000 or more.

I was thinking, that if I know the trick, I will not be cheated. I was wrong. Also I had a necessity of talking with someone at least on english and this tea-students were looking kindly (on a first sight). This tea-adventure is not a very pleasant remembrance, like an experiment with unexpected results.

But I am very contented with my trip to China as a whole.

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It's good to know that even if you know the scam, there are still more angles to it. Thanks for taking one for the team. Maybe the only way out is to agree on the price beforehand, and state that you have no more money than that. Or just say, "hi, I'm broke, my friends will pay for everything."

This was on Danwei's front page of the day a while ago. It's not tea, but it seems a similar deal.


Eight people, including a bar manager and five women, went on trial yesterday in Beijing on fraud charges.

The bar manager was accused of hiring the women to lure people with the false promise of sex. In return, the women, who ranged in age between 19 and 22, were to be paid kickbacks equivalent to 25% of amount that the victims spent at the bar.

The bar manager, identified by his surname, Yu, denied the fraud charges. He said that he was unaware of the scam, and that prices were clearly marked for the bar's goods and services. Yu admitted that he had distributed leaflets looking for people who could bring in business, and that he was later contacted by a man who did the actual recruitment. That man, Ying, was also tried yesterday.

Since May, police received more than ten reports from bar customers of similar scams, resulting in three busts.

(edit) P.S., remsap, your site is great!

Edited by c_redman
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All -

This message board helped me discover that I had been hit with a tea scam in People's Square while visiting Shanghai in early 2009. I was eventually able to get my money back so I feel that I owe a debt of gratitude to all those who posted their stories and allowed me to uncover my own misfortune.

Just to provide a little background, I am a Chinese-American who doesn't speak Chinese. Therefore, people's actions and reactions toward me were probably different than those toward someone who was not Asian.

I was traveling across China alone.

I will try and sum up the event briefly below as that is secondary to the solution:

EVENT (how I lost my money):

I was wandering around People's Square looking for the Shanghai Museum when I noticed a group of four chinese individuals speaking to a couple non-asian tourists. I assumed they spoke english so I approached them and asked for directions. We started up a conversation that lasted a good 5 minutes--they appeared extremely kind and courteous and were fascinated by my fluency in english. After 5 minutes or so, they asked if I wanted to attend a traditional tea ceremony. I felt obliged so I tagged along. Long story short, we were served 6 different types of tea and served a bill of around 3900 Yuen (including take home portions) for 5 people. The men (3 including myself) said that it was traditional for women to pay so it was split 3 ways; as someone who was seeking to learn more about tradition and culture, I accepted this without realizing how much this amounted to in U.S. currency. I gave them what was in my wallet and paid the rest when they followed me to the atm. The rest of the incident is moot.

SOLUTION (how I got my money back):

As soon as I got back to my hotel, I googled "tea scam in Shanghai" and found this site. After that point, I was pretty upset so I called the Shanghai police hotline #. I can't remember what that # is off the top of my head but I'm sure you can google it. Anyways, I reached an operator who, despite her inability to speak more than 4 words of english, dispatched two officers to my hotel room. They arrived about 30 minutes later, one spoke a few words of english. Before the officers came, considering I was a foreigner, the most effective thing I was able to do was getting the hotel manager to write the details of my story down in chinese.

After the officers came to my hotel room, they explained to me that the police system in Shanghai at least, is broken up into various districts and their district did not have jurisdiction over People's Square. Therefore, they were going to bring me to the Huang Pu station, which presided over that area.

After going to the wrong station (apparently some districts have more than one station), we eventually found the right one. The station, at least to me, was fairly intimidating. There were about 10 or so officers standing around, eagerly awaiting the next victim to walk through the doors. Luckily, I had the note written by the hotel manager because the officer who spoke broken english was not able to explain the situation completely. One additional item that helped me tremendously was a business card from the tea shop that I didn't recall taking but found in my pocket (of course, if any of you remember to take this that kind of assumes that you are aware of a potential scam). Amazingly, it had a real number, which leads me to believe that they actually do in fact run a legitimate business for local customers.

Anyway, after lots of commotion and shouting, the officers were able to contact what I assume were the owners of the tea shop who came down to the station about 10-15 minutes later. Before they arrived, one officer who spoke pretty decent english asked me how much money I wanted back. Rather than demanding the full amount, I asked for partial since the tea house did provide me with a service. In retrospect, I think I could have demanded even more than what they charged me but I wouldn't have felt right.

When the people from the tea house arrived, I saw the officers take one of them to the back of the station where he handed over the amount that I demanded. The officer then handed me the money and the rest is history. I then heard the people from the tea house conversing with the officers who said the word "meiguo-ren", which means American in Chinese. The people from the tea house were astonished that an American foreigner would go through all this trouble.

Final Note:

I understand that if you're reading this you're probably either preparing for a trip to China or you've already most likely been hit with a tea scam. If you're part of the latter, my advice is to fight back and at least try and recoup your money if you have the time and patience. Granted, I was fortunate to have the tea house's business card but there might be other ways around it. Remembering the location or name of the tea house might also help.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to reply to this thread.

I hope this was helpful.


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For a while when I was regularly posting on my Shanghai public transportation weblog, I subscribed to the Google Blog Search RSS Feed for a search of "Shanghai bus OR metro OR subway", and it was amazing how many tourists writing weblogs (who needed to get around the city by "bus OR metro OR subway") got taken into by these tea people. I'd be willing to bet that monitoring the "Shanghai tea" search would yield one story per week, or more. The sad part is how many people were oblivious to the whole thing, and never got their money back like the poster upstairs fortunately did.

EDIT - For example, here's the people who were aware of it:


Edited by msittig
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On my last trip to SH I wasn't approached a single time by tea or art scammers. I guess it's because we were a group of 4 foreigners and they target mainly single travelers.

However, we got constantly approached in Nanjing Lu by the DVD/watch parasites. That happens about every 30 Seconds.

Yuyuan Garden (another horribly cheesy place) seems to have more control. A beggar which asked us for money was roughed up and kicked out by some security people.

Very worst place by far was the market in/around QiPuLu. All the time we had about 10-15 people grouped around us and following us. Looked quite scary, not to say hostile. After 10 Minutes we left. It was too much for us.

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Just in the news today:

People involved in a bar fraud received sentences

Yu, who was previously identified only by his surname, was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years in prison, while his hires received one to two years. The paper tells the story of one of the bar girls:


or for the advanced chinese readers:


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Off-topic, but in Germany you should go to a local Tee Gschwender shop. It's a chain that sells tea (loose tea leaves, sold by weight and they pack it for you). Most of the tea sorts are perverted crappy fruity mixtures, but they do have some most excellent green and black tea from China, Japan and India too. I just stocked up this weekend and the tea is great.

Any questions by PM.

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For a happier tea tale, I was recently (autumn 2008 ) travelling China with my former Uni study mate who acted as my personal interpreter. We one day went to a Chengdu mall and were invited into a tea shop on the ground floor. I said that I was interested in Oolongs, and the two shop assistants (or owners or whatever) immediately started brewing several cups. You know, the generous splashing around on top of a tray that catches the spillage.

Lovely taste, so after at least half a dozen for us each of miniscule cups, I bought some 2 x 250 grammes. Then they asked if we wished to try a fuller flavour. Sure. Same splashing about again, lots of mini-cups, and it sure was excellent, in some ways resembling Oolongs I’ve tried before, but quite unique to my taste buds. Bought.

The following day, I noticed that I had lost my unusually good quality folding umbrella. We tried to retrace our steps, asking for example at the afternoon restaurant, to no avail. I forgot about it, thinking that the umbrella price paled into insignificance compared to the bill for our one month plus China tour. Later that day, however, we went to that same mall for some I don’t remember whatnots. Strolling rather aimlessly around the ground level while waiting for my friend who pursued the upper levels, suddenly a girl approached me.

She recognized me from my having forgotten the umbrella at their place!

Some further points. My 15-20 or so different teas in my cupboard are perfectly PURE teas, no flavours added. No Earl Grey citrus, no cinnamon or whatever. BUT weeks after returning home, I discovered that the special extra tasty Chengdu Oolong was indeed an Osmanthus tea! Still love it.

You won’t by now be surprised that I follow the threads on Chengdu tutors etc. What I save from my pension and healthy moonlighting may well soon be directed towards Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel in Chengdu, him helping me to find that extremely patient tutor I need to get comfortable with speaking Chinese, and for seconds arranging another but this time way longer Tibet trip.

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  • 2 months later...

Hello all! Sorry to bring this thread from the dead, but I also have a tale to recount from March of 2008. I had the misfortune of not seeing the warning signs and did not end up so lucky. But here is my tale so others will be on guard in the future.

I, along with two other American friends, were strolling in Tiananmen Square in March of 2008 hoping to visit Mao's Mausoleum. Let me also say that I am an American-born Chinese but my Mandarin is not exactly at par. Anyway, after seeing the Mausoleum was closed, we decided to take the subway back to the hotel. On the way back strolling through the square, four Chinese students, one male and three female, exclaimed: "Students!" (Yes, we were students as well). They began to strike up a lively conversation and showed keen interest in us, asking us where we were from, etc.

They invited us to stroll with them to the Hutong (Old town) and assured us that it would only take 20 minutes. I was reluctant, but one of my friends said "Why not?" We still had time. So along the way (interestingly enough, more than a year later, I still know how to get there), they chatted with us, attempting to gain our trust. One girl even talked about how much she liked 'Prison Break'. The male also told us he was learning Spanish and tried to relate to one of my friends who was fluent in Spanish.

As we went through the tunnels that passed under the streets, the male offered to buy us trinkets being sold by street vendors. We strolled past a KFC, into the Hutong, took a right, then rounded a bend which opened up into a larger thoroughfare. We took a right and the male (who was the leader) suggested we stop for tea. He inadvertently pointed at a coincidentally well-placed tea house and we went in. The host was friendly and beckoned us to sit down, telling us we'd enjoy a real tea ceremony. At this point, I was very happy and even thought: "What a tale to tell, that we were invited by such nice people for tea." Throughout the ceremony, we talked more and they continued to ensnare our trust.

They asked us if we wanted to take tea home with us, as a gift. We were delighted as everyone chose which kind of tea they wanted. Ultimately, the hostess came out with the bill, and the male leader looked at it and exclaimed: "Oh, how expensive". He kindly asked if we could help foot the bill, and we thought "Why not?" We pulled out some RMB in cash, but then the waitress said that they could not accept cash due to some sort of a credit quota they needed to meet so they could receive sufficient rewards from the bank (which is totally BS). At this point, I became nervous. We were warned to be careful about how we spent our money, yet we did not want to breach the students' trust.

My first friend turned over his card, and luckily for him, it declined. My second friend turned over his travel card, but since there was a credit limit of 1000 RMB, that's how much they could get. Ultimately, they looked at me to foot the remaining bill, and I reluctantly gave up my card. The male leader also gave the impression he was also going to help pay, and gave the hostess his card as well. When the receipts came out for us to sign, the number read 2300. Now I was not stupid. I knew that this was several hundred dollars in USD. I looked up at my friend who paid with his travel card. Despite my worries, he believed the number to be irrelevant, and thus we signed. Little were we aware that the male leader, though having given the hostess his card, DID NOT SIGN ANYTHING. The whole time, the students could tell we were suspicious and attempted to assure us everything was okay.

Finally, the hostess took the merchant receipt copies and smiled widely, thanking us for our patronage. I asked for a receipt copy, and the hostess nodded, going to the back to retrieve one. However, the students quickly rose and exclaimed that we should be heading back, and rushed us out the door, attempting to make me forget about the receipt. At this point, I was still extremely worried how much we had really paid. After they led us out of the tea house, they continued to gain our trust and mitigate any troubled feelings harbored in the tea house. They offered to buy us things, until we politely declined, and ultimately led us to the subway, where we parted. Since we had traded contact info, we gave them the impression that we would return to visit.

During the subway ride back to the hotel, my heart was leaping bounds. We rushed back to check our accounts only to find out that my worst fears were confirmed. I googled what I could and read about the 'Beijing Tea Scam', and how many others were also tricked in the same way.

Ultimately, my friend was able to get his money back since he had protection on his travel card. I was stupid enough to use a debit card, thus having no protection, and lost my money. It wound up to be around $330. I eventually realized that I deserved it after missing so many warning signs.

Here are some that I missed:

1) The students even approaching us in the first place. Chinese people are very reserved and almost are never this open to westerners. I would know. Even if they were young students, the amount of trust they tried to give us was almost forceful.

2) They continued to offer to purchase things for us. There's always a catch.

3) This is a big one. The students will try to gain your trust by making it seem like they not sure where they're going. Two of the females went up the opposite set of stairs, before the male said, "No I think it's this direction". This is a ploy to make it look like they know nothing about Hutong.

4) When we entered the teahouse, the male was very interested in the decorations along the wall and expressed delight, making it look like he had never been there before.

5) No menu. We had gone to a legit tea ceremony the day before and there was a menu.

6) They didn't give me my receipt copy, which I think is illegal, at least under US business practices.

7) The male leader, despite having given them the card, did not sign anything. Clearly he did not help foot the bill.

I hope someone can take something from this and learn from my mistakes. Ultimately, I see the loss more as a wakeup call to my willingness to trust and ignorance.

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Thanks for sharing your experience, and also for reviving this thread - this is one of the few that I am quite happy to see resurfacing.

Do you (or anybody) have any idea why they wanted you to pay by card? I always assumed that cash was preferred by people with bad intentions...

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