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The Beijing Tea Scam (and a few others)


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The art students are out in force. On the way to the Forbidden City I had three different young people chat me up about my interest in art, before 9am! They move with the crowd going to the entrance, and then swim back for another trawl. Also, late at night in a dark hutong, some guy in front of a bar asked me if I was interested in art, because there was a gallery upstairs. Ummm, no?

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The only benefit of looking like a local = you won't get bothered by scammers wanting to practice their English, trying out some tea or checking out some art gallery. :lol:

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Taxi drivers... There's some good one and some bad ones.

When going to the train station or the airport I will always use the same method to ensure they don't try to rip me off. I always ask if they can get to the airport/train station within X amount of time. This gives them the impression that you are running late for you train/plane and they never (so far) take any scenic routes, just make sure you know the rough travel time and that they are using the meter. Also note that there may be toll booths along the roads to airports that you will have to pay.

Discussing this topic, a Taiwanese friend told me that they had heard that now Beijing taxi drivers have started being afraid of their customers instead of the other way round, well, just like back home :mrgreen:

I was just taking a taxi in Nanning the other day when the taxi driver was telling me how they stick together and have to help each other out. He was telling me about 2 drunk passengers he'd just had who got violent and he had to get assistance from some other drivers and just drop them off.


I've also taken a black-taxi (not the colour), where we agreed on a price and after we arrived at the destination and paid, he refused to return the change. My friends gave up, however I refused to and simply refused to get out of the vehicle. He said something along the lines that he'd just take me with him then, but that didn't work out with me not letting the new passengers (who were waiting) into the car. He returned me our change. (Harbin)


Another taxi driver decided decided to take me a scenic route from the train station to my apartment. Once the driver went of the correct road, I mentioned it and he said it was the same. After arriving the meted was about 12元 too expensive. I simply refused to pay the extra and paid the normal rate. The taxi driver knew I was right and was in no position to argue it. (Harbin)


I was taking a taxi in and a driver went a wrong direction, I was at first concerned, until the driver explained to me that the traffic on the normal road was too congested and it would take forever along that route. A minute late he pointed over to the main road which wasn't moving at all. The price was about 10元 more than usual, but I got back in a very timely manner, avoided the traffic and had a great chat with the driver.


Over all you get a mixture of honest and dishonest, I've even known people who have lost phones and wallets in taxi's and had them returned.


Art Students?

Back in 2006 I met 2 girls doing this, they offered to show me some of the art, I being the suspicious type I am made it very clear I have little money and would not pay a cent for anything. They ensured me I wouldn't have to, went for a walk, described some of the different types of art and had a pleasant talk. They never tried to pressure me or even ask me to buy anything after my first statement. I had their contact details, but got so busy that I lost touch after a while. I don't mind it as they never lied to me, pressured me, cheat me or anything.


Tea house and other similar scams

These are not just restricted to foreigners, and can be dangerous (less so for foreigners).

I haven't had any experience with the tea house scam in particular, but I've had inside information on some other scams. (I know a lot of people)

A method of scamming Chinese people has been through QQ and dating sites, where there will be those communicating on QQ to find targets in the area and mention about meeting up with them for something to eat/drink and after collecting the targets contact details. Later a girl will be given the details and a small amount of background information about the target and will contact the target asking to meet at place X. After meeting, the target will be invited to eat something with her and taken to the restauraunt where the girl will order and leave through the back door. If the target refuses to pay the extreme prices, they will be beaten. The girls always have security watching them at all times for their protection.

The organisation will pay the police of around 10,000元 monthly for legal "protection", so that, no, the police will not be of great help in situations where there is such a professional setup.

The best defence in these situations, without losing any face, especially if unsure whether it is a scam or not is to simply take them to a restaurant of your choosing and spend just a little for a nice dinner and chat. KFC is always a safe scam free location.


In the case of tea scams with foreigners, it's unlikely to become violent as the repercussions of injuring a foreigner are much more severe than those for injuring a Chinese citizen.

If found in the middle of a scam before the price comes out, it might be worth making up some type of lie about how you teach English in the Beijing Police University (I can't remember the name, I lived there for a short while) and mention a few colourful friends and stories, which might be enough to scare them out of throwing you too high a price. And if they do, you could start to call your "boss", whose fixed bigger problems than this. (Untested, as I don't get scared, bluffing can go a long way, unless you're caught out)

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  • 9 months later...

Taxis? I've pretty much settled on a rule not to take taxis from/to airports when possible, yes, even in my own home city. Not only the scam thing, but I don't travel with much luggage, so it just makes sense to get the underground/subway for a cheaper price, and not get stuck in traffic.

On another note, the other day here in Kunming I was taking a taxi ride in the city. I only vaguely remembered where I was going. So I kept getting the driver to turn this way and that way until I finally remembered the actual name of the place, and she got me there. But I sure was a little embarrassed that it was *me* wasting *her* time!

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Their favorite pick up line nowadays seems to be "Are you enjoying your vacation? we too." Just wonder however how they can behave so silly and straight out stupid after so many years of practice. You can often pick them out miles away and after just a couple of sentences it's clear that they're a scam. One was even completely ridiculous. Approching me with "Hello" I answered "你好“,she started rattling in chinese. Then I said in Dutch that I did not understand her. She kept trying in english and chinese and I kept ignoring her. After a while she said talk to me, so I told her in Dutch that I did not want to understand her. Then she hit me on my back and said I was a stupid egg. When I turned around she started running and fled into a shop. I'm happy she ran, cause if she would have stayed and I had grabbed her or hit her back I might have had a problem as at least 3 or 4 of her kind stood nearby. That might have gotten a little ugly.

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Cabs. Even the official queue is not "safe".

This summer, I was almost conned into taking one of those expensive private cabs in Beijing airport. As I knew about the trick and people picking you up in the arrival hall, I went straight to the official waiting line. However, there was a lot of people in the queue, some confusion, and a guy came to pick me up *in* the line. So I said yes, thinking he was just trying to speed things up. It's only when he walked me to the parking lot that I realised there was something fishy. Before I made a U turn, out of curiosity, I asked "how much for the ride?". He told me "450 kuais". Wow.

(BTW Around Wangfujin and Tiananmen, I was also approached by young women who wanted to practice their English).


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Taxis? I've pretty much settled on a rule not to take taxis from/to airports when possible
Cabs. Even the official queue is not "safe".

I just want to chime in to say taxis from the official taxi rank at Beijing airport are generally fine (so long as you get in a proper taxi and don't let yourself get led off before you get to the end of the queue), and won't rip you off.

Also, all taxi meters in an official Beijing taxis will record the time and length of the journey and at the end print out a receipt that will have this information as well as the taxi driver's ID and his/her supervisor's phone number. It's a simple matter to verify whether or not you were ripped off (most taxi companies provide this service if you call thier complaint line) and for most taxi drivers it's not worth the hassle.

Just make sure you get the receipt at the end of your journey.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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A professor of mine came to Beijing to teach my class, on his first day he went to Tiananmen alone. Here he meet two Chinese that was very good at english and they had a long nice talk. They asked if he wanted to have lunch, with them and they went to a place not far away. They ordered the food and had a bottle of wine together with it and had a good time. When they were done the bill came.. 12.000 RMB, this should be because of the wine. The two Chinese where ready to pay their shares of 4.000 RMB each. Until this time he had not felt that anything was wrong so he was choked but could see what have happened.

Of course he didn't want to pay, but they locked the door and wouldn't let him go. They were the only once there, him and the 3 Chinese (the two guys and the owner). They was there arguing for a long time, and at one point he was thinking that this might end very bad. He isn't a small guy, over two meters and not thin, but he still didn't think that he could take all of them if it should come to it. At one point a tried to get out, I think they tried to hold him back, but he managed to break the door.

He ended up paying 400 RMB for the wine and the door.

He was very choked when he left.. and went into the forbidden city.. where he half an hour later "meet" two lovely Chinese girls who was trying to do the same.. This time he had learned, so he told them what had just happened (he left out the part with the 400 rmb and just told them that he broke the door and got out), and suddenly they lost interest in him..

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just wanted to add my two cents in here.

I've seen a couple variations on the tea scam. One involved a middle aged English teacher wanting to make friends. She insisted that we stop in for a drink at a tea shop. So, be aware that it's not necessarily just young women doing it, I'm sure she could have gotten women to fall for it as well.

I also managed to parlay the tour operator scam into a free tour of Wanfujing. Basically they pretend they're wanting to practice English and show you around. So far, so good. But at the end they'll either request money or in a varation, try to lure you back to a tea shop.

Last week end, I saw a variation on the child scam where a 3 year old walked up to me, of course by himself, and started acting very cute, kissing me on the forearm and and thigh. (For the record, I did prevent gently push him back, I'm not a pedophile and China is a bad place to get caught doing that anyways) Eventually my friend came back and the kid a while later moved on to the next table. I'm not sure if the idea was to embarrass me into giving him money or to endear him to me so that I gave him money, but either way it was clearly profit motivated and I'm sure the parents were around somewhere.

The art scam, isn't really much of a scam, they just try to overcharge for artwork. I did go for that one, but I insisted upon paying a lot less than what they were asking for. Those small pieces are really only worth 30 RMB or less in most cases. A real piece will always have stamps on it from the artist, and students are never allowed to create their own designs until they've been at it for years. Also, if you go to enough shops that carry art, you'll find that most of it isn't particuarly original anyways.

Pearls, if you're going to buy them, know how to tell plastic from real. The fakes are often quite good, and buying fakes isn't wrong, you just shouldn't be charged real prices for fake. Take a couple of the pearls and rub them together gently and listen to the sound they make. The fake stuff will sound like plastic and the finish might wear off. In all cases if you rub your finger on the pearls after wards you should see a small amount of pearl dust on your fingers. Depending upon the grade there may or may not be any visible scuffing to the pearls afterwards. The high grade ones will often times be unscuffed afterwards.

From my experience, the vast majority of Chinese people are honest and will help you avoid scams I've had a group refuse to let me overpay at times, and I consider that to be more in keeping with the cultural values of the people than these con artists.

That being said, I did get scammed by the restaurant bill inflation that was mentioned earlier once. And I think one other time I had a cab driver overcharge me. But, I think all in all the mount I'm out is pretty small compared with what the scammers were hoping for. Some shops do seem to have a laowi only higher price.

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Do they normally approach obvious foreigners? Have any Asians actually encountered any of the above?

How do you all usually get away from them?

Well, the tea scam for English and meeting on the street is I would think probably uniquely for foreigners.

However this is just one variation of of a system that is based on attracting victims into a location and requiring payment to escape.

Some they attract Chinese men via QQ and I assume now WeChat (微信) too. They invite them for a meal in a restaurant (like a tea house) and then the process is pretty much the same, the girl often leaves through a back door when going to the bathroom. They're very well set up and the girls are always under protection and watched both before and after. They have meeting stations and all sorts of stuff. Interestingly most of the men are less interested in younger girls and prefer those in their mind 30's.

I'm probably one of the few foreigners whose been given a guided tour of the process, though not taken into the restaurant as she didn't want to put me in any danger.

I also wrote about some of this about half way down this post.

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  • 4 months later...

I wonder if Malcolm X's grandson was killed over a variant of the scam.

From a May 14, 2013 Reuters article titled "Two men arrested in Malcolm Shabazz murder in Mexico, more sought":

Shabazz was with Manuel Suarez, a labor rights activist who had recently been deported from the United States, when they were confronted by two women aged between 20 and 25 in the rough neighborhood of Tepito, said Rios.

The unidentified women, who police still want to question, took the two men to the Palace nightclub, said Rios. Shabazz and Suarez were then presented with a more than $1,200 bill, which they disputed. Police have described the Palace as a place of low repute.

"The aggrieved did not agree with the bill and couldn't come to an agreement," Rios said. Shabazz "was hit while his companion was threatened and had his belongings taken from him inside the building."

Shabazz, who had alcohol in his blood, died from blows to his head, ribs and jaw, Rios said.



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  • 1 month later...

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